Carpe Diem: Beekeeping – DONE!

Sad to finish my Beekeeping course at the Uni. It was lots of fun and I learned so much every lesson. We had 5 classes, but on account of the weather (it’s getting chilly!) only one trip out to open the hive, but it was a blast and I am totally amazed and excited about honeybees!

We learned loads in our first class which was ace.

In the second class we went out to the hive, opened it up (which required a J-bar tool to crack through the hard propolis that the bees make to keep the hive secure), and had a look around. We were checking to make sure the bees were doing okay and getting ready for winter, when they go sort of dormant to survive the cold. We were also feeding them sugar water. We learned how to open the hive properly so as not to accidentally confuse or kill the queen (which would be terrible for the hive!).

It was super exciting and we were very lucky because with only a bit of looking around, our teacher Matilda managed to find the infamous Queen bee for us and we all got to actually see her running away! She was indeed much bigger than the worker bees.

It was a bit weird and exciting being in a beekeeper suit and knowing that bees were landing on me all over. I’ve never been stung before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the bees were so calm and we’d been prepared in advance so nothing to worry about! (And I managed to leave unstung!)

For the third and fourth classes, we learned loads and went over the information we’d taken in so far. We watched an awesome retro video (which Matilda gave us a copy of on the last day for reference). We talked about swarming, and why a hive might do it, and how to ‘catch’ your swarm if it leaves your hive. We learned about varroa mites – parasites that can kill your bees and that you need to treat with special chemicals to keep at bay. We also learned about the different beekeeping societies we can join, locally and further afield. I think once I get a house and get settled and such, I’ll try to join the EMBA (Edinburgh Midlothian Beekeepers Association) at the very least to support their work. Matilda said essentially as a member you can go to the apiary and practice your skills out on the communal hives there, and you can ask for help and advice from the community of beekeepers, which seems a great resource!

For the final class, we did a honey-tasting and got to taste honey from our actual bees! It was delicious! We did a taste comparison between our honey, and a couple types of store-bought honey. It was interesting to taste different types of honey together, mostly because I don’t think I’d ever noticed the quite significant differences in flavors! Ours was definitely the best though – and I’m looking forward to seeing the Pollock Halls honey in shops, but I think that won’t be for another year or so.

It was a really brilliant class and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a follow-up course perhaps in the spring with the hive is more lively and ‘buzzing’ and the bees are in peak foraging season. That will be really exciting!

Carpe Diem: Bees!

This was probably a bit of a cheating ‘goal’, as it is not uncommon for me to overextend myself, especially when it comes to extracurricular activities. But I meant it more as a reminder to take up good opportunities as they come and not turn away ‘gift horses’ in my life because I am shy, socially anxious or risk-averse.

Hive BoxesAlmost no sooner had I published the list as I discovered the University (where I work) has just started offering beekeeping classes! AMAZING! I signed right up! It is only a 5 week, 1hr a week, training. And a couple of my colleagues from work are also joining in (as it is free for staff & students).

With only one week under my belt so far, this has already been an amazing experience! Our teacher is brilliant and didn’t mind being interrupted to patiently answer all of our many curious questions. In the first short hour, we learned about the different types of honeybees, how long they live, what they can produce (did you know they can make silk??!), the tools and costumes we will be using/wearing, the structure of a bee box, the proper way to take honey from the box, and lots and lots and lots of other things! I came home and jabbered at Stuart for OVER an hour about all the things I’d learned. So excited to go out to the hives next week.  Will keep you posted on how that goes (hopefully with photos!)

Top facts I learned this week:

  • Queen bees are ‘told’ what sort of baby bee to have (ie. for a new queen, a drone, or a worker) based on the size and shape of the comb that the worker bees make. So really the worker bees (who know everything about what the hive needs) decide how many and what kind of bees are produced.
  • Worker bees (who are all female) can only lay unfertilized eggs (which can only grow into drones (males). All drones are born from unfertilized eggs. [My colleague said – like Jesus!]
  • If a mouse invades a bee hive, the bees can kill it (by stinging the mouse, which kills them as well – to save the hive!), but they can’t tear it apart or carry it out of the hive, so they cover it in propolis, essentially mummifying it (so it doesn’t decay and destroy the rest of the hive). NEAT!