Whether your apiary is at home or away, it’s important to consider whether it is safe and convenient for you. I’m not talking about ‘health and safety gone mad’, just common sense!
An apiary should work for the beekeeper as well as the bees. And as I’ve discovered recently, there are a number of danger zones in my apiary that need attention. Spring is the time to asses your apiary and rectify anything that doesn’t work for you.
Take a look at the following: a taut wire (in the foreground), a fence post from a fallen-down fence, a thicket of brambles and nettles, and some broken breeze blocks thrown in for good measure:
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it did go wrong the other day and certain parts of my anatomy are still tingling from the thorns and nettle stings! I’m lucky that it wasn’t worse. I could have knocked myself out or disembowelled myself with my hive tool.
Luckily no-one was there to witness my humiliation but the most embarrassing thing about it is that I’ve tripped there before and I did nothing to remedy it.
There are other things that keep happening: hitting my heat on overhanging tree branches, not having enough space to work certain colonies and mossy logs lying camouflaged on the ground which I always take great care to step over . . . that is, until I’m carrying equipment and can’t see them.
This makes me sound like a sloppy beekeeper but I definitely am not that. I just get so wrapped up in what’s best for the bees (and the public) that I de-prioritise my own convenience.
It is completely about applying common sense.
Allow me to share some tips from my own experience. Hopefully I have made these mistakes so that you don’t have to!
First, take time to cut back those brambles and anything else that can trip you or catch hold of you. Trim back branches so they don’t hit you on the head or slap you in the face! Ducking and dodging is risky and inconvenient.
Arrange your apiary so that you have adequate space to inspect hives in comfort, including putting roofs on the ground, lifting and stacking supers and generally moving around. If you’re in a small space that is uncomfortable it risks the chance of falling over or of being clumsy and disturbing the bees. If you can’t move a hive consider changing the frames from warm way to cold way or vice versa.
When it comes to equipment, remember that your hive tool is like a weapon – it’s strong, sharp and would get you arrested if you carried it in certain situations! Learn to use it properly and be careful when it’s in the pocket of your bee suit.
You’ll think I’m really pointing out the obvious now, but smokers can and do set fire to things – like dry grass at your apiary or the back of your car! Suddenly your car is full of smoke and other drivers are frantically gesticulating at you. Yes, I know that this need to spell things out probably explains a lot about my own mishaps, but it did really happen to me and others I know!
Lie smokers on their side and plug the spout with a knot of green grass or a cork. Check that they are cool and fully extinguished. If you’re not careful the lid can slip open when you’re driving along, letting in oxygen which re-ignites the fire. Some beekeepers put them in a tin which seems like a good idea, I just have to find a tin that’s big enough.
On a more serious note, something happened that really scared me one evening: I was hassled by two people who wouldn’t go away. My apiary is tucked away and not visible. My phone was in my car and I couldn’t get to it. I thought that if they came any closer I would push over a beehive.
Luckily it didn’t come to that but now I do keep my mobile on me and fully charged and I tell someone where I’m going. I think that’s especially important for us girls. And I do keep Piriton in the car in case I react to a sting (which has never happened, touchwood, but I have beekeeping friends who this has happened to).
To me, beekeeping is beautiful thing and anything that niggles me in my apiary is an unwanted distraction from quality time with my bees.
The moral of these sad stories?: a happy beekeeper helps to keep bees happy too!