Beginner Beekeeping: My First Beehive Inspection
I have wanted to keep Bees for a while. A few weeks ago I was able to dip my toe in the water, thanks to a friend who was planning an inspection of her garden beehives. She was kind enough to let me tag along for my first experience of Beginner Beekeeping.
Sue started keeping bees a couple of years ago. I went to school with her husband, Andy. When Sue offered me the opportunity of my first beekeeping experience, I jumped at the chance.
The Beehive Inspection
Beekeepers inspect their hives regularly, particularly during spring and summer. They do this for a variety of reasons. On this occasion we were checking that the Queen was present in each of Sue's two hives, and ensuring there were no signs of mites or other disease.
Andy kindly lent me his bee suit. Not exactly a perfect fit, enormous in fact. But perfect for me since I don't have a suit yet. It covered me where I needed to be covered. That is: everywhere.
Sue set about inspecting her hives. I held the smoker whilst she unstuck the hive with a tool, so she could check the frames. Sue carefully worked her way around the first hive, and then the second. She showed me the important things to look out for.
We found pollen, nectar and honey stores in the brood boxes and honey supers. We didn't see a Queen in either of the hives, but we saw lots of evidence that they had been there in recent days. For example: we saw eggs. Because of that, Sue knew that a Queen was in each of the two hives at least 1-3 days previously, even if she'd popped out during the inspection.
Puffing smoke as you inspect distracts and calms the bees as you make your way around the hive. Sue said the bees were calmer than they sometimes are when she does this inspection. They didn't seem calm to me, I must say... but then again, we were upsetting their routine. Would I want my house taken to bits? Sue worked quickly to minimise the disruption to the bees. We then put the hives back together and left them in peace.
How do Bees react when you mess with their hives?
The first thing I learned is: bees don't like the disruption of an inspection. There are many thousands of bees in a hive and, if they're not happy, they tend to let you know. The level of buzzing went up enormously from when we first approached the hives, to when we started taking them apart. This is normal when you inspect bees. Bee losses of up to 53% have been realised in some parts of Europe in recent years. This dramatic decline in bee populations has been caused by a number of things, including diseases and parasites. The bees need us to help them thrive again. It isn't enough to have a bee hive, stick in some bees, leave them to get on with it and then expect them to give us honey. Whilst views differ as to how frequently we should do this, we need to check our bee colonies to ensure they are thriving, protect them from harm and treat them if they become diseased. Around a third of the food crops we eat are pollinated by bees and other insects. So we need them too. It's a true partnership.
Why did I want to do go on an inspection?
This may sound mad, but there's a reason why I wanted to have an experience like this before I committed to keeping bees. I wanted to know that, if thousands of bees were crawling all over my bee suit, I would remain calm. When I wear a bee suit in the proper way, I am of course protected. But I had never stood with lots of bees crawling over me before! I wanted to know for sure that I wouldn't freak out before I went ahead and booked myself on a course.
Thanks to Sue and Andy, I now know. It's no problem at all. So I am booked on a Beginners Beekeeping course at Mantel Farm Shop, which is not too far from here, later in the year. We're already familiar with Mantel Farm, it's where we get some of our chicken supplies. And Sue trained there. If it's good enough for Sue, it's definitely good enough for me.
Not only did they kindly let me do this, but Sue and Andy also gave me a fresh jar of their bees' honey at the end of the morning. It is absolutely delicious!
Where will we keep our bees?
This is still being sorted out. Unfortunately we are not allowed to keep bees on our allotment, and our garden is too small and overlooked to keep them there either.
A couple of kind friends have offered up space for us though, and we're confident we'll be able to keep them in a lovely location, very close to where we live.
We are completely committed to keeping bees now. But how, and where? Hopefully in time all will become clear...
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