An Unexpected Hive Tour
It was a bit of a chilly and blustery day but also quite exciting since I was given an unexpected tour around the apiaries of a local beekeeper. The afternoon began with the beekeeper in question, Mr. E, meeting me at the site that I’ve chosen for my own first hive. I invited him out to see the spot some weeks ago in order to make sure the placement was alright and to absorb as much expert opinion from him as possible. We spent a good half an hour chatting about ideas to secure the space against the wind then he offered to show me around his own apiaries which were only a short drive away.
Mr. E currently keeps eleven hives and all within the same general area that mine will be in. There’s no worry about competition though since the hills separate us and there’s plenty of forage on either side. This forage changes over the year based on what comes into bloom and right now the hazel tree pollen is what the honeybees are out collecting when the weather isn’t too wet or windy. The problem this time of year is really with their getting enough nectar for them to live on – Honeybees require several types of food in their diet and the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowers is one of them. Considering this, Mr. E went up a couple of days ago to feed his hives some ‘Candy’ which is a semi-hardened sugar syrup that he made at home. It shows how little nectar is around yet when he opened the hives today to find all the containers completely empty.
Another revelation for me today was that while Mr. E has previously used only WBC hives, the traditional white ones you see in the first two photos, he’s now switching to using National. These ones are the green hives pictured in the second photo. While both hive types are suitable for beekeeping, it seems that the Varroa floors which are built into the National hives actually help keep the hive a cleaner place in general – which can help stop diseases and pests from harming your hive.
We don’t have Varroa on the Isle of Man (knock on wood) but I can definitely see the benefit of having a floor that easily slides out. The amount of waste and gunk that had accumulated on the bottom of Mr. E’s was a bit alarming, especially when he started scraping it off with a small stick. In a traditionally built hive the cleaning of the floor happens about once a year which means that all of that waste can be lurking around in the bees’ home for months on end. Not a nice thought so I’m going to look into purchasing a Varroa floor for my own hive, which is fortunately a National.
The tour ended with a stop by Mr. E’s cottage and a look around his wonderful shed which is kitted out with every beekeeping contraption you can think of. He has dedicated sinks, hand dryers, an oven, a massive stainless steel [honey] extractor and pots and pans stacked from floor to counter. Around the back is another shed that he stores the glass pots and jars which are used to bottle up his yearly 500lb honey harvest. And that’s not the end of it – he also has a garage and other storage sheds filled top to bottom with beekeeping equipment as well as a living room floor covered in hive frames that he’s prepping for the season.
Through my tour and listening to Mr. E’s stories and advice I can see that beekeeping can be both a fulfilling as well as an addictive hobby. And that my goal of having two hives will likely result in me gathering more than a handful over the years. I’m inspired by Mr. E’s set-up though and look forward to the day when I’ll be just as experienced and well kitted out as he is. The only thing I’m a little bit nervous about at this moment is actually getting the call to go collect my first swarm; I think that when that day comes I’m definitely going to be giving Mr E a ring to see if he can help!