I had never really thought about becoming a beekeeper, but like many, I had become aware of the plight of pollinators through the media. It was only when my mum passed away in November with lung cancer that I started to think about creating a wildflower garden in her honour and as a place of remembrance for my dad who was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s.
It wasn’t until the virus came at the start of the year and we were put into isolation that it really came about and we started planning the creation of the garden. I purchased 30,000 wildflower seeds from Groupon and with my partner Kurt, I started to dig over the small plot of land around the cherry tree at the side of the garden.
I started to think about how it would look and the idea of a beehive popped into my head as natural progression to the wildflower garden. So, without any real planning or research, I jumped in and purchased a Langstroth flow hive for £175 from China, which at the time probably wasn’t the best place to buy one!
It arrived a few weeks later. I put the hive together the same day and Kurt built a stand for it. It was placed in the flower garden facing south with the sun on it and a little shade from the cherry tree during the afternoon. We set to planting the seeds and creating a pathway through the flowers to the hive. Little did we know at that time what 30,000 seeds would look like!
I started watching YouTube videos about bees and thought, after looking at the price of bees, I could catch a swarm. I purchased Swarm (an attraction product) and placed some in the hive and waited.
Three weeks later, well into the swarm season, I felt disappointed that I hadn’t caught any, thinking it would be that easy! I was wrong. I decided purchasing some bees might be better as the summer was fast approaching. I found a package of Italian Buckfast, which based on my research, seemed to be the best choice for calm nature and honey production.
Once the bees were ordered, I waited and this time, set myself the task of learning everything I could about bees. I signed-up to an online course with beekeepers.org which proved to be very useful, watched hundreds of YouTube videos (to the point where my family would sigh each time I put one on) and I started to read beekeeping books; surprisingly finding one written by Haynes which I though was all car manuals!
I signed up to Beebase and started reading their information sheets. I even purchased an iPhone 11 so that I could produce videos for myself. I was totally committed to my new hobby!
Weeks passed and I finally received word that the bees were ready to collect from Kent, a two-hour drive from us. I was armed only with my gardening gloves and a small hat with veil as the remaining items I had purchased were delayed due to COVID restrictions.
We arrived at the location and this was the first time that I saw my bees! I was very excited and nervous at the same time. I loaded the box into the boot followed by a few bees that had been flying around.
As we travelled back, we noticed a bee rising from the boot and onto the back window, then another and another. Thankfully we were nearly home and when I opened the boot, I could see that the sugar tin had worked loose creating a gap where the bees had been escaping.
I walked with the box slowly so not to lose the stragglers and placed the box at the side of the hive as I had read that the bees needed time to get used to their new environment. Several hours later around 4 pm (which again I had read, was a good time to introduce the bees to the new hive as they would be less likely to leave) I set about pouring the bees from the package into the hive. It was truly amazing and something I will not forget; it was like a stream of water pouring into the hive.
I had read that with the weather being warm I could place the queen on the floor of the hive without fear of her freezing, so I broke the plastic seal to the sugar, placed the cage on the floor of the hive, replaced the plastic foundation frames that I had purchased from Bee Equipment and closed up my hive.
My suit and equipment had still not arrived but I had to know, so I put on my gardening gloves and I was ready to have the question answered. I opened the hive and I was surprised at how calm and relaxed they seemed… at least I hadn’t been attacked yet! I removed a couple of frames and to my delight, saw fresh comb being built and on the bottom of the hive was the queen out of her cage and being attended to. I added some Fondabee and pollen patties to the hive having read that they would need a little help in the early weeks.
I then set about trying to find a club or association that could help me. I felt confident, but I also knew that there was so much I didn’t know and I was now responsible for these little creatures, all 1001 of them and growing. I spoke to a friend who recommended Meridian Beekeepers who were an amazing help from the start.
The COVID virus has brought challenges, like not being able to attend any courses or personal instruction. It’s now been close to six months and I have completed several inspections and have been amazed by the bees and the building of their colony. Like all new beekeepers, I’ve had my panic moments. My first panic came during a hot night when the bees were outside of the hive…I thought that’s it, they are not happy and they are leaving. As I turned to my videos and the internet again, I was pleased to find out that it was just too hot in the hive for them. Panic was over.
As we move into winter and I get my bees ready, I can honestly say that I’m back in that anxious mode. Have I done enough? Will they survive? What will I do in those months as I can’t look at them nearly as often?
Although this all came about from the loss of my mother, these little creatures have been a godsend to us during what is a difficult time. I know that each time I work with my bees she is watching and smiling…even dad has started to enjoy the garden again.
I am looking forward to learning all I can from my mentors Phil and Denise and attending the association’s classes next year. In the meantime, I intend to learn all I can and hopefully one day become a Master Beekeeper.