Last Saturday I put a big old tick against one of my “Bucket-List” items.
On a fine, somewhat warm day I donned a white overall over my clothes, tucked it into thick white socks and pulled a net hood over my head before pulling on some leather handed gauntlets to finish the ensemble.
This was it, I was at last going to be able to get up close and personal to a colony of bees.
I have been interested in bees for a long time, their behaviour is fascinating and their colonies are a model of discipline, order and teamwork. All-in-all a very interesting insect, and an insect that the human race cannot be without. Oh, and they make honey, and I love honey!
I have often considered whether a hive would be possible in my garden, and my answer, until now, has always been no. Taking on a colony of bees is a big responsibility, they are not something you acquire and then leave to their own devices.
On arrival at the “Honey House” of Upper Beaconsfield Apairies I receive a friendly welcome, and that is how it is with Anna, Sharon and Alf, friendly and welcoming.
The courses have a maximum of five participants and on this occasion there was just myself and one other, a chap who had just started with his own hive.
We started the day with a walk along the lane looking at the plants that were currently flowering and seeing for ourselves which ones the bees were favouring. The bees were beautiful, not your usual black and yellow types, these were a wonderful yellow colour. These were Alf’s bees!
We continued along the lane until we reached a paddock containing lots of beehives. We stood watching the bees fly in and out of the hives and it was a good chance to talk about how you need to carefully consider the location of your hive. You don’t want to be walking through the flight path and you don’t want the neighbours complaining that your bees are pooping on their laundry!
Back at the “Honey House” Alf explained all about bees, their anatomy, behaviour, the life cycle and so much more. It was all so interesting. Alf’s knowledge was incredible and he has a wonderful ability of passing it on in an engaging way.
Next was an introduction to the hive, this was an great chance to see how a hive is constructed and the different sizes available. I decide, based on weight, that an “Ideal” hive would suit me best.
The morning passed so quickly and before I knew it, we were off to the house for lunch.
Anna put on a wonderful spread of mixed sandwiches followed by a divine cake, all washed down with a well earned cuppa.
With our bellies fed, it was time to get into our beekeeper suits. I confess, for the first time during my day, I felt a little nervous, but excited too. It was time to put the theory we had covered during the morning session into practice.
We walked back to the paddock full of hives. Alf showed us how to light the smoker. Then it was time to pull on our hoods, zipper up tight and don our gaunlets.
As we made our approach I was still feeling a little apprehensive. But Alf and Sharon’s confidence soon puts me at ease. Before I knew it, there I was stood with bees buzzing all around, holding a frame that is alive with beautiful, yellow, Italian bees.
We open the hives one by one. We check the health of the hive, we look for the queen, we see how many brood cells are on the frames, is there nectar and pollen in the cells?
To my delight we got to see lots of shiny “about-to-be-a-bee” larvae. We even saw brand new bees poke their heads out of their cells for the very first time. Which is no mean feat with hundreds of your sisters trampling overhead.
It’s not until you look into a hive do you appreciate how amazing it is that this complex colony works with such order, such discipline. These girls work hard from the second they are born. Each bee has its role and that-is-that, they simply get on with it. Imagine having that many human females together in such close confines….. no let’s not!
We head back to the house, suits unzipped to cool off. Anna has a refreshing, cold drink waiting for us. We remove our suits and socks and sit down to talk about our experience at the hives.
All too quickly the day is over. I had a brilliant experience, one I will not forget for sure.
Would I recommend the course? Yes I would, even if you are not interested in keeping your own hive. If you are simply curious to know more about the humble honey bee, then a day with Alf would be perfect.
So, am I going to become a beekeeper?
Well, the fear that I’d get it wrong has been dispelled thanks to the course, and I now know what equipment I would need. I also know that I need to prepare an area for the hive. Maybe this spring will see me picking up my new hive full of beautiful yellow Italian honey bees from Alf.
It sure will be a buzz to have my own honey!