Meet the beekeepers of Plymouth and take a look at the local beehives

“Some people think we steal the honey, but in reality it’s a contract between us and the bees. We take about eight percent of the honey they produce, leaving behind 92 percent. In return, they get a house from us.” , health checks, a diet in winter and their well-being”

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a beekeeper? Or were you wondering how raw honey is produced? Well, we went along to Holly Park Aperies to find the answer to those exact questions. Meet Valerie and her husband Terry McAuliffe who have been keeping bees for over 10 years. Beekeeping for the couple is a hobby and a local service. They are also part of the British Beekeepers Association.

Terry and Valerie have three locations in Plymouth and currently have 14 bee colonies. They produce their own raw honey and sell it locally on a non-profit basis. Beekeeping is a passion and hobby for Valerie and Terry that started in their backyard.

Terry likes honey, while Valerie doesn’t. However, she describes caring for the bees as peaceful. Terry often calls Valerie “the bee whisperer” because when the bees are “grumpy” he can’t handle them, but it’s an easy task for Valerie. She said her secret is to whistle at them.

In addition to their beekeeping, they do everything they can to educate people about bees. They recently helped a local school set up their own apiary which is run by a group of students. They have also held events where they take observation hives, their raw honey and hives without bees to see how the honey is forged and produced locally – and of course to learn about the bees.

Valerie said people are always “amazed” when they learn about beekeeping and how much work goes into it. In the past they have had beekeeping experiences and because they have received positive feedback, they are bringing it back in 2023.

Terry wields one of the beehive frames

Terry told us: “Beekeeping is something that allows you to get close to nature and at the same time produce something really good to eat. It’s all about balance, so you take care of the bees and take some honey, but we never take too much.

“There are times when the bees are grumpy and I can’t handle them, but Valerie can. I just walked away, but she’s a bee whisperer. Valerie said she sings for them.”

Valerie continued: “I don’t even like honey, it’s more about dealing with the bees because they’re important. Whenever we bump the honey and there’s a little spoon full at the bottom of the bucket, I scrape it off because I know how much work the bees have done to produce that small amount of honey.

“I find taking care of the bees relaxing. You go out and sit over a colony of bees – you forget everything else. You also forget the time because you are so preoccupied and it is peaceful – unless you get stung.

“We have three sites, one in Morley. We have another at Lopwell Dam and we also have beehives near Rodborough. We currently have 14 bee colonies. Morley is our breeding apiary and we keep colonies large there, so we have some miniature bees, but also full-sized bees.

“People are also fascinated by it. They don’t realize how much work it is to keep bees. It’s not a matter of keeping the bees in the garden and filling a jar with honey.”

Fresh PL5 honey from local beekeepers
Fresh PL5 honey from local beekeepers

She added: “We are on the road all the time from March to September. During the autumn and winter months, they are left to fend for themselves. We naturally monitor them and their food.”

Speaking of the bees, Valerie said: “People think bees hibernate in winter, but they don’t. They cluster like the emperor penguins on the ice. Bees surround the queen to keep her warm and herself warm. They keep the temperature in the hive is a constant 35 degrees, regardless of the temperature outside. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees, they begin to cluster together.

“Most people think the queen is in charge of the beehive, but in fact she isn’t. To a certain extent, she controls a lot of things by releasing a pheromone that keeps the colony happy, and as long as the worker bee can smell that pheromone, they work together as a unit. If for some reason the queen becomes old, sick or damaged, her pheromone is not as pronounced in the hive. This means that the bees, as a superorganism, decide to replace her.”

The PlymouthLive Beekeeping Experience

We went with Terry for a hive inspection to one of Holly Park Aperies – and it was an experience of a lifetime. First we got dressed, including some marigolds, and used a bee smoker in case the bees were temperamental. Luckily they were in a good mood and it was interesting to learn that this is used to calm the bees.

Using a bee smoker to keep the bees tame in case they got irritated - luckily they didn't
Using a bee smoker to keep the bees tame in case they got irritated – luckily they didn’t

We went through the hives and see the bees, and I even got a chance to hold one of the bins with hundreds of bees on it. Terry said a standard hive can hold up to 50,000 bees, so you can imagine what it was like. Terry explained the importance of performing health checks on the bees and how they take the honey from the hives, extract them and then grind them.

We also got a jar of raw honey from Holly Park Aperies and it was divine. All jars are reused and put together by Terry and Valerie. Terry said the best way to enjoy their local honey is to have it on toast. In my opinion it was much tastier than a store bought honey as it had a thick texture with the perfect balance of sweetness. I was also amazed to eat locally produced honey – PL5 as it says on the label.

Valerie told us that they have had a few experiences with beekeepers in the past and after positive feedback plan to plan more in the future. They hope to launch it in 2023. You can stay up to date with Holly Park Apiaries via their Facebook page.

Valerie also shares interesting facts about bees through the Facebook group and updates on honey availability.

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