Modern beekeepers must be much better beekeepers than those in the past were. We have the introduction of Varroa and Nosema ceranae, the litigation culture, the queen problems, and the public who although they are more aware of bees now, are probably more frightened of them than non-beekeepers were in the past. In my view beekeepers need to think about the temper of their bees and to understand the workings of a colony much more than used to be the case.
In my view beekeeping is a practical craft with a theoretical element, not the other way round. In teaching I assume that all beekeepers need to be good at handling a colony, but in the early stages when these skills are being learnt there are a number of factual things that I think are important to learn, that I call the “Basics”. If learnt they will help all beekeepers to understand what is happening in their colonies and how to help manage bees in a caring way. This is what we should be teaching for guidance we expect the potentially good beekeeper to know them all within a year of starting beekeeping.
These “Basics” include:-
Identify brood in all stages, pollen, nectar and honey. These should be shown at a first inspection by whoever is teaching you.
Learn the life cycles of the queen, drone and worker. Very simple and can be learnt away from the bees.
Recognise good healthy bees and brood. You need to know this, otherwise how are you going to recognise a possible disease problem?
Identify the brood diseases European Foul Brood (EFB), American Foul Brood (AFB) and Chalk Brood. Both AFB and EFB are notifiable, so there is a need to know them. Sometimes chalk brood can look like EFB.
Learn the life cycle and treatments for varroa. The life cycle is important as you need to understand what the treatments are trying to achieve. All chemical and non – chemical treatments should be known.
Understand how varroa vectors viruses. When varroa first arrived in the U.S it was very definitely varroa that killed colonies, now it is probably more likely to be the associated viruses.
Understand how pheromones work. This need not be in any great detail. A pheromone is simply a chemical given off by a member of a species that has an impact on the behaviour of another of the same species.
Understand the swarming process. For this you will also need to know the life cycle of the queen. It is the lack of understanding of this that causes problems for many beekeepers, even some who have been keeping bees several years.
There are many beekeepers with several years experience who would struggle to know all these. There is no excuse!
This is the sort of information that I believe all BKAs should teach.