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Sue's Beekeeping Journey

I took up beekeeping nearly 6 years ago and started working for the Blackburne House Bee You Project last year. I keep my hives in a friend’s garden in Bickerstaff (which is near Ormskirk in Lancashire) as they wanted honeybees to aid pollination of their fruit trees and other plants, but didn’t want the commitment of looking after them. Whilst thinking and planning this blog, I decided to research Bickerstaff to see if there were any beekeeping links, as it is near to the historical market town of Ormskirk.

Photography by Sue Wilkinson

I discovered that the name of the village of Bickerstaff dates back to the 12th century and literally means ‘landing place of the beekeepers’! I remembered that there is a Quaker burial site on Graveyard Lane and discovered that in the 17th century it was an important local centre of the Quakers in West Lancashire. I decided to dig about a bit more (stems from a previous life as a sleuth!) to see if there were any Quaker links to beekeeping in the area but I hit a wall regarding this. I did then discover, however, that a Moses Quinby who was an American Quaker and beekeeper from New York, invented the Quinby Bellows Smoker in 1873 which was the first modern bee smoker with bellows.

Bee smokers or usually simply, just a smoker, is a device used in beekeeping to calm honey bees whilst doing inspections. The smoke interferes with the bee’s line of communication and helps prevent them from becoming too upset and protective and less likely to sting. Bees produce an alarm pheromone (which smells of bananas) when they feel threatened and are more likely to sting and alert the rest of the colony of a potential threat, which can result in multiple stings from multiple bees. The effect of the smoke makes them less likely to sting because they go into survival mode, making the beekeeper less of a concern to them. It has been suggested that when the bees smell smoke, they think there’s a fire and their natural reaction is to save as much honey as they can, so when the smoke enters the hive, the bees begin storing up as much honey in their bodies as possible, in preparation to flee and build a new hive elsewhere. Once they’re full of honey however, they are less likely to sting as this will cause them to die, meaning the honey won’t make it to their new home.

Photography by Sue Wilkinson

I hope you’ve found this as interesting to read as I did discover the information that I’ve shared.

Moses also wrote books on beekeeping such as Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained and Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee – A Beekeepers Manual. He was also responsible for inventing the New Quinby hive which had improved and modified frames and boxes and other equipment, a curve pointed uncapping knife for use in the extraction of honey and he modified the Langstroth Alexander Veil. Being a true Quaker he remained true to the heritage and felt obliged to share what God had given him and therefore, never patented his inventions or copyrighted his books or publications.

Photography by Sue Wilkinson

Moses Quinby died 26th May 1875 and is buried in West St Johnsville Cemetery in New York.

I hope you’ve found this as interesting to read as I did discover the information that I’ve shared.

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