I got home to find a cryptic message on my answering machine saying, “Can you come down to Dinnet tomorrow and collect the Queen?”
Now before you get any wrong ideas about my connections with people in high places let me explain that the “Queen” in question is not, you-know-who, from Balmoral but is Apis Mellifera, better known as the honeybee.
When I retired two years ago my daughter, who was clearly concerned that I would not have enough to do with my time and needed a new hobby, presented me with a year’s membership of the Aberdeen and District Beekeepers’ Association.
This entitled me to attend a series of winter lectures designed to encourage newcomers into the fascinating world of beekeeping.
Many years ago we had uncovered old hives used by my wife’s grandfather in the woods behind the house in Braemar and I had expressed some interest in bringing them back into production. I had even gone so far as to take my daughter, then a little girl, to visit some beekeepers. When we got there they were extracting honey from a comb. They spread some on crusty bread and gave it to us. That clearly had left a mark on an impressionable little girl but I didn’t take the idea any further at the time.
Over seventy people attended the winter lectures and demand for new hives and bees was high.
There has been a worrying shortage of bees for a variety of reasons but I eventually managed to get some and got started with my first hive just in time for the heather to come out last summer and within a short time I could see my first honey being produced. And wonderfully tasting it was too, quite different from what you might normally buy in the supermarket.
We had learned from the lectures that the majority of honey found in the shops is imported from the Far East and is bland and lacking in character. We were introduced to locally produced sycamore honey, oil seed rape honey, chestnut honey, creamed honey, clear golden honey, bright red honey and honey that was almost black in colour. The range and variety was astonishing.
And that’s typical of food and drink production across the National Park.
Our area is so rich in what it can produce – not just the obvious examples of beef, venison, salmon and whisky but also the less well known products from our bakeries, butcheries, smoke houses and microbreweries, the apiaries and the cheesemakers and the fruit and berry growers and many more.
The CNPA recognises the fantastic range and high quality of what is produced in the Park.
Last year we joined forces with Soil Association Scotland in launching the Food for Life Plan. It aims to increase the availability and use of local, fresh and seasonal produce for both residents and visitors in the Cairngorms National Park and in so doing to seek long term improvements to our health, environment and economy.
Sadly however everything does not go exactly according to plan.
Having gleaned a reasonable harvest from my first season I nursed my bees successfully through the winter and was delighted to see them emerge from the hive encouraged by the early Spring sunshine.
All was going well until I noticed the population beginning to drop and closer examination showed that no new brood was being produced. “You’ve lost your queen! You’ll need a new one!” was the sage advice I received from my mentors.
So I’m on my way to Dinnet to collect a swarm and queen, hopefully to amalgamate them with my ailing colony and get back into production again.
But don’t worry, my misfortune is unlikely to undermine the economy of the National Park.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!