Published: 07:32, 13 May 2015
I suspect a few factors have shaped the romantic daydreams I’ve built up about becoming a beekeeper.
My favourite childhood poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats, plays a part with its idyllic fantasy of a remote retreat within a ‘bee-loud glade’. A small, yellow ceramic pot of a hive that I have on my windowsill, which was my late grandma’s, prompts the odd flight of fancy, and not to forget the soothing company that bees provide in my garden.
On the other hand, I have a fear of everything from dogs to spiders. Have I got the mettle to make a beekeeper, was the question?
To help me on my quest, Mann Lake – the European headquarters of one of the world’s leading beekeeping brands – is right under our nose here in Kent, at Highland Court Farm in Bridge, near Canterbury.
Director Patrick Murfet used to work in construction. He harboured a romantic notion towards beekeeping too, took early retirement and got started with two hives.
Fifteen years later, he’s joined forces with American giant Mann Lake and is supplying beekeeping equipment as far afield as Russia and South America. He’s also got 300 colonies of the Buckfast bee variety that not only produce honey and beeswax products but are employed to pollinate fruit farms in the area.
It’s big business, yet in the ‘bee-loud glade’ of the Mann Lake hives – just a few minutes’ walk from Patrick’s showroom and surrounded by cherry blossoms in the depths of the Kent countryside – his seems less of a job and more of a delight.
“It’s a fascination. It was like a snowball,” says Patrick, 63, of the way business has boomed from his hobby.
“Bees are phenomenal creatures, we could learn a lot from the way they work together. They are one of nature’s miracles.”
Convinced, I put on the protective suit and nerves disappear. I feel invincible as I join a group for a taster session.
“No one has been stung yet at a beginners’ course,” Patrick, who also hosts beginners’ and advanced beekeeping courses, reassures us. “They really are lovely creatures.”
It’s liberating walking fearlessly among the growing number of bees which leave the hive in droves and investigate us once Patrick pulls out a frame.
My nerves start to waver as Patrick gives me the heavy frame to hold myself however, with bees moving all over the light plastic gloves I’m wearing and flying into my headgear with little thwacks. It is riveting to watch the frantic activity on the honeycombed frame though, with pockets of gooey honey in places and clean cells ripe for new larvae in others. But as I pass the frame on and Patrick gently encourages me to pick up a bee by its wings in a pincer grip, that old jumpiness is back.
So I’ll keep the beekeeping dream just that for the time being, with regular trips to Mann Lake for its to-die-for 100% pure honey, which we sample afterwards. That’s a real little piece of heaven.
GET A TASTE FOR IT
BEESWAX CANDLE MAKINGSaturday, May 16
Spend an afternoon learning how to make beautiful beeswax candles with the experts at Mann Lake. They will talk through different methods of filtering beeswax with a demonstration. Each participant will learn to make candles to take home with them using melt-and-pour moulds and candle rolling sheets. You will look at how to dye, decorate and scent candles and how to create candle moulds from natural items. The course is from 1pm to 4pm and costs £20 including light refreshments.
BEEKEEPING TASTER EVENTSaturday, June 6
The morning is designed for anyone wanting to learn about beekeeping before considering taking a more detailed course. The course at Mann Lake is from 9am to noon and costs £25 including light refreshments.
BEGINNERS’ BEEKEEPING COURSEOver four weekend mornings in September
This four-part short course is designed for those who want to become beekeepers. The mornings will combine practical beekeeping with relevant theory in Mann Lake’s purpose-built classroom and at its dedicated training apiary. The course at Mann Lake is from 9am to noon on Saturday, September 12, Saturday, September 19, Saturday, September 25 and Sunday, September 26. It costs £75 including light refreshments.
FESTIVAL OF BEESMonday, August 31 (bank holiday)
Thought to be the UK’s only festival of bees, this is a free public event aimed at families. It will include beekeeping demonstrations, talks, candle rolling, craft stands and activities. There will also be a competitive honey show, including cakes made using honey as an ingredient. The festival at Mann Lake runs from 10am until 4pm and entry is free. Free parking is available.
To book onto courses, call 01227 833807. Mann Lake is on Highland Court Farm at Bridge, near Canterbury. Visit www.mannlake.co.uk