If you’re interested in honeybees - or know someone who is - then one of our beginners’ courses could be perfect for you.
Somerset Beekeepers are running courses around the county this winter which covers beekeeping basics followed by practical hands-on experience with live bees.
Beekeeping is a big commitment and requires a gentle hand, patience and on-going learning.
On the courses experienced beekeepers explain what’s involved in keeping a colony of bees through a series of lectures and practical sessions.
The craft spans lots of different elements including animal husbandry, environmental knowledge, woodwork and processing the products of the hive like honey and wax.
Find out more on this page of our website.
What people are saying:
“It was very informative and there was lots of support from expert beekeepers who were on hand to answer questions. The theory was well backed-up by the practical sessions in the apiary later in the season.”
“I find beekeeping very calming and I enjoy doing something very slowly and methodically and being surrounded by thousands of bees knowing they are unlikely to harm me.
“The course offers the opportunity to find out about something which at first seems fairly straightforward but, the more you learn, the more you see there is to learn and the amount of knowledge you can acquire seems never-ending.”
“Beekeeping is hugely rewarding; I’ve discovered these incredible creatures appear to operate at some higher level, living for the colony, and it is a joy to watch them at work.
“I’ve managed to do a bit of woodwork to build frames for the hive, have started gardening to encourage pollinators, harvested the most glorious honey I’ve ever tasted and have overcome my fear of stinging insects!”
Somerset Beekeepers Association has just been added to AmazonSmile’s charity list - and that means your purchases can support our work!
What is AmazonSmile?
It’s a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices and shopping features. Your shopping experience stays the same, but every time you shop on AmazonSmile, Amazon donates to your chosen charity.
How much will we get?
If you select Somerset Beekeepers Association, Amazon will automatically donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to us. And it won’t cost you, or us, any extra.
How do you get AmazonSmile?
If you already have an Amazon account, you can begin shopping instantly. Simply visit smile.amazon.co.uk to get started.
Log onto to your Amazon account and search Somerset Beekeepers Association in the ‘pick your own charity’ search bar
Stewart Gould, vice chair of SBKA, reflects on a year which has seen an average honey harvest in Somerset totalling a very healthy 35-40 lb per colony while a very few beekeepers had a truly fabulous season with between 150 and 200 lb per colony. Perhaps better still, many of us have more colonies going into winter than at the start of the season.
"The beekeeping season of 2018 was coloured by the preceding year. 2017 started with a warm and dry spring which allowed the colonies of bees to build up their numbers very quickly. Unfortunately, the weather tuned cool and damp in June, meaning that all those bees couldn’t find enough food to feed all those extra mouths. I, for one, was feeding my bees through June of 2017. Honey is all about nectar flow, and conditions have to be just right – too much moisture or wind and the nectar will be washed out of the flowers, or the wind will blow blossom away: too little moisture and there won’t be a nectar flow. 2017 wasn’t a bad year weather wise, it was just not quite good enough at key points. In 2016 I harvested 350 lbs of honey from 7 production hives, but in 2017 I had only 35 lbs to show for my labours.
As a consequence of 2017’s ‘iffy’ summer, many beekeepers were taking weakened or reduced numbers of colonies into the winter. Whereas I had run 9 colonies (7 production) through 2017, my numbers were reduced to a total of 6 as we headed for the cooler months. They weathered the winter well, and all was going well until Easter Monday, April 2nd, when out of the blue it snowed. The effect of this blast of cold air so early in the new season was that some colonies, already low on stores, succumbed to isolation starvation. They had food in the hives, but it was too cold for them to break the cluster and go to the other side of the hive for food. They chose warmth over nourishment, and paid the price. More beekeepers suffered late winter losses than they have for a long period of time.
Going into the new 2018 season the situation was something of a ‘Curate’s egg’ – good in parts. Many beekeepers spent the summer building up their colony numbers and bolstering those which hadn’t fared too well during the winter, but those whose bees were strong at the end of 2017, and who managed to get them all through the blast of the ‘Beast from the East’ were off to a great start, especially if they keep their bees where there is a good spring harvest from oilseed rape, field beans and the like. The apple blossom was prolific this year too, and hawthorn played a significant role for a change. The ever faithful blackberry, which normally has a long flowering season, was affected by the prolonged dry spell, and flowered well, but quickly went to seed. They were, unusually, ripening and good to pick in mid July.
All in all, a mixed bag of blessings. Nobody had as bad a year as 2017, and those whose bees were recovering managed to produce slightly better than average crops, but those whose bees were good to go from the start of 2018, had a bumper year. I have heard reports of well over 100 lbs of honey from single hives, from many beekeepers, and even new beekeepers in their first full year have had a reasonable crop – oh! And the bees all seem to be going into this coming winter in much better shape."
You may have seen an article on the BBKA website about a Defra minister praising beekeepers for raising the alarm about Asian hornets. And we want you to know that SBKA is among those ‘alarm-raising’ beekeepers!
Earlier in the year we wrote to Secretary of State Michael Gove flagging up our concerns about the National Bee Unit’s lack of statutory powers to go onto private land if Asian hornets are suspected and access is denied by the landowner.
Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, replied and gave assurances that Natural England (which has this power) would accompany bee inspectors if such a circumstance arose.
Incidentally, we wrote to all Somerset’s MPs ahead of Asian Hornet week last month to seek their support. Later in the year we will write to them again with a round-up of our season.
Join us for our Annual Lunch on Sunday, October 14 at Long Sutton Golf club, Long Sutton, TA10 9JU.
The cost is £14.00 for two courses - beekeeping chat is free!
The lunch is a carvery and a choice of puddings. A vegetarian option is available on the day - please mention when booking.
Tea or coffee can be purchased individually after the meal.
Get your booking, along with a cheque made payable to Somerset Beekeepers Association, to Suzy Perkins by Monday, October 8: Tengore House, Tengore Lane, Langport, Somerset, TA10 9JL; Tel: 01458 250 095; Email: email@example.com
Our 2019 annual Lecture Day will be held from 9.00am to 5.00pm on Saturday, February 16 at Edgar Hall, 8 Cary Court, Somerton Business Park, Somerton TA11 6SB
Tickets: Tickets cost £5 and include light refreshments but not lunch.
They are available from Divisional Secretaries or by cheque from SBKA Treasurer Mrs C. Kennedy, Allways, West Shepton, Shepton Mallet, BA4 5UH
And online (plus 83p booking fee) through Eventbrite
Programme for the day:
9.30am Opening by Ken Tredgett, SBKA President
9.35am Paulo Mielgo Vita (Europe) Ltd; Varroa
10.40am Prof. Stephen Martin; Deformed wing virus update
12.10pm Derek Mitchell; Old saws – myths and physics of hives
Simon Jones RBI and his team will be available to help with your queries about bee diseases
2.20pm Thanks and presentations
2.30pm Clare Densley; Romancing the Honey Bee
3.30pm Raffle and tea
4.00pm Prof. Stephen Martin; Asian Hornets
Prof Stephen Martin, Chair in Social Entomology in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at Salford University, Manchester. Prior to that he spent 12 years
working at Sheffield University, seven years with the National Bee Unit and
seven years in Japan conducting research into hornets.
Stephen is best known for his work on the Varroa mite and its
association with viruses, especially the Deformed Wing Virus. His team
of researchers at Salford, funded in part by beekeepers, are using the
very latest molecular methods to read the genetic code of the DWV
virus. The aim is to understand why some honey bee colonies have
become naturally tolerant to Varroa and see if this information can
provide beekeepers with a long-term solution to the problem.
Derek Mitchell is a researcher into the differences in heat transfer between man
made and natural honey bee nests at Leeds University School of Mechanical
Derek’s fascination with honey bees over the last seven years, is that the deeper
you delve into how they exploit the physics of heat, the more impressive the
feats of honey bees becomes.
Clare Densley, Buckfast Abbey's Head Beekeeper, has been keeping bees since 1992 and spent two years as a seasonal bee inspector for Devon.
“Romancing the Honey bee” examines the role of Br Adam as a celebrity beekeeper and compares his work and philosophy with the current beekeeping practices at the Abbey. It rambles on to look at why honey bees have become celebrities of the insect world and how this is reflected in mythology, art and religion. Then we look at science and how research has informed us about how honey bees really function and keep strong. I am interested in our emotional and commercial relationship with bees. The final section throws open to discussion how we might work with the bees to resolve some of the problems we have presented them with over the last century.
Paulo Mielgo, Vita Bee Health’s technical manager, has beekeeping in his blood! His surname is similar to the Spanish word for honey (miel) and his father has managed 700 hives in Argentina. After gaining a degree from a veterinary college in Argentina, Paulo
worked in many countries including Italy and South America and previously worked for Vita’s South American partner, Apilab. His current role involves working with researchers and universities to help develop new honey bee health and nutrition products. Vita
researches, develops, manufacturers and markets a range of honeybee health treatments
Catch up on the news and see what's coming up in the months ahead in our October newsletter
At our Council meeting on Saturday it was decided to set up an Asian Hornet Action Team (AHAT) with Lynne Ingram as our co-ordinator. Initially it will be a county-wide team made up of a member from each of the Divisions; later Divisions may wish to develop their own action teams.
Lynne was in Jersey at the end of August helping beekeepers to track Asian hornets back to their nests and is passionate about the need for us to get prepared to protect our bees and other insects.
SBKA has produced information sheets and ID cards which are/have been distributed to all Divisions. To get free supplies of laminated Asian hornet posters for use in local garden centres, shops, notice boards, sports grounds, district councils etc, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, install monitoring traps, spend time observing activity in your apiaries and around insect-attracting flowering plants and spread the word!
SBKA member Lynne Ingram reports from the front line fighting Asian hornets in Jersey
Today we headed off to the Bowls Club to remove the nest from the hedge. The nest was actually destroyed by the pest controllers yesterday after a man was hospitalised, so the hornets themselves will be dead. The pest controllers inject a contact insecticide at pressure into the nest. The hornets inside should die fairly quickly and the ones that are out should die when they return and contact the insecticide. Unfortunately sometimes dead and dying hornets covered in insecticide powder fall out of the nest onto the ground below. This can be a hazard to the public but also birds and other things that could come into contact with them. In this case the nest was inside the hedge, so any hornets would have fallen down inside.
We were kitted up in bee suits and Bob Hogge was resplendent in his hornet suit, but there were no hornets around. The nest was quite small – about 1 foot across with 2 layers of cells and was possibly a late secondary nest – perhaps where the queen was disturbed at her first nest location. As you can see in the photo it was totally hidden within the hedge, and no one had noticed hornets flying in and out.
We then headed off to the La Preference area where a team had been tracking a nest for a few days, and were reporting up to 15 hornets at their bait station. They had an idea where they thought the nest was but just couldn’t pin it down. The trapping was complicated by hundreds of wasps being attracted to the Suterra that we were using in the bait stations, and people were getting stung. A new volunteer, who was a keen fly fisherman had been recruited to the team, and was experimenting with sticking feathers onto the thorax of the hornets, to aid in tracking their flight, as in wooded areas it is easy to lose sight of the hornets in flight against the trees. He had cut a slot in a queen marking cage to accommodate the feather, but needed to balance it being big enough for us to see, against the ability of the hornet to fly once it was stuck on.
It is surprising how much a feather can weigh – you just don’t consider it until trying to stick it to a hornet!
In the evening we were counting and sorting dead hornets from a large nest that had previously been removed and killed without insecticide. We counted around 700 hornets that had been found within the nest, and were trying to sort them by size, being newly emerged or with visible sting. The idea was to see if there were any drones or queens present, but this is very difficult as there are no obvious external differences. Queens are often heavier – 500mg plus, but workers can weigh from 230 – 400mg depending on the amount of food received as a larva. Drones can only really be differentiated by the extra antennal segment, or by dissection.
SBKA member Lynne Ingram is on the Asian hornet front line in The Channel Islands
Today was forecast to rain all day so we weren’t sure how much hornet tracking we would be able to do.
In the morning I went for a walk with Bob and his dogs so that we could see where hornets were first discovered in Jersey - sipping sap in a hollow in an old tree. The sap was attracting all sorts of insects and some local entomologists had been recording what was there when they spotted an Asian hornet. They told Bob, and he then started to try and track it back to its nest – which turned out to be the first of 11 that year, and the beginnings of the ‘Jersey Method’ of tracking the hornets.
As the rain didn’t materialise we set up a bait station near La Preference to get a back bearing, and soon attracted hornets that were flying back to the area where it was suspected that the nest was. A new volunteer from Gloucestershire was arriving today, and we went to meet her. We then spent some time investigating the nest that Bob had ‘killed’ with CO2. After two doses of CO2, and then going into the freezer, we were sure that they would be dead this time but we were wrong! Asian hornets are very tough, and the nests provide tremendous insulation! Shortly after removal from the freezer, new hornets started emerging from the comb, and most of the larvae were still alive. We watched the newly emerged hornets stimulate the larvae’s mouths to give them sweet food. Bob gave the larvae some mince, and we watched them munching away. Some of the newly emerging hornets had no wings – we weren’t sure if it was because of the freezing or as a result of some genetic abnormality or a type of deformed wing virus.
Later we went to put out a new bait station on a private nature reserve near La Preference - again moving nearer the nest site. There are no laws of trespass in Jersey but we did always try to get permission to be on the land we were working on, and people were generally very friendly and interested in what we were doing. The law of course is different in England.
One of the beekeeper volunteers from Devon was going home today, but we had time to discuss the Asian Hornet Action Teams, and the contents of the kit box that each team will need:-