Down in deepest, darkest Chorlton-cum-Hardy  the good people of Grow for it Chorlton have been running a series of taster sessions on beekeeping (a.k.a. apiculture). Here are some notes from one of these sessions held last weekend and some info on where to find out more if you’re interested.
With the ongoing mystery about the decline of bee populations [2,3] and controversial pesticide bans , there’s been a surge of interest in bees and beekeeping. If you’re thinking about starting a hive, here’s some things you’ll need to consider:
- Beekeeping can be very rewarding. Remind yourself how fascinating the biology of bees is: drones, workers, queens and swarms – you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
- It’s a real buzz breaking the propolis seal on a hive full of ~60,000 bees and having a look inside, you can’t beat hands-on experience – handling bees was the highlight of the taster session.
- Apiculture takes lots of time, in peak season you’ll need to be inspecting hives at least once a week for any potential problems, such as the emergence of new queen cells or pests & diseases like Nosema and Varroa mites.
- Beekeeping can be a substantial financial commitment too, depending on how resourceful you are. There’s a lot of kit you need, see thorne.co.uk, bees-online.co.uk or beekeeping.co.uk for some examples of what you can buy and how much it costs.
- One of the biggest threats to bees is irresponsible bee-keepers! If bees aren’t looked after hygienically, diseases can be spread to the larger population. You don’t need a license (yet) to keep bees, but it’s a good idea to register hive(s) with DEFRA’s BeeBase (not to be confused with BeeBase.org) .
For such a tiny insect with even smaller brain, bees are surprisingly good at maths and computation. For example, bees use sophisticated vectors  to tell members of the hive where the food is during their famous waggle dance. Also, honeycomb is hexagonal because this is the shape that makes optimal use of beeswax – covering the maximum area using a minimum of material.
If you’re interested getting your hands on some bees in South Manchester, contact Loucas Athienites, Nancy Green or Erica Gardner at Nam-Bee-Pam-Bee Beekeepers, Chorlton based at Grow for It, Chorlton – their next (most excellent!) beekeeping session is due to run in late August 2013. Manchester & District Beekeepers Assocation (MDBKA), part of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), run a longer two-day course at Heaton Park (and elsewhere) which is essential if you going to take things further. 
- Yes, as you might expect, Chorlton-cum-Hardy suffers from the Scunthorpe problem…
- Bill Turnbull et al (2013) What’s Killing Our Bees? A BBC Horizon Special featuring Rothamsted and BBSRC
- Charlotte Stoddart (2012). The buzz about pesticides: Common pesticides affect bumblebee foraging Nature DOI:10.1038/nature.2012.11626
- Daniel Cressey (2013). Europe debates risk to bees: Proposed pesticide ban gathers scientific support as some experts call for more field studies Nature DOI: 10.1038/496408a
- Munoz-Torres MC, Reese JT, Childers CP, Bennett AK, Sundaram JP, Childs KL, Anzola JM, Milshina N, & Elsik CG (2011). Hymenoptera Genome Database: integrated community resources for insect species of the order Hymenoptera. Nucleic Acids Research, 39 (Database issue) PMID: 21071397
- Rossel S, & Wehner R (1982). The bee’s map of the e-vector pattern in the sky. PNAS, 79 (14), 4451-5 PMID: 16593211
- Ted Hooper (2010) Guide to Bees & Honey (updated): The World’s Best Selling Guide to Beekeeping Northern Bee Books, ISBN:1904846513