Business is not always about boardrooms and black coffee. So, in tribute to the North-East men and women who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Lauren Pyrah looks at the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the region’s economy

COLIN HINDE, 51, works as a beekeeper and groundsman at Lingfield Point business park in Darlington.

HOW did you get into keeping bees?

I never thought I would be a beekeeper. I was working for Integritas Landscapes, who do the grounds maintenance at Lingfield Point, and I was asked by my boss what I thought of bees.

I said I thought they were okay, and he said, ‘Great, because we’re getting about 20,000 bees in a couple of weeks.’ It was quite out of the blue. He did a lot of the work on them and gradually showed me one or two things.

I got used to handling them and gradually did more and more work with them. I’ve been self-taught, mainly, and I’ve had a lot of help from Tees Bees.

If there’s anything I’m unsure about, I just phone them.

Grounds maintenance is still the main part of my job, but I’ve been looking after the bees for more than a year now.

I have had a lot to learn in a short space of time, and it hasn’t been easy. You can never really know everything about bees.

HOW do you look after the hives?

The day-to-day maintenance of the hive varies depending on the time of year. Early spring, it is usually feeding them with sugar syrup so they have enough food, and just observing them.

This time of year, the main thing which is going on is swarming, a process where a new hive is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. We started off the year with two hives, and they have both swarmed to form four.

In the build-up to winter, you prepare them by feeding them up. In the winter, everything in the hive slows right down, and the bees stay mainly in the queen’s chamber.

A couple of times a year, there is pest control to worry about. A veromite infestation is quite serious, as they attach themselves to the bees’ wings and eat their wings. We have to guard against that.

HAVE you ever been stung?

I’ve been stung more than a few times. Usually it’s not the bee’s fault – it is usually because they are trapped or they think you are a threat.

Staying calm is the best way to prevent being stung – if you flap about, they will think you are a bear trying to steal the hive’s honey.

Different bees have different personalities. Some can be quite aggressive. The first bees we had were Italian – they were very laid back and easy to deal with. I think I became a bit blase about handling them, because when we got the next lot – I think they were Spanish – I got stung a lot. They were a bit yobbish.

WHAT’S the most difficult part of the job?

It is challenging but rewarding.

The most difficult part is the time to do it all. I would like to spend more time doing that side of my job. Harvesting honey is the bit I like the least. It’s very sticky, messy work. We have to spin it by hand, and it takes a long time.

WHAT’S the most rewarding part of the job?

Sitting watching the hive is the best bit of the job. They are fascinating creatures. You could spend hours watching them with a cup of tea.

In the summer, you can tell which plants they have been to by the colour and size of the pollen which comes back on their legs. They will also do a waggle dance to show the other bees where the pollen is.

It is amazing how the others can understand it.

They notice when things in the environment have changed as well and will go back to investigate.

It is only the female bees which are workers – they go out and collect all the pollen. The male bees, or drones, just eat and reproduce. They pick up on so many things which we don’t. They are very sensitive to the weather and you can often tell by the mood the bees are in whether it will rain.

They can be very moody when it’s wet or there’s a storm coming. One of the reasons they are so fascinating is that they are entirely dependent on one another for their survival – a bee on its own would just die.

The hive is like a model of society in miniature.

Every bee has a defined role and their job becomes more complicated the older and more experienced they get.

Young bees are responsible for cleaning.

You also have the bees which get the food, and as bees get older, they become morticians and get rid of the dead bees. Humans have a lot to learn from them.