John Graham of Stanley, Perthshire, has spent the last ten years beekeeping and selling honey in honour of his father.
“As a youngster,” John says, “I used to help my father, who was a second generation beekeeper.
“Later when he’d visit me, he’d be wandering around the garden saying ‘oh, bees would do really well here’.
“So I think he was dropping subtle hints.”
John’s father, Duncan Graham, looked after bees until he was 92 years of age. At that point, he gave up his bees, and John agreed to take on one hive.
Just six months later, Duncan passed away.
This was ten years ago. Now, John is following in his father’s footsteps and that one hive has become 20-40 hives of his own.
“But,” John insists, “it’s still very much a hobby.”
‘Cottage industry’ for Perthshire honey
John sells around 500 jars of honey a year – all locally.
“It’s done in very small batches, by hand to local stores,” he said.
“The reason it goes to local stores is one, it’s easier for me, but two, it’s also good for locals to be eating local honey for things like hayfever.
“I want it to be in the store as local produce, rather than somewhere far-flung.”
John describes the business as a “cottage industry”.
He doesn’t have any staff hired on to help him, he collects, jars and sells the honey at home with the help of his wife.
The garage is the storeroom, the kitchen is the processing plant and the airing cupboard’s where I keep it until it goes out.”
John Graham on his ‘cottage industry’ for honey
“It’s just me and my good lady” he says, “and it’s all done at home. It’s very much a cottage industry.
“The garage is the storeroom, the kitchen is the processing plant and the airing cupboard’s where I keep it until it goes out.”
John does things differently with his honey
Although John sells some honey, this isn’t a priority for him.
“I love the bees and that’s why I do it, it’s all about the bees,” says John.
“But there’s this byproduct called honey, that you need to do something with.”
He says: “What I tend to do is I leave a lot of honey on the hives for them.
“I get the mickey taken out of me for that because most beekeepers want to take as much honey as they can.
“But I like to leave some for them to see them through the winter months.
“It’s better for them because it’s natural.
“I don’t think the alternative can be as good as what nature provides.”
Honey is what bees create as a way of preserving their food so they have something to eat during the winter months when the flowers aren’t around.
By not taking all of his bees’ honey, it means the bees won’t go hungry – and won’t have to be fed alternatives like sugar syrup.
“I sell some bees, if people are local and want some bees – as long as they have done a beekeeping beginners course.
“I love bees, but I also love passing on the knowledge of bees, pollinators and beekeeping.”
So over the years, John has led beginners courses on beekeeping and he also offers beekeeping experiences.
Ten years on for Graham’s Honey in Perthshire
Ten years on from taking on that one hive from his father, John is getting his footing.
“I think I’m starting to learn what to do. It’s a very involved hobby or craft,” he says.
“There’s more to it than people think when they go into initially.
“There’s cues in nature that you start to become attuned to.
“So where am I now? I’m still a hobbyist with a bit of a business going on, but I feel way more comfortable in understanding the bees.
“There are moments of clarity where I know I’m in the right direction.
“As I was spinning out my first crop of honey in year two was a real high for me.”
John’s favourite part? “It’s being with nature,” he says.
“It’s very cathartic. I get great pleasure from standing in the middle of the field with me, my bees and nature.
“If you’re stood in the middle of a field or a corner of a woodland, and you’re tending your bees and they’re all quite calm and they’re busily working away and you’ve got an Osprey squawking above you and you’re just there and there’s not another sound in the world bar yourself and nature.
“It’s very relaxing.”
So will John keep at his beekeeping till he’s 92 like his dad?
“I don’t think I’ll get to 92,” he jokes, “but I will do it for as long as I possibly can.
“We’re caretakers of the bees. We’re not really beekeepers, we call ourselves beekeepers, but the bees very much do what they want to do.”
His father is still very much on his mind while he beekeeps.
“Now you’re gonna make me choke here.
“When he passed away, I spoke at his funeral and all of his bee-keeping mates arrived…
“I know he’d be proud.
“He was a bit of a joker and he’d be on my shoulder, reminding me not to take anything too seriously, prodding me with a little bit of encouragement and having a laugh along the way.”