This week I was asked by a local prison to help give some advice because they want to start keeping bees. I turned up at the gate and was met by the head grounsdman who showed me around the prison’s very impressive garden. It had large poly-tunnels of cabbages and other winter vegetables, an orchard an many and several sheds and buildings. In spite of there being lots of land, none of it was very suitable for keeping bees because most of it was facing South West on an exposed hillside and was being constantly buffeted by the prevailing winds.
During the conversation, it emerged that bees had been kept in the prison up until six years previously in an adjacent wood which was also owned by the prison. I was interested, not least because bees have a way of choosing their own home – and if there had been an apiary there previously for several years, then the bees would probably have found it a suitable place to live. So we set off to inspect the wood.
As we walked up to it, it became clear that this would be an excellent place to site the hives. Less wind, protection from the mid-day sun, exposure to the rising sun in the East – and a large pond to keep the thirsty bees happy during the summer months. Ideal.
As we approached the actual spot where the bees had once been kept, the groundsman pointed to a reasonably large flat piece of ground. He lifted a small concrete slab and drew attention to a small hole underneath – about the size of a couple of shoe boxes. He then told me the story of why the bees were no longer there:
About 6 years before, some of the prisoners had been encouraged to take up beekeeping. The site they chose (which we were then standing on) was well away from the main prison – as you would expect. Once the bees were installed, the wiley beekeeping prisoners had moved aside one of the hives, lifted the concrete slab and dug a hole – into which they had hidden a few bottles of vodka.
In the warm summer evenings, they used to check out of the main prison gate in order to “inspect the bees” with the other beekeeping prisoners. What the prison warders did not realise, initially, is that he was really off to “inspect” the cache of vodka as well!
The prisoners were eventually caught doing their “beekeeping-with-a-difference” and the hives were removed!
Oh well. At least we might be able to get the bees back to where they once were – though this time the cache will be filled in!