It's a myth that bees are industrious creatures. Male honeybees, the drones, do no work at all, apart from a single act of mating, during which their genitals explode and they die. But even the females are rarely as busy as they'd have you believe. Observations on glass-fronted hives have shown that female workers spend roughly equal amounts of the day working, resting and wandering aimlessly about, occasionally stopping to swap partially digested honey with each other. Which is why each small portion of honey has been in and out of the stomachs of around 60 bees.
But there's more to beekeeping than snippets of apiaristic lore. At Stuart Rae's evening class in Aberdeen, many of the students are novices trying to absorb the basics: what to do at each season of the year, how to keep bees healthy, how much it will all cost. But several already have some experience. "You can never learn all there is to know about bees and beekeeping," explains one enthusiast.
Teacher Ann Scholes had an interest in beekeeping but little knowledge, so decided to enrol in the class. "They taught us the theory first," she says, "then we visited some hives, watched the owners at work and practised handling the bees ourselves. It's more complicated than you might think, not simply a matter of letting the bees do their own thing.
"I've now bought two hives, complete with bees, combs, a hive-tool, a smoker, an electric knife for cutting the comb, and a protective veil, all for around pound;140. And I've put them at the bottom of my garden in a nice, sheltered spot. I'll keep an eye on them during the winter and make sure the bees have enough to eat, and with a bit of luck they'll start producing honey next spring."
Douglas Blane This course is run by Aberdeen and District Beekeepers Association at Harlow Academy, Aberdeen. For more information on local courses: British Beekeepers Association, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 2LZ. Website: http:www.bbka.demon.co.uk