The other day I was invited to spin honey in the lovely home of Martin Tothill. He has been keeping bees for around 10 years and sells the honey they make as Hartington Honey…
Walking into his home you are hit with the sweetest smell, and upon walking into the kitchen I caught a glimpse of the golden liquid sitting in the honey comb just waiting to be spun and sieved by Martin.
I met the beekeeper in the classic white beekeeping suit, he walked me outside in his wellington boots to see his acery and showed me the hives, one bee flew very close to me and Martin gently cupped the bee in his hand and brushed it lightly away.
Later when we sat down we spoke about the moment and how calm martin was and he told me that mostly bees are just curious they aren’t coming after you maliciously. Once you get over that you don’t have to be scared of them anymore.
He tells me that the women worker bees will sting you, but the male drones will not and nor will the queen bee as she only ever stings other queens.
In his whole career as a beekeeper, Martin has only ever had one box of angry bees. He says on the whole bees are good but when a queen bee starts to get older she doesn’t smell as strong and this can make the bees a little upset as they communicate through their sense of smell. The main rule is to stay calm and to stay quiet and then bees are pretty relaxed.
Martin told me of a story when he went to Stanmer to see some bees with his daughter dressed in her little bee suit. Upon opening the box he realised they were furious and went after him.
“I was left with these comedy bee trousers, they’d just surrounded me trying to sting me and I was walking around with this comedy outfit on,” Thankfully he wears two pairs of trousers.
He got into bee keeping accidentally on a visit to Cornwall with his wife and one of their daughters. They met a lovely old couple who had about 150 hives, he fell in love with their quaint lifestyle in which they would sell a bit of honey and do teas and coffee.
Martin immediately thought I’d like that but didn’t pursue it until a couple of years later when at Plumpton College he reminded himself that it was something he’d like to have a go at.
When chatting, he told me of Joe, the man who mentored him and showed him how to bee keep. He followed him around and eventually went with him to a field in the middle of Lewes to get his first swarm. They climbed a tree and stuck them in a box, he tells me the general rule is if you find the swarm then they are yours. Although you can buy boxes of bees but it’ll cost you a pretty penny of around 200 pounds.
The reason I got in touch with Martin originally was because he was looking for a place to keep his bees as each as his garden is too small of a space to keep them now.
In the summer months bees reproduce, they will create a new queen and as you can’t have two queens in one hive. The eldest queen will take half of the bees with her, this is why in the summer you see clouds of bees in the sky.
Martin has many facts like this, he told me about the different types of bees and that honey bees will make about 1 teaspoon of honey in their life time. We revealed at the amount of work that goes into one jar of honey.
He does this because he is fascinated by them. He describes it like diving into a whole different world. A world you’d be mad to dive into but as a beekeeper you do it regularly. After a while you understand them and what is going on, you get to see the baby bees or the making of a new queen.
Like him I was completely captivated by them, making my own jar of honey felt like magic. His business is very small but it is something he does to get some alone time as he works in a very busy environment.
“It seems like a good thing to do – you read a lot about how bees are important and how bees are in decline and we love our garden and all things outdoors”
The honey itself is great for christmas presents, or gifts for when people pop over! Martin has regular customers and supplies a couple of cafes, a lady from Shoreham drives over to get some and others will just knock on his door.
He wants you to know that bees are more frightened of you, your bigger than a bee and although a sting is a scary thing it’s a bees last resort. He hopes to be beekeeping well into the future and from seeing his passion I think he will be.
Was amazing to meet you Martin and thank you for the honey!