We are new beekeepers, having started beekeeping in April 2010 with one hive (a WBC, the inevitable first choice of romantically-minded new beekeepers) and a nucleus of bees kindly donated by Steve of the Blackburn & East Lancs Beekeepers Association.
Our one hive became two by mid-summer when we re-housed a swarm found busily making fantastic wild comb in a hedge and collected by Steve (the aforementioned hedge-owner not wishing to keep the bees as they tend to interfere with the hedge trimmer, and, it has to be said, many people are nervous about the idea of bees living wild in their gardens - even though even the most homely of hives does in fact house nothing less than wild bees which remain wild creatures even though people "keep" them.)
We used a National hive for the second colony, mainly because they are cheaper to buy - although we have found it less weather-proof than the WBC. It also has to be said, buying new beehives is an expensive business, but the coming year should prove to be considerably less expensive, and not just because we already have two hives as we are planning to increase to three or even four hives this year...
We are now into February, and so far both hives are surviving first the intense cold and now the wet weather, albeit with upsettingly large piles of dead after the weeks of snow and ice, and Chris and I are evaluating our experiences of our first bee season and planning the coming year.
We thought that this blog would be a useful place where we could record and evaluate our experiences and our progress, particularly as one key result of this past 10 months has been our keenness to approach our beekeeping in as bee-friendly a manner as possible. Our reason for keeping bees is for the sake of the bees themselves, any honey and beeswax we may reap as a result of this is an added bonus.
As such, we are currently planning to start using at least one top bar hive this year, and convert the two existing hives into foundation-less free comb (ie designed and built to the bees own specifications without the use of foundation sheets to force uniform sized cells which maximise the worker to drone ratio).
This blog will not necessarily explain our reasons for this - that information can be found by visiting Bio Bees or reading The Barefoot Beekeeper - as this blog is a space where we intend to record and evaluate our experiences in utilising the methods we use as they unfold and hopefully making our own records more readily accessible to us (especially as the copious notes for 2010 are already, well - copious!), so a one-stop-shop for us, but if it is also of interest to you, then please feel free to peruse our site.
Our first season as beekeepers was one of the most rewarding things we have ever done - even though we found it stressful at times when things didn't quite go according to plan - such as our (mis)management of our first colony which accidently allowed them to swarm (much to our neighbours amusement rather than dismay, with Peter carrying on digging his garden shirtless in the sunshine with thousands of bees flying every which way and making impressive clusters in the tree above his head even BEFORE I'd assured them that swarming bees are highly unlikely to sting anyone, so thank you Peter and Sue!).
Steve our bee man has been absolutely brilliant, showing us the basics and being on hand for advice throughout the season, but we have been taught mostly by the bees themselves, who, it seems to us, often told us very different things than we were reading in our often-conflicting standard bee books, and it is due to our conversations with our bees that we are beginning to explore more ways of looking at beekeeping...
In this, our first winter as beekeepers, we have found much of what we instinctively felt spelled out in black and white for us in Gunther Hauk's Toward Saving the Honeybee (working around the often almost spiritual nature of some of the prose but impressed by the common-sensical) - not least that removing all the honey and replacing it with sugar syrup really can't be as good for the bees for instance - and even more so in the wonderfully accessible and pragmatic P. J. Chandler's The Barefoot Beekeeper. (Please note, this is an allegorical title, Phil does not actually advocate attending bees barefoot!)
Feel free to leave comments on any of the blog posts, or you can contact us at jabber dot wocky at tiscali dot co dot uk .