This weekend brings to a close the Exeter branch Beginners' Beekeeping Course with the last practical session at the apiary on Saturday. At the first practical, the place was really buzzing with bees. With 17 colonies the sound just blew me away as the girls were out on possibly their first flights of the season to go and forage for nectar and pollen.
It's been a three weeks since the last beekeeping session and this week is something I've been really looking forward to. Up to now, all the sessions have been theory but this weekend takes us a step closer to becoming beekeepers as we get to handle bees for the very first time at the local branch apiary. In between the theory and practicals, I've delved into more and more books soaking up as much knowledge and even chatted with another beekeeper in the area, who having kept bees herself for five years, still looks on herself as a beginner (hope you don't mind me mentioning this Bev!).
Where to start? We have two Nationals at work and my knowledge on beehives is practically zero but with the imminent arrival this year of a nuc (short for 'nucleus') of bees in a few months and still lots to learn, I musn't forget to clean the two hives and furnish them inside with what the colony will need for them to thrive and live a happy life. Basically, all the old frames, foundation - and anything else lurking inside - needs to come out and replaced.
One minute we think we've left the cold months behind us, the next we're blasted with wintry conditions - even here in Devon. It's March and I'm worried about the honey bees. The colonies themselves will be in their winter clusters snug and warm in their hives keeping their core hive temperature at around 35oC whatever the weather but while the cold snap continues, they won't be foraging outside but relying on their dwindling food stores.
March is almost upon as and we're five weeks into our beekeeping course having covered swarm control last week. No doubt about it, our bees will want to swarm instinctively as it's their nature to do so, but we can look out for the signs and manage rather than watch the queen and half our bees leave and then have to go and collect.
Staring out of the window yesterday on another wet and cold day, didn't make me want to don my wellies and get out into the garden, but the bees need us to help them survive. Springtime is when the foragers will be out flying after the winter months and depending on how much food they have left in their hives will determine how hungry they are. It's a critical time as bees can die of starvation at this time of year if they can't find sufficient food.
This week's research in readiness for next week's beekeeping course is for us to find out what we need to consider when setting up an apiary, which is a place where colonies of bees are kept in a collection of beehives. As a budding beekeeper these are important things to find out about, as the last thing we want to do is cause unhappy neighbours and unhappy bees!
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I had picked up a book called Honey and Dust: travels in search of sweetness written by Piers Moore Ede. The book itself is about the author who was living in San Francisco going about his every day life - working in a cafe, meeting a young woman and falling in love and generally enjoying life.
One of the questions set for us to swat up on before this week's course was to describe the process of swarming. I don't know about others in the group, but I find that when I start looking on the Internet, I get pulled into learning more and more about bees and realise there is so much about these little creatures that our course is only scratching the surface and it's for each of us budding new beekeepers to take responsibility and learn as much as we can about them.