My first visit to an English beekeeper

I have just returned from the U.K. where I was helping my daughter move house.  Not only are they lucky to have found a lovely house but are surrounded by extremely friendly and helpful neighbours.  The nearby neighbours all came over to welcome the newcomers and have a chat.  It was during one of the conversations that my daughter discovered she was living opposite a beekeeper and mentioned that I was very interested in bees.

I was delighted to be invited to visit his hive!

Looking towards the back of the garden

Even in the early evening of November in England David’s garden looked beautiful and I immediately saw the beehive nestling at the back of the garden.

I believe this is a National Frame hive and David let me have a quick peek inside.

The frames revealed

The bees were not too happy about this impromptu viewing and raised their tails to signal their disgust at being disturbed.

And there’s more!

I had assumed David had recently taken up beekeeping as I had read it is becoming a very popular hobby in the U.K. and that I would be seeing the one hive.  Not so.  Hidden off to the side were more hives.

David is a confirmed beekeeper, when I asked how long he had been keeping bees, he replied that he had been keeping bees really all his life.  His interest had first been sparked when taking a badge at Boy Scouts!  His step-father had bought him a hive and together they began what turned out to be a life long interest in bee keeping.  One that he in turn has passed on to his son.

In fact, he made me laugh when he explained that when he was looking for this house that it was its suitability for keeping bees that was at the head of the list of his requirements that he had given to the estate agent.

Top Bar Hive

I had never seen a Top Bar Hive and the different shape of the top bars that lead to a V-shaped comb formation.  David mentioned he was interested in Malawi and after a quick internet search since I’ve returned home I noticed that the Top bar Hives are used there.  Something more for me to ask him about when I go back to the UK at Christmas.

Treating the hives

David was quick to warn me that beekeeping was not just about watching the bees, that there was a lot of work to maintaining healthy hives and recovering the honey.

WBC hive

Not all the hives were occupied.   The white WBC hive belongs to David’s, son who is not using it at the moment, and is storing it in the garden.

Tempting residence for a swarm

The last hive I saw was empty but waiting for perhaps the arrival of a swarm in the spring, who knows?

Another facet of beekeeping

Sometimes I forget about the result of keeping bees.  I am so fascinated by their life cycle and the struggle to maintain a healthy colony in the face of so many challenges that the reward in the form of honey slips to the back of my mind.  Even after my visits to two beekeepers and smelling that wonderful aroma from the combs, it all seems too detached that this wonderful liquid should end up in a bottle on the supermarket shelf.

David does not sell his honey but his friends and family benefit from his expertise so I was delighted to be given a jar of his heather honey, something I do not find in the Charente region.  Delicious!

David encouraged me to keep on studying the bees and sent me off with some copies of “BeeCraft” – the official journal of the British Beekeepers Association-tucked under my arm.

Perhaps when I get the garden more under control I could think of putting a hive at the bottom of the garden under the trees but it will not be this spring – there is still too much to do.

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29 thoughts on “My first visit to an English beekeeper

  1. You were in my neck of the woods, Amelia. I looked at the first picture and thought ‘that looks like a Surrey garden with those tall pines and rhodedendrons’ then I see on the honey certificates that it says Farnham division. Your daughter has picked a great county in which to live! 😉

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  2. Marvellous post… I was just finishing a slice of toast and honey as this came up on refreshing our home page… clicked through and went and got another slice! Inner warmth on a dismal, drizzly, grey morning.
    Yesterday some friends of ours delivered some of their honey… which is always well set… as opposed to most of the honey round here which is demi! Clear honey round here is “hens’ teeth”… but a producer from Manthelan occasionally has some on his stall… usually the dark forêt stuff. When I spot it I buy a kilo!
    I am fascinated by the different hive shapes… especially the horizontal “Toblerone” shaped one…. parallel evolution.

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    • I think all beekeepers get stung sometime or other as the bees don’t take it kindly when they see their honey disappearing. I’m lulled into a false sense of security as only female bumble bees have stingers which they don’t really use against humans and the bees and wasps and hornets don’t seem to mind when I creep up on them while they are happily drinking nectar.

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    • Don’t be intimidated by the wee beasties. If you have a gentle hive and wear protective clothing you probably won’t be stung. There are some keepers that work their hives without any protective clothing and don’t get stung. Italian honeybees are known for their gentle natures.

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  3. One of our local apiarists produces heather honey for sale. She calls it garrigue, but it isn’t really from true garrigue. When I quizzed her about it I realised she is getting it from the heather and besom heath scrub on the forest margins. It’s very seasonal, produced in September-October only.

    One of the projects in Africa involves getting farmers in areas where there are elephants to also become apiarists. The hives are placed around crops and the bees serve to protect the crops from hungry and rampaging elephants.

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  4. Our friends who recently took up beekeeping have had a bad year but I think it’s been troublesome for most in this country. I am the proud owner of a jar of their 2011 honey though. I can’t wait to find out whether you take the plunge. 🙂

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  5. I have one hive in my chicken yard. It is a top bar hive. When I moved here almost 5 years ago, there were no bees in my garden. Now when I see my girls busy in my flowers and fruit trees, I get such a thrill! I love my bees! ~Lynda

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    • Bees make such a difference to a garden. When you work in the garden in the winter time it is just not the same when you do not hear them buzzing about. It is too quiet without them. On sunny days now I get the odd bee and bumble and I get quite excited about seeing them.

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