Donning a bee suit and spending the afternoon in a Somerset apple orchard, photographing bees whizzing about foraging for pollen and nectar, is something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do, let alone learn the amount that I did from Lynne Ingram from Wesley Cottage Bees. Lynne is a master beekeeper and attends farmers markets with produce collected from her various hives dotted about the Somerset countryside. The day that I visited was her first look at the hives at the start of the season, as the cold snap at the start of the New Year meant that she was only just able to get out to look at them at the beginning of May, hence why in the photos there hasn’t yet been much produced by the bees.
Lynne tells me about the smoke canister she is using that a lot of people would recognise as being part of the attire when bee keeping. I initially thought the smoke was to subdue the bees, but it turns out there is a history to this smoking that I never knew. There is a theory that says that the behaviour of bees when using the smoker is instinctive for them. Before humans, honey bees initially made their homes in forests or in the bush, meaning they would sometimes experience forest fires putting their hives in danger, when they sense smoke, their reaction is to go into the hive and eat some of their supplies of honey as they may have to leave the hive behind and would need provisions to give them the energy to fly to safety. Even this small detail about bees had me in awe as to how incredible they are, for such a small insect. If I was to list everything I had learnt from Lynne this would be a long blog post and I wouldn’t do half of the stories justice.
It was a really odd sensation to have them buzzing all around you and very close to you, they were cutely inquisitive trying to suss the new person with a camera out, often landing on the mesh right in front of my face. I feel like I have a new found understanding of them and how they work and I have often stopped to watch them gathering pollen on a flower just to appreciate how incredible they are and they purpose they serve to almost all the food we eat. I have also recently been reading a book about bumble bees too, it’s called “A Sting In The Tale” by Dave Goulson, lent to me by a friend and I couldn’t recommend it enough, I have since been the same with bumble bees when I see them, stopping to watch them work, busy as ever totally fixated on their jobs foraging from the bloom of summer flowers.
I will be revisiting Lynne to photograph the harvesting and jarring process, something I am equally as excited about, for me to capture the whole process from start to finish! If you are at a farmers market and see someone selling honey, I urge you to go and chat to them and buy a jar of their honey, ask about the hives and hear some stories for yourself about how the honey in those jars has got to the farmers market and the process it took to get there.
Behind the scenes...
Like I said, it's a really strange sensation having so many bees buzzing so close to you, your automatic reaction is to swat them away and run which luckily I didn't do, the buzzing is quite intense when there is so many of them. I held my nerve and slowly got used to being around them. The bees were mostly inquisitive and wanted to know what an earth we were doing poking around in their home. Lynnes bees are a calm natured bee as she says what is the point in having angry bees. She even scores them on their behaviour levels, which was so endearing to learn!