13 December 2022
“Thanks to receiving mentoring from an award-winning beekeeper, I’ve got the confidence and skills to know that I’m doing all I can for my Welsh black bees and their wellbeing.”
Carys Edwards is an award-winning beekeeper, honey-producer and farmer from Meirionydd who is widely recognised as one of the UK’s foremost experts on beekeeping. She’s also an approved Farming Connect mentor on this popular topic. One of her mentees, Sophia Pugh, a sheep farmer who lives near Llandrindod Wells, is a novice beekeeper who has benefitted from her support.
In 2020, Sophia decided to keep bees. With her home farm rich in clover, wild flowers, abundant hedgerows, streams, a woodland and a large selection of bee-friendly plants and shrubs in her garden, she knew she could provide the perfect habitat.
“I’ve always been passionate about safeguarding our environment through encouraging biodiversity, so deciding to keep bees, which are essential pollinators for everything we grow on the farm, seemed like the natural progression and the honey is an added bonus.”
Sophia visited a number of beekeeping friends, purchased a highly-regarded ‘bee’ manual and began researching online what equipment she would need to buy and what it would cost.
With a hive and nucleus colony costing upwards of around £250, and a beekeeper’s protective ‘suit’ and smoke puffer forming the basic starter pack, Sophia then found a local beekeeper happy to sell her two new hives which he set up not too far from the farmhouse. He also installed a nucleus colony of ‘many’ thousand’ Welsh black bees in each hive, each nucleus with its all-important ‘queen bee’ who is the only female bee with fully developed ovaries.
“I was so pleased to know my bees were native to Wales because I am a firm believer in protecting indigenous species.
All went well for the first year, but Sophia was devasted when one of her queens decamped from one of the hives, taking her swarm with her. Sophia decided to approach Farming Connect and applied for mentoring advice from bee expert Carys.
When Carys first visited the farm, she showed Sophia how to split the remaining colony and ensured that both hives had a healthy young Welsh black queen to make new eggs and brood with the help of the ‘worker’ bees, which are now thriving again in Sophia’s two hives.
“It actually takes years of experience to understand what your own bees need from you, especially if the weather is cold and wet and they may need supplementary feeding with sugar syrup.
“Carys had such a patient way of explaining how bees can be encouraged to produce ‘queens’ and how you can then help them stay strong enough to survive and she taught me to understand the signs of swarming, which is influenced by the weather.
“She demonstrated how to handle my bees correctly, and I feel I am finally beginning to ‘read’ them better and hopefully discourage them from swarming, although as she warned me, the best beekeepers never stop learning!”
Carys is delighted to have the opportunity to mentor other would-be beekeepers to learn how to nurture these industrious pollinators.
“Beekeeping is attracting new devotees everywhere as the world looks for new ways to increase biodiversity, protect the environment and combat climate change,” says Carys, whose particular passion is on protecting the future of the native Welsh Black bees, which are currently under threat from changing weather patterns and other ‘nasties’ like Asian hornets, Varroa mites and various bee diseases prevalent in the UK.
Both Carys and Sophia believe that bees like to be ‘talked to’ politely and quietly.
“There are centuries-old traditions surrounding beekeeping and whether ‘telling the bees’ is just folklore or not, if your bees are used to your voice, they will be more familiar with you and less likely to get agitated when you need to access them,” says Sophia.
For further information about the Farming Connect mentoring programme, which provides up to 15 hours of fully-funded one-to-one mentoring advice to registered farmers on a wide range of topics, click here or call your local development officer.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.