The Beekeeping Bug

Well, yes…

I caught the beekeeping bug a little while ago..,

Although I picked up my first nuc in June 2016, I have had a longstanding interest in beekeeping. It started when my Chemistry teacher asked me for help to extract honey from the bees in her garden apiary. That was in Oxfordshire. Later, a Chemistry teacher myself in Wiltshire, I found a local beek and helped him when commitments to preparing lessons and marking books allowed. I took an evening class in basic beekeeping to supplement my knowledge. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to set up my own garden apiary so some fallow beekeeping years followed (and a lot of life) until early retirement loomed and the prospect of having a large garden in the countryside presented an opportunity. It was three years before we were able to move in and in anticipation, like most people these days, I mugged up by watching as many bee videos on You Tube and reading as many Google pages as possible. I was not quite, but almost, an armchair expert I thought. My retirement present was a flat packed national beehive.

Real beekeeping soon burst my bubble as I’m sure you’ve all guessed. Hands on experience and responsibility for my own colonies was more challenging on every level than I had imagined and all my research counted for nothing compared to the actual experience of managing bees.

And the questions that arose!

I sympathise with the mentors at Tavistock Beekeeping Association who must have been exasperated by some of my questions, because now, after just a few months of beekeeping I know that some of the answers could be properly answered by ‘It depends…’.

Out of sympathy for this anxious newbie, they have patiently tried to give me something that I will take as a tangible answer to reduce my anxiety levels, while knowing that ‘It will still depend…’ (on weather, the Queen, food availability, climate change, farmers spraying, and most of all – the rather ham-handed skills and intentions of a new beekeeper).

So, last year was my first full year of beekeeping, with two colonies. Like everyone else I have had my moments of shame; dropping frames on the ground having not known if the queen was on them, trying to fix what I thought was robbing with a wet duvet cover over the hive (a solution I saw on an American You Tube video) which ended killing a lot of my bees, feeding syrup and dropping a lot of syrup down the centre of the hive and through the open mesh floor in the middle of a wasp problem, failing to notice a food shortage in a hive that was reproducing very rapidly in a nectar dearth leading to an almost complete colony die-out.

But I have had a lot of highlights too; camaraderie with my fellow newbies, learning how to do a shook swarm, using a cookie cutter to transfer some eggs to a failing hive, making my first split, bringing my bees through the winter, catching my first swarm from a friend’s garden, merging two colonies with the newspaper technique, seeing two Quinn’s emerge from their cells piping, even the simple triumph of finding the courage to open up a hive for a full inspection with two crammed brood chambers and 3 supers, then putting it back together without crushing too many bees, or the queen whilst melting in my thick cotton bee suit.

Yes, it’s been quite a year and I’m looking forward to 2018, passion undimmed. I’m preparing for the season and suspect I’m already behind. But I have lots of plans and certainly, a lot more questions…..

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