Busy bees: How local beekeepers share their skills and expertise
May 20th was World Bee Day. Johnny Kipps, of the Isle of Man Beekeepers' Federation, tells how local beekeepers are sharing their skills and expertise, locally and globally:
'Please help! There are bees in my crab apple tree/in our eves/under my car (and the list goes on...)'
At this time of the year, the cries come in on a daily basis and beekeepers from the Isle of Man Beekeepers' Federation swing into action to assist.
Honey bees will swarm at any time from mid-April until the end of July. It is their natural means of increasing numbers. The queen from a local colony will fly off with half the workers, leaving a new queen cell waiting to hatch out. The swarm will cluster nearby while scout bees hunt for a new home.
The prime Island contact for honeybee swarms is the Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA), although please do not report lots of bees flying about but wait for the swarm to settle.
DEFA will ask the informant for details of the location, accessibility, and contact details.
Swarming bees think they are on holiday and are generally not aggressive but it is best to stay back and not provoke them until a beekeeper comes to collect the swarm.
DEFA informs the Isle of Man Beekeepers' Federation using a regional contact list. From the area of the informant, they will find a local beekeeper able to handle the swarm. The scout bees will be hunting hard for a new home, so time is of the essence to avoid the colony deciding to set up home in a chimney pot or a cellar, which will cause worse problems later on.
The local collector should retrieve the swarm and use their list of people in the locality wanting to provide it with a home.
Since it is illegal to import bees to the Island, these swarms prove valuable additions to individual apiaries.
No fee is charged for dealing with a swarm of bees.
Local beekeepers cannot deal with solitary bees, bumble bees, wasp nests, seagulls or any other flying creature which is causing concern to the public.
Apart from collecting swarms, the Isle of Man Beekeepers have been busy recently.
They've set up a new training apiary of seven colonies at the Old School in Marown and, thanks to the Manx Lottery Trust, built a fine new shed.
Every Saturday through the summer, beekeepers meet at the training apiary to check on the bees and introduce the novices to beekeeping.
The Federation runs a training course every year, during January to April. These are always popular and those interested to learn about beekeeping are encouraged to sign up via our website from November onwards to join the next annual cohort.
Advancing the practice of good beekeeping is part of the ethic of the Federation, so it wasn’t surprising that when Christian Aid Isle of Man (a new Biosphere Partner) asked for a volunteer to journey to central Africa to help improve beekeeping skills, Federation President Harry Owens immediately offered his services.
Harry, who has been a beekeeper for more than 50 years, has recently returned from the three-week trip to Burundi, where the local beekeepers benefited from Harry’s skills and experience.
He was able to teach not only beekeeping but how to manufacture good protective clothing and to build beehives, as well.
This generous spirit of service to the bees is amply evidenced by the presence (at time of writing) of two Master Beekeepers from 'across' who are visiting on their own time over four days to examine 15 members of the Federation on the first steps of our academic (including practical) study of beekeeping.
Who knows, maybe in years to come some of this group will eventually become Master Beekeepers as well?
The Isle of Man is in the unique situation being free of the dreadful pest Varroa Destructor.
This mite breeds on the bee pupae in the cocoon and is devastating to honeybees. Far-sighted Manx politicians passed a law prohibiting the importation of bees. This prescience saved the Manx bees, but it can’t be repeated enough – it is illegal, and totally reckless, to import bees into the Isle of Man.
To highlight this danger, two Federation beekeepers and their husbands built and entered a tree in the Festival of Trees, the Save the Children project held every year at Isle of Man Airport.
The project was a great success – raising £6,700 for this worthwhile charity - and our entry even more so, for our Varroa Warriors, Linda Cain and Maggie Hughes, and their husbands Sean and Steve, carried off all the silverware on offer.