The BeeHolder, July 2011
When Regional Bee Inspector John Beavan first mentioned the idea of a “bee safari” to me I was a little confused. Immediately my thoughts turned to pith helmets, khaki shorts, native-bearers and blunderbusses. I began to wonder if Apis Mellifera would look a bit out of place mounted on the wall next to the moose’s head.
However, with a bit of explanation I began to understand that FERA’s bee safari idea was one that could be really useful to new and experienced beekeepers alike. The simple premise was that John would organise a group of us, all living relatively near to each other, to meet up and take a look at each others’ bees. We’d move from apiary to apiary, inspect the bees, and then finish the day with a bring-and-share lunch.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing by e-mail a date was agreed and I began to start worrying about whether my rather feisty bees would behave themselves on the day! When the day arrived I awoke ot the sound of rain on the roof – not a good start. However, John picked me up at around 10am and we headed off to meet the others at the first apiary. Our fellow beekeepers on the safari were Ros, Richard and Ivor – all members of the Oswestry Beekeepers Association.
We arrived at Richard’s apiary where he keeps his two hives in the beautiful countryside up near Rhiwlas and the sun began to emerge from the clouds. John treated us to a few jokes from the FERA Bee Inspectors’ Joke Book – including the hilarious “your bees are all dead”. How we laughed!
Richard’s bees were a fairly dark strain and were almost as ferocious as mine have been over the last few weeks – John sustained a few stings and Ivor ended up with a few hundreds of bees on his back and a couple inside his veil. But, the bees seemed to be doing well and his recently artificially-swarmed colony was building up nicely.
One of the “rules” of the bee safari is that you are not allowed to inspect your own bees. It was exciting to handle someone else’s bees but made us all a bit nervous of committing some kind of terrible mistake. For the first time in years my hands were trembling as I pulled out each frame!
After a brief break for tea, cake and chat we moved on to Ros’s apiary. Ros’s two colonies and two nucs had been giving her cause for concern lately as they had been hell-bent on swarming. We carefully opened up Ros’s hives and found a mixed bag – the two nucs were doing really well but one of colonies seemed to be almost “swarmed out” and the other was in desperate need of feeding. The poor weather over the last month had left the bees with little or no stores. Ros headed off to find a feeder asap!
Next came my apiary. I had been looking forward all week to proudly showing off my bees but, surprise surprise, as we reached my house the heavens opened and a torrential downpour began. So, as we were already running a bit late, we reluctantly decided to skip my bees and move straight onto lunch. Over our feast of sandwiches, salads and cakes we discussed everything from varroa to hive thefts, and John gave us all some very insightful tips on disease control.
I was disappointed that we didn’t get to look at my bees but, I have to say, I benefited immensely from the bee safari. The chance to see how other people manage their bees, the equipment they use and the problems they encounter, was an enriching and educational experience as well as being a fun, social day. I would highly recommend it to new and experienced beekeepers alike.
As we parted we exchanged phone nos and e-mails and all agreed that we would carry on meeting as a small group every now and then and would assist each other with swarms etc. I’m already looking forward to our next meeting when, hopefully, my bees will be the main attraction!
If you would like to go on safari with beekeepers in your local area please get in touch with John Beavan.
Bee picture courtesy of Gekkko.