Posted on 1st January 2024 at 17:51
That’s another year done! I am not talking about the the national situation but I shall celebrate the positive people and events that have crossed my path in 2023
This year has been tough year. I expect everyone has struggled 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. I have also discovered that other people have gained something from my posts on my beekeeping adventures and misadventures. That is good to know.
This year I celebrated 10 years since I was made redundant and began this chapter of self employment.
The autumn of 2022 seemed to go on forever. Winter 2022/23 was very mild. My usual routine is to treat the bees for a parasitic mite called for Varroa Destructor in early January. Its a job to get me back out after the Christmas break. We treat at this time of year because the bees should have no brood which is vital for the mite to reproduce, Any mites in the hive, and there will be many, have no where to hide so are vulnerable to the treatments.
During the treatment I gave the bees a cursory glance rather than a full inspection only to find many hives had open brood. This means the queens had bee going into lay a little before Christmas. Therefore it should have no surprise that that I started to get calls about swarms earlier than usual. Swarming season is May to mid July. I took my first swarm 9th April. That is a record for me. Calls about swarms continued apace throughout May and June. The Amateur sector swarm catchers were overwhelmed and ran out of kit. This only increased the calls to me as everyone else could not respond. The calls for swarms fizzled out with the poor weather in July.
According to the Met Office reports for July the west of Northern Ireland, Lancashire, Merseyside, the Manchester area and parts of Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire had more than 200% of the average rain fall. Here in the East Midlands we were lucky only to have 125% of the average rainfall. We had a few days of really hot weather but the thunder storms soon stopped that. Overall the temperature failed to reach the season average of 20C. Cool and wet it not a recipe for bumper honey crops.
The early start to the year and reasonable spring weather gave the bees a good crop of honey. However the poor summer, especially July reduced the potential crop. Most beekeepers reported depressed honey stores. My bees managed to find plenty of forage but it was not the bumper crop of 2022.
We went into the winter after another long Autumn. I had to feed some colonies but most seemed to shift for themselves. The next round of treatments in the next few weeks will tell how the bees have managed their stores.
I continue to invest in new kit for honey processing. Both items were about dealing with increasing volumes and making thing more efficient.
I bought the extractor that this one replaces in 2014. It was the first bit of commercial kit I bought. I out grew it some time ago only a trip the BFA meeting did I see something with which to replace it. The new one has two and half times the capacity and a shorter work cycle. This means I can get through more work more efficiently and at a lower fuel cost. Its also much hotter so it does and good job of sterilizing the frames at the same time. So its a win, win, win.
So far it has worked perfectly now I know how often to fill the water tank.
This new extractor replace the last one which I bought second hand in 2012. This one has a heated jacket which improves the amount of honey extracted and helps the cleaning process. This machine has a computer the control the speed of the extraction. I set it up to start slowly and as the honey load come out of the frames the extractor spins faster collecting more of the available honey. It also helps in not smashing up the comb. This saves me time and money replacing damaged honeycomb with sheets foundation.With e old machine and had to manage the spin sped. This one I now have the confidence to let go on its cycle without me watching it.
School for Bees
School for Bees has seven schools in the scheme. The poor weather in July meant we were not able to do the hive visits and the honey crop was not that great. But I suppose there are life lessons in that.
The children still got the learn about the biology and life cycle of the bees, build hives, extract honey and put it in jars and sell it. I attended a couple of the school's Christmas fairs. The kids were quick to tell me how their sales were going.
The good news is that three schools have signed up for 2024, which is nice. I sent round a partner feedback form and received a number of replies. This reply is typical "A greater understanding of the impact bees have on the production of all foods, Understanding of the production of food that we eat".
If you would like to know more about School for Bees check out this link - School for Bees
The school for Bees scheme help Sir John Moore school achieve the Soil Associations Food for life Gold awards.
The Food for Life website said "This entrepreneurial school are pioneers in Leicestershire as the first school to work with David McDowell, The Bee Farmer, as part of his School for Bees scheme. The pupils have hands on experience in building and maintaining the beehives and understand the importance of bees as pollinators. The honey is harvested and used in school recipes as well as sold to parents and the wider school community. The pupils are incredibly proud of the honey they harvest and show a high level of understanding of how to look after their school environment in order for the bees to thrive. They also demonstrate how to be confident and safe around bees."
Click HERE to read the whole story
People of 2023
I had a summer of colony visits with many of them booked at the previous Christmas as gifts, others as part of a celebration and yet others for lovers of honeybees or just curious. Whilst the weather was generally poor it was warm enough for visitors and the bees. I only had one wash out. Still, the couple came back another day and were just as pleased.
It was an odd feeling to discover that many visitors prime reason for their short stay in the East Midlands was to have a colony visit with me. Then they went off to do other activities, which seemed mainly to be eating and drinking. We have had visitors from all over the country and even folks from Europe and America!
The new Booking system is working out just now I wanted. Folks are now used to browsing on-line then making a purchase. With my new system folks can do just that, browse dates or as in the winter, purchase a voucher to be redeemed later in the year. It has worked perfectly.
Book your summer colony visit by clicking HERE
The colony visits have been run at Cattows Farm for a number of years. We have a nice relationship. Cattows sows lots of flower bearing plants, Pick you own raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and various types of currants along with sunflowers and pumpkins which all feed the bees and bee pollinate the plants, giving a crop. Cattows also has a splendid new cafe. The cafe offers afternoon teas which I promote. Many folk make a day of it with bees and a posh tea; come for cake and stay for the bees. My honey is now a feature of the deli so now you can take a pot of honey home with you.
Check out Cattows Farm by clicking HERE
One of my honey customer in Ashby rang me up with an odd request. She was having her cousin over from Australia and could I give them a tour of my operation. I said that is not something I do but I could organise a colony visit. She said the chap knows what bees are as he is a bee farmer in Western Australia. Well that is a bit different!
I had Rupert and Kim meet me at one of the farms on which I have many bees. We had a stroll around and talked about the countryside in which our bees operate and how that gives us honeys to market. Australia has just had Varroa Destructor land in their honeybee population. As we in England have been dealing with it has nearly 30 years we had a deep talk about its affects and how we deal with it.
We exchanged pots of honey, as bee farmers do. and business cards. Check out https://www.thehouseofhoney.com.au/ and maybe drop in if you out that way.
Left is Joe from Ideagen. The website says "Ideagen help the safe hands and trusted voices that protect organisations to minimise risk, strengthen compliance and keep people safe" Ideagen is also a world wide operation based in Ruddington near Nottingham. They have a strong social responsibility ethos. We have beehives on site which a number of the staff built, Joe likes visiting the bees with me and Maxine makes sure I have plenty of tea.
Right is the hives at East Midlands Gateway next to East Midlands Airport (EMA). The Gateway has 300 acres of landscaping planted with trees and creates a number of habitats. A flat area has been transformed into am apiary. A fence was put up and hedge planted along it. I use my contacts at The National Forest to suggest a suitable plant mix. Several hundred plants were sourced as per the suggestion and on a cold, stormy day in January 23 the volunteers planted them all.
Email me at email@example.com if you would like to have a talk about a project.
Swad in Bloom is a not for profit community group dedicated to the enhancement of Swadlincote Town Centre through horticultural, environmental and creative activities involving the wider community.
They had a beehive in the same way as the school for bees except they were in the middle a town in South Derbyshire. Unfortunately the Swad in Bloom hive had to be moved as the building that hosted it was sold. Fortunately Cadley Hill View Care Home stepped up to host the hive. They too are right in the town.
The hive lives in the corner of the grounds. The residents of the care home have embraced the bees. The fence is decorated with bees related items and I am told residents regularly visit the hive see what the bees are about. There was much talk and excitement when a swarm arrived on a gate post by the hive and again when I came to collect them.
As you see in the picture there are some big bees in Swadlincote.
Click HERE to checkout their Facebook page or search Facebook for Swad in Bloom
The Patreon and YouTube channels are growing slowly. It is a bit slow over the summer because I am mainly doing bee stuff. 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. I provide exclusive content on Patreon, usually in the form of a diary. The patrons also get first view of all the video content and rewards based on their level of support.
I have been collecting video content over the summer which I intend to edit and release over the winter. If you follow me a social media you may see posts connected with the video releases.
Occasionally I get a call from someone that triggers me to complete a task. In this one call a lady asked if she could sponsor a hive as a Christmas present for her husband. She also wanted to be able to visit the hive and if possible have hubby delve inside. I have had sponsored or adopted hives for some time, some of them are sponsored by businesses and other by private individuals but it's not been a properly organised proposition. It is now! This lady (I won't name because it might spoil the surprise) spurred me into action.
Now there are a couple of options so click HERE or on the picture to see the options.
Projects of 2023
If you follow me on social media you will know I have spent quite a bit of time on top of roofs and in tight corners. Why? Rescuing honeybee colonies from places they are not wanted.
These “cut outs” are time consuming but the householders have to be applauded for taking the trouble to have the bees humanely removed. Some of these adventures end up on my Youtube channel.
Find my Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqIOVbMic-u_8eVFBS2wqnA
Co-Treatment is a not for profit company that specialise in planting trees and the creation of local woodland spaces. Providing carbon capture for their clients, along with remembrance trees and natural habitats for wildlife to thrive.
As you might imagine when they got in touch I was along straight away to see what it was all about. After a wet meeting in a field with Simon (c0-director) a site for some bee hives was identified and we expect to move in during the spring.
Donisthorpe CIC is a dog of different colour. They too are interested in wild life and community. Villagers from Donisthorpe discovered a few acres of abandoned ground on the edge of the village. They did their due diligence and discovered that it had no owner. A company was created and the land acquired for the CIC. Volunteers are chopping through the undergrowth to create an amenity for the village to use. Part of that include some bee hives. Peter and I had a meeting on a very frosty morning in December to scope out an area for the apiary. On my second visit a roadway had been cut through the Brambles and Thistles to an open area for the hives. These too will be populated in the spring.
Click on the logos to see their website.
There are some other projects in the works but I will tell all about them when they are delivered.
We don't want to jinx anything!
Events for 2024
I have already signed up for Ashby show and Donisthorpe Apple Day, The Ashby Steam fair, and the Canal Festival which was rained off in 2023.
I have said that I will attend the Melton Mowbray Food festival. That is always a good event, although I think I spend all the profit from the day on fabulous fast food and comestible to take home. I might do one or two of their other events. I have talks for groups booked for 2024 too!
If you want to keep up to date with the news at the Bee Farmer click HERE to join the mailing list or at the link at the foot of this page.
Other highlights from 2023
For the past few years I have been providing consultancy to Aldi’s bee hotel at their UK HQ. Aldi have a corporate responsibility budget which provides the staff with a beekeeping facility. It’s a great thing for such a big company to do.
I train the beekeepers then guide them along their beekeeping journey. Between us have improved the temperament of the bees and with it their honey production and general well being.
This year we had a open day at the bee hotel. We sourced some glass side hives so folks could see the bees without wearing bee keeping paraphernalia. The beekeepers sell their excess honey to the Aldi staff to the company's chosen charity the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Call That Hard Work?
I took part in a program back in 2020 where three people tried each others jobs and rated them. The program is a regular rerun on daytime tele. Folks often gives me a call when they see it. Season one Episode 2. You can find it on IPlayer,
Great Food Club
I was excepted into the Great Food Club. As the website says "Great Food Club guides you to excellent independent restaurants, pubs, farm shops and delis in Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire."
It was suggested I joined the club because quite a number of my customers also feature in the guide. The club has been good at spreading my name about in foody circles.
Click on the picture to visit their website to find out all about the Good Food club.
Taste the Place
This is an initiative by Leicester city and county councils to promote the food and products of the area.
We have been invited to a few mini markets where selected producers meet with selected movers and shakers. Check out the short videos on the website. They are really well done and informative.
In late December 2022 I was informed I had won the UK Champion Slow food producer of the year for my honey. What was most gratifying is that the award is based a public vote. My customers and supporters came out in force to register the value they put on my honey and the other work I do in education and the environment. That gives me a great deal of encouragement to continue what I am doing.
Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. It was founded in 1989 in Italy. They are a not–for–profit organisation seeking to promote a better way to eat, celebrating the rich food traditions of the different nations that make up the UK, and protecting our edible biodiversity. They engage members of the public, food producers, chefs, businesses, academics and a global network, spreading and enacting their philosophies internationally and locally.
This year there were separate awards in Northern Island, Wales and Scotland. I was in the England section as were the following category winners.
Best Butcher Pipers Farm, Exeter
Best Baker Peter Cooks Bread, Bishops Frome
Best Greengrocer Farmers, Ludlow
Best Fishmonger Alfred Enderby, Grimsby
Best Deli or Grocer Broad Bean, Ludlow
Best Cheesemonger La Fromagerie, London
Best Market Borough Market, London
Best Restaurant/Food Eatery Moshi Moshi, London
Champion Slow Food Product The Bee Farmer Honey, Ashby de la Zouch
Person of the Year: Steve Guy – The Hungry Guy
I was in august company and feel honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as these producers. Click HERE to see all the winners and to find out more about the Slow Food person of the year.
Hopes for 2024
A more settled world would be nice. Relief from the on-going economic crisis would also be nice. Besides that; more time to do videos, develop School for Bees scheme, continued visitors to the colony sessions and creating more beekeepers through the foundation course. There are four courses already booked in 2024. Click HERE to check the dates
It would be nice to see the online foundation course and the Business of Bees at Bee-Plus.org get into their stride. Folk that have completed the courses have found it comprehensive, useful and detailed.
Thank you for taking the time to read this tome. Thank you for providing support to me in whatever way you were able. It is very much appreciated. If you want to keep up to date with the news at the Bee Farmer click HERE to join the mailing list or at the link at the foot of this page.
I wish you a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
As Dave Allen was fond of saying as he signed off, “Good night and may your God go with you”.
Share this post: