You'll be 'buzzing' if you take up beekeeping - Alasdair Bruce

Alasdair Bruce, chairman of East Devon Beekeepers Association, writes for this title  

Alasdair Bruce, chairman of East Devon Beekeepers Association, writes for this title - Credit: Alasdair Bruce

Alasdair Bruce, chairman of East Devon Beekeepers Association, writes for this title

Why do you keep bees, with all that work - especially when they can swarm and you lose the lot?

Demonstrating how to run a swarm of bees into their new home. A very special event that every new beekeeper should experience

Demonstrating how to run a swarm of bees into their new home. A very special event that every new beekeeper should experience - Credit: Alasdair Bruce

That was the question a neighbour asked one day as I strapped down the hive in advance of a winter blast. 'Oh, l like a challenge and the satisfaction of giving nature a helping hand'.....knowing there is much more to it than that - including the very real mental and physical health benefits of just being around these wonderful insects.

This did, however, prompt me to recall my own path into, what I consider, a fascinating and rewarding world with, of course, the small bonus of honey, if the bees are willing.

Before I moved to Devon, l always looked forward to visiting and helping my Dad with his bees.  

Some amusing memories from those early beekeeping days come to mind

Once we were relocating a couple of bee colonies, driving up the narrow lanes near Membury with our trailer in tow.

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Halfway up the hill, we came face to face with a 4x4 coming round a bend.

The rather pompous driver moved squarely into the centre of the road, stopped and gestured for us to reverse downhill...now reversing downhill with a trailer is not great at the best of times, but with two beehives on board -  a really bad idea!

The driver could see the trailer, but refused to budge. Eventually Dad got out of the car in full beekeeping regalia and, very calmly said to the driver “l have over 80,000 very angry bees in the trailer - it’s your call...they reversed.

Another adventure saw us answering a call from a farmer to remove a swarm from a small tree on a very steep hillside.

My Dad decided this was a small swarm so fairly straightforward...my job was to climb up the tree and he would be the catcher.

So, he positioned himself underneath holding the traditional wicker basket (skep) and l began to bend down the branch holding the swarm from above.

With a final warning to brace, l gave one final bang on the branch and the swarm fell...unfortunately Dad had miscalculated the weight of the bees, fell backwards...tipped the lot out over his head and ended up facing down the hill!

The farmer found this highly amusing, and we all burst out laughing at the ridiculous scene of my father sitting slightly embarrassed with a rather confused swarm going round his head...we all learned a big lesson that day, never assume!

I have always enjoyed introducing new beekeepers to our craft and l try to let novices experience the smells when the hive is opened for the first time in spring - it's hard to describe the assault on the senses as you take in the first burst of intoxicating fragrances of honey, beeswax, propolis and pollen - plus from the bees themselves! 

'Newbees' have commented it is an experience that remains in the memory, and, after completing their first year, beginners often say they feel more calm, more aware of the environment, and in tune with the seasons and sensitive to the flora around them.

To me, this hobby is anything but dull and l can tell you that after more than 20 years, you never stop learning, not least because the bees never read the books you do!

l often say to the beginners on our introduction course, it’s a hobby you can take in many directions, from just being interested all the way to setting up your own honey farm.

To describe a beekeepers year is a vast subject, too big for here, but if you are interested in knowing more l can strongly recommend the beginners course offered by the East Devon Beekeepers Association.

A course l believe to be the best...but then as chair, I would say that!

If you are interested, please look at our website eastdevonbk.co.uk or contact education@edbk.co.uk


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