Things that sting (getting started in bee keeping Ukranian style)

My ‘Ukranian’ bee-keeping finally worked. Put an empty hive with some honeycomb above a queen excluder and full framed brood box in open space in woods at start of summer. Now have active healthy colony.


At the end of 2009, a friend who had been a keeper for many years, through ill health, decided to retire, sold most of his bee-keeping stuff. However, gave me what was left, enough old commercial hive bits to make up 3 hives. With a jacket, smoker & gloves, all set. Given the cost of acquiring a new colony via a nucleus of £300+ I remembered how I originally got started nearly 30 years ago.


Way back in 1984 when living in Yorkshire, I saw a small ad in our village Post Office in a strange capital script “USED BEEKEEPERSTUFF SELL TO GOOD HOME COME SEE ME LONGACRE” We had wanted to keep bees for a while and with a large garden under vegetables, and an allotment, bees where the next logical step in urban self sufficiency….eat your hearts out Tom& Barbara. Longacre was one of those immediate postwar block built bungalows that couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a real building or a shanty. The door was answered by a pleasant lady in I would guess her 70’s. Ah you want my husband Walter, he’s round the back. Round the back was an urban farmer’s dream. A long narrow plot (not actually a full acre) with orchard, chickens, ducks, rabbits in cages and vegetables laid out as though the model for a ‘Readers Digest’ how to grow vegetables manual. At the end of the plot, backing on to open field was Walter (actually his name was Vladimir). I called hello and he pointed to a white all in one bee-keepers overalls and hood lying over a chair in the orchard, some distance from him. I could see he was in amongst a number of hives with bees almost like a cloud around him. As indicated I donned the suit, and gauntlets (bit worried about ordinary shoes) and approached. Now what I failed to mention, he was in white trousers and a T shirt, with just a hive tool and a smoker (in the three years I kept bees with Walter he never wore any protective gear and never got stung). Any way, I explained I was interested in the advert, had been on a bee keeping course and was ready to go. “Got any bees?” Well no, “Got anywhere safe to put the hives?” Bottom of the garden, “where is the nearest neighbour”, apparently too close. I had also provisionally agreed with a friend the use of an open spot in a remote spiney beside the coal line to Drax Power Station. “Perfect, and the bees will come to you” Seen the Meercat adverts? Not only did Walter’s accent sound like the famous Alexandr, if he were still alive today he’d be a dead ringer in appearance for the Meercat, apart from being grey.


Walter had enough brood boxes, supers (the box for the honey) queen excluders (wire mesh to stop queen getting amongst the honey frames & laying eggs, the mesh will allow through workers) and other bits for four ‘national’ hives. So how to go about getting my first colony the ‘Ukranian way’. Walter liked the location, Half mile from road and nearest dwelling, tall birch and sycamores along the railway cutting and the spiney was an extension to the wooded railway cutting, mostly silver birch with a few lanky scots pines. The middle had a grassy clearing that had been used for agricultural kit storage, mostly cleared, though a rusting vine covered triffid stood in the far corner. Seas of green cereal stretched away towards Carlton Towers and the village to the South. To the the north above the trees, the billowing condensation plumes from Drax Power Station. In order, taken out of trailer, Pallet on ground. Base with alighting board, super with wired wax foundation in frames to form basis for brood chambers. Queen excluder, waxed frames for the super, a couple with unextracted honey, lid. All put together on the pallet. “We come back next week, might be an early swarm, we manipulate my hives so you learn”


…and learn I did, find the queen and queen cups amongst the brood chambers (growing queens that would make the colony swarm), importance of keeping frames moveable, check brood OK (Walter’s was always OK). Oh and the smoker to calm the bees before opening up the hive. On the course I attended they had used corrugated cardboard for smoking bees. Walter made his own, old hessian sack material with a ‘special additive’. I have to say that being around Walter smoking bees had a tendency to make one very light headed, as were the bees . Walter did say he used to grow his own special mix , but his daughter had told him it was illegal (if I recall she was a WPC)!!! Anyway he got his special additive bee-keeping ‘supplies’, along with his vodka from Russian timber ships calling into Goole, but that is another story.


The first trip to the glade found the hive literally swarming with bees, leave to settle, set up another hive at far side of glade, but he shut this one up, because he didn’t want the little bit of honey comb being robbed by our new colony. It being still only mid June he was hopeful of being asked to remove a swarm from someone’s garden in the village. Sure enough, couple of evenings later off we go to a house with a swarm on a child’s swing. Me in the bio hazard suite, Walter in light trousers, t shirt and his magic smoker. Extra strong mix, I kept well back from the purple haze around Walter and the bees as I had to drive (Walter had never progressed beyond a motorbike licence). The bees after being liberally puffed literally dropped en masse into a cardboard box, tapped up and off to the new hive.


So there we have it, Ukranian bee-keeping got two colonies in two weeks! Only managed one new colony this time round….obviously lacking Walters magic smoker mix. So how much did Walter charge me….well I became his ‘chauffeur’ for the next three years!

Disclaimer, unlike David Cameron, I never inhaled Ukranian bee calmer smoke, nor do I use such substances, that are of course illegal.


Just two fuzzy bees cos rest buzzing round my head!Update 15 August 2011:

Whilst the new colony seems strong, the fully open entrance has attracted unwanted attention from wasps. Given the cool weather I thought no harm would come from reducing the entrance, enabling the guard sisters to better able keep out the marauders. Amongst the random kit I knew I’d seen a metal reducer

Only challenge, too large, nothing a bit of jiggery pokery wont cure. Doesn’t look tidy, but effective.

Not tidy, but it does the job.

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One Response to Things that sting (getting started in bee keeping Ukranian style)

  1. Annabel Kaye says:

    Wonderful stuff, looking forward to seeing you blog grow – self sufficiency is almost a lost art and much of this information and related skills is getting lost. And you have such wonderful and unique experiences to share.

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