A day in the life of... an Edinburgh beekeeper: 'They predict the weather, environmental changes and the future'
There's certainly a few busy bees this end of town with beekeeper Amanda Moffet. Katharine Hay finds out more about the work behind an urban apiary...
“It’s definitely a socialist life when you’re a honey bee. You all do the same work together to keep the colony going.
“I have been a beekeeper for about a year and a half. I am a kilt maker at my family business the Kiltmakery, but keeping bees is a hobby of mine. I have four hives at the Community Croft in Leith Links and I am still learning a lot about them. Sometimes they roar at me if I annoy them, it’s pretty amazing.
“The way I got into it was one of those ‘I met someone on a plane’ moments. My parents reached their 70s and we decided to go to Tuscany together. On the flight back I ended up sitting next to a beekeeper who told me the entire plane was filled with beekeepers. There had been a massive beekeeping convention in Tuscany and they were all on their way back.
“We carried on talking and she eventually said to me ‘you would make the perfect beekeeper.’ She encouraged me to enter a competition to win a hive which I actually ended up winning, I couldn’t believe it. I just remember my husband saying to me at the time - ‘you haven’t really thought this through have you?’
“He was right in a way because I didn’t have anywhere to put it. So I went on to the I Love Leith Facebook page and asked the community for suggestions. Eventually the lady who runs the Community Croft got in touch and said I could use the space for my bees.
“My hives are named after places I have stayed in, and all the queens are named after people I know. One of the hives is named Sunny Drae where we have Queen Margery who is named after my grandmother. We then have Caberfeidh which is home to queen Beatrix, named after my other grandmother, and she has another younger queen, Margaret, who is named after my sister-in-law. Then we have Fairylea, home to queen Hazel, named after my mum. And finally there is the Old Manse where queen Kirsten is currently, named after my friend.
“I always had this part of Leith Links in my mind since winning the hive because I love the idea of beekeeping being part of the community. I met a homeless man recently who told me that he often comes to watch the bees. He said he suffered from mental health issues and finds observing the bees a therapeutic experience. I know tradition says people used to talk to bees about their worries. It was also forbidden to argue in front of bees, and they should always be informed of all family happenings, from births to deaths and events in between.
“I have a routine when I check on them, which is once or twice a week. I remember it by the initials FEDSS. This stands for food, eggs, disease, swarming and space. Food is important, especially at this time of year when they are trying to stock up for the winter, so I leave sugar water out for them to feed on. Eggs are important to look out for because it gives you an indication as to whether the queen is healthy or not.
"Disease is something to keep an eye on because obviously it can affect your whole colony. Swarming is something that’s really important to watch out for, especially in the spring because you can just lose all your bees, and finally space is key because you want them to have room to work on.
“I also have to always tie up my hair because they like to get stuck in it sometimes.
“It can be quite an expensive hobby. The kit for a hive can be up to £800, but it’s worth it. Luckily my bees all seem to be quite civilised. The character of the queen determines the personality of the colony, so if she’s aggressive it’s not great news, especially for me as I am in a public place. But so far, they seem to be doing fine.”