My name is Arlene Dunkley-Wood and I am the accidental beekeeper.
My husband and I moved with our young family to Chingford on the Greater London boarders of Waltham Forest in 1998.
We felt really excited to be moving to a much larger house than we had before in Clapton. It had a big garden, with lots of space for the children to explore and have fun in.
The previous owner was a very experienced and enthusiastic beekeeper of 40 years and he was excited to share his love of beekeeping with us, when we came to view the property.
I don’t know exactly how it came about, but for some reason he decided to leave a dormant hive in the garden for me. He left a note “saying he had left me a hive” and also left me the local newsletters from the Epping Beekeepers Association. Somehow, in our few visits and conversation, he got the idea that I might be interested in bees.
I came from inner city Hackney, London and had no interest in any insects and definitely not bees!
“Great, just what I need!” I thought. It took us a few weeks to settle in, but eventually I got round to taking a look at the newsletters. I found another beekeeper (Jenny Baring) living nearby in Chingford. She was more than happy to come around to open up the hive and welcomed me into the beekeeping community.
She brought with her a couple of bee suits, just in-case the bees were still inside, even though it was clear from outside that there was no activity around the hive entrance.
She suggested we cut out the dark brown brood comb. Giving me a brief overview of beekeeping. “You can decide later if you want to take up beekeeping, was her parting remark.”
Fast forward to a fortnight later, we had a gardener in to cut down the long grass; while he was busy mowing, he called me over and asked me “Have you got any bees in that hive?” “No!” I said. “Well, I think you have” He said, “I just got stung”.
We called Jenny (beekeeper) back. She arrived with bee suits. We opened the hive and discovered that a swarm had come home and we were very pleased to see that the colony had already drawn out honeycomb, which was dripping with fresh honey nectar. What an amazing sight. I was now initiated into beekeeping.
We have now downsized to Walthamstow. It didn’t take me long to feeling that our garden didn’t feel right without bees in it. So in 2012, I went to collect a nucleus of bees from a beekeeper in Essex and the rest is history. We now have 4 colonies. Two in our garden and 2 in a generous friends garden a mile away. The bees will visit the flowers in the local Walthamstow gardens and have been very productive. We collected 300 pounds weight of honey last year and the previous year. We are hopefully that this year they will be as productive. They have survived the winter, but they were making signs of potentially swarming, so we are waiting for the new virgin queens to get laying. Maybe a delayed start but we hope it will be a good harvest come August.
The bees are crucial for our planet they pollinate the plants and work incredibility hard to produce the honey that we have on our breakfast.
Did you know that the colony is mainly full of female bees? This sisterhood is crucial for the survival of the hive-mind; in a way the Queen is the prisoner of the colony. The virgin queen mates on the wing with a few drones, after which she will return safely back to the hive. She never leaves the hive, until she is either too old and is pushed out with a swarm or She gets superseded by a younger more productive Queen. A good Queen lays around 2000 eggs a day, in the spring to summer period. She is tended to and fed by the nursing bees and the flying bees bring back nectar and pollen to feed the whole colony. They use the nectar and pollen to give them energy to produce, wax which they produce from their wax glands. The wax is made into perfect hexagonal combs which they fill t with their stores of honey for the good of the whole colony. It’s so amazing to see this in action. The honey we have on our breakfast; is stored in special boxes above the brood chamber and they are called supers. When the honey has been fanned, enough to evaporate the water content and the honey is ripe, the bees then seal the honey with a thin film of wax. The beekeeper then is able to take off the ripe honey at the end of the summer season. The honey is extracted with a centrifugal extractor and filtered and then bottled.
The population increases considerably by June/ July and then starts to decrease around end August/September when she starts laying the winter bees, which will survive through the winter. She will start to lay again around January and then the whole cycle begins again.
The life cycle of the honeybee is around 6 weeks from egg to flight to death on the wing. What a sacrifices these amazing creatures do for the world.
If you want to discover more about bees go to the www.BBKA.org website.
All the honey that I produce from the bees is bottled almost immediately and is pure and raw, I do not heat treat my honey. Honey from hive to the jar with the help of a few million bees.