Bees, Bees And More Bees!
Not all of our forum goons are homicidal bee killers. Some actually care for the little guys as a hobby. One individual with a fondness for bees, known as Thallium, offered us some stories from the life of a beekeeper. The buzz around town is that they're pretty funny (unlike bee puns), so I hope you will read them.
My father and I have been keeping bees as a hobby for the last 2 1/2 years, and at the time of writing we have six hives (although four of the colonies collapsed over the winter; we're replacing them in a few days). We belong to the local association, which is populated by some complete weirdos (including a mellisophile: a sexual fetish for bees and/or bee stings), and I hold an extremely basic qualification on the subject which I might expand on if I ever have time/motivation.
On the subject of mass bee deaths:
It has (affected our area). Almost all keepers in the area have been reporting losses of anywhere between 20 and 100 per cent. It's not good and high demand for new stock is going to make it very expensive for us to get up and running again
What kind of bees do you keep?
we have a mix of Greek and Irish bees, chosen initially because they were good for beginners but we've stuck with them because they have a nice temperament. In Britain (at least up north) I don't think we have a problem with African bees.
Have you ever been stung?
Yes. Oh hell yes. It's inevitable - smoke calms them down* but you're still digging around their colony. If they really feel like it, honeybees can sting through anything short of thick denim or leather. The most stings I've received at any one time was about 12 (my own stupid fault) and I felt really quite ill afterwards.
*This is actually a lie - beekeepers will tell you that smoke 'calms bees down'. What it actually does is make them think the hive is on fire, so they're too busy gorging themselves on honey pre-escape to bother you. Essentially you're scaring them into submission.
How can I get involved in beekeeping?
If you're interested in getting into it, I recommend reading into the subject ('Guide To Bees & Honey' by Ted Hooper is excellent and not too confusing for a beginner) and then Googling beekeeping associations in your area.
How do you get honey from bees?
To get a single-varietal honey, you do the following:
1) Put fresh foundation in hive. Close up hive so bees can't get away.
2) Strap up hive so it won't fall apart in transit. (note: usually, nothing but the power of gravity and sometimes a plastic strap is all that keeps a beehive from falling apart)
3) Put hive in trailer (or, if you're like my cheapskate father, in the seat next to your daughter)
4) Drive to somewhere where there is pretty much only one variety of blossom/flowers available within a two-or-three-mile radius (e.g. a large orange grove, to use your example - heather honey in the big thing in this area)
5) Smack bees down in middle of this area. Open hive.
6) Leave them alone for a couple weeks.
7) Bring hives home; take out honeycomb frames. Empty out honey. Put in jars. Label jars.