When I was seven, I was stung on the tongue by a wasp. In true seventies fashion, my mum and dad were in the pub with my uncle and aunt. I was in the car with my three sisters and two cousins, each with a can of drink and a bag of crisps. Not only was an hour spent like that perfectly acceptable, but it had been successfully sold to us as a treat. A treat, that is, until the wasp made its way into my drink and did its worst. I recall making my way into the pub, eyes brimming – no question in my mind that my injury warranted this intrusion into the adults-only world – and was duly fussed over and given ice cubes to suck as my tongue began to swell. Fortunately my airways remained open and I suffered nothing worse than the initial pain and a lisp that lasted for a couple of days. The lasting damage was done, though. To this day I can feel my body give itself a shot of adrenaline any time a wasp comes near and, while bees don’t provoke quite the same reaction, I’ve never been a particular fan. They are, after all, small, striped and stingey. But, and it is a huge but, bees make honey and wax. My ability to indulge in my hobbies is limited by space. The allotment was given over to chickens years ago and the garden is fully committed. So it felt like we had reached capacity on the animal front. But a hive of bees allows you to keep 60,000 of them in just a few square feet … You can see where I am going. “You’d better come and try it with me, it’s not for everybody,” was my friend Richard Budge’s response when I made tentative inquiries. Remember the bees on top of Truro Town Hall a couple of years ago? They were his. As well as being the city’s parks head, he is also a keen beekeeper. And so I found myself in a bee suit, smoker to hand, lifting the lid for the first time on a hive of bees. He was right, it’s not for everybody. It’s a unique experience: the pitch of the buzzing gets higher the longer you have the lid off and the more frames you pull out for inspection. They buzz you, aiming for your face and bouncing off your veil and hat, as workers try to protect the colony. There’s a wonderful smell, a mixture of the beeswax, the honey it contains and a heady brew of pheromones given off as the bees communicate with one another, informing one another the colony is under attack, that a bee has been squashed, that one of them has has discharged its sting … And it’s really hot in that suit. But I loved it, and came away with a big smile on my face and a hunk of honeycomb. And decided there and then I would pursue my interest. I was lucky – within a week one of Rich’s hives had swarmed, and with typical generosity, the swarm was mine. So we now have a hive next to the shed at the bottom of the garden. The children aren’t allowed there without a grown-up, but so far nobody’s been stung. They are fascinating, unlike anything I’ve come across. My job this year is to help them survive the winter. I’ve been feeding them on sugar solution, which they have been drawing down into the comb to give them a food store. The queen is now laying, and so hopefully their numbers will swell. The hope is that next summer I harvest my first batch of honey. And I need to establish a second hive – to enable myself to replenish a queen should mine die. In the meantime I have a lot to learn about their life-cycle and what I need to do to keep them healthy and productive. I’m gradually getting over my slight phobia of stinging insects – watching them come and go from the hive is pretty hypnotic. Best of all, I need to protect my bees from raiding wasps. I now have licence to set traps around the hive, and very successful they are. After nearly 40 years this dish of revenge is most certainly cold. But it is also very sweet. With a faint taste of honey.