I recently got chatting via twitter with James who is starting out in beekeeping. His website, The Surrey Beekeeper is a diary of James’ discovery of bees and beekeeping, but before you head across to the Surrey Beekeeper, here is a taster of how James got into beekeeping, so sit back and enjoy and I promise you won’t get stung!
Beekeeping, beekeeping, beekeeping. What on earth was I thinking? At the ripe age of 31 I decided to become a beekeeper. I originally put it down to an osmosis type effect of being a keen gardener but I later decided it was the fact that my father was a Morris Dancer and I was going through a rebellious phase – trust me nothing can compare to the moment, when you are 13 years old and your mates find out your father’s antics at the weekend. Therefore becoming a beekeeper is actually a pretty “cool” thing to do I suppose (at least until my 18mth son becomes a teenager and I accidentally tell one of his friends my secret – I wonder if that is how my mates found about my own father?)
Having said all of this beekeeping is hitting a crescendo of interest at the moment and this is predominately down to the fact they are having a really hard time. Bee colonies are being wiped out around the world; in fact colonies in the UK are less than half what they were only 20 years ago. Each year there is a new theory but still there is no concrete evidence of what is really happening but there is definitely an issue with little mites which are enjoying the game of piggy backing the young bees and basically sucking their blood and their immune system with it. There is also an issue with pesticides, so much so that the British Beekeeping Association have recently cut all ties with pesticide manufactures. Both of these issues could also be connected but whether separate, or together something is fundamentally wrong and when you consider that over 30% of our food is pollinated by the humble bee you realise how important this issue is. Already the Almond is under threat as there are not enough bees to pollinate the trees so reinforcement hives have to be transported to the west of America each year just to help them out – hand pollinating thousands of acres of almond plantation is simply not an option (incidentally this is already taking place in some areas of China and the staple equipment includes ladders, long sticks with feathers and hundreds if not thousands of volunteers even for the smallest of plot). If I look back, these reasons along with my love of the garden, I know, I know, I am only 31, led me to enquire about beekeeping. So what can you do?
There are many routes that you can follow if you are based in the UK but let me tell you how I went about it as a guide. Firstly I got in contact with the British Beekeepers Association (www.bbka.org.uk) and looked to see if there was anything going on in my area. To my astonishment there was an “association” just up the road, one of nine in Surrey. I was amazed, I thought I was the only silly person to consider becoming a beekeeper. I then made contact and they sent me information about a course which I thought sounded like a fantastic idea. I signed up for the course and was told that it consisted of 10, two hour evening classes. I nearly fell off my chair as I thought you would just get a hive, wait for the bees to fly in and then in a few weeks a little glass jar would neatly appear at my doorstep. In hindsight, those 10 theory (did I mention that I didn’t actually see a bee in this time?) classes were some of the most insightful classes I have had the pleasure of attending. I was hooked and immediately began to read every book about the subject.
It wasn’t until this Spring that I actually got involved in a hive properly and, as part of the membership fee of the said association, I started to attend the practical sessions. Firstly I am glad that I did the theory first as it all started to make a little bit more sense but secondly, for the first few sessions I had to fight the urge to run a mile every time a hive was opened or when a bee would walk over my hand – having been taught to run or practice tennis swings every time a bee was near ever since I was a small child, this was a difficult urge to resist.
I can only say that beekeeping is one of the most exciting whilst pleasant and relaxing things I have done in my relatively short life and I urge anyone to take up the hobby. If not for the shear enjoyment, we do need food on the table and if Einstein is to be believed, should we ever be without the honey bee, we would only have 4 years to live.
I am currently about to pick up my own set of bees from a local beekeeper and I can’t wait to have them in my own hive. Should you want to follow my progress please join me and my diary at www.surreybeekeeper.co.uk
Beekeeping by James from The Surrey Beekeeper.
If you have a farming story, memory or farm visit that you would like to share or a farming issue that you would like to raise, then please send me your story or article and I will happily include it on a guest appearance post.