Robin on mentoring

Robin and his son Nat, having just closed-up the hives. Howbery Park, Wallingford, Oxon.

I was first introduced to beekeeping in 2013 by my employer, who wanted to build our business biodiversity and events opportunities. I took a basic beekeeping course and what began as a skill acquired for work purposes quickly became a passion. One that my whole family has become involved in.

I was thrown in at the deep end right from the start, looking after 13 hives in 5 apiaries spread across 5 counties. These hives belonged to clients, so I couldn’t afford to make rookie mistakes.

During this steep learning curve, I was lucky enough to be mentored (from a distance) by a veteran beekeeper. His learned advice, at the end of the phone, was invaluable to me as I developed my new skills.

Robin at work. Sounds like he has the dream job!

I realise now, 8 years later, that sometimes this is all a new beekeeper needs. Just the positivity of an experienced voice to push their confidence in the right direction. The opportunity to talk through concerns and ideas and the encouragement to commit to a course of action, rather than catastrophising on the multiple probabilities of failure. It is only in occasional circumstances that physical intervention is required by the mentor.

I joined Meridian BKA in April 2019, shortly after setting up my own personal hives (one in the New Forest and one at the Swanmore apiary). The association has given me the opportunity to meet with other local beekeepers and improve my own knowledge through contact with those with greater experience.

I had run educational beekeeping events for clients for a few years, so was happy to accept the opportunity to mentor for Meridian when they asked me. I thought it a privilege to support local people on their beekeeping journey but somewhat daunting. I was no longer telling a group of children and parents how many bees it took to make a teaspoon of honey, or educating them on the parts that make up a colony and hive.

I now had the responsibility to enthuse and guide novice beekeepers at an early stage of their new interest and put the knowledge and experience I had learned to the test. I could now advise on the fundamental need for bee health checks, record keeping, provisioning for winter and potentially technical manipulations of artificial swarming, swarm management and colony uniting.

The opportunity to mentor is a great learning experience on both sides. It allows you to confirm what you know 100% and pushes you to learn more about what you don’t.

Things I look out for when mentoring in the apiary –

* Has the trainee done any online research/basic beekeeping training? Do they have awareness of beekeeping ups and downs?

* Have they got the correct equipment to safely attend an apiary or open hive?

* Do they have any known allergic reaction to be aware of?

* Are they comfortable throughout the hive inspection? I feel this is hugely important for the first few encounters with 20,000+ buzzing sources of potential harm!

* Are they willing to handle the frames with bees and look up close at the cells?

* Are they calm and gentle when handling the bees?

I encourage them to identify what they know and ask about what they don’t. Everyone has a first day at something new. If I don’t know the answer, I defer and get back to them with the right one, rather than giving an inaccurate answer. If there is no right answer, I explain the options.

I thoroughly enjoy helping people.

What I enjoy about mentoring

I love seeing people enthused and inspired.

I hope to enable people to link what they are doing with their captive bees, in order to benefit other pollinators in their local natural environment.

Being asked questions makes me search for the right answers and improves my own knowledge.

Great sources of knowledge- (obviously!)  (a lifetime of encyclopaedic experience now taken on by BIBBA president – Roger Patterson)  

I would recommend becoming a mentor or ‘buddying’ to anyone with intermediate experience for all of the above reasons. 

Beekeeping is an infinite learning experience, much of which will come from gleaning knowledge from those around you.

To anyone looking to progress…

never be afraid to ask questions, question everything and learn as much as possible.

“The opportunity to mentor is a great learning experience on both sides.”


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