Becoming a Beekeeper

Becoming a Beekeeper

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A lovely guest blog from Green City volunteer and supporter Bernt Fuglseth about his journey to becoming a Beekeeper…

I became a beekeeper in the summer of 2015. I made the decision the year before after having the idea planted in my brain during a road trip where I came across a few apiaries (fancy word for a collection of bee hives). I had been looking for a new hobby, as well as wanting to do something that had a positive impact on the environment, and started thinking “Why not become a beekeeper?

As I returned to Cardiff, the initial thought had seeded a real interest in beekeeping. I joined the Cardiff and Vale Beekeepers Association straight away, and started doing my research. I attended every Association winter meeting and soaked up as much information as I could, before ordering two colonies of bees from Nature’s Little Helpers in the spring of 2015. Until I received my own bees a few months later, I completed my Association’s beekeeper course, and got as much hands-on experience I could at the association’s apiaries whilst looking for a suitable place to keep my new bees.

 

My good friend and fellow beekeeper Stuart, luckily, found us a plot of land near his village of Ponthir, where we set up a foundation of pavement slabs, and eventually built a fence at the request of the landowner to “keep the cows away”. We have yet to see any cows, but it’s best to always keep the landowner happy!

In July, we transported the bees to their new home, and had great success for our first year. And by great success I mean the two colonies are still alive, and I only got stung three times. I’m not sure a first year beekeeper can ask for much more.

My top tips for anyone considering becoming a BeeKeeper..

Do your research. Join your local beekeepers’ association. The basics of beekeeping are fairly easy, but there is a lot to learn. There are many ways to skin the metaphorical cat, and every beekeeper will have their own practices and preferences. Do experiment with different practices and theories, and try and figure out what kind of beekeeper you want to be. Get your bees from a recommended and reputable source. The Cardiff and Vale Beekeepers’ Association has been an invaluable source of information to me, and I would encourage anyone who has an interest in beekeeping to join and take advantage of spending some time at the association’s apiaries before taking the plunge yourself.

Go on a course or workshop. I would recommend anyone to take at least one course, either organised by your local beekeepers association, or something like the Urban Beekeeping workshop run by Green City events, to give yourself a solid theoretical foundation before you start. You can of course do your own study, but it’s nice to be able to ask questions. Most of the learning you do will be through discussion and experience – and the courses are a also a good way to get to know other beginner beekeepers.

 

Keep learning. Once you get started, there are an endless amount of learning opportunities available if you want to go deeper into the science of beekeeping; like microscopy to study honey or the biology of bees, breeding and queen rearing; or the associated products like mead, candles, soaps and other honey and beeswax based products. The Cardiff and Vale Beekeeper’s Association’s annual honey show is worth a visit to give you an idea of the love that goes into the different crafts.

Start with 2 colonies. If you have the opportunity to do so, I would advise anyone to get at least two colonies of bees, giving you the chance to compare and contrast their behaviour. Often you will find that they will behave differently, meaning you can double your potential learning. When we first got our bees, one of the colonies didn’t increase like the other, and the bees were getting more aggressive. It turned out that the queen was gone (explaining their aggression), and no eggs were laid. Luckily the bees reacted as they do, and created an emergency queen by using a worker bee larvae without any intervention, avoiding colony loss. About a month later we noticed new eggs being laid. Phew! This hive is still struggling, but we learned to be more vigilant and mindful with our inspections to catch this earlier if it happens again.

Visit your bees regularly. You will want to visit your bees often to look for changes and to cement your learning. This is very important for your own progress as a beekeeper, but the constant disturbance is not so great for the bees. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit other apiaries, you’ll need to practice patience – or get more hives!

What I have learned and my own future plans for beekeeping

I was never really that keen on honey until I tried fresh honey more or less straight from a hive, and now I can’t wait until I can get some from my own hives.

In 2015 I learned the basics of beekeeping – how to recognise the different types of bees that make up a colony, what it means for a colony to be healthy, and what to expect in the frames in terms of honey, pollen, eggs, larvae and so on. I learned how to investigate a hive to look for signs of starvation and diseases and to feed or treat them when required. The latter practices are things I personally hope to avoid (or at the very least, lessen) in the future in an attempt to go treatment free (no chemical treatment) and grow stronger bees – following the advice of beekeepers like Solomon Parker and Michael Bush. However, this is a wholly personal choice, and most books and beekeepers will advise you to treat your colonies. You’ll have to make up your own mind in terms of what practices you think are ok or not, and always be aware of what’s going on in your colony. Not treating or feeding when there is an obvious need for doing so, will often lead to the loss of a hive.

In 2016 I intend to increase the number of hives I have from two, up to at least six. I hope to learn how to collect swarms, as well as how to split a hive by creating artificial swarms and encouraging the hives to create new queens. I am also looking to complete my Basic Assessment for beekeeping – the first in many steps to becoming a master beekeeper.

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