The annual visit to the orchards at Heathfield to participate in free apple tasting got off to an inauspicious start when it began raining heavily. Fortunately a gazebo had been set up to protect the picked apples from the elements, so we began the tour by tasting a selection of the organic apples, all varieties of which were on sale after the tour.
Mick the volunteer orchard manager used his apple corer tool and knife to slice the apples into numerous segments and offered them to the group while he explained the history of Heathfield house and the development of the gardens that I have documented in previous open days
Fortunately the rain abated, so Mick showed us the mock-up beehive he uses to explain to children on school visits how the bees populate the hive. The ground floor is the assembly room where the male bees do the “waggle dance” to attract the females to the hive. Mick added it might not be to the same standard as “Strictly”, but it seems to have the desired effect. One queen, 200 boys to keep her company and the rest are female worker bees, including some princesses. They all congregate at the first floor for a networking event.
The second floor houses the layer of honeycombs which can take three months to fill with nectar and honey. In a good year, like last year, 3 lots of layers were added to match production. The top box is reserved for the nursery where the queen bee lays four thousand eggs a day. A hive can hold up to thirty thousand bees.
As the queen bee gets older she is challenged for supremacy of the hive by the princess bees. The queen usually triumphs so the defeated princess will release pheromones that will attract up to half of the hive to leave with her and find a new home. The bees will swarm to a nearby tree before scouting for a new residence. Heathfield will alert the beekeeper that a new hive is required urgently and so grow the local bee population. The boy bees will then mate with the new queen and die.
No chance of any bees swarming today so we moved onto the various trees in the orchard. The quince apple bears a remarkable resemblance to a pear, but the quince skin is hard and very bitter, a deterrent to eating it raw as it would give you a nasty stomach ache. Please always cook a quince. The American Mother looks like a cherry and the Lanes Prince Albert sounds like royalty .
Once tours of the orchard have been completed, all the apples can be picked and juiced in good time for the apple day at Heathfield on Sunday 1st October.