Meeting other beekeepers in new places is one of the greatest joys of traveling, to me. I recently went to Newcastle, in England, where I met beekeeper Ian Campbell. He’s a truly knowledgeable beekeeper whose honeybees live a world far different from mine.
Ian keeps his hives in an allotment. These are areas in cities and towns that have been kept aside for growing vegetables. In the U.K. your house may not have enough room for a vegetable patch, but you can potentially get one near-by. Potentially, because where a few years ago there was not much of a demand, these days there’s a waiting list for allotment space.
This increase in interest in gardening seems to have been mirrored in an increase in interest in beekeeping. Ian told me that when he started a few years ago, there were few beekeepers in the Newcastle Beekeepers Association, and the majority of them were older beekeepers. But the numbers have been growing and today the association has a good number of beekeepers of all ages.
Ian was generous with his time. He lent me his wife’s bee suit and then showed us (my husband and I) his hives and how he keeps bees. I was fascinated on so many fronts:
Apis mellifera mellifera: the Black Bee
They are often called English or German or Irish Black Bee. It depends on what country you’re standing in.
I am intrigued by these and trying to find some. They’re black; they do well in cold, wet climates (can we all say northwest Washington state?). This image is from mid-March. Most of my bees are still in tiny clusters
I had been told black bees were agressive : Ian’s bees were NOT aggressive, although he was quick to point out that if he has to work them with a storm coming, they can be annoying. All my bees can be very annoying if worked with a storm coming in.
I’ve been told Apis mellifera mellifera were small. Ian’s bees looked good tome. He felt that he’d like to see an improvement in their size, but they were the same size as bees I’ve seen here in the Pacific Northwest.
Ian generously went though an entire hive with me. The bees took it in their stride. Plus, in midMarch they were already showing good build-up. I was totally impressed.
New (to me) Gear:
Things that are new here are old school there! Ian showed me the frames he uses and all I could think was “that’s the newest thing in US beekeeping!” : Thin frames. I had just learned about these from my friend Clyde (of our queen-rearing endeavors). Unlike the standard frames here in the US, Ian’s frames (of course I forgot the proper names), are thin – which allows for a better bee space. He said that some beekeepers use “Manly” (probably misspelled) frames, which are like ours here in the US.
If the success of Ian’s bees are to go by, the thinner frames encourage both growth and increased stores in bees.
Plexi Viewing Cover:
I thought this was interesting. You can see what’s going on below without exposing the bees to the weather. Ian admitted that they take some on-going cleaning, as the bees propolize the plexiglass.
Again, I wish I had a tape recorder (does any one remember those?) going, because there’s a lovely British name for these.
Simple to make, wonderful to use: A light-colored cloth of medium density with a dowel sewn into each end. When completely unfurled, the cloth covers the entire top of the hive with about 2 inches hanging over each side. The dowels keep it in place. It keeps a box shaded if sunny; would keep a light rain off in a drizzle, and can be used to cover one portion of a hive while you work on another area.
In the above image, you can see one cover in the background being used to cover a super. In the foreground, Ian is using the cover the frames he wasn’t working.
I am making a few of these this year. But I’ll be making mine with light colored waterproof cloth for those “oh no!!!” surprise rain moments. The idea is so obvious, so simple, so useful, but it never dawned on me to make one, and I’ve never seen one in use here.
No, not the wife and family, the honey. It is delicious. Ian asked my Ian and myself back to his place for a cup of tea, and gave us a jar of his honey to take home. It was an on-going temptation the entire time we were in the UK, but we wanted to keep it sealed until we passed US customs.
The dents, the smears are all courtesy of the airlines. But the jar made it intact : no leakage. The lower level is because it’s so yummy – I had to remember to take the picture before we ate it all.
Ian told us that he had placed it in a few shops and it had sold well. I am not surprised. It is light, but with a remarkable bouquet, slightly piquant.
I will always be grateful to Ian Campbell for taking the time to share his hives and honey with us. Beekeepers are some of the best folks in the world.
What beekeepers have you met on your travels? And what have you learned from them?
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington – I’m back from my UK travels, feeding the bees, about to do splits, moving hives and, of course, watching the weather for breaks in the rain…. More to come.
Would love to visit you guys one day 🙂 My bees in London are dark ones too. They seem to over winter well.
I’ve heard a potential draw back to cover cloths is a slight risk of them harbouring disease. Perhaps you could have one per hive and keep it in the hive so that diseases don’t get spread from one hive to another.
Come by any time… mind you the drive’s a bit rough between London and Maple Falls, WA… It’s hard to find Apis millifera millifera here : they had a bad reputation, but I’m trying to track down a fellow in N. California who is raising them. Dark bees are the only ones that do well up here (wet, damp, cold – but pretty). Thanks for the tip about the cover cloths – I figure I’ll go with only a few as I have about 50 hives and am hoping to expand this year (weather permitting). Love your blog.
50 hives, wow! Some people here in London import New Zealand queens, which are a yellow Italian type of bee. They seem to do very well on collecting honey but not especially well at overwintering. Mine are the opposite!
Italians are popular here in the US as well. They don’t do well up here in the northern states. Southern California is a lot like Italy, but not Washington state. Most folks up here are going over to Russians, or New World Carniolans – dark bees. I’ve got hybrids of those and local ferals, but I really want to track down some Apis millifera millifera (your Black Bee) – I think they’d do brilliant here.
To be honest I think mine are mongrels rather than a pure subspecies, as there are hundreds of hives with all sorts of bees in my part of London and my queens mated locally. Some bees in my hives are darker than others.
The original black British bee population was dramatically reduced by the ‘Isle of Wight’ disease in early C20th, and I think beekeepers here restocked from France, Holland and other European countries. Some people claim the original black British bee is alive and kicking in isolated pockets such as the Orkneys though.
Good luck finding some black bees!
I think you’ve got a good thing going – locally adapted stock…after all they’re the ones that fit our environments and the diseases that plague us.
Hey there, Ian Campbell mentioned this lovely piece to me as I’m compiling the next issue of the Newcastle & District beekeepers newsletter. Would it be okay to direct our readers towards your blog and use some quotes please?
That would be lovely. Glad you liked the piece. Of course you have permission.
Aw, this was a very good post. Spending some time and actual
effort to produce a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.
I do know what you mean – things get shifted to the bottom of the list — I know I’m going to finish rewiring a processing room this winter, really, I will…it’s only been 6 months since the last time I worked on it.