How did you first get started, Steve?
Well it all started on Christmas morning. There were lots of presents to do with bees - books, clothes and so on. And then, after opening all the bee-themed stocking fillers, I found the membership to the club and enrolment on the beginner beekeeper’s course. My wife Jules had enrolled herself too and we were both really looking forward to getting started.
What was the course like?
We both really enjoyed it. Yvonne is a fantastic teacher - really funny and interesting, and she made it fun and engaging for everyone. There was the right mix of theory and practical skills. We always had masses of questions - it felt very comfortable even to ask silly things.
The mix of people on the course was really interesting and it was great that we always had some more experienced people on hand too. I think we realised quite early on that bee keeping is as much a craft as a science, so sometimes there isn't a right or wrong answer. Having a discussion about things was really encouraged and I think that gives you confidence, knowing that we're all learning together.
In week 7 of the 10 we had our first visit to an apiary and started to get used to handling the bees. It was a chance to try out what we'd learnt. We also did some honey extracting on the course which was very funny. Everyone got involved and the honey was all over the place. We were absolutely covered in it!
"In week 7... we had our first visit to an apiary and started to get used to handling the bees. It was a chance to try out what we'd learnt."
When did you get your own bees, Steve?
It was around the end of April when we got our hive. It was a full colony all up and running with a queen from the year before.
What was it like dealing with them at first?
Yeah, it was a bit scary in a way. I think we were a bit overawed at first because we hadn't had much practice yet. The first time I went in I was so nervous, I think I shook most of the bees off the frames! But of course you get into the rhythm of it after a while and you kind of learn to read how the bees are feeling. Sometimes we know it's best just to leave them alone, if they're having a bad day. We all feel like that sometimes don't we?
Where do you keep the hive?
It's in our back garden, in a quiet spot in between some fruit trees. Jules and I Iove to see them buzzing around the garden, visiting all the flowers. It's done my veg patch some good too, all that pollination. We're looking forward to the club talk on planting for bees because we want to make sure they have some forage all through the year.
"Jules and I love to see them buzzing round the garden, visiting all the flowers. It's done my veg patch some good!"
What support did you need?
We had loads of help from the course mentors and other club members, especially Andy, Geoff, Derrie and Riad. The club meetings at Farnley Tyas were really helpful too because we got lots of hands-on practice. Like how to keep a good record sheet and what to look out for at different times in the year. We used those meetings as guide for what to do with our bees - that was really helpful.
At all the meetings, people always seems really willing to share their experiences, even what went wrong. People often have different opinions and different things they've tried. That's what makes it so interesting I think. We're all learning from one another, all the time.
Did you have any problems during the year?
Well, we've both been stung a few times, of course. But that wasn't as painful as we'd expected.
We split our colony in the summer and created a nuc, but then the first colony swarmed anyway. Then they both ended up queenless and we had to requeen. It wasn't a great start. We've had to feed the small colony quite a bit because it wasn't going have enough stores otherwise before the winter. But we're back on track now and hopefully they'll both make it through. They both have fondant on just in case.
Do you have any tips for others newbees?
Be warned - this is a very addictive hobby. Right at the beginning people said we'd get obsessed and would soon want more hives. They were right - we're rearranging our garden to accommodate three more colonies for next year. I think we're hooked!
So did the theme continue on Christmas morning this year?
Haha, of course.
"We're rearranging our garden to accommodate three more colonies for next year. I think we're hooked!"