Welcome to River Cottage, Steve - we’re looking forward to having you teach our new beekeeping courses! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your beekeeping history?
I am retired, after spending 35 years working in industry in the North of England. I moved to Devon 4 years ago with my wife, and live in a small village near Honiton. We are loving our time in this beautiful county, and spend as much time as possible along the coast or in the countryside.
We first started beekeeping at a community allotment site in Lancashire. We enjoyed it so much that we were soon keeping bees in our own garden, and then at some local farms. Encouragement provided by the local beekeeping group was really beneficial – it’s great to be able to discuss any problems, or successes, with others.
Since moving to Devon (with a van load of bees), we have expanded our number of hives, and keep them in our garden and another local site. Following joining the East Devon Beekeepers group, I have enjoyed mentoring new beekeepers, and collecting honey bee swarms found by local residents. I’ve recently had an interesting opportunity to establish a further apiary for a nearby hotel and train some of their employees in beekeeping. It's amazing how this hobby can ‘sneak up’ on you, and take over your free time!
What do you most enjoy about keeping bees?
It’s not just about the honey! Bees are fascinating creatures to interact with - they are great to observe and learn from. Spending lots of time following the seasons as they develop, watching how the bees react, and learning how to help them - provides insights into nature far beyond honey bees. Similar to many hobbies, beekeeping can be quite therapeutic as it requires periods of mental focus, despite occasional chaos!
Why do you feel keeping bees is important?
Bees provide a very significant amount of pollination - creating food sources and enhancing the biodiversity around us. Much wildlife worldwide is facing a crisis, and anything we can do to help species survive has to be beneficial. Although honey bees play an important role, the lessons we learn from them allow us to truly connect with nature. Most beekeepers use this experience/knowledge to work to benefit all pollinators and try to provide resources for them to fight back.
What should course guests expect from your courses at River Cottage?
As well as enjoying a relaxing day in the fantastic environment of River Cottage, I aim to provide guests with a good insight into honey bees and their behaviour, through hands-on interactions at the site apiaries combined with relaxed classroom discussions. We’ll look at several types of hives, and styles of beekeeping - allowing everyone to decide if they would like hives of their own, and how best to achieve this for their individual circumstances.
I hope guests will also gain a deeper understanding of the importance and benefits of bringing wildlife into their lives through simple changes, such as providing nectar and pollen sources in their gardens.
What would be your key advice for anyone thinking about starting up their own hive?
If you are confident you have the time, resources and an appropriate site for a hive - it’s really useful to join the local BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) group, who will be able to provide detailed training, mentors, support and even a source of local bees for your hive.The ‘kindred spirits’ in the group can give locally focussed advice to increase your chance of success, (and support you if everything does not go to plan).
And lastly – what’s your favourite way to use the lovely honey the bees make?
My ‘go to’ treats are very simple - honey on my porridge in the morning, or (when needing a gourmet treat) with butter and wholemeal toast. Honey provides a great addition to recipes as a sweetener, but I prefer ‘my fix’ unadulterated!