Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Introductory Beekeeper's Course taken in 2008

Last year (April 2008) I attended a 2 day Introductory Beekeeper's course at the University of Guelph, Ontario.

I was very much looking forward for a chance to get some hands-on experience with honey bees. After all, I'd been writing a book about them and had spent months eating, sleeping, dreaming, writing and researching bees.

I was obsessed about them (still am). Finally I would get to see them up close and personal.
My over excitement caused me a bit of a problem - when photographing the bees I was doing close-ups and I kept going too close--many of my photos ended up being blurry! Then the batteries on the camera died.... well you know what it's like I'm sure...
The smoker puff sounded just like Thomas the train. We wore bee veils and hats but they weren't really needed. Some wore protective outfits and gloves but I noticed that the experienced beekeepers only wore the hat and veil.
The instructors of the course were very knowledgeable, but I must comment that they aren't just knowledgeable - they know how to teach, how to share, how to instruct (great use of the experiential model!)


The course was one of the best course designs I've ever had the pleasure to participate in - just the right amount of in- class and hands-on to balance out the day.


The forecast had rain in it so they had put tarpaulins over the hives but it was to be a blessed weekend and the predicted rain didn't come.


The bees were quieter because it was early spring - they hadn't had enough time yet to build up their population.
The first blooms offering pollen were just starting - you can see the trees hadn't even leafed out yet.

Before I learned more about bees I thought they'd be all over us when we opened the hives. The opposite was more true - they were too busy doing their own thing to pay much attention to us.
The nurse bees hovered over their brood in a cluster to keep them warm. They were too preoccupied with their tasks.

When we first opened the hive the bees came up to take a peek at us to see what was going on. We saw all their shiny black eyes glowing between the tops of the frames. We gave them a couple puffs of smoke to distract them and they disappeared back inside the hive, ignoring us.

There were about 25 people on the course, mostly from southern Ontario but some had come from farther north.
We covered all aspects of beekeeping from starting to maintaining the hives, to extracting the honey. Some attendees had already started in beekeeping and others like me were enthusiasts hoping to start into beekeeping.

The second day we extracted honey from frames, using a heated uncapping knife to open up the hexagonal cells.

The course covered bee diseases too. Unfortunately there's a plethora of viruses and pests that are troubling our honey bees globally at the moment.
I'm sure you've seen or heard something in the news about it - and it is a concern: Varroa Mites, Tracheal Mites, Israeli Paralysis Virus, Nosema, etc. And they advise the African Hive Beetle currently in the USA is at the border.

No bee stings for me on this first excursion into hives.
I was more concerned about hurting them than being hurt by them.
It's so easy to crush and smash the bees when loosening and removing frames and I was determined not to hurt a single one.
This spring I'll be taking their next course and that's the Bee Integrated Management Program.
I can't wait to say hello to the bees and see how they fared through the winter.

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