An Unexpected Hive Tour

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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!

22 Discussion to this post

  1. My friend kept bees here in the village Tanya – she became so interested in them and they produced some superb honey. Then last year she was stung and went into anaphilactic shock. She was advised to get rid of the hives immediately but she still misses them.

  2. The peaches and some weeds are in full bloom here with lot of honey bees from some unknown hive working the flowers. They have to be coming from miles away unless they are wild in a tree someplace.

    • Peaches…how wonderful 🙂 Honeybees travel in a 1.5 mile radius from their hive so they probably aren't as far away from you as you'd think. Wouldn't it be fascinating to see them living in the wild though? they build such gorgeous rounded comb when left to their own devices.

  3. How interesting! I would love to have a hive at some point. We have quite a few bees around our property since we live very close to an apiary and a bee keeping supply store.

    Peace. 😉

  4. Fascinating. Something I've always wanted to do… but likely never will, as The Mister is verrry alergic to Bees 😉

    • My own husband is very suspicious of bees himself, Debra Anne. In fact he forbade me from keeping a hive in the back garden 😉

      If you're interested in keeping bees then you can do it as a hobby without your husband, like I'm doing. Find a good beekeeping association or club in your area and they will most likely be more than happy to give you a hand.

  5. mumasu says:

    What a brilliant day. How good to have someone to show you the ropes and give you confidence as you start out.

    • I really feel more sure of myself knowing that I have some really experienced contacts. I'm not afraid of bees but I'm afraid of messing up royally with my first attempts at collecting a swarm and caring for the bees afterwards.

  6. The spot for your hives looks so lovely. How lovely to have him share all his knowledge with you. Great to have that resource so close by!

    • That's actually Mr. E's apiary and yes it is really pretty 🙂 There was a pheasant hanging out there when we arrived but I wasn't fast enough with my camera to get a shot of him before he flew off.

  7. loulee says:

    Oooh, fresh honey. Yum. Good luck with your new venture.

  8. Very interesting blog. Mr E sounds very passionate and a great bee-friend to have. Good luck when you get your bees. How very exciting.

  9. Jo says:

    What a brilliant tour. You must feel a little reassured to know there are some experienced bee keepers on hand for when you get your own hive up and running.

    • You can say that again! I've met quite a few experienced beekeepers now but most of them are on the other side of the island…not really a convenient distance to pop on by to see how things are doing or to come to my rescue in case of emergency 😉

  10. So fascinating – i am hoping to get started this year with bees, but the lack of early pollen here is a bit of a worry. I was interested in using the Top bar hives (check out the barefoot beekeeper).
    Btw – i use the instagram and hipstamatic apps on my iphone to get those picture effects. xxx

    • I've seen that top-bar hives are becoming quite popular and I'll be interested to see how you get on with yours if you ever do take up the hobby.

      If you'd like some early pollen you could plant up your lawn with crocus bulbs and maybe plant a hazel hedge. Honeybees also work the Gorse for pollen if you have any around – and remember that they will travel 1.5 miles from their hive looking for food so keep your eye out for other sources in your area.

  11. This is very exciting Tanya and I can't wait to learn about your bee-keeping and learn with you as you go…I really think I would like to have a hive to, I know there used to be some years ago on our allotments but at the moment there aren't any.

    • Hi Tanya 🙂 Have you considered speaking to your allotment association about maybe starting your own there? Get a feel for the opinion of others on site as well before you start so as to make sure there aren't any conflicting feelings about them.

      Alternatively, you could approach some private homes in the area and ask if they'd be open to exchanging a site for your hive for a couple of pots of honey. There are quite a few people here on the island who have set-ups like that.

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