…And you thought it was just honey…

Tony & Deb Richards have been keeping bees for about 15 years, in Coppermill Road.

They initially bought their first hive when they wanted to ensure the best possible pollination for their fruit trees, and the project grew…1…2..3…12!!

Unfortunately the very severe winter last year did have an impact, and they do have fewer now, but given the immense amount of work involved, she is thinking maybe a slightly smaller operation might have advantages!

There’s roughly 50 thousand bees to a hive in the summer. Each bee lives about 6 weeks, it varies depending on the time of year, it can be as short as two weeks, or as long as several months. Bees over-winter, but only females (Workers) with the queen and the colony is far smaller than in the summer. Honey is produced as their winter food source, by the regurgitation and evaporation of nectar and pollen.

Tony and a young Noah (2019)

Male bees (Drones) don’t collect pollen, indeed they have but one function, to impregnate the queen, but in the process they are killed. The queen will mate with several drones, maintaining the genetic variation within the hive. The Queen lays about 2,000 eggs per day, and produces a chemical to which the workers are addicted, if the hive lose it’s queen, it will disperse and all the bees will die. Royal jelly is a substance made by nurse bees that given to a worker bee larva will mean she becomes a fertile queen, not an infertile worker. If there are two queens within a hive, the colony may split.

Worker bees carry out specific roles, some will forage for nectar and pollen some act as guards, to the colony, do hive maintenance, or nurse the brood cleaning and feeding the larvae. Worker bees have wax secreting glands, and they build the hexagonal matrix, in which the queen lays the eggs, or honey is stored. If foraging worker bees find a good source of nectar and pollen on returning to the hive, they will perform a “waggle dance” whereby they communicate the precise coordinates to their fellows. Worker bees also regulate the temperature of the hive, clustering together around the queen in the cold, or fanning their wings to circulate air in hot weather. A single worker bee may progress through various roles in their “career”, but a worker bee can never become a queen.

Noah’s staring role for Blue Peter (2019)

To produce one 1lb jar of honey, the bees must visit approximately two million flowers. It is one of the oldest foods known to man, indeed sealed jars of honey were found buried with the pharaohs, which apparently was still edible! It has medicinal uses in treating wounds, it is said eating local honey (This is our local honey!) helps with hayfever, as it contains the same pollens you are exposed to, and de-sensitises the body.

Honey is however but a by-product of bee activity, although a very nice one! – In visiting the two million flowers and collecting the pollen and nectar, the bee also fertilises the flowers, this is their most vital role – and the reason that Debs bought her original hive, to fertilise her fruit trees. Our agricultural industry is massively dependent on bees. We need the bees, we like their honey, but they need flowers…please plant bee-friendly flowers, and be careful in the use of pesticides. No-mow May and other activities to increase wild flowers in your garden will directly benefit our bees.

People often confuse bees with wasps, they are very different. A wasp can sting multiple times, its stinger is smooth, only the queen bee has a smooth sting. Drones have no sting at all and worker bees have a barbed sting, meaning that if they sting the sting stays in place, pumping in the “poison” to detach the worker loses the sting, and with it a part of their abdomen, and will die. This means that bees will only sting if they are being attacked, or perceive your actions as an attack. You can recognise honey bees as they fly with their back legs down, and tend to be “fluffy” with dull yellow stripes. Wasps have a more distinct waist, tend to have more vivid yellow stripes, and look almost hairless. Wasps don’t make honey, and are far more likely to sting than a honey bee (or any kind of bee) but they too do serve a useful function in the environment, in reducing other pests.


The significant threats to bees are in garden pesticides, varroa mites and asian hornets (look like a bigger wasp) which actively target and consume honey bees. If you see an asian hornet, it should be reported.

Obviously Tony, Debs and Noah have a great passion for their colonies, but we should too.

The Richards Family Honey is available from them directly (Text Deb on 07765-336934) or from The Kitchen, but stocks are limited.


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