Education plays a major role in the Somerset Beekeepers’ Association, and as well as the regular winter lectures and summer demonstrations organised by Divisions each year, we also run specific courses aimed at helping beekeepers at various levels of the craft.
Of these, the most popular are the Introductory Courses organised at Divisional level, and aimed at newcomers to beekeeping, and those in their first year. The course is programmed to provide a firm basis from which the beginner can progress in his or her own time, and covers basic beekeeping in six weekly sessions. It usually takes place during the winter months, and is held in a village hall or classroom environment in the evening. It endeavours to answer fundamental questions, which are in most people’s minds when first considering taking up the craft. “How much time will it take? What will it cost? Will I get stung?” It then goes on to introduce the honeybee, dealing with elementary biology and life cycle. It covers hives, tools and personal equipment, and deals with swarming, and setting up an apiary. The principals of bee handling are covered, and honey production and harvesting, together with over-wintering, feeding and husbandry. Honeybee maladies are dealt with, and pests and predators, and plenty of time is allowed for questions.
This winter course then usually leads on to a Practical Course, which starts the following spring. This again deals with basic beekeeping, but allows the opportunity to open up hives, and handle bees. It covers the use of the smoker and other tools, swarming, queen marking, what to look for in the hive, honey extraction and preparation for winter. The course usually lasts right through the summer months, and is again organised at Divisional level.
The next step up is usually organised at county level, and takes the form of a Continuation Course, which is aimed at people who have been keeping bees for three or four years. In truth however, it appears to attract beekeepers from a much wider spectrum. It takes specific topics from the Introductory Course, and deals with them in much greater detail. Such topics as advanced methods of swarm prevention and control, queen rearing, and husbandry techniques.
For those with an academic interest, these courses can be a useful precursor to the BBKA examinations in beekeeping proficiency. These begin with the Basic Assessment, and through a modular system lead to the Intermediate Certificate, and Senior Certificate, right up to the National Diploma in Beekeeping. To assist and encourage in this process, the Somerset Beekeepers’ Association organise study groups, as and when required, where students can work in a convivial atmosphere, supporting each other towards a common goal.
Each of these courses is designed to offer a relaxed and informative way into beekeeping. They are usually free of any course fee, and run by experienced beekeepers. The courses provide help and assistance to the beginner, and support for the more advanced. They also provide a sound footing from which the novice can advance, and avoid many basic mistakes in the early years, which can sometimes have a detrimental effect on beekeeping in general.