beekeeping knowledge that the beginner has accumulated, at the level of manipulating the colony it is important that the beginner, and all beekeepers for that matter, should keep it simple. Only properly evaluated practices should be used and this usually means practices that have stood up to the rigours of a proper review process. It is disappointing to witness from time to time beekeepers of many years’ standing suggesting spurious techniques that unfortunately mislead the keen beginner. Bees are survivors and can adapt to overcome most bad practices, but at a cost.
Using experienced beekeepers to mentor beginners is an effective way of bedding down the techniques taught in the beginners’ course. Having enough suitable mentors can be difficult when the increase in beginner numbers is large. The mentor can assist the beginner in all of the key set-up tasks including selection of apiary, hives and equipment and sourcing the bees; also assisting the beginner with key colony manipulations.
Mentoring for one year only means beginners must realise that they should strive to be self-sufficient within this period. This avoids the situation where a beginner takes advantage of the available help over an extended period and it also frees-up the scarce mentor resource for new beginners in the following year.
In some cases ‘beginner apiaries’ can provide a valuable service. They allow the beginner time to find an out-apiary or to build up skills before considering bringing bees into his/her urban back garden. These beginner apiaries can have several beginners with one colony each and a mentor who organises site visits and is available to assist them. The approach allows a number of beginners to be mentored and the group approach, in effect, exposes them to more than one colony-year of experience.
Supplying Essential Bees
A beginner cannot become a beekeeper without bees. To minimise disease transmission and to nurture a co-operative approach, many beekeeping associations source bees within their own area. Members working together make colonies available from existing bee stocks in the location. This usually involves each established beekeeper providing one nucleus each year for beginners. In turn, within two years of receiving their bees, the beginner is expected to make a nucleus of bees available to the association for distribution to new beginners.
In time, returning nuclei from ‘old’ beginners should be the main source of bees. This does not preclude, where necessary, nuclei being obtained from reliable suppliers within the area. Swarms can be collected where possible to bring them within a controlled environment and quarantined before being released for production. Beginners are encouraged to practise small-scale queen rearing themselves or as a group activity.
A Long-term Relationship
Finally, returning to the original issue; what can associations do to reduce the drop-out rate of beginners in their early years? At the end of the day, if beginners can see us as being helpful and meeting their needs, it provides a good basis for a long-term relationship. This is reinforced by the relationship built up between mentor and beginner. So, with a bit of luck, we will all see a reduction in the number of new beesuits hanging behind doors, seldom worn since the apiary demonstration on the beginners’ course.