Mark 'Hawkeye' Pearce | Furniture maker, marksman and bee keeper

High Wych| Hertfordshire | UK| June 2012

‘Beekeeping is a guessing game, sometimes its fun trying to work it out. Its like chess without the rules.'... more words below images

Mark 'Hawkeye' Pearce Furniture maker, marksman and bee keeper | High Wych| Hertfordshire | UK| June 2012

I have had my apiary for 3 years now, currently it has10 hives on the go but I have 3 swarms coming my way imminently. Its in a sheltered spot.

Most of my bees are Italian but they are cross breeding with native bees. I generally spend about 2 full days a week on my bees – some of this is time spent in my furniture workshop making kit such as brood boxes, supers, dummy boards and frames.

I had been wanting to keep bees for years. I found a course and got hooked so I did more courses. My local inspiration is David Tyler, a beekeeper of 40 years’ experience.

Its always a surprise when I get stung by a bee ‘cos I never expect it. I have a moment’s recoil and then just carry on.

Beekeeping gives me an excuse to get out of London – and I use it a lot! As soon as I open a box and take out a frame I am transfixed.

What is amazing about bees is that they are a ‘super entity’ they can only survive as a community. A bee will not survive on its own.

Being a rural beekeeper is quite challenging because we are more season-defined. Urban beekeepers have more resources for their bees with the variety of plants in city parks and gardens. Here in the countryside the big season is before the rape harvest in April and May when it is all in flower.

There has been an outbreak of European Foulbrood within an hour’s drive of here. Its taken very seriously, the affected area is shut down and hives are monitored. It is similar to but not as devastating as American Foulbrood (AFB). If you get AFB the control officers arrive, put petrol in containers under the hives to kill the bees, dig a big pit, put hives, bees and equipment in it and burn everything.

My most common pest if Varroa mite. I use an icing sugar treatment to deal with this when the honey is flowing and chemicals are not an option. I use a pair of bellows to blow clouds of icing sugar into my hives and as the bees clean themselves off they dislodge the mites which fall off.

The biggest chore is weekly hive inspections that I carry out rain or shine.

If I keep my livestock happy and healthy and there is a surplus of honey then I’ll take it off and use it or sell it, if not so be it.

When things go wrong or don’t work out its perplexing, I want to know why and try to find the reason so I can rectify. Then I try not to repeat any mistakes.

My highest moments so far are when I opened up a queen rearing box and saw a laying queen in there that I had produced. Then there was the first time I ever went to pick up a Nuc filled with a swarm of bees. I brought them back here to the farm at dusk. I put the Nuc box in position and pulled out the foam plug before stepping back. I could hear this low hum coming from inside the Nuc, then the pitch suddenly went up and one flew straight out at me. I ducked and it missed, then it came back at me again before getting lost in the grass. I knew this was coming to me because they were so pissed off for being boxed in!

My tip to anyone thinking about keeping bees is to go and join an association, take a course, talk to people who are already doing it.