On my way back to the car after a beautiful dog walk around Birk Cragg near Harrogate this morning, unexpectedly, I ended up learning a whole bunch of stuff on the fascinating subject of bees.
I spotted a modest little sign tucked into verge saying “Claro Bees ——->”
Do they sell honey? Is there a colony of bees there? Could it even be a rugby league team? The handmade sign looked friendly and inviting enough, so I pottered along the short track in the direction of the arrow head. A cluster of lockup sheds met me in a little clearing, all invitingly open. As I got closer, I recognised a few objects – the frames from beehives and parts of what I guessed to be the beehives themselves.
Peter, the proprietor greeted me. He explained the affinity with the 500 member strong Harrogate and Ripon Bee Keepers Association – a registered charity, who’s objective is to “promote and further the craft of beekeeping.” A worthy thing to do it turns out. I didn’t realise the dramatic positive impact bees have on our eco system for instance. A statement who’s provenance is bizarrely attributed to Albert Einstein goes “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”. Their service to mankind goes beyond making wax and honey – the tireless, thankless task they relentlessly perform for us is pollination. It’s estimated for instance, that an apple orchard is more than 50% less productive, if there are no bees in the area.
Peter also explained of a new initiative by the government – I presume DEFRA – that is underway, designed to help bees. It turns out that the bee isn’t a big fan of what’s known as the monocrop. Globalisation and modern farming means that nowadays we have huge areas of just one crop as it is more ‘efficient’ from a farming perspective. Farmers are now being encouraged to allow natural borders around their fields – with a rich mix of wild species. This helps the bee get it’s spice of live, and helps pollinate the crop. On paper, it may not look as efficient as covering all available space with a profitable crop, but it’s helping out the bee and the human, as a result.
Given that one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, the importance of this kind of thinking and planning is vital.
As well as providing a fully stocked shop to the beekeeping community, Claro Bees also provide talks and demonstrations as well as a library lending service – this is most definitely the most comprehensive beekeeping library I’ve ever seen. (Actually, it’s probably the only beekeeping library I’ve ever seen, but still.)
Whilst I was chatting to Peter, a customer asked “is it red this year?” To which Peter answered in the affirmative. I had to ask. It turns out that each year, a new colour is selected for marking the queen with. What I didn’t realise was that the Queen mates with around 20 male bees and carries their seed and lays eggs seeded from several fathers. A genius stroke from a genetics perspective as it give the future generation a richer gene pool, thus having several potential genetic options to fall back on, should something like a disease hit the colony. The queen is replaced every year because even though they are typically good for several years, they get ‘tired’ after 1 and so, are replaced. The colouring helps the keeper ensure that they’ve got the correct queen in each hive.
In what looked to be the main office shed, a whole rail of the earthbound astronaut looking outfits hung amidst object obscura; beware of the bee ware I was jokingly warned. A fair attempt at wrapping up another blog post with some on-topic humour, but I much prefer the idea of wrapping up things with the following tweet I read yesterday, by @jamesgfarrell :
Just killed a wasp (or maybe it was a bee). Now it’s a was (or maybe it’s a been).
More information about Claro Bees and The Harrogate and Ripon Bee Keeping Association can be found on their website – click here