Nov 5th, 2012
Bee Farming Workshop
Whilst at the National Honey Show, Dan and I attended a workshop on bee farming.

Ably presented by Dan Basterfield with additional advice by his dad and another eminent bee farmer (whose names I have unfortunately forgotten) the workshop was entitled 'The Beekeeping Ladder: from Hobbyist to Commercial or Semi-Commercial Beekeeper'.

Having never attended the Honey Show before, let alone a workshop, we were not too sure what to expect. We found ourselves sitting in one of the College's chemistry labs and perched on stools like two naughty schoolboys.

Looking around the room everyone looked fairly normal and spoke in hushed tones with accents ranging from harsh Northern Irish to soft Devonian. We sounded like the only contingent from Essex...

Ages ranged from early thirties to late sixites with a mainly male audience, although I seem to remember about 4 or 5 ladies in the group of 30 or so.

Everyone had an 'outdoorsy' look about them and weren't too bothered about designer labels. Comfort seemed to be the order of the day.

Our host was a beefarmer from a beefarming background and earnt his living beefarming. He knew his stuff and was fortunately also a lucid and interesting lecturer.

The workshop lasted a good couple of hours and in that time covered all aspects of making the step-up from 'hobby beekeeper' to 'pro beekeeper'.

A lot of the information was commonsense (once pointed out!) and gave a good insight into the cost implications of managing over 100 hives.

As there are not many bee farmers in this country and they're rather spread out geographically there is not the defensive attitude you would expect in more competitive fields.

The majority of current bee farmers have migratory hives, i.e. they move their hives around their local area to pollinate crops during the year. Hives are then overwintered 'en-masse' together in a protected apiary, such as woodland.

The experience of the three bee farmers in keeping their bees in situ throughout the year in an urban/suburban environment was not great. This in no way detracted from the workshop and gave us personal food for thought in developing our plans for our project. There's enough fields around where we live that we could possibly take advantage of.

Only one other attendee from Birmingham was also keen on urban beekeeping as far as we could see. However as Dan the lecturer pointed out there are many ways a bee farmer can diversify his business.

Some snippets of info that stick in my mind are as follows:

In the UK a bee farmer is someone who manages over 100 hives, in Europe it's 150 and in America it's 3000+!

On average you need 0.5 to 1 hive per acre of flowering crops.

Bee farmers have bad backs and small bank accounts (that's me sorted then!).

Be organised and stick to systems that work for you. (I hope my brother was listening to that one!).

Change your brood box foundation every two years to prevent foul brood type diseases.

Change your queens every two years.

Have 80 'hive years' under your belt before considering being a bee farmer, ie look after 40 hives for 2 years or 2 hives for 40 years.

Accept that some years mean a profit and some years don't. 2012 was not a good year.

Spend time with a bee farmer or bee inspector to see what they do. Alternatively join the Bee Farmers' Association (BFA) to make contacts.

Our intention is to have around 200 hives in our local area. This 'technically' means we could be classified as bee farmers. As we want our project to be self-funding it was really worthwhile going to this workshop and we will be signing up as associate members of the BFA.

Next year we hope to increase our hives to around the 50 mark and will be able to put a lot of what we've learnt into practice.

On the basis of this one workshop I know we will be attending the Honey Show next year and will also put our names down for a couple more workshops that take our interest.

All in all I think it fair to say 'a very interesting and informative time was had by all'.