I'm swotting for a bee exam

All was quiet outside the Beehaus when I visited on Sunday
My bee geekiness has reached new heights as I start studying for my first beekeeping exam (haven’t done one of those in 12 years!). It's called the 'Basic Assessment in Apiculture Examination' – formal words for what is essentially a beekeeping 'driving licence'.

So, last night I headed over to BBKA HQ for my first in four sessions of the 'Basic Beekeeping' course, which will cover the exam syllabus. Although any exam is never a walk in the park, I've been assured that this one is carried out as a relaxed Q&A session with an experienced beekeeper followed by a hands-on session at a hive. Last year's pass rate was 96%.

The session was given by Jane Medwell, a beekeeper in our local Warwick & Leamington Spa branch. She was a very engaging speaker and myself and 20 other newbie beekeepers spent a very enjoyable two hours listening and chatting with her.

Although a lot of what we discussed I already knew from the beginner's course earlier in the year, I did learn a few new things. One in particular I found very fascinating and that is what bees do in the winter. Contrary to what I and many people believe, bees don't hibernate in winter but are working very hard to survive. As the temperature outside drops, the bees (around 5,000 at this time of year) will cluster around the queen to keep her and them warm. An outer shell of still bees face into the cluster and their purpose is to protect the bees from intruders but to also act as a shell of insulation against heat loss. This means that the bees within can move freely and eat the honey stores which they are clustering around. The temperature within the cluster is maintained at between 20 and 30 degrees celsius by the bees vibrating their flight muscles. The cluster can also expand or contract to control the temperature and ensure that the outer shell does not get too cold. The inner bees will change places with the outer bees to allowing them time in the warmth. The cluster also loosens every so often in order to move to a new area of stores.

So, I hope my bees are clustering at the moment and gorging themselves on lots of honey. I went over on Sunday afternoon to check on them. There are obviously no bees out and about this time of year but I did spot one at the entrance. My purpose for the visit was to check that the hive was secure and also to heft it – hefting is a very scientific procedure (not!) that involves the beekeeper lifting a corner of the hive to see how heavy it is and judge how much honey is inside for the bees to feed on. Not enough = kaput colony.

Mine felt pretty heavy and in fact, I could hardly lift the corner. But I'm still going to give my bees a Christmas present in late December of a slab of fondant, which I'll place directly on top of the frames. Fondant is essentially just the white stuff you get on Christmas cakes. Bees love it apparently. It helps keep them sweet until they can go out foraging in the Spring.

The Beehaus blends in rather well I think 
Me and the bees



  1. Good luck with your BBKA exam! You've left yourself plenty of time to revise, so I'm sure you'll sail through.


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