A surprising number of people in South Lantau are taking up beekeeping lately. Jacqueline Hampshire has been driving us around to visit various bee farms, and it’s resulted in about ten people so far either getting their own hives or being in the process of doing so. Last weekend three of us went with Jacqueline to see a Mr Wong in Tai Po who has eight hives on his rooftop along with a lovely miniature rock garden in an aquarium and some unusual plants, including a rare orchid.
The bees – the Asian variety – were in hives which seemed about half as tall as the Western kind, and it was fascinating to learn a bit about them. We were told not to stand in front of the hives as this blocks the flight path of the bees as they come to and from the hive. Apparently, at first light, the scouts come out of the hive and go off in search of a suitable crop of flowers, and then return to the hive where they do their famous dance to tell the others where the flowers are. The rest then head off together to collect pollen and nectar. They only feed off the one type of plant on any one day.
We looked in a hive but were told that the bees were angry so we had to close it again. When they don’t want you around they bump into you 2 or 3 times, and if you don’t take the hint then one of them will sting you. If they want to get rid of a predator, like a wasp, they will surround it, forming a ball of bees which heats up the wasp to the point where it expires, which I find quite amazing. However, their main enemy is the hornet, which likes to divebomb bees returning to the hive, or sometimes even enters the hive to attack them. They can be so persistent that they can cause a whole hive of bees to desert their home and look for a new one.
It was clear from the way that Mr Wong and Jacqueline talked about their bees that you can get very attached to the critters, although maybe some people take it too far, as Mr Wong said that bees are spoilt these days by keepers feeding them. This makes them very lazy so that they stop going out to forage, preferring instead to stay at the hive being spoon fed! This was not the case 30 or so years ago when Mr Wong first started beekeeping, but since he has recently taken it up again he has noticed the difference in the bees’ behaviour. To avoid this you need to get bees from the wild, and to let them go out foraging for themselves. This, of course, is essential for the pollination of crops, and I was delighted to hear that Jacqueline’s pumpkins, beans and cucumbers have had a much better yield since she got her beehive. I always have problems with pumpkins and cucumbers not being pollinated so I’m hoping this will be solved when I get a hive, which I’ll share with Kate Ringrose on our allotment.
We ended up at a bee farm in Tung Chung, which Loretta led us to, and had an interesting chat with the beekeeper, Mr Mok, who wouldn’t let us through the gate for some reason. We will go back to look at his bees to see how he looks after them, and assuming all is well, we’ll order three hives from him. This, apparently, is the best time to get a hive, as it’s the time when most flowers are in bloom. During June and July the bees stay inside the hive, but then a second season begins in autumn. Mr Mok and Jacqueline both gave us a taste of their honey, and both were quite different but delicious. Collecting the honey is going to be very nervewracking at first, but I’m really quite excited about the whole prospect of adding bees to our small organic farm in Luk Tei Tong. It will increase biodiversity, improve pollination of crops, produce honey, and possibly deter thieves! I can’t wait.