Pocket-lint learns beekeeping

Bees. The winged black and yellow middle-men in the great Lion King's circle of life. For centuries the stinging pollen chariots have kept our planet full of plants and orchards filled with fruit. But now the bee is in danger of being wiped out. The bees seem to simply be flying off and dying, causing farmers to fret over crop sizes and raising concerns that the world could be bee-less within the next 10 years. 

So what exactly does any of this have to do with technology? Well it's quite simple really. Magners is using the powers of modern day social media to spread the bee-love and rebuild colonies. Clicking "Like" on its bee-based Facebook page will result in a donation of 50 honey bees. Similarly, entering the online beekeeping competition or downloading an app will do the same. 

Urban beekeeping has become rather trendy amongst the cool crowd of every major metropolis. Hives can be found atop the roofs of millionaires' apartment blocks and hidden away in city park corners. Some 2,500 bee hives exist in London and are maintained weekly by professionals and hobbyists.

You would be forgiven for thinking that beekeeping was not the most relaxing of pastimes especially given the imminent danger of serious amounts of stinging. Not so, Pocket-lint was sent to give the hobby a go and found all the buzzing thoroughly therapeutic.

The first thing we were told to do was don a beekeeping costume. Worryingly we only had top half protection, with our lower regions being left to socks tucked in trousers and hefty boots.

"Bees like dark places" the keeper tells us as we thought about all the cavities we'd rather they didn't explore."

All the phrase, "you don't want one flying up your trouser leg", manages to do is set off our OCD sock checking

We're then led to the hives which are cordoned off with big signs reading "danger: honey bees". The queen manages around 1500 eggs a day and most hives number more than 6,000 bees total, so you would expect there to be a serious number of wings flapping. Things were actually surprisingly quiet, our bees a particularly docile bunch. 

The lid of the hive is then removed to reveal a series of wax slates, each one filled with hexagonal honeycomb and an absurd number of bees. The buzzing then starts. The difference is that we're now aware that we're next to a hive of endangered creatures, so no newspaper squashing.

The beekeeper giving us a tour of the honey-palace sets out on a search for "drones", the name given to male workers and something we particularly like. There are of course loads of drones sat right underneath our nose. They exist in different stages, munching their way out of their little wax honeycomb houses, working, and the females eventually fly around collecting pollen for 3 weeks before setting out into the sunset to die. 

"Do you want to hold them" the keeper says. We jump at the opportunity, our fear of bees now totally gone thanks to the safety of our anti-sting suit; and socks, of course. We clasp a slab of bees in our marigolds and begin holding our face far too close in order to get a better look at the inner workings of the hive. 

The bees then begin crawling over our hands in a sort of horror movie like way. We get spooked and hand the slate back to the keeper. Just as we do, he announces he has found the queen, "the one with the blue on its back". 

We all immediately peer into the crowded hive in order to get a glimpse of the bee-creating mistress. Disappointing, we expected some sort of globulous white blob in the guise of the queen from Aliens - maybe with a little crown on top. It's actually just a double-sized bee.

We are going to be honest here. The finer points of beekeeping were lost on us. The combination of hundreds of insects flying about our heads and all the excitement of the sting proof suit had us slightly distracted. We did, however, catch the bee master explaining that you would likely want a year of observing and training before keeping.

"A bee is for life, not just for Christmas" he says. Which brings us nicely back to technology. Those who are interested (and over 18) can head over to the Magners Facebook page and enter the beekeeper competition. A lucky 25 contestants will get an entire kit of their own to keep urban honeybees as well as all the training you need. This, in theory, means you could start making your own honey on the roof of your flat.

If you are less interested in the actual beekeeping aspect of things, but feel you want to donate to the cause, then the Magners bee beard app is always an option. Think Fatbooth but with bees. The application will let you snap a friend and create a photo with multiple bee beard styles. Each app download will result in the cider company donating 50 bees. The application itself is not quite ready to go yet, but expect it to launch any day now. 

Our brief bee hands-on was quite unlike anything we had done before, but the best part was topped off with a post hive honey tasting. This, for us, was the best; tasting absolutely pure honey is quite unlike anything you have ever eaten. The particular batch we tried had been from a hive next to a chestnut grove, this made the honey extremely nutty and very very sweet. Amazingly, producing something like that would take less time than you think, with a decent hive getting started on honey production quickly.

Those tempted should definitely give the Magners competition a go. A full hive setup isn't cheap and even if you lose you will be contributing 50 bees to the population. 

Our day ended with the keeper explaining that the best bee masters do it "naked". i.e. without protection. Nutters.

Fan of bees? We are...



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