Bee Credible is a community beekeeping group based in Todmorden. Our aim is to keep bees as a collective, sharing hives, knowledge, and beekeeping responsibilities. We are a democratic group and decisions are made collectively. We welcome people of all ages, sexes, orientation, nationality, and ability.
Bee Credible kicked off in November 2009. Paul Clarke, co- founder and director of Incredible Edible Ltd, and Kerry Morrison initiated the community beekeeping group. Paul was a beekeeper with two years experience of national hive beekeeping and Kerry initiated a community beekeeping group, wild and productive, in Sefton, as part of the Liverpool Biennial Urban 09 programme, where local people were trained to be beekeepers and beehives were situated in Brownfield sites along the Leeds Liverpool Canal. By January 2010 Bee Credible had eight members. Aware that the bee population was in decline (and no one explanation for this decline) members wanted to look to alternative, organic, and sustainable, methods of beekeeping and began to research top-bar hives (http://www.biobees.com/). Collectively they decided that they would like to try to keep bees using the top-bar method.
Bee Credible was quickly established, providing training and beekeeping opportunities for people living in Todmorden and the surrounding areas. In spring 2010 nearly all members with no previous experience of beekeeping undertook a bespoke training programme led by the Manchester Beekeeping Association in Heaton Park, Manchester. To equip Bee Credible with hives, bees, and equipment, each member paid a £50.00 membership fee (or less according to means). This enabled Bee Credible to purchase four top-bar hives and three bee nuclei. Local joiner, Brian Furness, of Ebor Studios in Littleborough, made the top-bar hives and Paul Clarke donated a national hive complete with a full colony. Two top-bar hives were put into storage because our group did not have the means to purchase further colonies at that time.
To accommodate a community beekeeping project, three sites were identified in Todmorden. Responsibility for the beekeeping was divided among the members: each hive having six primary beekeepers. Each group of six purchased the necessary tools: a smoker, water spritzer, a hive tool, and bee brush, and each beekeeper bought their own protective clothing.
Our first bees arrived on 13 July 2010. The bees that were about to make their new homes in top-bar hives were emptied into the empty hives, just the bees: no frames, no brood.
The groups of six co-ordinated who was to attend to the bees and when. The bees were fed a heavy syrup solution daily. Each new top-bar beekeeper took their turn in feeding the bees. After 10 days the hives were opened for inspection. The top-bar hive bees had begun to build comb to the top bars: beautiful white honeycomb in teardrop shapes.
From that point a record sheet was placed under the lid of each hive to record each hive inspection. The bees for the national hive arrived a little later, a full colony complete with frames (including foundation) and brood. The bees for the national hive arrived a little later, a full colony complete with frames and brood. By this point our group has risen to 24 members. Not all Bee Credible members were able to partake in full-on, hands-on beekeeping during the first year. These members decided that they would rather wait until the new season and the installation of a fourth hive on a site nearer to their homes. Even so, these members participated in beekeeping activities for the top-bar hives and the national hive, as and when they wished to.
Winter began early and took us beekeepers by surprise. However, it didn’t appear to take the bees in one of the top-bar hives by surprise at all. A few days before the snowfall came this hive was inspected and to our surprise we discovered that this, the smallest colony of bees we had, had braced comb all around the edges of the top bar hive leaving only one small gap through which they could come and go. And then the snow came. At the beginning of the winter, in addition to their own honey store, we fed our bees in all three hives with heavy syrup solution (we took the decision not to harvest from any of the hives during this first year). The winter was an anxious period for us all. We were aware that many colonies throughout the UK have not been surviving through the winter months and into the spring season. The beekeepers responsible for the top-bar hive with the tiny colony were particularly concerned and anxious; they felt that this colony could be too small to survive. In January they began to feed these bees with fondant. It was not until March that we saw the first promising signs of activity at all three hives. All three four hives made it through the winter.
JUNE 2011 UPDATE
The tiny colony of top-bar bees has thrived. By June 2011 it was a full and healthy colony. On the 20th June they swarmed. We were able to catch the swarm and moved them into a national hive with frames but without foundation. The bees in the other top-bar hive swarmed in April. Unfortunately we were unable to retrieve these bees as they flew 150 feet up into a Sycamore tree. From their resting place on high they flew to another unknown destination. We wish these bees well and in some respects are happy in the knowledge that there are more bees out there. The bees in the national hive are also thriving. They are now a colony and a half with no signs of swarming. A fourth site has been established, a top-bar hive installed, and populated with a nucleus of bees. These bees are also doing well, out and about and returning to the hive with the pollen sacs full to brimming. All Bee Credible members, who want to be, are now involved in full-on, hands-on, beekeeping, with shared responsibility for a hive. Two of the groups have purchased two further hives and two nuclei of bees. These bees are in national hives. We still wish to keep bees organically so have taken guidance from the German organic beekeeping society, Demeter (UK branch www.biodynamic.org.uk). The bees in the national hives will be kept without using foundation. Without foundation the bees should build their comb onto the national frames in a natural teardrop shape. In other words, the name of the hive i.e. top bar or national, is less relevant, what is relevant is our method of beekeeping.
With regard to varroa, a lot of has been found on the varroa tray of the national hive, but the most seen on the trays of top-bar hives is three. At this stage we are not concluding anything from this, but our observation is that the top-bar method, where drone bees are not controlled by us at all, appears more of a challenge for the varroa mite. We will continue to monitor varroa mite in all our hives.
As for honey, well we haven’t done very well on that front. We took the decision not to harvest any honey last year; our priority was to make sure that our bees overwintered and survived into spring. Then we had a fabulous April with lots of forage. Things looked good and we thought that perhaps we’d be able to harvest a jar or two (we took 3 half pound jars of honey), but then the rain and cold weather came, so the honey store was left for the bees. We are all hopeful that July, August, and September will be warm and sunny and that the bees will be out and about around Tod, taking nectar and gathering pollen to bring back to their hives. If the honey stock is plentiful we hope to be able to harvest some of it for Bee Credible. That said we will leave plenty of honey for the bees to feed on over the forthcoming winter.
We, Bee Credible, are now coming to the end of our first year as beekeepers (13th July). We have four community beekeeping sites and seven beehives with bees. We are still a young community beekeeping group, but with 12 months experience under our belts we feel we now have the capacity to expand our group and open it up to new members. Working in partnership, Incredible Edible, Todmorden in Bloom, Todmorden Pride, and Bee Credible have submitted a bid to the Jubilee People’s Millions to create a Beespoke project in Todmorden. Incredible Edible is fronting the bid. If the bid is successful the partners in the bid will be in a position to:
- - Create six bee friendly gardens in Todmorden, with bumblebee and bug hotels;
- Install interactive interpretation learning pods at each bee garden, all about bumblebees, honeybees, other pollinators, and bugs;
- Create a Bee Trail along Todmorden’s new Incredible Green Route;
- Design and publish Green Route maps;
- Train new beekeepers;
- Provide the opportunity to become hands-on community beekeepers in 2012.
Being a member of Bee Credible community beekeeping enables people to become beekeepers that otherwise may not have. The cost of setting up a hive can be prohibitive, as can a full-time occupation along with other day-to-day life commitments. Not having enough time and not being able to afford to set up a hive in the first place are two barriers to beekeeping. The other thing that prevents some people from becoming a beekeeper is not being quite sure how to get started. It is quite a big step to take if you’re not sure if you’re going to enjoy it or, in reality, you don’t actually have enough time to commit to beekeeping.
Bee Credible is set up to accommodate six beekeepers to one hive. This means beekeeping becomes a shared responsibility. It also means that if your work takes you away (or family commitments, or the desire to have a holiday) the bees will still be taken care of by the other members of your group. It also means that if you find that you are not suited to bee keeping, or it’s not quite your thing, you can step back.
So far, Bee Credible community beekeeping has worked really well. We have all learned from each other, shared responsibilities, shared knowledge, and shared the joy of being a beekeeper. We meet regularly, usually at the Staff of Life on Burnley Road, Todmorden. The meetings are friendly and jolly. They are loosely chaired and each meeting is minuted.