High Oatfield beekeeping – Mike’s memories

In my early days in my village in North Lincolnshire there was a man called Mr Teesdale who kept bees in the orchard next to our garden.

His six hives were traditional WBC hives painted white and they were my first insight into bee keeping rather than looking in a book.

Every time Mr Teesdale inspected his hives and he saw me, he would wave me over to take a look with him. I gradually learnt a lot about them and how to stay very calm and to do things nice and slowly.

Mr Teesdale used to wear his tweed jacket with no gloves or veil and he treated his bees with the upmost respect. He had infinite patience, with me as much as the bees. He would patiently explain to me about worker bees, drones (male bees) and the Queen all the while having picked up a handful of bees that would crawl around on him without once getting a sting

My job was to smoke the hives when he opened them, this would calm the bees down and they would drop down into the lower frames when he wanted to check how the hive was doing.

I remember the first time I saw him catch a swarm that had formed on a branch of a plum tree. He walked up to it and knocked the swarm into an open box , again with no protective gear just his trusty tweed jacket. He then calmly walked to a nearby empty hive, surrounded by thousands of flying bees, and placed the box on the ground. Placing a plank from the box to the entrance of the hive the bees walked up it and into their new home.

After I left school I went to horticultural college in the Isle of Ely where there was an apiary with ten hives. There we had ‘proper’ instructions on how to keep bees, a very different method than Mr Teesdales.

The college apiary was very formal, we wore full bee suits, gloves and veils and they were treated as a means to pollinate crops and produce honey. This was not my idea of the way to keep bees.

From my childhood time with gentle Mr Teesdale and after college I have always wanted to try my hand at keeping my own bees, finally realising this last year in 2018 when I bought my first National hive and nucleus of bees from Colonsay.

The Colonsay bees are native black bees and are free of a parasite called Varroa Mite. The rest of mainland UK is infected by this mite so bees can only be brought onto the Isle of Mull from this one source.

As with many deliveries to the island the bees came by carrier. They were despatched from Colonsay in their travelling box one evening and delivered into Oban, I had to go over early in the morning the next day on the ferry to collect them and bring them back to Mull.

The bees settled very quickly and started to forage within a day or two of their arrival. Initially as they had very little honey reserve they were fed on sugar water but were soon seen returning to the hive legs laden with pollen and full of nectar, the frames started to fill up with honey for the colony.

To enable the bees to have more flowers to visit we have planted a large herbaceous border at the front of the house with over 500 plants suitable for bees, mostly single fowered plants as these are better for the bee to drink nectar and collect pollen from.

The bees took to the hive about mid November to over winter, they all form a large ball to maintain their heat and live off the honey made in the previous season.

We are hoping to see a huge improvement in the pollination of the garden this coming year as well as some beautiful, golden jars of honey in the Autumn.

If, whilst you are staying with us you, would like any further information please feel free to ask.