I have just come back from a bus tour of SW Turkey followed immediately by a weekend with a crowd of ‘green’ activists at Kinnersley Castle on the Welsh Marches. Although neither event was connected with beekeeping it was amazing how often the subject came up.
The Turkey trip was a bus tour of historic sites plus a chance to see turtles and to swim in the Mediterranean. I was struck by how few birds and insects there were in the parts of Turkey we visited, especially in the countryside. I had brought some insect repellant with me, expecting there to be a constant battle with bugs but there was none to be seen except, towards the end of the journey, when one of the hotels had a few flies.
One could go for hours without seeing a bird. I did spot what might have been a couple of stork nests atop electricity pylons in the Meander valley, but they were unoccupied. One of the hotels, at Pammukale, had 3 martins’ nests above the bedroom balcony but they were unoccupied. I did see a sparrow close by though.
There was a couple on the bus who, somehow, twigged that I was a bee-man and they asked me if I knew anything about bee-boles. I replied that I have one in my garden but, so far, it has been only for show. I suggested that they look at the IBRA website where they have a record of bee boles. The conversation turned to skep beekeeping and I assured them that it is no longer necessary to destroy the bees as used to be the practice. That got me musing as to ways and means and I’d like to give it a go some day when I’ve thought it through and found time to make more skeps. I fancy keeping them, not in boles in a wall but in what might, to the passer by, look like rabbit hutches on a stand. I shall ponder on practicalities and sites before doing anything about it and it won’t be for a year or two as I have too many bee-projects on the go already!
Looking out of the bus window, occasionally one saw beehives, usually a cluster of a dozen or so but none was being worked. Once, at lunch, we were served a pudding of yoghourt with a large dollop of honey. I asked the waiter whether it was local honey and told him I am a beekeeper. I didn’t get a reply but he laughed, slapped me on the back and brought me a second helping!
Our guide explained that we were upon a religious festival, the name of which, in Turkish, sounded a bit like ‘eehbahgum’. It dates back to Old Testament times and entails slaughtering animals, usually sheep, and sharing the meat with neighbours. Occasionally, as we drove along, sheep could be seen dangling after slaughter in people’s gardens. Once the person sitting next to me exclaimed ‘There’s one!’ which was next to the road. The bus driver stopped and reversed 100 yards back along the dual carriageway to where it was. Our guide got out, shimmied down the bank and had a word with the people there. As a result, we were directed to a farm up a side road a furlong away.
We disembarked, entered the farm yard and there saw, still twitching, a very freshly slaughtered cow! We gathered round, watching the animal being gutted, beheaded, skinned and dismembered, hoisted up on a tractor winch. In the meantime, the farmer’s wife had got a fire going and started cooking.
A few yards behind the cow was a dilapidated single storey farm building and on its roof was a line of equally tatty bee hives. One of them was occupied! The box was sloping at about 45 degrees and the bees were using a hole in the rotten side as their entrance. Unfortunately this was when my camera’s batteries died so I couldn’t photograph it. I went close and could see the bees which seemed to be quite dark and well striped. I ambled to other side of the wall to answer a call of nature and could see that there were more hives in an orchard of the far side of a pasture. Unfortunately, poor linguistic skills prevented me from discussing the bees with the farmer as we ate chunks of freshly barbecued beef.
Occasionally one saw roadside stalls largely dedicated to the sale of honey and other bee products. We stopped at one and saw that, among other products, they even had phials of Royal Jelly! Again, lack of language prevented discussion.
Back in England, I had only a few hours to get to the opposite side of the country to Kinnersley Castle in Herefordshire where I had been invited to mingle with about 50 members of a ‘green’ protest movement as they plotted how best to get their message across to the public. There were delegations from France and from Poland giving advice and the people present seemed to come from far afield: one young lady was an American from Ohio; there was a Fijian and I think I detected an accent from the land of Oz. There were several organic farmers present, one of whom, on the Sunday morning cooked up some of his own sausages over the open fire in the great hall of the castle (originally Norman but re-build in the 1500s) as he wasn’t allowed in the kitchen as all the food prepared was vegetarian or vegan.
Of course there were several beekeepers present and we gravitated to one end of the dining table to natter. One, an elderly chap, confessed that he hadn’t opened his hive for years but they still carried on. Another, younger (than me) and keen, is into black bees and top bar and Warre hives. As he uses the standard, trapezoidal, pattern of TBH, he has had trouble with comb breaking off, a thing that doesn’t usually occur with my semi-circular combs. He has since been in touch by email and passed links to a couple of interesting web sites. He doesn’t seem to like the BBKA but we didn’t go into details why.
Late on the Saturday evening, a journalist arrived and she told me that she was writing and article about bees and asked me about the BBKA’s attitude to proposed EU legislation concerning the pollen in honey: whether it is a constituent or an ingredient I think. I am not well up on this and I don’t recall it being discussed at any BBKA meeting I have attended. Maybe it will be on the agenda for the Annual Delegates’ Meeting.