Rosie – Her “Bee Story”

Rosie is now 12 years old and has looked after her bees since the beginning of July last year, when she was eleven.
Rosie’s interest in bees started in 2014. A neighbour who keeps bees a few fields away was ill and, as a result, his bees swarmed several times during the summer. For some reason they always settled in our garden and, even as an anxious six year old, she would stand right under them, mesmerised. From then on, she would always pay attention to bees in the garden, identifying whether they were honey bees and seeing which flowers they preferred.

In 2015, a tree bumblebee nest in her bedroom airbrick resulted in her spending their nesting season in her room, with a number of bumblebees flying around, and her chatting to them happily. The nest remained, and after a summer of sharing her room with them and no stings, Rosie was even more bee-focused.

We regularly visit a small island in Greece, where honey production is a significant industry, and we have come to know several beekeepers there. Rosie has greatly enjoyed watching them handle the bees and seeing where hives are located around the island – though is less keen on the rougher handling of the larger commercial apiaries there, as she favours a very gentle approach. She is just beginning to research different ways of keeping bees and is forming her own views on their various merits.

As her interest has continued to flourish, when future swarms landed in our garden, we began to think of it as something of “a sign”, and decided to enrol on the 2018 beginner’s course, so we could decide whether beekeeping might be something we could pursue. Rosie is naturally very shy, and found it far harder to talk to others on the course than she did the bees in her bedroom. However, she kept her own little notebook and came into her own building frames and learning the parts of the hive. She loved attending and became more confident each week, her absolute favourite being the practical, when she actually got to look inside a hive and hold a frame of bees.
During the winter of 2018/19, we bought a flatpack hive. Rosie took the lead in assembling it, and was so proud of the end result. We identified a local site for the hive, and Rosie decided on the best spot on the 13 acre site, based on her garden observations of the bees’ preferences. When our mentor viewed with us, he agreed this was the best spot.

Our bees arrived at the beginning of July and Rosie quickly became confident at opening up the hive, using her hive tool and inspecting frames. After we had inspected each week, Rosie and would walk around the 13 acre site, seeing which plants the bees preferred. None of this appealed to Rosie as much as just sitting by the hive after we’d inspected but before the crown board was replaced, letting the bees walk across her hands and just listening to them. Rosie remains adamant that listening to the hive tells her everything about how they are – and, so far, she’s proven pretty accurate!

We were unfortunate enough to have a failing queen towards the end of the season, but the very experienced keeper who provided the original colony was kind enough to help us with a shook swarm and combining with a new nuc to give them a fighting chance of surviving winter. Although, inevitably, the displaced bees were less than friendly, she played a full part in assisting with the process and was far more upset at the loss of some of the bees than by the possibility of being stung. When we cleared up the following day, she did pick up a couple of stings from straggling bees left on equipment – but was very stoical about it, didn’t blame the bees at all and was not put off. She has helped through the winter checking the site, as mum has had major spinal surgery and needed her to lift and bend, and continues to value sitting by the hive, listening and trying to assess the welfare of her bees without the need to intrude.

It’s impossible to describe the improvement in Rosie’s confidence that her first summer of beekeeping has made. She has become more outgoing in general, but especially when talking about bees and ecosystems. As well as the joy of being immersed in an inspection and just being in a place where she can focus on them, having bees to care for has made her much more aware of the wider environment. On the beach now, she’ll instinctively collect discarded plastic and is vocal in discussing environmental issues with her friends at school.

In the future, Rosie is determined to keep her “bee friends”. She would love to have more than one hive (and one that is exclusively “hers!”) so that she can use one colony to support another as needed, and to learn more about this and how different colonies develop. We took nothing from our hive this year, but she is greatly looking forward to making candles from her own beeswax and to trying her own honey. She isn’t particularly focused on her future career yet, but sees herself always keeping bees, building up to a few more hives, and would like a career supporting the environment and ecosystems – something beekeeping is really helping her to understand.