Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney (2014) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

The honey bee - the most ingenious insect known to humankind.
Their intricately organised society has fascinated scientists, philosophers and artists since ancient times.
'But I have to be honest - it's the honey which gets me going.
' I love honey so much.
I always have.
I'm Martha Kearney.
'During the week I work as a journalist and presenter 'but at the weekend, I keep bees.
' Look at that! Fantastic! 'It's been a hobby - well, a passion - for years.
'But I've never had any training and I'm definitely no expert.
' Is that the queen? There's the queen.
I spotted her! I've never done that.
'This year, I'm going to find out as much as I can about the art, 'culture and science of beekeeping' and try to produce my own wild flower honey for the very first time.
A late blast of Arctic winter weather is causing serious disruption in many parts of the UK There is still a lot of snow lying around.
Strong winds whipping that snow around, blowing it into drifts and causing By now it should be spring, but it's still icy.
That's a terrible start, because bees hate cold and wet weather.
'At my house in Suffolk, I've got three hives.
'In each, there should be a queen and a core of around 10,000 bees, 'huddled together for warmth, 'existing on honey stored in the autumn.
' Getting them through the winter is a beekeeper's biggest challenge.
I'm really frightened, to be honest.
Because there's no sign of life at all from the hives.
The worst case is that the bees have died.
I mean, and that's one of the most depressing things that's ever happened to me.
One year there were bees stuck right into the comb, which shows that they were just desperate to get the last amounts of food out there and they had starved to death, which is a horrible sight.
It's really I mean, it's surprisingly upsetting, actually.
'I know people think because there are so many of them, 'why would you get, you know, attached to insects? 'It's not like they're your pet dog or something.
'But they're such incredible creatures.
'You're the beekeeper, you're the person who's looking after them.
'So if they starve, then you feel guilty about it.
'Bees make honey by collecting nectar from flower blossom, 'which they bring back to their hives and store.
'In a good season they make more than enough to last all year, 'which is why we can extract some of the surplus for ourselves.
'But in a bad year, they can run out.
' Honestly can't quite believe I'm doing this.
Shoving snow out of the way in order to feed them.
That's sugar candy.
So, this is really kind of concentrated sugar, and I'm just going to stab a few holes in it .
so that the bees can get it through the plastic and get up and they will find it, I hope.
'With spring so late, winter stores will be running low.
' No.
Nothing there at all.
That's actually quite depressing because there's no sign of life at all.
'The bees may be sheltering in the bottom of the hive, 'but I can't open that now, because the cold would kill them.
' This is an odd hive, actually, because normally they're very ferocious bees, the bees I'm most scared of.
I just got them last year.
'But even the bad-tempered bees are very subdued today.
' It was a very quick look but I really couldn't see anything.
The next hive houses my oldest colony.
That's fantastic, cos there are bees inside.
They just jumped on that candy and they're alive and in very good spirits, I'd say.
I mean, I think the picture's pretty bleak for the two hives where I haven't seen bees, but this hive, which is my strongest hive, so my favourite hive, there were loads of bees.
It was really, really fantastic news.
Whether there's a queen down there in the brood box, you know, I won't know until the weather's much warmer and I can open it up, but at least one of the colonies has survived.
As April arrives, the weather finally warms up and the bees make their first forays into the garden in search of food.
At last it's warm enough for me to open up my hives without killing the bees.
BELL RINGS Hiya! Come in.
Hi, how you doing? How are you? 'John Everett is a master beekeeper.
'He's been an invaluable source of advice over the years.
' This is the honey that I got last year.
Very similar to the kind of honey I generally tend to produce.
I like that.
That's good.
But when you taste it, you can taste oil seed rape.
It's got whatever's around your house in terms of flowers.
My hives are surrounded by fields sown with oil seed rape.
The bees gorge on it, but the honey it makes is thick and a bit bland.
There are a couple of friends of mine who have a meadow which is purely wild flowers that they've sown.
Lovely, old-fashioned meadow.
If I wanted to make pure, light wild flower honey, I was wondering whether that would work, putting hives on there, what do you think? Well, that'll definitely work.
If you took down, say, three or four hives, you've got a much better chance that one of the hives will do really well, even if the other hive does badly.
For my plan to work, we need to identify which hives are strong enough to move.
First we calm the bees down with a bit of smoke.
I would use three or four really good puffs.
Then leave it for a bit.
Is that right? Yes.
People say two minutes.
Scientists believe that when the bees smell smoke, they eat as much honey as they can so they'll be able to survive if a forest fire forces them out of their hive.
And being full makes them more docile.
The smoke also masks the smell of the warning pheromones bees emit when threatened.
It's been used for centuries, as shown in this medieval Greek illustration.
But in 1873, Moses Quinby, America's first commercial beekeeper, designed a much more convenient smoker that can be used with one hand.
It's almost unchanged to this day.
I would start now.
Start now? OK.
'I hope my winter feed has done the trick.
' Oh, that's great.
They're right up at the top.
I can see them.
That's a real relief.
I had put a lot of candy and they've taken a lot of it out, so that's good, isn't it? Great.
Yeah, that's fine.
Right, they're all worker bees.
'These bees, born last autumn, 'have weathered the long winter, but will soon die off.
'For the colony to survive, it must have a queen 'because she lays the eggs which develop into the new larvae, 'known as brood.
' I really hope there's some brood, that the queen has been laying.
Otherwise there's not much of a colony here to be seen.
This feels very light, John.
Why isn't there any eggs? Oh, dear.
That's depressing, isn't it? No sign of any brood yet.
No, can't see any eggs.
It's worried me that we've got to the sixth frame and we haven't seen any brood yet.
I haven't actually seen the queen yet.
Let's pop this away.
We've got one more to go.
Is there a chance she'd be on the last frame? She can move anywhere.
Especially when she's not got any brood.
Can't see anything looking like the queen.
No, can't see her.
'Without a queen, this hive isn't strong enough to move.
' Fingers crossed that there's a queen in this one.
Ah, this is brilliant! There are so many more bees in here.
Oh, fantastic.
Lots and lots of sealed brood.
'Sealed brood is a good sign - it means that the larvae beneath 'are nearly ready to hatch into fully formed bees.
' There are so many eggs on this frame, the queen might be here.
The queen is about one-and-a-half times bigger than the other bees and lives for up to four years.
Every day she lays up to 1,000 tiny white eggs shaped like a grain of rice.
Most of them will hatch out as females who live for six or eight weeks and who do all the work.
She also lays a smaller number of male eggs, which hatch into drones.
You usually only have about between 2% and 4% of the bees are drones.
Because, being males, they do very little.
I'm just desperately trying to see the queen.
'To my untrained eye, the queen is very hard to spot 'amongst the rest of the bees.
'But this hive does seem to be doing well.
'I'm so much more pleased by this one than the first one.
The first one there just wasn't any of this brood.
So this is a proper healthy, lively colony, which is great.
Is that the queen? There's the queen! I spotted her! Well done! I spotted her! I've never done that! Oh, do you know? This is so unusual I can't tell you.
'We mark the queen with ink so she'll be easier to spot next time.
' If I just hold her abdomen gently, OK? Fantastic! Oh, I'm so pleased! We found the queen, we found loads of brood.
So, this is the hive that I'm going to take to the wild flower meadow.
And we're going to get this in the box as soon as possible.
What we really want to do is make sure we've got the queen in the box.
Yes, OK.
Andso I need to Can you see her? There she is.
There she is.
Yeah, yeah.
What we're going to do now is put some more frames in quickly.
They'll all go in because they can smell the queen.
Can you see them all pouring into the hole? Yes.
Can you see their bottoms stuck up in the air, releasing the Nasonov pheromone? Oh, is that the This is "home" pheromone.
This is home pheromone, which attracts all the other bees in.
So it's saying, "Come here, the queen's inside.
" Yeah.
"This is our new home.
" "This is home.
" Yeah.
Wherever the queen goes, the bees follow.
It's one aspect of the intricate social organisation that has made the beehive a powerful symbol of cooperation.
For the Victorians, the hive was the perfect model of a hierarchy.
Everyone knew their place according to their job, under the benign leadership of the queen.
The Victorians also loved the bees' ceaseless hard work.
When the city fathers built Manchester Town Hall at the height of the Industrial Revolution, they decorated it with bees.
And the hive, with its stores of honey, also became a potent Victorian symbol of thrift, particularly popular with banks.
Like this branch of Lloyds from 1865.
Now this This hive I'm very scared of.
It was always quite a small hive but amazingly fierce.
Different races of honey bee, though, have different temperaments.
I did have one that was Italian and those bees were very well-behaved, but they died out.
Look at that! Fantastic! This is definitely better than I was expecting.
That's great, that's very good news.
Very good news.
'But neither of us can see the queen.
' I'm sure the queen is here because of the state of the brood, just that I haven't seen her.
So, what do you think about moving this to the wild flower meadow? Well, I would prefer not to because I haven't actually seen the queen.
That seems a fair point.
But let's, let's, let's leave this one behind then.
'Only the middle hive is strong enough to be moved with confidence, 'so to make up the numbers, 'I'm going to buy two new colonies from John.
' In the meantime, I want to find out what honey from a wild flower meadow should taste like.
So I'm going to meet Jonathan Miller, a food buyer at Fortnum & Mason's.
They stock over 30 different varieties of British honey.
I've asked Jonathan to show me some of them to find out how the different places they come from changes the way they taste.
What exactly should you be looking out for, do you think? What you're looking for is a sense of where the honey comes from and the essence of what the bees are feeding on.
First thing to do is actually just smell these honeys, cos actually most of them have got very good ingesting aromas.
That's quite winey.
That's got quite a strong one, yes.
If you'd like to try some? Mm.
I really like this one.
It's a very light, very delicate flavour.
It's quite sort of memorable.
I thought it was absolutely delicious.
'Some honey comes from bees who've been fed on many different plants.
'Others have been kept close to just one species of flower.
' So, here we've got bell heather honey.
And this is what we would call a monofloral.
In other words, bees are predominantly feeding on one plant.
Oh, I really don't like the smell of this at all.
It seems quite antiseptic.
Kind of when you first smell it.
Yes, well, we sort of smelt frankincense on there this morning.
Oh, all right, OK! You're more sophisticated than I am! It's sort of floral and it's quite distinct.
Quite harsh.
Mm, no.
I really don't I think I just don't like heather honey very much.
I certainly don't like this.
The flavour's much too strong for me, I think.
It's quite pronounced.
Now the last one, obviously quite different looking anyway.
This is the comb.
What we've done here is simply, rather than taking the honey out of the comb, leave it in the comb.
You can get quite sort of heavily waxy combs, but in this case, I think it's a nice sort of light It's actually quite sort of edible wax.
So, all you do is just take a good spoonful .
and then just eat it.
That is lovely.
Oh, it's a beautiful flavour.
This is really special, isn't it? Very special.
So, where has this one come from? This one comes from Salisbury Plain.
And what is absolutely brilliant about this is this is the British Army's training grounds.
And there's pretty much nil agriculture, because it's actually used for training, so it is effectively as the English countryside was, or used to be.
No sort of chemicals are used and it's exactly what you need for a really good honey.
'I'm determined to get my bees 'to produce a honey as subtle and delicious as that one.
' 'In Suffolk, John arrives with the new hives 'and two starter packs of bees known as nuclei or nucs.
' So, there's the two white hives in the back.
Oh, lovely.
And the two nuclei there.
Oh, fine.
Oh, yes.
'In each box, there's a queen and around 10,000 bees.
' Brood box.
Brood box.
Thank you.
Along with my one good colony, we're all set for the trip to Barton Grange, where my neighbour Nick Cook has sown four acres with traditional British wild flowers.
This looks absolutely fantastic.
It's dormant now, but by June it should be a riot of colour.
So, this is what it would look like in the next sort of couple of weeks.
Oh, really? So it will come out.
So the first things to appear are the cowslips.
And then bird's foot trefoil.
Oh, yes.
Ragged robin and the campions, pink campions.
And then the oxeye daisies start appearing.
Oh, I love those.
That's a real sign of the spring.
And then at some stage in early June, the knapweed.
Oh, isn't that pretty! Oh, that's great, yeah.
'It has 24 different species, 'including many flowers that are great for honey bees to feed on.
' Great.
It's bee heaven, isn't it, John? It's going to be ideal.
Absolutely fantastic.
'When the meadow is at its best, 'Nick opens the garden for a summer village fair.
' This will be a sea of flowers this year, as it has been every year.
Well, I think this is our goal, isn't it? Bees sort of feasted on all your wild flowers and produce some pots of honey to sell at your open day.
Right! Shall we get started, then? Yes.
So, we've got them here, at last, into this fantastic meadow.
I love having such a wide open expanse of lovely wild flowers.
'John's been keeping bees so long, he's used to being stung.
'Taking off his gloves lets John 'handle the bees much more closely than I can.
' Can you see the queen? Yes.
Yeah, yeah.
There she is.
She's got this little yellow dot.
I'm going to pick her up and pop her in.
And then we're So you're absolutely certain that she's there.
Is that the idea? Yeah, OK? Yeah.
She's in.
There she is.
Oh! I'm going to just tap the bees down.
Look at that huge pile of seething bees in their new home.
'We set up the other two hives, 'making sure there's a queen in each.
' She's in my hand now.
And I'm just going to let her walk off and into the beehive.
So, you're absolutely certain she's there now, aren't you? Yeah? Yes.
In here, that's the brood, so that's the queen and the eggs and the larvae.
So, what we're going to do is put another box on top that's called a super.
And hopefully filled with delicious honey.
The kind of hive we're using is called a WBC after the man who designed it, William Broughton Carr.
On a raised platform sits the brood box for the queen to lay eggs, surrounded by a stacking wooden section called a lift.
Then a super for the bees to store honey and another lift.
The super is filled with eight frames for the bees to build their honeycomb.
You can add as many supers as you need and then close it with a watertight roof.
And the lid on the final hive.
Job well done.
So, there we have all three hives.
It's all dependent on the wild flowers coming out and the weather and the bees settling in.
'Wild flower meadows like this used to be common, 'but they're fast disappearing.
' As modern agriculture takes up more and more of the countryside, fields get bigger and there's less variety for bees to feed on.
Over the past 20 years, wild honey bees have become very rare in the UK.
And even managed colonies like mine have halved in number.
But beekeepers are having more and more success in cities.
Hives are turning up on all the best roofs - Fortnum & Mason, the Athenaeum, the Royal Festival Hall.
Even in schools.
At Charlton Manor School in south-east London, gardener Nick Shelly is running an after school beekeeping club.
Without a doubt if you leave a hole, a bee will find it.
OK? We're in the middle of south-east London, you know, where it's a very urban environment and Charlton Manor School has created a little bit of nature.
Everyone ready? Cos they will come out.
Everyone OK? MANY: Yeah.
If anyone wants to have a go, you're more than welcome.
I want a go.
You've got lots of volunteers.
Who's lifting that one out? Him.
Shall we do it together? Yeah.
Just be careful you keep hold of it.
That's it.
So, does that feel heavy or not? No, not really.
I'll just put my hands under there.
Everyone still comfortable? Found the queen.
There's the queen.
Ah, there she is.
Well spotted! So she is marked.
Oh, yes, she is, there.
Got a red mark on her.
She's big! So, all seen the queen? ALL: Yeah.
NICK: Yeah.
Happy? Happy that she's the bigger one? Really fascinating, actually.
The kids are certainly enjoying beekeeping, but what is the secret of the urban bees' success? Nick and the beekeeping club are going to the garden at neighbouring Charlton House to find out.
What about the blue bush over there? 'Many flowers rely on bees to reproduce.
' I can see it sucking up the stuff.
Do you see it with his proboscis in the flower? Yeah.
'They use the lure of a sugary liquid, nectar, 'which the bees gather to make honey.
' Is that broccoli? Call it a broccoli tree.
OK, let's call it the broccoli tree.
'In return, the bees pick up grains of pollen from one flower 'which rub off on the next they visit and fertilise it.
' Which plant do you think the bees like the most out of all of the ones we've been looking at? Most of the bees like the ceanothus, wisteria and geranium.
'Gardens are planted to have flowers throughout the year, so they 'provide more variety than fields that dominate the countryside.
' Although each garden might be small, together they add up to a bigger area than all the nature reserves in the country.
'It's three weeks since we put my new mini apiary 'on the wild flower meadow at Barton Grange.
'I'm quite keen to see how they're getting along.
'Obviously, it's a glorious day 'so, you know, that sort of good weather should be helping them.
' I'm hoping I'll have three healthy colonies ready to produce me some wild flower honey.
I'm just going to pop this down and there's a lot of bees on here.
This is quite good because they're already beginning to what's called "drawing out the foundation".
So, you can see here, these amazingly regular hexagons.
In three weeks, they have taken the flat wax foundation we put in and built up perfect, identical hexagonal cells using wax secreted from a gland in their abdomen.
The regular shape is crucial so that even if different bees start work at opposite ends of the frame, all the cells will fit tightly together.
They'll be able to fill these frames with honey and then they'll seal them over.
So that's quite good.
John suggested I keep an eye out for bee diseases, in particular any problems with the wings.
One of the bees I can see has something a bit odd going on with its wings.
Rather worryingly, I've found another one.
And the poor thing, its whole all the wings are completely distorted, as if they're shrivelled up bits of wing.
Hi, John, it's Martha here.
I've spotted two bees with wings that look, you know, that aren't that look completely kind of shrivelled up.
They just don't look right.
How worried should I be about that? JOHN: Well, the real problem is it's transmitted by the pest varroa.
And the more varroa you have, the more likely it is to kill your colony.
So, yes, I would be worried.
'The varroa mite is the number one threat to honey bees' and it looks like it's really taken hold in this hive.
Next time - John shows me a new treatment for the varroa mite.
That looks like one.
And that looks like one.
And there's three or four there.
I explore the science behind a controversial kind of pesticide.
Neonicotinoids could have a very profound effect on the nutrition of the entire colony.
'And I take drastic measures to improve the temper of angry bees.
' Eventually I'm going to kill the old queen, cruel as it sounds.
But she's laying very bad-tempered bees so I'm afraid it's curtains for her.