Doing the waggle-tail dance to get the buzz on bees
Beekeeping was not something I had ever thought about before, but after hearing about the Friends of the Earth Bee Cause I decided to have a go.
Unbeknown to many Lutonians, there is a buzzing bee scene in the town, with a hive in Stockwood Park where more than 50,000 bees live in the height of summer, and many more hives in people’s gardens.
The Bedfordshire Beekeepers Association has around 300 members, of which 50 live in Luton, and the Stockwood Park centre is where many of them train.
I met the chairman of Beds Beekeepers Colin Hall and beekeeper Mike Niemann at Stockwood Park where they provided me with all the essential beekeeping kit for a visit to the hive.
Dressing up in the beekeepers’ outfit was great fun and I felt well protected from any angry bees, but I was slightly concerned when Colin and Mike told me bees like to wriggle into small dark spaces, like up trouser legs!
Fortunately the bees at Stockwood Park are the gentler Italian and Carniolan bees, but as it was a cold day they were likely to be a little annoyed they were being disturbed. In winter bees don’t hibernate as such, but they tend to stay in the hive buzzing away and moving about to keep warm.
Seeing a real bee hive was fascinating, and Colin and Mike were full of interesting facts – the bees are so clever.
I learnt the male bees are called drones, and the female bees are workers. When the winter comes and there is no further need for the drones, the workers kick them out of the hive; often using cruel tactics like nibbling their wings so they can’t fly, pushing them out of the hive and leaving them to die outside.
When a honey bee finds flowers with a lot of nectar and pollen, she goes back to the nest and does the waggle tail dance to tell the other bees about it so they can find the flowers too. The angle and direction of the dance tells the other bees which direction to fly in, and the length of the ‘waggle’ indicates how far away they are. If the dancer repeats the dance lots of times, it means there is a lot of good pollen.
Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, the bee population is in decline, which is something that will affect all of us.
We all know honey and beeswax candles come from bees, but did you know without bees we wouldn’t have sunflower, butter beans, jam, mead and even chocolate?
This year has been the worst beekeeping year in living memory, partly because of the terrible weather but also due to the ongoing fight against the deadly varroa mite.
The varroa mite is a massively destructive parasite from the Far East which thanks to humans is now in this country. There is also growing evidence that bees may be adversely affected by neonicotinoids used as pesticides since the early 1990s which interfere with their nervous system.
Bees are essential for life, pollinating 75 per cent of our most vital crops and favourite foods. Without bees it would cost UK famers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops which is more than it costs farmers to produce all the milk consumed in the UK every year.
To find out about the Bee Cause and how you can help, visit www.foe.co.uk
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Weather for Luton
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 6 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west