The story so far…..
Keeping bees has been an aim for years. I tried to find out about a course – but locally they all seemed to be on a Tuesday which was just not possible for me. The cost of equipment is also an issue. The plus was a perfect spot; a separate part of our garden, once a tennis court, is south facing across fields, is not close enough to annoy neighbours or people walking on paths and could easily house several bee hives – a perfect apiary site in my opinion. Holly and mixed hedges shelter the spot and we can allow it to be left a little more wild. My neighbours and I have plenty of bee friendly plants.
A ‘medical emergency’ in my life just made me think that possibly I should go ahead and do something about this desire whilst I still could. (BTW the medical emergency was a threat I might lose my sight – that seems to be ruled out though I don’t think they have decided exactly what is wrong with me – but there is no need to feel sorry for me as if I have some incurable disease.) If I do I am blissfully unaware.
My resolve to get on with the bee plan had several threads. I looked online for some short courses having had abortive attempts to find something in local beekeeping associations for an evening I could manage and even trying the Berkshire College of Agriculture where their lack of communication – or perhaps that of a third party who were managing the course listings wasted even more time.
With extra resolve I spotted some Omlet courses – one for 12th June 2010 was a ‘taster’ course at the weekend. I was a little unsure – was this a gimmick? Omlet seemed to have some new fangled plastic bee hive even more expensive than traditional ones. However, location and date were feasible – time to bite the bullet.
Steve Kennedy’s course near Dunstable was actually great. It was run with a nother beekeeper from Beds BKA and the class of about 7 then had practicals with 3/4 students to each trainer. The location was good in accessibility, parking, level of noise and the fact that it had been set up by someone who wanted to develop their bee hobby into more meant that it was an exemplar. When any of the group had questions – of detail or basics – the experience of the two instructors meant an informative and insightful answer. The plastic bee hive – mentioned but not compulsory. Steve also had nucs about to be ready, at a reasonable price compared with many I had seen, but he was also realistic about teh risk of buying bees later in teh season and then finding they did not survive the winter. I was lucky to have found this course.
Another piece of luck came to fruition at a similar time. I moderate the local freegle group – see http://www.ilovefreegle.org for your nearest group. One of our adjacent groups is moderated by another beekeeper and when he knew I was interested he had offered to show me some of his hives. I got the call the day before the first day of the course mentioned above. The weather was warm enough and we met and paul took me to his local association apiary and one of his own. When you are fascinated and in a bee outfit unable to look at your watch, the time flies by. I just loved this first opportunity to be really close and to handle the frames. Lots of practical things come home to you. How heavy the frames of honey are for a start. How difficult to spot the queen even if she is marked. If you need glasses then once they are on you cannot adjust them or remove them to cope with seeing somethings close up and others from a distance. I have got some varifocals and I hope they will improve things when I become accustomed to them. Seeing the queen at long last was such a thrill – you stare and stare and then there she is and you wonder what took you so long. Paul was excellent at ensuring I saw the different stages of the life cycle – the egg, larvae, capped brood, older brood. The colours of the pollen were amazingly bright and varied – like an artists palette.
It may be a hobby, but there is something of awe and wonder about this. You cannot help but be fascinated and curious and each time you think of a new question there follows an aspect you’d not yet considered. The propolis looks so dirty and gungy yet you find out the bees produce it for hygeine reasons and that it is being investigated for further benefits in medecine. (They are already using honey more and more in treatment of burns). We have built wonderful hospitals that suffer from MRSA and similar yet here is an insect from which we can learn so much. The dimensions of the creature and how it is used – the queen excluder that allows the workers to get to the supers but is just too small for a queen to get through and lay eggs. To this stage I have been so lucky, too, all the bees I have seen seem happy and non aggressive with just a minimum of smoke.
What do I think are the key things to help my progress?
Joining and making contact with local groups. Even their newsletters are very valuable.
Having someone willing to be a mentor.
DVD from Paul Metcalf very good; Gerard Baker’s Bees and Beekeeping explained good for plant ideas; Practical beekeeping by ?? and lastly Ted Hooper’s book.
Just had my email to let me know the Thornes sale dates. Windsor is first on October 9th. I am not sure how good the sales are. Windsor is quite a small shop and there seems to have been a lot of demand this summer; it would be frustrating to make the journey and then find either I could not buy all I required or the discount was not very significant. Still, I probably ought to make my shopping list but be cautious. I haven’t got my bees through the winter yet! I know I want to expand and possibly have up to 4 hives but I need to walk before I can run.
My mentor says the sales often include seconds but that he’s had no problems with such – they certainly ease the cost. He also seemed to suggest that treating even the cedar products reduced the trend for everything to go grey. Must think about this. He also said I need to sort out the one brood body where the rail goes up slightly at the end – probably no more than 4 mm. It was a peice that seemed warped and was hard for me to fit properly – get one part in correctly and the other becomes out of true. This may be a reason to buy first quality not seconds (mine weren’t seconds but they were a supplier whose charges were a little better!)