There were 5 attendees on this course, who had travelled from across Sussex to learn about how to keep bees sustainably.
We start off by discussing the hive itself (I work with Nationals and WBCs), and how the bees operate within it. We don’t look inside occupied hives on this course – it’s actually much easier to learn about the workings of the bee colony when you’re not distracted by the bees themselves! It also means I can show people how to get set up before the season starts instead of waiting for better weather when it is potentially getting quite late to decide you want to begin beekeeping.
The bee colony is a highly evolved and sophisticated superorganism, and understanding how it functions without applying anthropomorphic values is really important. I show people the bee space, the foundationless frames, the difference between the brood and super, and why I don’t use, or need to use, a queen excluder. Colony build-up: how, why and when this happens, and how we provision the bees accordingly. What resources the bees need to grow and thrive, and how to judge what is genuinely surplus honey, and harvest it on a frame-by-frame basis – and the minimal equipment needed to do this.
We also discuss bee reproduction and how to manage it effectively, and the pros and cons of artificial swarming. Varroa mites and their treatment (or not, in my case), and the difficulties facing all 275 species of bees we have here in the UK, and the steps we can take to help them by planting more nectar- and pollen-rich species where we can. I have fresh and 4-year old comb to show how the bees build and fortify their home with propolis. Queen cells too, so that folk see how the ‘peanut’ is orientated on the sheet of comb and prepare for swarming.
At the end of the two hours, we have covered all the basic principles, and given everyone the opportunity to ask questions. My aim is to inform and educate people about how a bee colony works…the decisions about management then become more intuitive and based on the individual circumstances of the bees and their keepers rather than a something timetabled and production-orientated.
How and where to source your bees, and where best to locate your hive. I do offer a site visit so that people can be reassured that their bees will be in the right place, as it’s not that easy to move them once they are in situ.
There is time for tea and cake in amongst all the bee chat – thankfully the hens are now laying reliably enough to provide eggs for this part of the course. This time I made a Parsnip and Maple Syrup cake which was well received!