Intermediate Beekeeping Course…and some thoughts

It was great to welcome 4 people to this follow-on course: Tracy, Tracy, John and Jan so I had a sporting chance of remembering names! Jan had been on my intro course, but the others were new to the ways of wayward beekeeping, so it was great to hear their experiences and share mine.

I like to give people a chance to interject with their thoughts and questions as it is always so beneficial to hear how other beekeepers manage their bees. Each colony is an individual, and they all have their quirks, and one of my great bugbears is the ‘one size fits all’ approach to much of the beekeeping teaching out there. It is SO important to learn to read your bees by watching their behaviour, keeping track of how they are progressing and working with them to promote healthy and vigorous colonies. Having the confidence to be guided by your bees is a more instinctive approach, but recognising signs rather than using a calendar or strict timetable is much more flexible and saves confusion.

We talked about queen excluders, and why I feel they are unnecessary, and consequently don’t use them. Brood and a half: the advantages. Artificial swarming: the disadvantages. Swarm collecting and dividing colonies: the pros and cons of each. Honey extraction, cut comb and foundationless frames. Crownboards, Porter bee escapes and cross comb. Feeding bees. Weekly checks vs daily observation. Varroa control: always a good discussion! Tea, and homemade courgette cake.

Messy, but fun.

Beekeepers can be a surprisingly impervious bunch, with many sticking rigorously to their methodologies and reluctant to accept that honey harvesting may not be the sole reason that people are interested in honeybees, as many people simply want to keep bees because they are interested in them – with good reason as they are indeed fascinating insects. In any case, the environment where we ask our bees to work is very different today than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and lifestyles have changed too. Responsible beekeeping is just that – the volume of honey produced for human consumption is not the only indicator of success or ability.

Many new beekeepers embark on their journey only to be hijacked by someone well-meaning but actually incapable of imparting genuine knowledge, and by that I mean taking on board the individual circumstances and advising accordingly. Simply telling someone to do what you do is not mentoring, or teaching, or supporting, and it’s such a shame that so many new beeks end up feeling railroaded and marginalised with sucking of teeth and “oooh – you don’t want to do that…” – especially when those same beginners HAVE attended courses and done their research, only to be left navigating the legendary 5 opinions from 4 beekeepers.

We would all benefit from a more inclusive and informative approach about what we find with our bees as it’s only by comparing notes that we get a decent set of data upon which to draw our own conclusions. At the end of the day, we all know our bees can cope perfectly well if left to their own devices as they have done for millennia, so I’m not really sure that any of us can truly say we know what is best for them…

6 thoughts on “Intermediate Beekeeping Course…and some thoughts

  1. Ooh, many words of wisdom, thank you. I must admit, I too have subscribed to “there’s only one right way to keep bees.” Those days are long past (I hope). I appreciate how you believe that each hive should be treated individually and not necessarily according to a time table. This pretty much cuts out commercial beekeeping practices in my opinion. It must have been wonderful to share with your students, especially the courgette cake, which I’ve never heard of but the pictures of it look delicious!

    1. Absolutely Jonathan – I completely respect commercial beekeepers and the work they do with pollination and honey but that’s farming, and it is not necessary to adopt the same techniques just on a one- or two-hive basis, which is the basis for most of the teaching here in the UK. It’s fine if you do, but bees still need managing responsibly even if you’re not prioritising honey production – it’s just different not better or worse.

    1. Thank you Emily – and yes I do like the Emma Bridgewater mugs! I think a lot of beekeepers struggle with the assumption that if you’re not maximising honey production you’re not doing it ‘properly’, and/or there is little support or understanding for how to manage your bees if honey is not a priority as it is deemed that you’re neglecting them, or just being a hippy. That is certainly the case in my (genuinely kind and well-meaning) BKA and a stance which I am endeavouring to change 🙂

  2. Jennifer is a “hive” of information about all aspects of beekeeping. Her more natural and sensitive approach to caring for your bees are a breath of fresh air and a delight to listen to and discuss. I came away from her course feeling like I could begin a new chapter in my beekeeping and with the confidence to follow my instinct when making decisions about how to care for my bees.Thankyou for a very informative and enjoyable afternoon.

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