Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney (2014) s01e04 Episode Script

Episode 4

I'm Martha Kearney.
During the week I work as a journalist and presenter, but at the weekend, I keep bees.
Look at that.
That's fantastic.
I've had hives in my garden for almost ten years but I've never had any training and I'm far from expert.
I just hope I don't get stung! So this year I'm upping my game and attempting to produce my first-ever wildflower honey.
and attempting to produce my first-ever wildflower honey.
I'm quite excited about that.
I'll be finding out about the bees' extraordinary dance language It's the most sophisticated form of communication that a non-human can do.
.
.
and try out my honey on the public.
Would you like to taste some honey? I've put three hives on a wildflower meadow near my house in Suffolk in the hope they'll produce a unique floral honey in the hope they'll produce a unique floral honey more delicious than anything I've collected before.
But I'm beginning to despair.
We still haven't had a drop of honey from the hives on the meadow even though we've had plenty at home.
And a deadline's approaching.
In just over a week, the owners of the meadow, Matthew Hicks and Nick Cook, will be hosting a summer fair.
I've promised to get some honey ready to present to their visitors.
Over here in the far end we'll have two tents where the produce stand will be, so that's where we'll be having your honey and all the other produce that's coming in.
This should be a wonderful spot.
So you're hoping this is all going to be filled with people? Yes, I mean, what it is, because it's actually quite compact, when you've got lots of people in here, there's a real sort of buzz and it's a great atmosphere.
A buzz! Sorry! See what you did there.
THEY LAUGH With the late spring we've had, the meadow is still way behind where it would normally be at this time of year.
The buttercup, the ox-eye daisies and the yarrow are out, but the wild red clover, and the knapweed that the bees love best, still haven't flowered.
When they open they can be bursting everywhere.
But will they be bursting in time for the grand opening of the meadow? We hope so! Hopefully with this weather now, we've got a week to go, and it should catch up.
'With no time to waste, 'I've brought along my reluctant assistant Chris, my husband, 'to help find out if there's any honey ready to extract.
' Chris, look that's brilliant.
That's perfect.
This is all capped with wax.
So that means the bees have condensed the honey, capped it over with wax and that's all ready to go.
Beautiful.
That's nice and sealed, isn't it? So we need to start de-beeing.
OK, so Shall I shake off? Yeah.
'You have to get rid of all the bees 'before you take the frames in for extracting.
' Oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! I think we should hurry up.
OK.
You don't really like this bit at all, do you? No.
'I'm curious to find out how much honey we're going to get.
'There could be 15 or more pounds in every super.
' I mean, this is good.
Four supers.
We could get 50, 60, 70 pounds of honey.
It's amazing.
Really pleased.
I'm just going to shut the door, because if they get in here it's absolute chaos, isn't it? 'Unfortunately, we've left a few bees stuck to the frames.
' Let me just get it out.
Yeah, I can hear another one.
Oh, look! What? A flying one.
Even though we thought we got all the bees out, there are some stuck in the middle of it.
Chris is trying to get them out without being stung.
I'm standing a distance cos I'm quite allergic.
It's quite bad for me if I get stung.
Can hear him.
I'll just have to get him when I find him.
Her.
Her.
'If the bees have been feeding on the wild flowers, 'then the honey should be lighter and runnier 'than the honey I usually get.
' That makes sense.
OK, well, I think that one's pretty well OK.
Yeah.
'At home they mainly feed on oil-seed rape 'which makes the honey set very firm.
' Have a little slurp of this.
OK.
Mmm.
Yeah, that's good.
It's lovely, isn't it? I think it's more fragrant.
I think it's a bit lighter.
How much do you think we've got in there? Um, I don't know.
Maybe Maybe 20 pounds? I mean, 40 jars, 40 little jars.
Shall we see? Yeah.
OK.
That would be great if we got that many.
I love this bit.
'We spin the honey out using a centrifugal extractor.
' All right, let's see what's in there.
Yep.
Oh, that's flowing beautifully, isn't it? Yeah, lovely.
Nice and light honey.
How's it going? It's going good actually.
Really, really well.
We've got loads.
Have you really? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
When you say loads, you really mean Loads.
I mean, you can see.
Oh, my goodness.
How exciting.
Yeah.
There should be loads of jars.
Right.
Oh, my god, I don't think that's safe, that handle.
I'm going to lift it like this.
OK.
'It's time to put our harvest into jars.
' I'm so relieved.
I know.
Yes, we've done it! With the weather and everything, I really thought we weren't going to manage it.
It's fantastic.
Wonderful.
'We'll have plenty of honey to show at the fair.
'It's a much better haul than usual.
' 12, 14, 15.
Do you know how much there is? 117 jars.
I mean, that's nearly 60 pounds of honey, isn't it? It's nearly 60 pounds.
Brilliant.
Fantastic.
Absolutely brilliant.
I think this is our best haul ever, isn't it? Never had that much before.
'And that's from just one of the hives 'but I don't know for certain 'if they've been feeding on the field of oil-seed rape next door 'or the wild flowers in the meadow.
' Bees tend to follow each other to the best source of food.
They have a remarkable way of communicating this information to the rest of the hive, which was discovered by scientist Karl von Frisch back in the 1960s.
Like many experts in the past, he had noticed a curious dance-like movement in the hive.
Von Frisch proposed that this was in fact a form of coded language.
In 1973, he won a Nobel prize for his research and this amazing phenomenon became known as the waggle dance.
I've come to Sussex University to meet researcher Margaret Couvillion and to find out how this language really works.
So it's a lovely warm summer's day today, so there's actually quite a lot of dances.
Do you see that right there? Oh, yeah, yeah, I can see it.
So it looks like a figure of eight.
The bee waggles her body and then she'll stop and she'll return, come back, and then she waggles again, stops, returns from the opposite direction and comes back.
This is the waggle dance.
It's the most sophisticated form of communication that a non-human can do.
It's where a successful forager has gone out and she's found a good source of nectar and pollen, that's their food.
And she comes back and she tells her nest mates exactly where she's been.
She gives them the directions of where they can then themselves go and find this good source of forage.
We're watching it here inside the lab, but normally this would be in a dark cavity, so a successful forager would come back and she would do this dance on the vertical comb, and the nest mates that are receiving the message will follow her, touching her with their antennae.
And it's this contact, and the fact that they are themselves sitting on the comb, is what allows them to get the information.
So, because they're touching her, they can determine what angle at which she's dancing and because they're standing on the comb that she is, they can get the vibrations that she's giving off, so they know how long in time she's waggling her body.
'Using a camera focusing on the observation hive, 'Margaret shows me how to decode the dance.
' So, Martha, I'm going to give you our two tools of the trade and let you have a go at decoding the dance yourself.
Right, OK.
So you have your stopwatch and a protractor.
The stopwatch is so you can get the duration of the waggle run, so how long she waggles in seconds, and the protractor is so you can get the angle at which she's facing while she's waggling.
So here is a bee that's dancing, and let's time how long she waggles.
OK.
So we'll let her turn around again and go.
And stop.
So 2.
18 seconds.
Two seconds, how long a distance would that be? Two seconds would be a little over one kilometre so the longer the bee waggles in time the further a distance she's communicating.
We sometimes see dances for five or six seconds, which could then indicate three to four kilometres.
The other piece of information that she's communicating is direction, and that, she communicates by the way she's facing while she's waggling her body relative to up.
So, next we're going to get the angle at which she's dancing, so she's headed like this, 70 degrees from straight up.
So that means 70 degrees from where the sun is on the horizon.
It's incredibly sophisticated, isn't it? It's incredibly sophisticated, but social bees have had 70 million years to evolve, and so they've had plenty of time to get really good at doing what it is that they do, in this case communication.
If that dance were going on inside that hive, if you remember it was 70 degrees from the vertical, and it was a little over two seconds, which we determined to be a bit over one kilometre.
So we find where the sun is Yes, which is there, yes.
.
.
drop it to the horizon.
Yeah.
And then we go, how many degrees? 70 degrees.
Then we go 70 degrees, and then how far do we go? Was it just over one kilometre? Just over one kilometre.
That will be the resource that she's communicating.
So do you know what's in that direction? So Stanmore Park is over in that direction, and at this time of year there's white clover starting to bloom.
White clover is attractive to honey bees, so it could be that she's communicated that she's found a nice patch of clover.
Makes very nice honey actually, doesn't it, clove honey? It does.
Makes very tasty honey.
At Barton Grange, the day of the fair has arrived and it's time to try out my honey.
£2.
50 each, please.
Lovely, thank you very much indeed.
Matthew and Nick are raising money for their local church Matthew and Nick are raising money for their local church and for other charities.
I'll be selling jars of Barton Grange honey to help out.
When we were extracting the honey, it was a very light colour and it was very runny, but, in fact, if you see here, it's already started to set.
Rape honey tends to set much firmer than wildflower honey.
So I think there's still oil-seed rape in the mix a bit.
It still tastes nice.
With a week of fine weather, the meadow has almost caught up with itself.
Meadows like this used to be common, producing hay for animal feed.
They're a haven for all kinds of butterflies and insects.
But they're getting more and more scarce.
One of the visitors is Richard Mabey, the naturalist and author.
England 150 years ago would have been full of places like this but, as grass land was turned over to arable, or the grasses themselves were sown instead of just growing naturally, then they pretty much disappeared.
What has that meant for wildlife? In particular for insects, honey bees? Different insects emerge at different times of the year, so unless you have a diversity of flowers which come out, let's say from April through to September, then lots of insect species which hatch from their larvae later in the year are going to miss out on sources of nectar.
It's vital for the honey bees' survival that we ensure there's a diversity of flowering plants and trees available.
And I'm hoping the variety they've had here will also make for great-tasting honey to satisfy this discerning crowd.
Hi there.
Would you like to taste some honey? There you go.
Tell me what you think.
Very good.
Really good.
Really good? Can I interest you in buying a jar, £3.
50? Thank you.
That really tastes of wild flowers.
It's a mixture of, yes, lots of different things, so yeah.
Thank you.
There you go.
Go for it.
Thank you.
Well done, darling.
Is two jars too many or shall I stick with one? We only want one jar, really? Ideally one.
Is that all right? Just for the time being.
'The honey proves very popular 'and raises over £400 for Nick and Matthew's good causes.
' It's going really well, actually.
In fact, we're running out of honey.
We've had to ration it.
What I like is when people come across so interested to find out about bees and wild flowers.
They're really engaged with the whole idea, I think.
The whole thing is just busy, busy, busy.
Fantastic.
I know.
We've blitzed everywhere, haven't we? Have some of your Barton Grange Honey.
Well done.
Mmm.
Isn't that delicious? Actually, that is I've got to say, that's nicer than the honey you gave me.
Oh, I see! The honey from YOUR meadow is better than the honey from my garden.
I see, we're getting competitive honey now.
It's a different taste actually.
Very different.
It's much coarser.
It's delicious.
I think it's very nice.
'When my beekeeping mentor, master beekeeper John Everett, arrives, 'I'm keen to get his verdict of my first crop of Barton Grange honey.
' Thanks for coming along.
I hope you don't want to buy any honey.
I've sold out.
Excellent.
That's what you should have done.
I know, exactly.
I'm very pleased about that.
Do you want to try a bit? Yeah, let's try it and see.
This is the batch that I extracted from Barton Grange, from here, just over a week ago.
Crumbs, that's a lot for me to eat.
Oh, yes.
I think you have too much of Hmm, lovely.
I'm amazed that it's such a soft consistency, but I'm sure that the main components must be oil-seed rape, because it's so light-coloured.
There must be a mixture of things like, say, blackthorn, and perhaps other fruit trees in here, and actually I think it's brilliant, is this.
It's a really nice flavour.
'I'm pleased John likes it, 'but disappointed that, after all this work, 'it's still dominated by oil-seed rape.
' I started this project with the aim of getting true wildflower honey, and I'm determined to do so.
There are many honeys on the market that are made from just one source of flowers.
that are made from just one source of flowers.
I want to learn how they're produced.
Hello.
Hello, welcome.
This is the best way to arrive at Tregothnan, isn't it?! I've come to the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall to meet estate manager Jonathan Jones.
He produces manuka honey, and I'm hoping he'll be able to let me in on his secret.
The estate has Cornwall's largest private botanical gardens.
Many rare species thrive down here in the county's balmy microclimate.
This is manuka bushes, which is common on the Coromandel peninsula in New Zealand.
And our climate here in the middle of Cornwall is just like they get in that area, so they're very happy bushes.
Lovely.
Thank you very much.
That's beautiful.
We suddenly thought, "Well, actually why don't we try making manuka honey?" Because it hasn't been done before shouldn't really stop us.
So we got a friendly beekeeper, put some hives next to the manuka bushes, made lots of silly mistakes.
However, proved that we could produce a tiny, tiny amount of manuka honey, just enough to prove that, in theory, it could scaled up.
Manuka honey is highly sought-after because it's believe to have powerful medicinal properties.
Honey is a very complicated natural product that's never been synthesized - you can't make this stuff.
This is why I think it's so special, and probably why it's so effective, because, do you know, in medicine bugs have become resistant to almost everything man-made, but never to honey.
Honey is still as effective today as it was for the Egyptians.
Manuka honey just has this extra potency.
It's like super-strength honey, if you like.
Well, I've seen the bushes.
I'm very keen to taste the honey now.
Ah, this is the best bit, I think.
It's quite a kind of creamy consistency, isn't it? Well, that's rather lovely, actually, isn't' it? So, yes, possibly very special, possibly very potent, but it can cost a lot, can't it? I mean, how much would a jar this size market for? Oh, we wouldn't even sell it in this jar, it's too big.
Our normal jar is quite tiny.
Shall I show you one? In fact, we had a lady at the Chelsea Flower Show.
That is bijou, isn't it?! She said, without even paying for it, she said, "I've been looking for this", and started wiping it all over her face, saying, "It's really good for your complexion.
" And then she said, "And how much is it?" And my colleague said, "Well, that was £50.
" And she said, "I'll have two.
" No problem at all.
It has a real following.
And So - hang on - you're telling me a jar this size costs 50 quid? £50.
And Right, you'd have to care a lot about your skin! I'm here to find out how they make sure that the bees feed on the manuka and not on other flowers.
Hi, Will.
Hello.
'Will Radmore is Tregothnan's head beekeeper.
' In your preparations for getting this fantastically expensive and delicious manuka honey, what do you have to be sure of doing? Well, I've got to be sure to get rid of any other honey that was in the hive beforehand, so I remove all the combs and extract the honey and then replace combs on the hive ready for the bees to start working the manuka.
So you can be sure that that will be predominantly manuka honey.
It will be predominantly manuka, yeah.
Now, I've got a project that I'm trying to do, which is I've put some hives on a wildflower meadow, but they're near a field of oil-seed rape as well.
So to get my wildflower honey, what do I need to do? Wait until the rapeseed has gone, extract the honey, and then, if they are next to something, they're generally lazy in their own minds and they don't want to fly a mile and a half and they will collect it from their doorstep.
I should be able to apply this principle to my wildflower honey.
Since we took off the last lot of honey from the hives at Barton Grange, three weeks ago, the oil-seed rape has stopped flowering and I'm hoping the bees will have been foraging on wild flowers ever since.
Well, it seems quite a long time ago now, but this started off as a nucleus, a small colony of bees, and they've grown fantastically well, you could see they were right up with three supers.
And what I'm hoping is that we'll be able to use the method I learned about in Cornwall, which is we've taken off all the oil-seed rape honey and all of this should be from the wildflower meadow, because that's what the bees have all been foraging on.
So I'm hoping this will be quite a different kind of honey.
We take a full super of sealed honey, hoping that this will be the wildflower honey hoping that this will be the wildflower honey I've been dreaming of.
I love the smell of it.
Cos you get the smell of the beeswax and the honey, it's fantastic.
Ooft! I think Look at that in the light.
I think that is considerably lighter.
Yeah, that's lovely and clear.
I'm quite excited about that, cos that, to me, looks much more like wildflower honey.
Brilliant.
'And now it's time for the final taste test.
' So, here we go, this is the last jar of honey we've extracted, so from this batch we've got rid of all the oil-seed rape honey.
And this, we think, is honey made from the wild flowers in your meadow.
So would you like to have a taste of it? Here we go, who wants to go first? Chris, you're the one who's been You've been I've been cranking the machine, and this I've worked this out, this is jar number 185.
THEY LAUGH Seriously? Yeah, I mean, it's about 95 pounds of honey we've got out of Barton Grange, which is fantastic, so hopefully, this is the best as well as the last.
Yeah it's really, really nice.
I could drink it, it's so delicious.
It's just so light, whereas the other stuff was more grainier.
Yes, absolutely.
Definitely, yeah.
Hmm.
I think it's lovely.
It's really much more intense and, I think, a more complicated taste than the honey we extracted earlier.
Lots of different floral tones in there.
'It may taste delicious, 'but I'm still curious 'about exactly which flowers the bees were foraging on.
' Peter Martin tests honey for honey packers and importers.
The industry needs to check that the honey has come from where the documentation says it came from and the pollen will reflect that.
Peter uses filter paper to extract grains of pollen from the honey and examines them under a microscope.
Different flowers produce pollen with different shapes, sizes and markings.
The pollen can tell Peter which plants the bees at the wildflower meadow were feeding on.
What we found in the honey was that it was about 40% rapeseed, so it would appear that quite a lot of the honey has come from rapeseed.
But that isn't correct, because some pollens are overrepresented and others are underrepresented, and so one has to do a calculation to estimate what percentages of nectar have come from the different plants.
And, in this case, only 13% of the nectar came from rapeseed.
In other words, this is essentially an 87% wildflower honey.
There were so many points during the whole of this year when I thought we had absolutely no chance at all of getting wildflower honey, because the weather was really against us.
Everything was so late, and even when we got some honey, I couldn't be completely certain that it was wildflower honey even though it tasted delicious.
But scientifically, this is overwhelmingly wildflower honey, this is overwhelmingly wildflower honey, so we did it, and here's proof.
As summer gives way to autumn, the days get shorter and the temperature drops, the bees come out to forage less and less.
By now, they should have laid down stores to last them through the winter.
The queen has stopped laying eggs, so as the bees born in early summer start to die, the colony reduces in number until just a core of about 10,000 remain.
This is pretty much the last thing I'll do in my bee keeping year, because I've given the bees lots of sugar syrup - they'll have turned that into stores to keep them going through the winter, and I just hope that they'll survive through to the spring.
This has been the weirdest year, I think, in all the time that I've kept bees.
To be honest, early on, I thought I'll be surprised if my bees survive, let alone getting any honey.
But, in fact, you know, amazingly, I've ended up with now six hives, which I'm going to keep them all - try and keep them all - and some wildflower honey.
And in the course of it I've learnt so much.
I really feel now I can identify the queen, I can re-queen, I know which bee diseases to spot, and I'm just full of even more admiration for these incredible little creatures.