to bee or not to bee? is that the question? off the plot with Mark Part 1

If you’d have asked me when I embarked on my learning odyssey back in 2019 (boy that seems such a long time ago now) whether I’d be on a Level 3 Certificate Course in Apiculture, having two hives ready to host colonies of bees and a growing concern and understanding of the nature of bees, their protection and importance to humans I’d have chortled, very loudly. It shouldn’t have been any surprise to me really, given my tendency to explore and deep dive into many non mainstream subjects ranging from craft beer brewing to foraging for nuts, fruit, mushrooms and plants to allotmenteering for exchange and barter or pure home food production. These less than mainstream pursuits meet my innate requirement to tax and satiate my curiosity and left field nature, and, moreover, engage my visual and kinaesthetic learning styles.

Before COVID announced its menacing presence back in March I had spent the previous months being focused on sustainable professional and personal practise development. In my workplace I had undertaken prolonged research into its significance, meaning and application towards my dental health practice and was on the point of presentation and action, hopefully persuading my colleagues. My intention was to make changes along the lines of improving the perception and belief to our cliental that we were taking the looming climate and environment crisis very seriously and were changing our behaviours to meet this existential threat. Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduces Viruses in Honey Bees. Paul E. Stamets et al. 2018

Image of the Day: All in a Day's Work | The Scientist Magazine®

My dealings with mushrooms and research related to and had brought me to greater awareness of the association between birch polypore mushrooms and the bee population that use them to aid the natural disease prevention of bee deformed wing virus. Discovering this fact and the work undertaken by Prof. Paul Stamets, an global expert in Mycology, including his energy behind the creation of 3D bee feeders for the promotion of bee colonies in back gardens, inspired me to take the next few steps towards a greater journey. This was additionally aided and abetted by dear friends Dave and Rachel Annette at, in Alresford, Hampshire, whilst staying with them in the UK last year. They have both undertaken a fundamental lifestyle and value changing venture into keeping bees, educating the public about their benefits and training those inclined to go beyond knowledge into practical application in apicultural practice. I owe Dave and Rachel both directly and Paul, very indirectly, a debt of gratitude in providing not only a substitute for the COVID postponed clinical sustainability project but also to a meaningfully related cause for bee sustainability, aligned to my social values and personal intent.

Enter the real world. How and where to do and achieve this? New Zealand is an agricultural country, especially in the north of the south island where a healthy bee population is essential in pollenating the vast areas of cultivated fruit and plant food production. Native Manuka honey is also a huge export industry, it’s Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) being sited by ongoing research as very beneficial for health. I’m in the right place to be for certain. However, apiculture courses are expensive, running into several thousand dollars NZ, or more, and such course providers not marketing them especially well, perhaps for that very reason. Enter COVID once again and the New Zealand Governments immediate investment in primary industry training programmes, some of which are being fully funded. Also, interestingly, enter stage door left social media, and in my case, FaceBook. The Regional Bee Keepers Association in Nelson had a thread on their page casually promoting this very thing. I immediately latched on and asked the question, where do I sign up? To my amazement it was as simple as that, two great instructors and experts in the industry, Scott and Jezebel Williamson, began the course in Brightwater, Nelson in August through Land Based Training, a commercial organisation promoting primary industry education. Fifteen very rookie and novice students of all ages and sizes turned up for the first day of term not fully knowing quite what to expect.

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So, I’m now three months into a nine month course. I’ve two hives, one provided free as part of the training, this we had to construct, treat and paint. It sits on my deck at home presently awaiting a journey to Brightwater this weekend and its temporary future home for its first colony to reside in it. The other was donated to me by my former Marlborough dental boss Ed Durrheim, also a hobbyist beekeeper, which has also been treated, painted and set up for a home based hive here in Nelson. A big thank you to Ed. The neighbours have given consent and I’m priming a spot for its location, sheltered, north facing and exposed to plenty of sunlight. It awaits a Queen nucleus and will be my home learning hive, a fortnight behind the course hive. I’ve two suits and all the equipment required at present, including Adrenaline for bee sting hypersensitivity. Fortunately I’ve recently undertaken a work based first aid course where this was practiced. It appears all my ducks are stars are aligned and the active part of the beekeeping learning journey, post three month theory, begins in earnest this coming Sunday.

There is still so much more to learn, to experience and achieve but my goal is to focus on the health and well-being of bees in my charge, to be fully cognisant of the ways to achieve this, not to be concerned about asking questions, no matter how daft they may seem and to encourage all those I know to be mindful of the importance of the role that bees play in our everyday lives. The honey will be a bonus but not essential if needed by the bees themselves.

In the next thrilling episode of “Too Bee or Not too Bee” I will be more reflective and explicit about managing a hive on two sites, the routines, disease and pest risks and the highs and lows of this adventure. I will, no doubt, have many new experiences to reveal and new knowledge of lessons learned.

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