Bees & Bee Keeping

Speaker: Roy Godfrey
28th October

Roy in protective clothing

Roy in protective clothing


Roy “The Honey Man” introduced himself to a larger that usual audience of some 25 very interested people. He has been a bee keeper for 30 odd years and was first introduced to his passion at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park where a demonstration of keeping bees was taking place.

He was smitten then and there and allowed to put a veil on, use a smoker and observe the bees walking around on a frame taken out of the hive. These were “docile” bees and no danger to the public as they were not likely to sting. He became a smoker boy for his bee keeping GPO Control Officer Dudley North and had his first sting.

As he had no allergic reaction and no adverse effects he became a bee keeper himself. He told us that things have changed a lot since he began his hobby, for one thing he is now the new Chairman of the Portsmouth and District Beekeeping Association having come up through the ranks. There are now seven types of hive in Britain and no longer are the familiar white slatted hives used, or the straw “skeps” of the old days.

Less protective clothing is needed, Roy demonstrated the all in one suit and helmet, bare arms are usual, but asked us to remember bees like to crawl into crevices and they die after stinging! Bees harvest pollen, honey and populous resin which is a natural antiseptic gathered from poplar trees. The populous is used to sterilise the hive.

He described the different types of bees, the Queen Bee (marked with a red paint spot), Workers and Drones, and their life cycles. The Queen being 1.5 inches long and after being fertilised by about 10 Drones (which then die) can lay up to three million eggs in her lifetime. The Queen can live for 4.5 years, Workers only for five weeks. One hive will contain 90 to 100 thousand bees and produce 200 pots of honey each year.

The hive contains frame formers on which the bees live and make the “honeycomb” and can be monitored. There can be 3.5 thousand eggs per frame and there must be room to lay the eggs otherwise the bees will swarm and move off. Fresh frames will be needed to prevent disease in the hive. Bees consume honey and make wax through a “honey valve”. They store more honey than they need but will need 35 lbs for the winter. After September, no more honey should be taken from the colony.

After the winter the bees get their first feed from rape flowers although rape honey crystallises rather quickly and frames must be removed after two days otherwise they set like concrete. The set of the honey depends on the different flowers the bees feed on. Wax cells are made in hexagon shapes the size of Worker bee or Drone bee eggs.

The worker eggs are fertilised and the drone eggs are not. The hatched grubs are fed on royal jelly and after 21 days we have a new worker bee and after 23 days a new drone bee. In time the wax cap is removed from the comb with an electric knife and the comb spun in a centrifuge to collect the honey. The honey comb can then be recycled.

When a comb gets clogged no more eggs can be laid so scout bees are sent out to find a suitable place to move to. The Queen leaves the hive with the swarm. It is expensive to replace a colony £300 to £380 for five frames.

Roy has developed a way of breeding his own Queens by a grafting method and introducing her into a new colony. This must be done carefully so she absorbs the smell of the hive before being released, otherwise the drones will kill her.

Queens can be supplied to order through the post in special cages, supplied with “fondant” to feed them. Roy told us a story about a swarm of bees found in a tree trunk. The trunk had to be split lengthways to get at the bees and they were collected by Roy with a low powered vacuum cleaner. They were then but in a hive and a 7.5 ft long honey comb harvested from the tree.

Good gardeners know that bees pollinate flowers and this then produces crops. More bees are needed to do this job as wild bees are not so plentiful these days. In parts of China there are no bees now and hand pollination takes place. Bees are under threat from numerous causes. Woodpeckers drill holes in the hive and the drafts kill the baby bees. Mice get in and block up ventilation holes which causes mildew and makes the bees too hot, so mouse guards are put on hives to prevent this.

The Verona parasite can be controlled by getting the mite to lay its eggs in a drone “foundation” which the kills the drones only. We don’t have the disappearing bee syndrome as they have in America due to the different ways of husbanding the bees.

Disease free bees can be obtained from Australia. He estimated that bees add about £800 billion to the British economy and the Government have only given £2 million for research. Roy told us that a Buckfast Abbey monk has developed a wet weather bee that can operate in the rain which extends their working days.

Roy finished his entertaining and informative hands on talk with a question and answer session and we were able to purchase some of his products ably presented by his wife Trish.

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