Welsh Smallholders Give Bees a Go

From Bee Craft: July 2009

Sanna Burns

Welsh Beekeepers’ Associations were out in force at the Smallholders’ Show

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The Swansea bee tent was always busy

Overcoming small problems like flooding with supplies of straw, boards and carpet, Swansea and District Beekeepers’ Association, plus volunteers drawn from across Wales, did their best to accommodate the crowds who were eager to suit up and get close to the bees. However, because of the cold and wet, the number of sessions they could deliver was severely curtailed.

Those, including my daughter, lucky enough to arrive during a short-lived patch of sunshine were treated to a truly amazing experience (bearing in mind the rigorous health and safety processes required by large public events in present times). Having signed a consent form, small groups of children and adults were dressed in protective clothing by beekeepers and taken through an ‘air-lock’ into the bee tent itself, where another experienced volunteer opened up the hive to show off the contents.

GETTING UP CLOSE

Though the accent was rightly always ‘safety first’, this neither stopped people getting up close, nor detracted from the enjoyment of the participants. Everyone had the chance to hold a frame of brood, look at what the bees were doing, have their pictures taken in suits and ask questions. It was a relaxed, but educational and obviously exciting experience for all concerned. When she came out, I asked my daughter (aged nine) what she thought about the tent and she said:

‘For the children who don’t know about honey stuff, it’s an excellent way to get them learning about bees and a good way to show how a beehive works’.

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The gazebo gave children and adults a chance to get close to the bees to see what they were doing

After the last photo call, people filed one by one into the air-lock where they were carefully checked to make sure that no-one left with any ‘passengers’, and certificates were issued, granting the holder status of ‘Beekeeper’s Assistant’.

The adverse weather highlighted the plight of the honey bee for many at the Show. Because bees having recently been accorded a high media profile, many people who came to the stand for a chat were well informed about varroa, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and the impact that climate change is having on both bees and the wider environment.

Thankfully, though, it was not all doom and gloom, as knowledgeable beekeepers hastened to reassure members of the public and inform them of the wide variety of ways that individuals can sustain both honey bees and other pollinators, even if they have neither the time, resources nor space to start keeping bees themselves.

BEE PLANTS TO GIVE AWAY

Brecon and Radnor Beekeepers’ Association had a supply of plants to give to children to take home for their gardens and for the adults, there was a top-tips guide to bee-friendly gardening, including a list of the highest pollen-and nectar-producing annuals, bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. Beekeepers were advising selective weed pulling where at all possible, as some, like dandelion, rosebay willowherb, blackberry and thistle, are fantastic forage for bees. There was also advice for vegetable growers and allotmenteers on how to attract pollinators and thereby maximise crop yields.

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The display by Brecon and Radnor Beekeepers’ Association

Speaker’s Corner this year yielded another treat for those interested in bees. Mr Wl Griffiths from Aberystwyth Beekeepers’ Association spoke eloquently and very knowledgeably on ‘The Art of Beekeeping’. With his maxim of ‘look, see and understand’, Will Griffiths, with the aid of some beautiful slides, took the listener on an enthusiastically narrated journey from the landing board of a WBC hive to the brood chamber and back again, regaling everyone along the way with anecdotes from his beekeeping past.

Though at pains to emphasise that the correct interpretation of bee behaviour by the beekeeper is vital to successful beekeeping, Mr Griffiths ironically pointed out that five beekeepers around a hive will find five different theories for any one phenomenon – a fact that new beekeepers can find confusing in the extreme!

I look forward to seeing what Welsh Beekeepers have to offer the Smallholders’ Show next year and hope we all enjoy better weather than we experienced at Builth Wells this May.

[First published in Smallholder – www.smallholder.co.uk]

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