The Buzz About Honeybees

Leslie Castle has its own bees and honey to sample at breakfast.

Honeybees in Scotland

  • Scottish native bees are often said to be stocky, dark, frugal and with particularly hairy backsides! All these traits can be useful to an insect needing to forage, survive and even mate in our cool, windy climate.
  • Bees belong to the insect family, with 6 legs, and a body segregated into head, thorax, and abdomen. Honeybees have 2 sets of wings (4 in total) that are attached to the thorax; 2 large compound-eyes and 3 smaller simple-eyes and 2 antennae on the head.  Their stocky bodies are covered in hairs which the pollen sticks to.
  • There are several honeybee sub-species in Scotland and hybrids with imported foreign bees.  Our other native bees are various types of bumblebees and solitary mining bees.
  • There are currently around 2,400 hobby beekeepers and around 25 commercial bee farmers in Scotland whose businesses depends on the management of healthy honeybees.

Did you know?

  • Bees can see all colours except red, which they see as black and can also see ultraviolet so flower markings take on a different appearance and can be likened to airport runway lights guiding a plane in for landing!
  • It takes 21 days for a worker bee to develop from an egg.
  • The queen bee lays all the eggs and is therefore mother to around 50,000 bees in an average hive.

Honey Making Process

  • Honeybees are best known for their ability to collect nectar from flowers and produce honey.
  • The nectar from flowers is very sugary and gives the bees energy.  The pollen is protein rich and mostly used to feed to the developing young brood or larvae. 
  • The nectar is deposited into cells within the hive’s honeycomb and the worker bees fan their wings over the nectar to evaporate excess water, transforming it into honey. Once the honey reaches the less than 20% water, bees cap the cells with beeswax to seal the honey inside.
  • Harvesting methods can vary, but typically involve removing frames of capped honey from the hive and uncapping the honeycomb cells to release the honey. After which special extractors are used to spin the frames, causing the honey to flow out of the cells.
  • The extracted honey is then filtered to remove impurities and debris.
  • Finally, the honey is bottled and labelled for sale or personal use and in our case served at breakfast in Leslie Castle.

Environmental Impact

  • Some sources suggest that every third mouthful of food that we eat depends on the unmanaged pollination services of bees.
  • Bees pollinate flowering crops such as apples, pears, cherries, soft fruits, beans, oil seed rape and tomatoes. The need for bee pollination varies with the crop ranging from 8% for oil seed rape to 100% for almond trees. Crops such as wheat and barley are wind pollinated and do not require the services of bees or other insects.
  • In addition to cultivated crops, honeybees also play a vital role in pollinating wildflowers, supporting diverse ecosystems, promoting biodiversity, and helping to mitigate the impacts of habitat loss, and other environmental stressors.

About Stings

  • Normal Reaction: local pain, swelling, itching and redness.
  • Mild Allergic Reaction: swelling in larger area can last a few days but no systemic effects (on breathing, blood flow etc)
  • Severe Allergic Reaction: anaphylaxis, hives, itching swelling elsewhere, difficulty breathing, dizziness, shock, cardiac arrest. If you see any signs of this reaction, or even if you are not sure, get medical help immediately. 

Role of Beekeepers

  • Beekeeping involves much more than simply putting some bees in a box, putting your feet up and waiting for the honey to flow! It requires roughly one afternoon a week during the active season (April to August). Plus a few days extra to process the honey & feed the bees for winter. From October to March, other than treatments for disease prevention, they need less attention.
  • Honeybee colonies are kept in beehives, constructed of either wood or high-density polystyrene. The hive comprises a large brood box containing 11-12 removable frames and smaller supers or honey boxes, sitting on top of the brood box in which the bees store honey, and from which the beekeeper harvests some of the surplus.
  • Despite thousands of years of beekeeping history and a huge amount of scientific research, honeybee behaviour is not always predictable or interpretable. It is famously said that ‘the bees do not read the books that tell them what they are supposed to do!’
  • Each beekeeping year is different, demanding different techniques and manipulations by the beekeeper.
  • Getting together with local people and being mentored by more experienced beekeepers is invaluable for learning and refining the art of beekeeping and we are proud members of the Kemany Community Bee Group. https://kemnaybees.org/
  • Bees can suffer from pests and diseases and the damaging effects of pesticides. Beekeepers are responsible for the prevention of the spread of disease between hives and apiaries by cleaning and disinfecting equipment, managing disease in colonies, and removing diseased or damaged equipment.

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