by Sr Anne Morris DHS
World-wide there is a great danger to the bee population. One statistic suggests that they are so essential to the survival of humans that, if bees died out, the human race would follow within seven years. Almost since the beginning of St. Beuno's there have been bees. A bee hut of one sort or another has been in the same spot at the edges of the present car park and woods. The practise was to introduce first year theology students to caring for the bees so that they could become proficient over the three to four years of their time here. Records were made of each hive and how productive they were. I noted that 1936 proved a record year, with 1,000 pounds (in weight) of honey coming from 17 hives. I suspect it was the co-incidence of having a good summer, along with several fourth year students who by then knew what they were doing. Once the purpose of the house changed, the bees were looked after by the Jesuit brothers, Brother Bruce being the last surviving Jesuit beekeeper at Beuno's who died in 1986. With his death the bees eventually disappeared until...2011 we restarted the grand tradition!
Inspired by the need and the history, James Chaning Pearce SJ and I completed an intensive weekend introduction to bee keeping, to see if we could manage it. Bees are, after all, wild animals! We realised we had everything going for us and began fundraising. It takes between £400-£500 for one person to get started. That includes a hive, tools and the bee suit. On the 24th June 2011 we began with one hive whom we named 'Joan the Baptist'. Yes, Joan! The vast majority of bees in a hive are female, including of course the queen. We took to naming each queen, which, as the local bee inspector commented, beat any records that simply stated 'Hive 1, Hive 2..' (He also said that his wife was delighted there were now Christian bees in the area). Joan gave us our first taste of honey as, by the end of August, we were able to extract 8lbs of a very delicate honey tasting of clover and lime. Joan was joined at the beginning of August '11 by Winifred. Being late in the season we didn't draw honey from her and in fact never did. Winifred swarmed early the next year and took herself off beyond our reach into one of the tall chimneys of the house, where she happily resides to this day.
During the first year our apiary was against the yew hedge on the terraces; a lovely sheltered spot that also benefited from the morning sunshine. All was well until the next year, when Joan became consistently bad tempered and took to stinging retreatants. Normally, bees are not aggressive and only sting if you cross their flight path or they become caught in woolly jumpers or curly hair. For a variety of reasons, Joan had taken a temperamental turn. The time had come to send Joan, and her three companion queens to go off to bee borstal while we worked on re-siting them. But that's another story for perhaps another time?
We presently have ten hives, eight housed in an idyllic old orchard, one on the boiler house roof and another at the bottom of the garden in Rhewl. The latter was a swarm, triumphantly captured by James, but that also is another story.
“One can no more approach people without love than one can approach bees without care. Such is the quality of bees...Every saint has a bee in their halo” Elbert Hubbard