Diary of a novice bee-keeper

1. BUYING A HIVE

My parents were bee-keepers back in the 1980s and now it’s my turn to have a go. Here they are in the garden tending their hive. We live in the cottage now (the greenhouse is still standing – just) and Mum has moved to the village.

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The more I research and write for my Bee Boy books, the keener I am to become a bee-keeper. I must admit to being a little apprehensive/nervous — it is quite a responsibility with all those thousands of little lives relying on me to be a good bee-keeper. Anyway, I’m taking the plunge and I thought it might be interesting to keep a diary recording the highs and lows and everything in between. So if you’re writing a project for school, considering becoming a bee-keeper or just a fellow admirer of bees, follow me on my journey and learn from my mistakes!

I’ve ordered my bees from the internet — paid for, but not collected yet — I’m waiting for an email to tell me when my nucleus is ready for collection. The nucleus is a box containing honeycomb frames full of bees, eggs, and larvae, ready to be transferred into our new hive.

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Last weekend Janet and I visited Paynes Bee Farm to buy our hive. Paynes is a friendly company set in the Sussex countryside and they sell everything a bee-keeper will ever need.

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I was snapping this photo of Payne’s beehives from the car park (where we’d just loaded our hive and equipment) when Janet got a bee in her hair. Panic ensued resulting in a painful sting. Even then, the bee was hard to find and remove. Of course, the bee came off worse because when a worker bee stings she dies. Not a good start to our bee-keeping venture!

There are several different hives to consider. The classic/traditional WBC hive with its sloping roof and ribbed sides look lovely but my bee-keeper friend, Dick, tells me that they can be fiddly to deal with and perhaps not ideal for a beginner. Dick has several different hives and is keen on the new polystyrene designs. They are well insulated and less expensive than wooden hives. We considered a plastic Beehaus but heard mixed reports, so Janet and I decided on a National.

Here’s the base with its landing board for the bees and the floor on top.

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On top of that goes the brood chamber where the queen lives and lays her eggs. The brown mesh sitting on top is the queen excluder that will stop her travelling up into the frames above. I’ve taken out a frame and put it next to the excluder. You can see the other frames hanging in the brood box like files in a filing cabinet.

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On top of the brood box sits the first super. This is also filled with honeycomb frames but these will be filled with honey . . . we hope.

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A second super sits on the one below with the crown board on top of that. A sugary feed will sit on the crown board in the winter.

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The roof/cover keeps the hive weather-proof.

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Here’s some of the other equipment a bee-keeper needs to get started. Starting with the bee-proof gauntlets and going clockwise: a full bee suit with a mesh hood, a smoker, some string fuel, a feeding pot for the winter, a hive tool and a brush.

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So I’m ready! All I need now is my bees, but they won’t be ready until May. This is annoying because our apple tree is in full bloom along with our damson and plum trees and the surrounding fields are full of flowering oil seed rape.

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I’m a frustrated bee-keeper and that’s before I’ve even got my bees!

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