Bees - Gibraltar Honey

When we phoned our gentleman beekeeper on our second call to a bee swarm, he commented: "You have seen how it is done, just go out there and do it."

So - thrown in at the deep end - we started to learn the art of swarm collection very quickly; lady luck was on our side. However, 'Beekeeping for Dummies' was provided by Rosina, one of our workers. She thought we were quite mad and needed help in the art of beekeeping far faster than our present knowledge could cope with - she was right.

Fortunately Anthony Hall, a curator of The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and a bee-keeper from the age of eleven, was due for his annual visit to Gibraltar. Possibly out of pity for our stumbling understanding of the subject he felt compelled to forgo of some of his evenings of seed separation and gave us a crash course on bees and their keeping. We will be forever in his debt.

Since then we have moved on in leaps and bounds as they say. We have learned about CCD (colony collapse disorder), wax moth invasions, and all manner of other problems one encounters in the hive. We likewise understand now how important the bee is to mankind as a whole and became truely fascinated: Cross pollination of the many crops that provide everyday resources is one of the subjects that were previously not in the forefront of our mind. The importance struck home: Knowing now that bee pollination is responsible for 60 % of mankind's food, while having around 600 flowering plants in Gibraltar, and knowing the foraging range of the honey bee is 3 miles (4.8 km), the preservation of local bees became more and more significant to us.

We became bee keepers, not for the honey they would provide, but for the job they were doing for the flora of Gibraltar. The first summer season came and went and our learning curve took an upward direction.

Nectar For the Gods

To our surprise the first season brought us honey clear and golden. To the great part it was made from olive blossoms that in that season are found in abundance throughout the Upper Rock. We sent a sample to the environmental test centre to clear it for consumption, and it passed with flying colours. We distributed it to locals who suffer from hay fever or asthma, in the homeopathic belief that a daily spoonful of 5ml local honey will help with both these ailments. Who are we to know if this works? At worst we gave them a spoonful of one of nature's greatest gifts.

The Don'ts of Beekeeping

The process of beekeeping is achieved better if you have a beekeeper on hand to guide you in your endeavours. Working with hives can be fraught with problems.

Anaphylactic shock can be brought about from a bee sting. As this dangerous condition causes the closure of your airway, stay away from bees, if you know that you are prone to that! On your first forays with an occupied hive, ensure you have a mobile phone and know where the nearest hospital is! We know that all of this sounds rather bad - but better safe than sorry!

Those of you, who have been stung by bees: yes, you can build up an immunity to them. We however believe there is no need to travel that path. With the right equipment there is no necessity to be stung. Protocols are the order of the day, each and every visit to the hive should be checklisted. Being stung is not a medal to be worn with bravado, it's a mistake and you made it!

When it comes to the honey you take from the hive, remember why the bees made it. It was for their needs not ours, so don't take too much and if you do, then leave a supplement. Seek advice from a beekeeper before removing honey from the hive.