The bee’s knees

PUBLISHED: 13:12 02 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013

Maggi decants the honey from a tank into jars

Maggi decants the honey from a tank into jars

It started with a wasps' nest in the loft and moved on to talk about beekeeping. Now, after a quarter of a century, a Sussex couple are selling a ton of honey a year, reports Kate Eastman ..

THE chairman of the Sussex Beekeepers Association Ben Pratt and his wife Maggi have been beekeepers for 24 years. It was a wasps' nest in their loft that accidently introduced them to the world of bees.

"A beekeeper came to destroy the wasp nest and over a cup of tea we started discussing his profession," says Maggi. "By the end of the cup we had decided we'd have a go at keeping bees."

Like most, Ben and Maggi started off with one hive at the bottom of their garden. "We bought the hat, veil and smoker from an ad in the local paper," says Maggi.

"We went down the garden with thick trousers, wellingtons, an anorak and marigold gloves turned inside out for the neutral grey colour. To our surprise, the first year we cropped 3lb of honey, which was enough to start us off."

The couple now have 100 hives dotted across the East Sussex countryside. Unfortunately no longer in their back garden because 12 years ago Maggi had an anaphylactic attack and is now allergic.

"I don't handle bees at all nowadays," she says. "Last year I put my finger on a dead bee and within minutes I felt my throat tightening up.

"It's very common in beekeeping that the partner becomes allergic to the sting because you're constantly inhaling the venom from your clothes."
The couple sell a ton of honey every year at the Uckfield and Hailsham farmers' markets and in the shops in and around Hailsham.

They are very keen to encourage people to view bees in a positive light and talk to groups from toddlers to adults promoting the importance of bees in the environment and the benefits of honey.

Membership of the British Beekeepers Association is 11,000 strong and the Sussex association has 250 members. The association is trying to get funding from the government for more research into the potential threats to bee health.

Did you know?

• Bees can fly three miles from their hives.
• A full -size colony can number up to 60,000.
• The honey season is from late March till mid-August.
• Three-week-old scout bees bring back nectar and do a dance to tell the others where to find it. If the dance is in the shape of a letter C it tells the bees the source is close by. If it is in a shape of the figure 8 then it is further away.
• Once honeycomb has been collected, it is extracted by a giant spin drier that uses centrifugal force.

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