On wasps and bees

When I kept bees (from about 1986 to 1997) I was occasionally asked to remove wasps’ nests and the like.

I was always disappointed in how feeble wasps seemed to be when it came to defending themselves against a marauding git armed with a veil and a smoker. I think this was mostly down to the fact that there are so few wasps (probably only a few hundred) in a nest when compared to the honey bee hive.

Bees are a completely different kettle of fish. A good queen honey bee can lay 3000 eggs a day and the average life of the worker in summer is about 6 weeks. By the time you get to July a really big colony might have 80,000 insects in it and they can be very determined – and quite daunting!

They often find their way into your overalls and veil. I think my worst sting was when one found its way into my bellybutton and stung me there. It was agony! Firstly, the sting went in right at the bottom of the crater. Then, of course, because bees have a barbed sting, the insect tried to pull away and couldn’t. I could feel its legs going round and round as it tried to escape.

There’s nothing to be done then but to close up the hive, beat a retreat and deal with the wounds. When the swelling came up it looked like an umbilical hernia!

I stopped beekeeping for three reasons:

1. Daughter no. 1 developed an allergy which put her in hospital for a few days. She now carries an epi-pen but has such a dreadful phobia of insects that in order to avoid one she is likely to run into the road and get killed by a passing bus.

2. Lack of time. It gets to be pretty time-consuming in the summer, dealing with swarm control and honey extraction.

3. All my bees were killed by the dreadful parasite varroasis jacobsoni, which sucks the blood of the bee larva sealed in its cell and shortens considerably the life of the adult bee.

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