It has long been an ambition of ours to eventually keep bees, but we hadn’t quite anticipated that it would be this year!
We’ve spent winter swotting up on bee keeping with two books we got from a friend; Collins Beekeeper’s Bible and The Complete & Easy Guide to Beekeeping. The Collins one has been great, with loads of information, sometimes too much! Anyway, we got an opportunity to buy three new hives from a friend in the village, so we got those, painted them up and then it just seemed a shame not to get some bees to put in them.
Before we could get the bees though, we needed to do some preparation. We wanted to keep them in the orchard area, so they are out of the way and the hives will get some good early morning sunshine (although at time of writing they are still lazing around in bed!). We built a good, stable base for them out of rocks and gravel, so that we don’t have to strim around the hives. I can pretty much guess that bees will not be impressed with a strimmer! Also, to keep the dogs from disturbing the hives, we have erected a fence that runs the length of the garden, and fully encloses the orchard. This now has the added benefit that we can totally free-range our hens in the orchard. Our neighbours think we’re mad, and that a fox will surely eat all our chickens. We’ll see.
We also found a great shop in Razgrad that sells everything you could need for bees. We got kitted out with veils, gloves, smokers, stuff for making the frames that go inside the hive and feeders for the sugar solution, for when they first arrive. They were very helpful and patient with our broken Bulgarian. We even came away with a natty orange bee cap each!
It seemed like we had a load of stuff to get used to using, so we have spent a while with our HelpExer, Michael, showing us how to light our smoker and practising using our smocks. We have also spent ages building the frames for the hives. They should come with a health warning; some assembly may be required! They’re really fiddly, with bits of wire, wax foundation to get in and little clips to keep everything in the right place. Michael even managed to make a candle out of the wax offcuts from building the frames! We got a bit of a production-line going as we needed thirty of them just to start off. We’ll make the other, smaller ones later on.
Finally, we were as ready as we could be. I contacted my friend who we bought the hives from, and he contacted his friend, and finally, the bees were arriving tonight! They arrived in little travel boxes, and, as it was raining heavily, he left the boxes in place and promised to return the next day to transfer them into our hives for us. They’d only been here five minutes and one shot out and stung Julie! which was good in a way, we now know at least she’s not allergic to bee stings.
The next day him and his wife came back and moved each frame gently into the new hives. The bees didn’t seem very happy about the whole process, but they are now settled in and are foraging happily for pollen. We’ve been left with strict instructions about how much to feed them until they get settled in, where to put water for them, and when to put in more frames so the colony can expand.
So that’s it, we’re now bee keepers. Next year we hope to have loads of honey, wax, and three thriving hives.