Garden Centre and Restaurant

Get the buzz

There’s quite a buzz at Walkers this summer.

We’re delighted to announce the return of our Bee-Keeping Experience Days for 2013.

You will receive a practical basic introduction into the wonderful world of bees and bee-keeping at Walker’s new Apiary.  The courses will be run by our very own local bee expert, Malcolm Walker.

He’s “barmy about bees”, is Malcolm. He’s going to turn 70 in February 2013, looks a full fifteen years younger, and is a one-man encyclopaedia about bees, their habits and environments.  But even Malcolm – who lives in Westwoodside – confesses that he doesn’t know everything. He chuckles: “One of my missions in life is to get more and more young people interested in bees and their world. So, not so long ago, I took my little granddaughter Camilla along to see my hives, and to try to get her interested in what the bees can do for us.

“She was wide-eyed, as all children are, and I explained to her how the bees live, and how many of them there are in a hive. She turned and pointed, and asked ‘How many are in there, then Granddad?’ which was a good question.  I said ‘Oh, about two thousand or so in that one’, and there was a long pause, and she said ‘And do you know ALL their names?’  It was the best I could do to keep as straight a face as possible!”

He's in there somewhere!

 

Originally from Cheshire – he was born and raised in Frodsham – one of his earliest memories was being taking to see bees by a neighbour.  “He was a wonderful old man called Mr. Boden, and he’d say to me ‘Come on then young Malcolm, let’s go and look at the hives’, and, bless him, he was very careful about my safety, and used to make sure I was inside a nearby greenhouse, with the door slightly open so that I could peek around it, just in case. And he’s put on this very rudimentary veil, tuck his trousers into his socks, and that was about all the personal precautions he took.  And what I saw was marvellous, thousands upon thousands of bees, all moving as if by magic, and in the middle of it all, Mr. Boden, this calm and very measured man, completely in control.  Except that, of course, no-one ever is in total control of bees, because they are feral instincts, with wills of their own, and they can be very very unpredictable – and you’d be a fool if you didn’t admit, as every bee-keeper does, that you are learning something new every day, and that you’ll go on learning, until the day you drop.

After many years of  working in Lincolnshire, for a meat division of Waitrose, he retired  to Westwoodside. He says: “And that’s when, as most retirees do, I started thinking about taking something up as a hobby. I thought about fishing, but, much as I admire anglers, I am a bit too fond of company and a good chat to be stuck on the river or lake bank all day, and for some reason bee-keeping popped into my mind”.  Off he went to his local library to do some research.  “What did I find?  Next to nowt.  There was virtually nothing at all about how to start yourself off. So I did a bit more asking around, and it turned out that a couple of my neighbours, who are small-holding farmers, and who also have a stall at Doncaster market, had a few hives, and they got talking to me….and the whole thing started off.  The other great fillip was that I discovered the Doncaster Beekeeper’s Association, which, you may be surprised to learn, has around seventy or so members, from all over the DMBC, and much further beyond – some folk come to the meetings from as far away as Selby”. What’s the Doncaster Association’s age range?  “From middle-thirties and up to their seventies”, says Malcolm, who serves on their committee, “and we all really do wish that we could attract a lot of new blood… there are kids out there today who don’t even know what honey is, let alone what makes it, and what fascinating creatures bees are…someone said the other day that there are children at school today who believe that milk comes in cartons, not from cows.  How tragic is that?”

Doncaster’s elected Mayor, Martin Winter, is now a big fan of the Association, and has even personally persuaded the gardening division on the council to concentrate on  more “bee-friendly” plants for the parks, roundabouts and borders, which, says Malcolm “is incredibly forward-thinking, and a real step in the right direction”. Mr. Winter was the guest at last year’s Bee-meet at Walker’s, and heill hopefully buzz back this year as well!

He’s concerned that “a lot of people today can, just about, identify a bumble bee, but they get confused about worker bees, which just want to go about their job without doing any harm, and hover flies and wasps.  They can’t tell the difference.  To me, a wasp is just about the biggest pest that you can get in a garden.  They’re fairly harmless going back to their nests while their Queen is alive, but when she dies in around early August or so, they loose all sense of purpose, and they go all over the place, trying to feed off anything they can find….from burgers to beer, from juice to jam!”

Malcolm would thoroughly recommend “searching out your own local Association where-ever you may live. There are fifteen Associations in Yorkshire alone, from Doncaster to Huddersfield, from Skipton to Scarborough, and there are many, many more across the country.  There are now over 20,000 Beekeepers in the British Association, and there are probably a few more thousands who go it alone and who haven’t joined up.”

However, says Malcolm, “I think that it’s probably wiser to join an Association, and for many reasons.  Each of them is a sort of co-operative within themselves, so that you can buy odds and ends and equipment less expensively if you ‘buy in bulk’.  You have a lot of other like-minded people with whom you can discuss your ideas, problems and solutions to them. It’s a sort of rather nice club, where everyone has the same objective – keeping healthy bees, producing great honey, and helping the environment.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer, if you ask me”.

Some of our Walker's hives...

Joining an Association will cost you about £10.00 a year in a subscription, and to get started, you’ll find that you’ll be buying about £400 of essential equipment, and the bees themselves, of course, a laying Queen, her brood and larvae.  You’ll need a bee suit, a hive, a smoker, and a little patience.  “And, what’s great about an Association is that someone with far more experience than you have will come around and help you through the first year, and be a mentor to you”, he says.

There are absolutely no restrictions or legislations “that I know of”, on keeping bees.  “Anyone can do it, even in a small back garden”, says Malcolm, who now has eleven hives, set in woodland about five miles from his home. “But”, he adds, “I really would advise anyone who is thinking of setting up that it  could be wise, and a courtesy, to go and knock on the doors of your neighbours, just to let them know what your intentions are!  They may wonder why the bee population has suddenly increased over night!”

Yes, of course he’s been stung – in fact the very first time “was when a stray bee of Mr. Boden’s took a shine to me”, and he always carries anti-histamines with him, just in case.  And all bee-keepers have to be aware of going into anaphylactic shock after a bee sting, which is a generalised shock that quickly causes a difficulty in breathing. “It really is sensible to be prepared and always be sure that help can be called in any emergency”, counsels Malcolm.

His wife Jackie is now as interested in bee-keeping as he is himself, and Malcolm held several well-attended day-long seminars during last year at Walker’s Nurseries, including one “which gladdened my heart – a whole family turned up, grandpa, grandma, parents and the kids, and it was great to get them all involved.  Typically, a day’s starter instruction will include Malcolm’s illustrated talk about the world of bees and how to recognise them, tips about starting up, the biology and psychology of a bee, making a frame for them, a good lunch, and then (suitably dressed, naturally) an afternoon with the hive and the bee colonies themselves. “Then they can go away and think about whether or not they want to get started on what is the best hobby in the world”

Even if you don’t want to keep bees yourself, Malcolm urges everyone “with any patch of land, be it a small back garden to vast acres, or a large allotment, to think carefully about what you can put in it to help bees and their work.  For without bees and insects, and all their vital cross pollination, the world would grind to a halt.  There’s a place in China where the use of insecticides and herbicides over the decades had killed off every living bee and insect, and now, when they want their trees and plants pollinated to create crops, they get thousands of workers out into the fields for a few days, pollinating the blossoms with feathers on the end of sticks!  Crazy – but true.

“And some farmers, sorry to say this, just couldn’t care less – particularly in America.  They’ve ploughed everything up, so there are no wild flowers at all, and then they wonder why the bee population is fast dwindling.  That’s true here in the UK in some cases, as well, sadly – Lincolnshire was once described to me as ‘green concrete’, and I can see what they mean.  Bees love oil seed rape – but it’s only around for a month or so, and after that, they have to find something else.  Often, what else is there?”

So, if you want to do your bit, consider planting a few more lavender bushes, scattering a few wildflower meadow seeds about, leaving dandelions in the lawn at the far end, an planting ample amounts of borage. “I knew a farmer up in North Yorkshire who thought that he’d do his bit by turning over an entire many-acre field to borage” he says, “and it worked perfectly.  Bees in their hundred of thousands.  And then, one day, they’d disappeared.  Why?  Because the heather had come out on the moor across the way.  Bees will go and work one particular plant until they’ve got all the pollen they need, and then they move on.  Contrary to belief, they are not fickle, and they don’t flit about.”

....but there are a few warnings to heed...

 

And then, of course, there’s the end product, the honey itself. Making it is a long and painstaking process, but in the end, “it’s the best energy source there is, an incredible boost to the system.  Nearly forty per cent of it is glucose. Far, far better than sugar.  The best I’ve ever tasted was a wild chestnut honey, last year…and also a honey where the bees had collected from a lime tree.  Delicious”.

He laughs: “And, for those who prefer it, it’s also good with a wee tot of whisky in it!”

For further information on local branches, contact The British Beekeeping Association, National Beekeeping Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG. 

*Malcolm’s day-long seminars at Walker’s Nurseries begin in June and also run through  selecteedates in July and August.  The day begins at 10.00am, and all equipment is provided – but you are asked to bring wellies and warm clothing, as part of the day will be outside.  Sorry, over-8’s only. No upper age limit. Pre-booking is required, in person at The Garden Restaurant at Walker’s or by phone on 01302 770564. This year’s cost is kept at last year’s prices – £60.00, all inclusive.

 

2 Comments

  1. rumah dijual Says:


    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little study on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I located it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

    November 28th, 2013 at 8:31 am
  2. Rachel wisdom Says:


    This is an excellent day. That me and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed who new bees could be so interesting. And Malcolm is fabulous .

    July 27th, 2014 at 8:21 pm

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