Beginning beekeeping

Honey bee

Beginning beekeeping: Waiting for my first bees – an emotional rollercoaster!

Honey beeNearly four years ago I went on my first beginning beekeeping course held at Thorne’s near Stockbridge, Hampshire.  The course inspired me to buy a hive but in hindsight I think I was still feeling too inexperienced to actually get some bees.  I say ‘get some bees’ casually as if it were like popping into the Co-op and buying them.  It isn’t quite like that with bees although perhaps it is becoming more so.

 Buying bees

I garden for an ex-beekeeper, now in his nineties, and he tells me that buying bees used to be unheard of.  People gave you bees.  The local association is the network whereby you hear of swarms and they are passed to those in need.  More recently even the association charge for providing bees – £80 for a nucleus in my area.  Buying on-line can set you back well over a hundred pounds in the UK.

 Natural beekeeping idealism

If you’ve read any more of my blogs you may have gathered that I have idealist leanings, with a dollop of hippy on the side.  This lead to the initial approach of putting my new hive in the garden and hoping a homeless swarm might turn up and decide it was the dez rez they’d always dreamt of.  Guess what?  Despite a flurry of serious viewings on sunny June days they never actually put down a deposit and moved in.  I will always wonder why, when they clearly knew where it was, they didn’t come.  Was something wrong with my hive?  Or perhaps the swarm was captured on route – I suspect that was the case but will never know for certain.

 Swarm for someone, but not for me

Another year I was coming back from a walk on another glorious day and came across a man in the bee suit in my village High Street.  The swarm was in a tree and he was capturing it.  I was upset because I had my name down for a swarm so I thought, and the beekeeper was collecting it for someone miles away.  I felt it should have been mine!

 Local Beekeeper Association

I had joined the association after attending that first beekeeping course but hadn’t managed to get to a meeting in three years.  I do live 12 miles from the meeting place and their meetings tend to clash with my bridge night, oh and I was studying for my RHS diploma in horticulture but really, on reflection, that was disgraceful!

Finally I got the bit between my teeth and put a Q & A bee meeting in my diary.  And I did turn up!  I soon learnt that one of the members was selling bees and despite a wish to keep costs for this new hobby down I made the decision to spend the £80 and finally provide my empty hive with inhabitants.


Hard part done?  You might think so but that was just the beginning.  In April I was told they had nosema, a protozoan that causes diarrhea and potentially dysentery.  They would be treated with antibiotics – Fumicil B, and this would delay the hand over.  I was very disappointed having thought that I would finally become the proud guardian of my own colony.  Also I wasn’t keen to hear that my bees, that I was to care for ‘naturally’ would start their life on drugs but there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.

 Nosema recovery

Out of the blue in early May I heard they were better and would be available, well, now!  I should have known there might need to be some rapid reacting as the seasons of swarming and splitting hives (and all sorts of techniques and practices I don’t understand yet) was upon us and doesn’t go beyond July at the latest.

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon

But a swarm in July isn’t worth fly

What did I need, what should I wear (see article: protective clothing), what does ‘brood box’ mean?  Panic!  I was told to bring my brood box and I worked out that the phrase meant essentially my hive without the supers, not too difficult.  I also needed a strap (to hold the stacked boxes together) and a feeder, so they could continue to be fed the drug, neither of which I had.

Here’s what happened next…

25 May 2010  Missing queen

Gutted.  I just received an e-mail saying the queen’s gone missing.  I was surprised how disappointed I feel.  I had bees in the conservatory at home scouting around — could I have had a swarm if my hive had been here?  Who knows.  Starting to feel that I’m not destined to be a beekeeper.  Irrational I know but it feels increasingly like a lottery as to whether I get any bees or not – and I so want them.

4th June 2010   The key to it all!  The Natural Beekeeping Course

I feel I’ve just been given the key to it all!  I’ve been on a natural beekeeping weekend and had just heard what I wanted to hear.  Niggling feelings that some things weren’t quite right like feeding sugar to bees through the winter turn out to be good instinct.  This natural beekeeping course made me see how it’s not just the wider environment that causes them stress but some of the accepted practices of modern beekeeping.

Collecting the bees

I’m feeling a little unsure today.  I’m going to visit the wood where my new hive is being ‘assembled’.  I don’t really understand the process so hopefully I can learn more and maybe make some sort of contact with the bees that I hope will come into my care, who knows.  I’m reading ‘The Shamanic Way of the Bee’ so am very encouraged that I may be able to ‘talk’ to the bees and hopefully to listen and learn.  Talking to the bees is a phrase you hear in bee folklore.  Quite how literally it’s taken I don’t know.

I’m concerned about whether to tell the doctor (yes I’m getting my bees from a scientist who looks after bees as a hobby) that I learnt about natural beekeeping and am converted.  It may not ‘come up’ and I don’t want it to be a confession!  But neither do I want to be covert and have him find out later that I didn’t tell him something anyone would.  Yet because I’m aware of this how he might take it it has to be a conscious decision in me – I can’t naïvely blurt it out.

Oh good the suns come out, they’ll be happier.  I’m intrigued by some bee lore that says you are stung in certain places quite deliberately.  I was stung on the cheek!  What does that mean?

In the shamanic way he’s initiated with distinctive hand (palm) and top of the head, the Crown chakra.

More later I hope (not stings!).



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