Today I am getting everything ready to visit my beehives to check they are ok. I am readying my beekeeping suit, gloves, tools and smoker (not that I’ll need it but there is nothing more annoying than having to come back for something forgotten!).
I used to keep my bees at home in a lovely spot on a hill overlooking the valley. I could watch them from the back window zoom straight over the top of my house to the meadow; but a few frisky queens meant that bees would sometimes follow us (and occasionally sting us), so I decided it was best to move them away from the house.
Thankfully my neighbour has a beautiful orchard not far away where he also keeps two hives. We now often visit our four hives together when we have jobs to do and we keep an eye on them between us. It helps to have a second pair of hands and eyes when removing the full supers of honey or trying to find the queen (though to be fair even two pairs of my eyes is sometimes not enough to find a queen as they do love to hide!).
Both of us have the same style of beekeeping (luckily). The saying goes that if you have 5 beekeepers in a room you will have 6 different opinions, so it’s good we normally agree! We’re both relatively relaxed about beekeeping. We both did the local beekeeping course in Probus taught by the excellent Colin Rees of the Cornwall Beekeeping Association (CBKA) and we both separately decided over the course of our years in beekeeping that the bees have managed to look after themselves for millennia so anything we do is generally interfering ..so we endeavour to leave them alone as much as possible!
I’d say we’re more like bee shepherds than beekeepers – we don’t like to think we ‘own’ them. Let’s face it, they can leave when they feel like it and often do (by swarming!). Apart from occasionally moving them around, opening them up for Spring, taking a modest amount of honey in summer and shutting them down for Winter, we’re confident they know what’s best. Anyway, when I first started beekeeping I did my weekly inspections, tried to practice what I had learned but invariably found myself making things worse rather than better!
Today, it will hopefully be just a quick visit to see how they are, looking at any bees outside the hive to check them over, check there are not loads of dead bees outside and that they are still tightly shut up for winter. Hopefully we won’t see any evidence of badgers or woodpecker attacks!. If we can get them through the winter safely, we shall be very happy. Like other beekeepers we have had losses in the past. All we can do is provide the right environment with plentiful food, some timely support and a little bit of herding if necessary and then let them get on with what they have been doing for centuries. I am just glad we are able to witness it and be part of it, even in a small way.