Posted on 28th December 2020 at 17:00
Every annual review you read for 2020 is going to be coloured by the effect of COVID on themselves, family, work or business and probably all of those things. As usual I am not dwelling upon the negatives but rather celebrating the positive people and events that have crossed my path in 2020.
There is no getting away from it, it has been a tough year financially. My family and I have not been visited by COVID although we know of many who have suffered to a greater or lesser degree. However, the bees have been a constant. Whatever else goes on in the world the bees in my charge have to be cared for. Whilst that has been a necessity it has provided respite from the troubles for the business and for that I am grateful.
This time last year it was reported that 30% less Oil Seed Rape (OSR) was sown than the previous year. Why does that matter? OSR is a valuable early mass flowering crop that is both helpful to the bees to enable them build up the colony and creates a crop of honey which is useful to me. I will not go into the wider implications of losing this valuable crop is to the wider economy. Allied to the reduction in the sown the OSR the autumn and early winter of 2019 was very wet and the establishment of the OSR crop was very poor. You may remember we had an unseasonable warm spell in February which set the colonies into build up phase only to be knocked back with the return to normal winter conditions. The knock-on effect was that the bees expended energy too early and the flowering of OSR in the spring of 2020 was poor. I found my bees suffered and development was stifled. Had it not been for supplementary
feeding early in the early part of the season I think the outcome could have been much worse. Understanding your bees in the context of the wider environment and how to respond is key to bring the weaker colonies through the winter.
To begin with let us get the rubbish aspects of the year out of the way. The last foundation course was held in February. The foundation course suffered from the ever-changing rules on people gathering together. I was unable to deliver the second part of School for Bee projects to customer schools. Lockdown one and two, low pupil numbers from shielding and bubbles or rather not being in the bubbles prevented my being in school. Both these issues effected the monies coming into the business.
That said, we had an early start with the School for Bees schemes in January so the first part of school for bees was delivered including the making of hives before lockdown was announced. The bees were on site throughout the summer and being looked after by me.
When you have completed the foundation course you become eligible to join fellow students in an online community group and for our monthly “Beer ‘n’ Bees” meetings. Up to March the Beer ‘n’ Bees meeting would be held at a public house, that is the Beer bit. We were able to take the meetings on-line with Zoom. We worked it out and the conversation is as diverse as before just with less crisps and Guinness (my favourite pub drink).
When lockdown 1 kicked in I produced a number of worksheets. These are still available on the website. Click HERE if you need a little diversion from the mince pies and turkey sandwiches.
I also ran a couple of poem competitions. They went very well and just showed that people were enjoying the diversion and taking part. Click HERE to read Hattie's winning entry and HERE to read Florence's winning poem.
I am currently running a competition to name the Queen bee. You are which you are welcome to take part. Click HERE for the competition. Closing date 31st December 2020
On a positive side of the balance, honey sales rose as people began to return shop on the High Street. That trend continued through the summer and into the run up to Christmas. As businesses cancelled their works’ Christmas parties a number of businesses gave their staff hampers, in which my honey featured. This resulted in some of my largest honey orders. The margin on honey is rather slim but the increased sales was very welcome.
A number of community minded people have created pop-up shop from their vans to serve the isolated village and hamlets here in the East Midlands. They chose to stock my honey as one of their lines. Repeat orders suggest their customers like my honey.
I have made connections with a number of new land owners who are only too happy to have my bees on their land. Some are doing it because the supermarkets they supply demand higher environment standards. It is also a perfect excuse, if an excuse was needed, to make up time to take up a hobby. Many growers do not have time for themselves what with pressure on farming and vagaries of the weather and staff availability bee keeping might be the perfect marriage of mindful time out exercise with a positive business input. As a whole the new people are just big bee fans and want to help me help the bees and other pollinators.
I was invited to join the Youth Landscapers Collective….which I did. I pinched the following from their website. The collective is a group of young people from the National Forest area coming together to explore and share the landscape’s industrial past and forest future through creative projects.
They work with artists, local historians, wildlife experts, archivists, museum curators and the public to research the area. Together we make ambitious, creative projects that help to share the ways that natural and industrial landscape of the Heart of the National Forest has changed.
They were originally set up in 2016 as part of the National Forest’s Black to Green programme, funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund. As their website says “ Since then we’ve grown in confidence and skills, developing experience and commitment to shape and direct where Youth Landscapers goes next. You’ll find us showing our work at events including Timber Festival and the Moira Canal Festival.”
I got involved through a common connection with the Black to Green project. The collective's project for Timber festival 2021 is called “Tell it to the bees”. I was asked to create an assignment. Click HERE to read it. You too should have a go at the assignment. We had a visit the bees at Boothorpe Orchard & Pollinator Project during the summer. They did a piece of filming for me.
I revamped the on-line shop to create a Christmas Box where all my popular products and services were in one place. Click HERE to see it.
In response to customer feedback I changed the size of my tins of Pad Balm (hand cream for dogs) from 100ml to 30ml. The price was reduced and it makes the little tin a pocket sized item so you can take it out with you and your four legged friend.
On-line sales for November are well up on the number from November 2019. On-line sales for December have not yet reached the level for last December, so swings and roundabouts.
Just because I liked the idea, I investigated then made hand dipped candles. They are 200mm (8”) tall and 20mm (3/4”) wide. It was a nice thing to do for myself even if they are not selling very well. Click HERE for more information
I had a lady from Leicester make contact with me. She was enthusiastic for me to make mini craft projects using my wax. I thought about it. And I thought why not? Following a period of R&D I produced a rolled candle kit and a lip balm kit. So thank you to Sev for the suggestion and your enthusiasm.
There is a video to go with it in the link, click HERE
Once lock down eased in the summer folks were eager to redeem their gift certificates for the colony visits that were booked at Christmas 2019. Other folk were keen to get out in the countryside. My colony visit or experience days were really well attended. Universally visitors have been lovely, interested and enthusiastic. They were happy to be out and about, learning about bees and the environment.
Cattows Farm in Heather is my host and it has been great working with them. It has very much a symbiotic relationship. My bees pollinate the farm’s pick your own soft fruits in the spring. Pollination of the Pumpkins in the late summer is a rare late season food source. Visitors also have the facility to take advantage and book a Cattows Cream Tea to round off the celebration day. I am happy to be able to provide the colony visits in a safe way and the income was very welcome.
A couple of people really stepped forward this year. Luke & Cassie decide to sponsor a hive. They even went as far as buying and building a hive through me. Tune into Patreon to see what, how and why they got involved.
Luke & Cassie join Pete & Ella as a small number of hive sponsors.
The next new adventure I embarked upon was accounts with Patreon and YouTube. Although these are different things YouTube provides the tools to execute the Patreon service. Patreon is described as a membership service. I would explain it as being like a magazine subscription except you can pledge different amounts of subscription for different rewards and perks. Patreon is a way for folks support the work of their chosen maker/creator/artist/project. Much of Patreon content is video.
Guess what? Over the summer I learned how to shoot and edit video in order to make video content BUT…. to service a number of channels. I mentioned making content Patreon. I have also been able to make video instructional videos for the rolled candle and lip balm crafts. Both these were happy accidents although Patreon had been under my thinking cap for some time.
The main reason I learned video techniques is so that I can create the content for the on-line beekeeping course that I have decided to create. A training project which I was developing with another partner fell through earlier this year and there was the small matter of not being allowed to deliver the foundation course but I feel strongly that folk should have access to my training course. Market research bears that out and the folks that have been through my foundation course have gone on to do very well with their beekeeping. That has been a source of comfort and encouragement. Look out for more on this subject in 2021.
More than one person mentioned the BBC2 programme in which I appeared. It was shot in late 2019 and was supposed to be aired in March 2020. It was actually aired in September 2020. Folks have been very kind in reviewing my television debut except my bee farming buddies who, predictably, have been pulling my leg.
It did a blog about the experience. Click HERE to read it.
The link to BBC iplayer will expire in due course but for now you will find the episode at
I seem to have spent a lot more time in front of the PC this year. I have not been idle. This year I really seen a growth in connections with other beekeepers from both the amateur and professional sectors. I plotted all my regular connections, just for fun. I find I interact with folks all over the UK in particular a school in Kendal, a crazy women project leader in Liverpool, Bee Farmers in Croatia, Hungary, USA, France, and closer to home in Wiltshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
The ability to talk/joke/take the mickey/discus and compare notes with other bee farmers has been invaluable.
This Griff from Mêl Gwenyn Gruffydd Honey based in Carmarthen. Click HERE for his website.
Community has been the overriding feature of 2020. People have come together under different banners to share what they have, to be part of something bigger than themselves and perhaps to gain some sense of balance and normality. I know I have received this kindness and if I have been able to provide something into that pot then 2020 has not been as bad as it might have been.
What does 2021 hold for The Bee Farmer? More community and more bees that is for sure.
I wish you all the seasons greeting and very much hope your burden is lighter in 2021.
As Dave Allen was fond of saying as he signed off “May your God go with you”.
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