Surround yourself in the company of nearly half a million bees and the natural reaction for most is to run.
Meet Andrew Copley, a beekeeper from Hertfordshire with fifteen hives across two sites. Living in St.Albans, "Copley & Buckley Honey" is produced, extracted and bottled by hand. Shortly after arriving at Andrew's hives, a lone bee managed to sting my hand. At this point I thought to myself I was in for a challenging morning. Andrew very kindly loaned me a suit for the duration, not only supplying me with protection when approaching the hives, but for comedic value with how silly I thought I looked.
Andrew pumped smoke into the hive to calm the bees, opened the lid and began talking me through the processes involved in beekeeping. By now, several bee's had landed on my suit, camera and mask. You name it, it had bees on it. Fascinated by these intelligent creatures, I stood amazed as I watched thousands of bees work amongst the hive. Concentrating on the job in hand and attempting to operate the camera with thick protective gloves, you soon forget about that natural instinct to run. Still, putting your face to the camera where 15-20 bee's are currently exploring was slightly off putting.
It's clear to see that Andrew is passionate about what he does, informing me that bees are the only animal able to share information between other colony members about the direction and distance to nearby nectar and pollen by means of a 'waggle dance'. Through the length of movement and direction relative to the sun, the bees effectively draw a map out on the honeycomb for others to read. Incredibly it's estimated to take around one million flower visits to produce one jar of honey.
In a single hive there are around five thousand (male) drones, fifty thousand (female) workers and one queen. It is the drones' responsibility to mate with the local queen who will then lay up to 3,000 eggs a day. All other jobs in the hive are carried out by the female workers, which include looking after the queen, raising young bees, collecting pollen and nectar whilst building the perfect hexagonal honeycomb.
Keeping it local, 'Copley & Buckley Honey' travels less than one food mile from the hives to where it's sold at Carpenter's Nursery. Luckily I was able to sample some straight from the hive where it tasted completely different to how I expected. A real privilege to sample honey in its purest state.
Many thanks to Andrew for taking the time out to explain beekeeping to me. A truly fascinating insight that will result in me never looking at a bee in the same way again. If you enjoyed reading about Andrew and his beekeeping, please feel free to share and leave comments below. Interested in having your career featured? I'd love to hear from you! :)