I was contacted recently by an old apprentice, Jane, who wants to get back into beekeeping, having been beeless for a few years, her life having been too turbulent. Her boy friend, Oliver, an organic farmer in Somerset, has planted a few more acres of apples so it would be good to set up an apiary there.
I went to see them yesterday, getting a bit lost as it’s years since last I was there. We had a good natter and a catch up and Jane drove me to visit the site in a Land Rover. The fields are sloping and the tracks muddy so it was an ‘interesting’ drive!
We walked around the fields. There is an established orchard which produces enough fruit for Oliver to market cider and apple juice under his own label (with a spelling mistake that I must point out to him). That’s on the south facing slope as I’ve now discovered by looking at a map. When we were there it was so cloudy that I had no idea of the direction of the sun.
A stream runs down the edge of the field, so there’s water for bees if needed. The new orchard is on the opposite slope and so is north facing. There’s a mature wood behind it and Oliver’s also planted some more oaks for posterity. The grass is natural so there should be plenty of wild flowers in season, but Oliver agreed that I could sprinkle borage seeds on molehills to add to the mix.
The downsides are a) carrying heavy bee kit/honey across steep fields b) badgers c) I saw a couple of woodpeckers d) it’s a long way (27 miles) from home e) my labels are for Dorset honey, not Somerset. f) there are a couple of public footpaths crossing the site.
How to cope with the downsides? a) get Jane to drive me around in the Land Rover b) a top bar hive should be out of badger reach c) plastic netting might discourage the woodpeckers d) I was recompensed with a gallon of cider, a couple of bottles of juice and a bottle of ‘slido’ (sloes that had been used for gin making re-used with cider). e) either turn the honey into alcohol or else let Oliver market it locally under his label. f) the hives can be placed 50 yards or more from the paths.
I need to do some detective work to find out whether there are other beekeepers nearby. I have a dim recollection that there is a ‘hot spot’ for Amm, the British black bee, genes not too far away so I don’t want to move bees there and possibly contaminate the gene pool. I shall probably set up bait hives and hope for the best, knowing that local bees are better than imports.