Interview with the beekeeper.
5 June 2020
Emily Stanbridge loves bees. She's currently the owner of three hives located in her garden in Ancoats. Here she talks about getting started as a beekeeper, the weaker sex and what you should definitely do if you get stung.
How did you get into beekeeping, Emily?
When I was at uni my step-dad started keeping bees. He lives over in Holmfirth and every holiday I’d be back over there helping him with his bees and I just really loved it. They’re so fascinating I could talk about them for hours! When we first found this house it was one of the main criteria we were looking for, one of the first things we did. I took a split from one of my step-dad’s hives which means you take some frames of bees and put them in a little polystyrene nuc box and they raise themselves a new queen.
So the bees just pick an egg at random?
Pretty much, yes. When they realise they’re queenless they start building queen cups which are located somewhere on the frame. Usually they’ll make two or three and only feed them royal jelly rather than nectar or pollen. Eventually they end up looking like peanut shells because they’re bigger than normal larvae and take much longer to hatch because they’re obviously much bigger. Well, not obviously. When the first queen hatches she chews a circle to get out and then she’ll go and kill all the others.
Oh. Killer Queen…
They do it all on pheromones. Recently we split our hive which was quite large and moved the queen into a smaller box. So you leave the stronger part of the hive where they are and they raise their own new queen. Unfortunately they made about five or six and then the hive swarmed!
So the new queen didn’t kill all the others?
She must have missed one so the garden filled with bees and then they flew over into the park. That’s why we’ve got three hives now rather than two. Once a hive swarms they’ve got the smell of a new queen so if you put them back in the old hive they wouldn’t like it.
Can a swarm be dangerous?
No, I don’t think so. When bees swarm they gorge themselves on all the stores in the hive so they’re sort of drunk on honey! It’s the most calm you’ll ever see them; they just sort of settle into a big ball of bees. You could almost pick them up with your bare hands and scoop them back into their box.
How much honey do your hives produce?
Last year we only managed to get about 15 jars from our hive because our queen wasn’t very good and didn’t lay many eggs. The honey is a bonus but not why we do it. If the bees know that they have a bad queen they can just stop feeding her; she can’t look after herself. We did manage to grow our first pumpkins though, that was quite an achievement! Obviously bees are great at pollinating which is why they’re so important for growing food.
My girlfriend, a proud feminist, wants me to ask you what other roles are there for female bees if there’s only one queen? Are there equal opportunities for both bee genders?
Well actually the whole hive is female! Male bees are hatched in spring and are called drones; they’re visibly shorter and fatter and they don’t live for very long. They don’t help to construct the hive and they don’t gather nectar or pollen. Their only real purpose is to mate with a virgin queen. They can be a drain on the hive so when it gets to around September they get kicked out and they all die. The males are pretty much useless.
Ah. She’ll be pleased. Is beekeeping something you’d recommend people try?
Yes for sure! There are loads of beekeepers and hives all over Manchester, there’s even hives on the roof of Manchester Cathedral. You need to become a member of MDBKA (Manchester and District Beekeeping Association) and they offer courses teaching people how to look after their own hives from their base in Heaton Park.
And lastly, how often do you get stung?
So far not at all this year although last year we kept a running total on our chalkboard so I’d say about 10 times. My body seems to react worse every time I get stung, I really swell up. Not long ago I was stung at the same time on both legs and I could hardly walk, I had to take a day off. There are loads of old wives tales about how to treat bee stings but I can tell you there is only one that works. Put a teaspoon in a cup of boiling water and wait for it to heat up. Then brace yourself and press the spoon onto the sting and I guarantee it won’t swell up.
Wow. I’m not sure what’s worse but thanks, Emily.
You can follow Emily’s adventures as a beekeeper through her Instagram @ancoatsbees
For more information on local beekeeping including courses on how to set up your own hive visit www.mdbka.com
Interview and photos by Christian at Blossom. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org