Words of Wisdom
A Collection of Apicultural Essays By Ian Copinger
For some years I have taken to writing an essay for the Essay Class in the National Honey Show. I was delighted to be receiving either a Third or a Very Highly Commended ticket. Then in 2009 The Art of Coarse Beekeeping won me first prize to be followed by another first for Bees and Darwin in 2010. I would like to think that you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK:
CHAPTER 8. THE ART OF COARSE BEEKEEPING.
You must consider carefully before following the path of coarse beekeeping. Its disciples must have the same dedication and attention to fine detail as those who take up any other intricate hobby such as piano smashing.
The first steps of the coarse beekeeper are easy. Your local library will provide you with a copy of one of the many books written by an experienced beekeeper which will illustrate the equipment needed and describe in detail the life style of the honey bee. Many experienced beekeepers feel it is incumbent on them to write such a book.
Do remember to renew you possession of the book at the library before fines are imposed, that would never do.
The same library may be able to put you in touch with a local beekeeping association and give you details of their meetings. You should go to a meeting and introduce yourself as being keen to learn about the craft. At this stage a demonstration of enthusiasm works wonders. It might also get you a copy of a beekeeping equipment dealers catalogue. This will save you having to contact one since none, so far as I know, have 0800 telephone numbers. Although allowing yourself to enquire generally about membership and the possibility of free beekeeping classes your enthusiasm should not allow you to actually pay a subscription.
Reading the catalogue together with the beginner’s book will immediately convince you that your first pound of honey could be very expensive indeed. However the coarse beekeeper knows that no corner must be left uncut in the search for true perfection.
Your occasional attendance at a meeting, or the hoped for classes, will allow you time to gather up the minimum amount of such essential equipment that can’t be substituted by other items. A longish screwdriver and a paint scraper from your toolbox would replace a hive tool. A suitable length of net curtain worn over a broad brimmed hat and tucked well into a jacket could well replace safety equipment such as a veil. A more sophisticated version I have seen is an old fencing mask with further material sewn around it to prevent access by bees. A replacement for a smoker is more difficult unless of course you are a smoker yourself in which case a pipe filled with well rubbed War Horse or a small cigar will suit admirably and yes I have seen it done.
At association meetings always listen for mention of old Harry having passed away or old Jimmy packing up because of his bad back. Here are sources of cheap equipment. Not necessarily good equipment because old beekeepers are noted for putting up with much loved and familiar equipment long after it really should have been changed.
Getting bees is relatively simple. Set out a hive with some used comb in it and wait for a swarm to take up residence. Success largely depends on how far away you are from the nearest beekeeper and could take some time or even fail altogether. A more certain way is to inform local police offices and pest control of officers, both of whom are told of swarms having landed in a variety of odd spots, that you are prepared to collect a swarm within a given distance of your home. You should undoubtedly get you some bees that way. Do have a care to check before your journey that they are actually a swarm of bees and not an underground bumble bee nest.
We now look at the management of the bees. It is a fact that the less bees are disturbed by the beekeeper the better they are for it and the more honey you will be able to gather. Disease in bees has become an ever-increasing problem over recent years and must be addressed at all costs. Gone are the days when a coarse beekeeper need only take the roof off a hive twice a year. Once in the Spring to check that the bees flying in and out are actually living there and not robbing and to put some supers on and again in late summer to take off the honey supers. Unless disease is tackled there is little doubt that you will lose your bees. There is of course the short term option of requesting the seasonal bees officer visit you to check your bees. I say “short term” because success in any case depends on what you tell him and I fancy the man will soon whittle out the over-coarse beekeeper who is merely using him so learn quickly from him what you will need to do. The “term” gets very short if you try the old trick of “while you’re in there could you mark and or clip the queen for me, add or remove supers” etc?
Otherwise management is mainly concerned with swarm prevention, queen rearing and honey harvesting. Swarm control means far too many visits to and manipulations of the hive and the colony or fiddling about with multi gated boards to suit the true coarse beekeeper. If you allow the bees to swarm in their own time you can save all that work. This also has the effect that you may well be able to collect the resulting swarm from where it rests and put it into another of the late Harry’s hives. You will also get a new queen in your existing hive without the bother of all that troublesome queen rearing.
This leaves only the honey harvesting. Although it may be unusual advise for the coarse beekeeper a certain amount of time spent in the preparation will in the long run save both time and money. Buy unwired wax for your honey supers it is cheaper. Cut sheets length-wise into 4 equal strips and t one strip at the top of each frame. Only the most profligate beekeeper would use more. The bees will form their own cells along and below these strips. When it comes to harvesting the honey remove the frames, cut carefully along the joint where the bee made cells meet the provided foundation. Cut the oblong block of honey filled comb into sizes to the cut comb containers or old margarine tubs depending on the destination of the honey. Properly labelled cut comb containers can be sold. That in old margarine tubs can be used to pay any tradesmen prepared to barter his labour for your honey. They are out there, I have had roofs mended and cars repaired.
The coarse beekeeper’s preparation of the bees for winter is to go indoors and forget about them until spring. There is no need to mention mouse guards because unless the late Harry had them fitted to the hives when he died the coarse beekeeper is unlikely to own any.
Similarly wasted is the advice not to brush any snow off the hives because it helps to insulate the colony. It would never cross the coarse beekeepers mind to do such a thing.
And so the coarse beekeeper’s year ends. If the advise on the unavoidable disease control has been followed the bees should survive the winter. They have after all survived several million of them without the ministrations of “proper beekeepers”.
Words of Wisdom
A Collection of Apicultural Essays
By Ian Copinger
Northern Bee Books