Beekeeping for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award

Robin Dartington:

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) is widely regarded as one of the Duke’s most remarkable achievements, ‘equipping and empowering young people from all communities to build the skills, confidence, and resilience they need to make the most out of life’.

Wonderfully, beekeeping is included as one of 90 approved activities. But have beekeepers responded adequately by introducing enterprising children to our craft and who after succeeding with the challenges can be expected to become ambassadors within their peer groups?

The DofE scheme works by challenging participants to plunge straight into achieving specific goals within a short period (12 weeks), supervised by a tutor who assesses whether the goals were met. This contrasts with the longer period (two years) set by BBKA for a training course and practical experience before taking the Basic Examination. So the challenges must be simpler than managing a hive throughout a full year.

Lara Marsh, aged 14, asked me to tutor her in summer 2020 and we agreed three challenges practical for her age:

  • to learn how honeybees live as a colony
  • to set up and manage a top-bar hive to produce a measurable amount of beeswax
  • to write about her experiences for BeeCraft.

Lara did all the hands-on work herself and passed with flying colours. She gained a much deeper experience than is possible from any simple recreational visit to an apiary. We both hope this article may encourage beekeepers to contact local schools and offer to tutor DofE students.

Lara Marsh tells of her experience

For my bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I set up a Kenyan top-bar hive and introduced and looked after a colony over three months.

A gentle introductory talk taught me how the colony develops through the year, the different bees and the jobs they do, how they build and live on the combs. Also, how to stay safe near bees.

The Kenyan top-bar hive was chosen because it’s freer for the bees to build more natural combs. I learned how the hive works, where the bees would live, where to put the feeders, and how to start the new nest with top-bars primed with wax and some built comb.

I ran in an artificial swarm under supervision, placing a tableclothcovered ramp (because bees go upwards) at the entrance of the new one.

It was exciting but nerve-wracking because of the sheer number of bees flying around us. But I managed to encourage them into the entrance, using a feather to brush some off and even using my gloved hands to very gently scoop them towards the entrance. It was excellent to see my hive getting started.

I fed the bees’ regularly with sugar syrup (which I had made as homework) and visited HoneyWorks Beekeeping Training Centre to learn about extracting honey before having a go myself. This was one of my favourite parts of the whole DofE beekeeping experience – I had now seen the whole process of making honey, from collecting nectar to jarring.

Winter was nearing, and so the end of my three months of beekeeping. Robin filmed the new combs and I calculated the amount of wax the bees had made by comparing the comb area with the weight of a sample of empty comb.

I’m glad to hear my bees survived the winter and I plan to visit them again, even though my DofE is now finished.

I have learned that bees are much less scary than I thought, even if thousands are flying around you! I now know how to act and that they won’t sting without a reason. Even so, safety is crucial – wear a veil and a jacket, gloves with really long sleeves and make sure you tuck your trousers into thick socks and your bee jacket into your jeans – this stops bees getting into your clothes.

So, beekeeping is great! I would be interested in beekeeping when I’m older and have more free time. I would recommend it to others of my age doing DofE. Give it a go!

Lara Marsh has now moved on to the silver level of the DofE and is looking for a community farm to focus on horticulture. Meanwhile, she is also doing her GCEs, keen to outdo her brother.

Robin Dartington is president and apiarist of BuzzWorks Association Hitchin. For more details email Rdartington@gmail.com. For more photos of Lara’s experience, see tinyurl.com/BC2021-05-10

May 2021

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