My First Bees by Derek Driver

I started beekeeping by accident, my brother in law rang me one day and said he had just done a beekeeping course at Taylors of Welwyn and a few days later I saw an advert in our local newspaper of a beekeeper selling all his bees and equipment due to retirement. Thinking my brother in law would be interested I arranged to meet him at the beekeepers cottage, in Nuthampstead. In the dark however I couldn’t find the cottage and went into the only pub there and found the local postman enjoying a pint. I soon found the cottage and the beekeeper welcomed me like a long lost son.

He said my brother in law had been and gone but had made the beekeeper promise to save a hive for me!!! I cannot print the descriptive thoughts that went through my mind of my brother in law when I received those words. However I was taken into a barn which was filled with stacks of boxes called “supers” and shown “frames and queen excluders” the aroma from these were intoxicating.

I departed with a wooden box tired up with string and with grass stuffed into a hole in the front, and £10 lighter in the pocket. I drove away, conscious of the beekeepers last words ringing in my ears, “drive slowly boy”! The date was the 30th March 1974.

My learning curve was steep and I joined the local group which was the South East Herts beekeepers association, whose area was Hertford, Ware, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Cuffley, Goffs Oak and Cheshunt. A Mr.Ratcliffe was the chairman but soon there was a new chairman called Neville Woodward. I discovered the bees I had brought had AFB and the bee inspector for the county, Frank Croll also a member of SEHBA then joined Neville in taking me under their wing and became my joint mentors. This involved lots of apiary visits and on one occasion when Frank invited us up on Sunday for tea I left our children with his wife and mine whilst Frank and I walked over the fields to his bees.                  

He started to remove cover boards and examine the bees but as neither of us had any hats or veils just short sleeve shirts and I was reluctant. Of course one stung me above the eye and by the time we returned for tea it was shut. 

Within a few years of their tutorledge a young Clive De Bryn took me for my Basic exam although it wasn’t called that then, and I started to win various prize cards at our SEHBA division show and at the County Show. In those days there was fierce competition From John Mumford and Geoff Wilcox, from our association, who also won many prize cards, Geoff being especially expert in the various types of mead, even winning at the national.

Over the years I have realised how much enjoyment and friends I’ve gained from beekeeping, although I have never thanked my brother in law, But He did get his just deserts. Many years ago when I asked him to help with those lovely black bees we used to keep. The ones that always met and greeted you a hundred yards away and continued their welcome by bouncing off your face mask whenever you were in the apiary.

All he had to do was put a clearer board on a hive whilst I lifted the super clear. Well the next thing that happened was that I heard him yell, and I saw the clearer board flying through the air and him running across the field, then through the hedge, waving his arms like a Whirling Dervishes.

When I caught up with him he was in his car and about to drive off. His description of my bees cannot be printed and he never helped again. Now days the bees we keep are pussycats compared to those old black bees, and I often wonder how today’s newcomers would cope with those type of bees?

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