My first question to someone about to start beekeeping is ‘Where are you going to keep them?’
Heart-sink usually follows as I hear the words ‘In my garden’ or ‘On my allotment’ because it’s almost certainly going to end in trouble!
I speak from experience. My hives were on the field margin outside my property, well away from public footpaths with a clear flight-path across arable fields onto wild-flower meadows. A perfect location … but a bit too close my neighbours.
Sporadic trouble typically followed hive inspections so to mitigate I timed my inspections for mid-week when folk were at work. The bees usually settled down after 24 hours and peace would reign in time for the weekend.
The strategy worked well for a few years with just the occasional ‘incident’. Then one spring the bees became hyper-vigilant, and would circle 70 yards from the hives looking for trouble. They found it.
First one neighbour was stung, then another and his grandson, then another, and then my wife! The situation was untenable.
The usual thing to do with aggressive bees is to re-queen. But that takes time even when new queens are to hand, and the prospect of nobody being able to use their gardens for two months in the interim was not acceptable.
The other option was to move the bees. This would have been tricky because the colonies were strong with brood across three boxes, but the biggest problem was where to move them.
In suburbia it’s hard to find space away from people. Poring over ordinance survey maps it was obvious that the best solution was to move the hives onto the neighbouring farmland. You’d think that a photo of one of my bees doing a through job pollinating his field beans would be enough to convince our local farm manager of the benefits. It wasn’t – he refused to have bees further out onto his fields, citing ‘security concerns’. He obviously hadn’t met these bees – no-one would go near them!
It takes about 30 seconds to kill a hive a bees, and it’s an experience I don’t wish to repeat.
My hives are now on an island in the middle of the Thames, far away from people. If you ask our experienced beekeepers you’ll find that they also keep their bees out of harms way.
New beekeepers would be well advised to do likewise. Use your garden or allotment to grow your peas and cues, and put your bees where others won’t have to mind theirs!