Training new beeks

Opening an (empty!) Warre hive in the kitchen

In early February, we held a couple of afternoon training sessions for new beekeepers, to give them an outline of what’s involved in keeping bees in the UK.

We started with basic biology, and how this drives their very alien behaviour – their social interdependency; how they perceive the world through very different senses; and why they exhibit behaviours like swarming and making honey.

Typical slide, illustrating hairs used for pollen baskets – which snare in woollen clothing

This lead logically into safety precautions, and how to avoid making them anxious; and why swarms are the best way to populate hives. This in turn led into how to catch and hive swarms.

Lecture setup: projected slides, table of tools and props, mini TBH in next room and Warre hives visible through the window

We touched on pests and how bees already have control mechanisms for these, and how conventional beekeeping works against these useful traits. However, I stressed it is well worth getting training from conventional beekeepers – all experience is useful, especially a range of views, as long as you have context to gauge it by. You need to keep in mind that, for example, natural beeks tend to have stationary hives and natural brood breaks, and don’t mind a colony taking 2 – 3 years to establish to a point where you can take honey – so our colonies will develop differently. Another valuable thing about conventional training is, you get direct experience of what healthy colonies and comb look like inside an occupied hive. Too many natural beekeepers are reluctant to ever open a hive, and this can be a disadvantage if a significant problem arises.

It was too cold to open hives, or bees to fly, but the large winter cluster was easily seen through windows

Discussing hive types, I covered framed, log hives and skeps but recommended Warrés and horizontal TBHs and discussed their tradeoffs, using empty hives to illustrate points. Ironically, February’s issue of BBKA News had a “discussion of hive types” which reckons the choice is between Nationals and Modified Nationals, whatever they are. As I said… It’s always worth getting a range of views…

We finished up with a honey tasting, which was very popular!

Here are a few of the more useful tips that came up:

    • There is a lot of False News out there, because bees are managed in a much harsher manner in the USA with consequent high losses, and people assume an article written in English also applies in Britain. No. For example, British losses are half of theirs.
    • Similarly there is no restriction on keeping bees in the UK, even in cities. This is very different to the USA where many cities ban beekeeping. And you don’t need to register as a beek in the UK.
    • On the subject of apiaries, one attendee was dubious whether their garden was suitable. But they back onto a big estate. I advised, Just Ask – I find farmers and other landowners are very keen to host hives. They did this, and got an immediate “yes” from their large neighbour!

A more complex slide, customised for low intervention practises in our area. A standard bee book or BBKA graph would show bee numbers as constant through the summer, as they actively suppress swarming, and assume you feed syrup during the local June forage gap after stealing the Spring honey crop, in their quest for a perfect varroa breeding environment.

In retrospect, it was great fun, but I wish we’d had more time as the syllabus was too ambitious for the time slot available. We deliberately ignored honey; but I’d have liked to have had more time to discuss how to observe a hive.

I hope to organise some more advanced classes eventually for the OxNatBees group, covering subjects like bee races, pest control and hive manipulations. But I was rather taken aback by the amount of preparation needed, so don’t hold your breath.

I’d like to thank the attendees for not rioting, and taking copious notes!

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This entry was posted in Event, Local lore, ONBG, Pests, Skeps, TBH, Warré and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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