What’s causing a buzz in Heene? We caught up with our bee-keeper, Stuart, to learn a little more about him and to hear the latest about how the resident honey bees at Heene Cemetery hives are getting on. Here’s what he told us.
How did you come to be involved / interested in bee keeping?
My interest in bee keeping started off as a child growing up in the country. My childhood home was in Breton in Hampshire and we had a big garden.
Beekeepers always have more bees than places to put them – something I have experienced myself. One day, when I was about five or six, the local beekeeper turned up at home (I presume invited, my memories are a little hazy!) with some beehives. And over time these grew to our five or six hives at home.
At school we had hives too because, quite ahead of the times, our head teacher had a keen interest in conservation.
I stopped bee keeping for a time for me when I went to university, after which I moved to Brighton for a job – and then on to Worthing. About 12 years ago I picked it up again. And I went from having one hive to having many!
What’s behind your passion for beekeeping and what do you wish people knew more about it?
My passion for keeping bees makes it a big part of my life but the reason for this is not something I can immediately put my finger on. Like many people, my day-to-day work can sometimes be stressful so the bees make for a mindful distraction. You have to slow your pace down to work with bees and it’s quite a consuming experience to have your arms in a beehive! There’s not a lot of room to think about anything else!
For me personally it has been very cathartic to keep bees over the last 12 months through the pandemic. Livestock has not been subject to as many restrictions as other activities so I have been able to continue to tend bees. It’s been great to have a reason and purpose for getting out of the house.
Also, as areas become more built up, there’s less habitat for bees. As green spaces have receded in urban areas over time, there is much less opportunity for wild bees to thrive.
What’s causing a buzz in Heene? On World Bee Day, learn about our local bee keeper, Stuart and how our resident bees at Heene Cemetery are getting on. Read the article here Blog | Friends of Heene Cemetery on a day when we’re reflect on the importance of preserving bees and all other pollinators who are so vital for preserving our planet.Tweet
In the time you’ve been keeping bees have there been any changes to their behaviour?
Yes, it’s changed quite a lot – a scary amount.
I have noticed that it tends to now get warmer earlier in the year – so bees are coming out of their winter cycle earlier and are swarming earlier.
If you talk to older beekeepers many will tell you that in the past they wouldn’t have expected to get swarms before late May, lasting to the end of July. But these days I am picking up swarms any time from early April, sometimes as early as the end of March. In terms of the bee cycle it is a big swing.
If you see a swarm beginning to gather, please contact a local beekeeper as soon as they arrive. The longer they are in place, the harder they can be to remove. I get so many calls on a Sunday where they have been in the garden for ages…..Stuart – Friends of Heene Cemetery Beekeeper
Honey collecting is another area that’s seen change. Even 12 years ago the honey collecting would not start until mid-June to the end of July, but these days it starts around the third week in August – much later.
I’ve also found that I have to leave more honey on the hives at the end of the year because, with the onset of warmer winters, bees are consuming more food during the winter months. Cold and dry conditions during the winter are the best weather conditions for bees for two reasons:
Mould is a big killer of bees during the winter so you don’t want a warm and wet winter. That promotes mould within the hive.
And warmer weather over winter means they’re more active too so starvation of bees is becoming a threat. That’s why I leave more honey on at the end of the year.
How did you come to be involved in Heene and the work that’s happening there?
What prompted me to get involved with Heene was finding myself at the tipping point of having more bees than I had space for. I contacted Heene about six or seven years ago when, in my backyard, I’d grown to quite a few hives. I needed to think of my neighbours – the average beehive in the height of summer has around 50,000 bees!
So I asked around about a suitable space in Worthing and came to find out about the urban green space at Heene.
It couldn’t have worked out better! It’s a great space to keep bees right now. And they do really well there! Over winter there’s a lot of food in the local area for them which has surprised me. Bees tend to forage within a two mile radius, so with Heene being so close to the sea they lose a lot of foraging space. But I haven’t seen this impact how well they are thriving there.
It’s something I’m keen to understand more about so I applied last year to the National Honey Monitoring Scheme. I’ll be filling three plastic test tubes with honey this year and they’ll conduct a plant DNA bar coding. It will help us to learn more about what the Heene bees are foraging on.
I think it might be surprising, the cemetery has tons of flowers but they’re feeding on more than that!
What effect have the lockdowns had on bees, if any?
It hasn’t had a great impact on bees as such, but last year was a great year for picking up swarms – the lack of vehicles and people made this possible. And in general terms it was a better year for bee keeping, lower pollution.
What message would you like to leave with people about the work that you do?
If people want to get involved with beekeeping, a great way to do this is to get in contact with local beekeeping clubs. Locally to Heene, this would be the Worthing Bee Club for example.
It’s easier to get involved than you may think – and even if you can’t keep hives yourself, by contacting a club you may find other ways to get involved.
Support our work – we could not maintain Heene Cemetery without the contributions made by you donate hereSue Standing – Chairperson for Friends of Heene Cemetery