BIFA feedback

The Bibba “Bee Improvement for All” Workshopx

A few months ago, one of our Committee members, Dave Barrett, came to me and said, “I think we should do this BIBBA One Day Course – I’ll organise it all.”

“Great idea”, I said.

So Dave booked the date with BIBBA, he booked a suitable hall, he got our Education Officer to put all the details on our on-line booking system. Then he proceeded to spread the word, far and wide.

In spite of promising to ‘organise it all’, Dave did his best to delegate as much of the work as possible. The date was 17th January – right in the middle of Winter, when beekeepers have nothing better to do – right?? Not quite! It was just after Christmas and New Year, after all. And some of us had holidays booked in early January. Fortunately, plenty of willing volunteers stepped up, car park attendant, reception desk, tea and coffee makers etc. Some Leeds members who had paid to attend seemed to automatically step in and help on the day. The local bakery came along and sold sandwiches and cakes, Spinks Compact came to take orders for honey jars, and Northern Bee Books put on an excellent display of beekeeping books.

On the appointed day, we got up bright and early, looked out of the window, and – oh no! – snow as far as the eye could see. Snow in Yorkshire can really put a person off getting up and out and into their cars for a long journey. As I mentioned, Dave had spread the word far and wide. We were expecting beekeepers from all over the North of England – as far away as Cumbria, Lancaster, Cheshire, Lincolnshire, Humberside, among others. A quick check showed that 40% of the audience was from our own home Association in Leeds, with the other 60% coming from these far flung places.

In spite of the appalling weather, though, we had an extremely good turnout. Out of 140 bookings only 27 failed to make it, demonstrating a certain level of faith, because the snow continued to fall for most of the day, and it’s one thing to get there, but quite another to be sure of getting home again!


So the day started. Roger Patterson, the BIBBA speaker, came along with lots of demonstration equipment as well as his faithful dog, Nell. Nell proceeded to befriend anyone who looked her way – and during the course of the day made sure she got her share of the biscuits. She earned her keep, though, by jangling her brass ID tags at regular intervals. I can’t imagine anyone fell asleep in this course, but if they did, Nell soon put a stop to it!

Roger himself, turned out to be a fantastic teacher, developing a genuine rapport with the audience, and he covered his subject in a way that was both entertaining and informative.

All of us would like to improve our bees! But unless we are experts of many years, how many of us know how to go about getting better bees? How many of us have despaired of bad tempered bees, non-productive bees, swarmy bees, etc., but not really known what to do about it? In my own case last year, one of my colonies was just plain lazy – they were plentiful, and disease free but didn’t bother much with the critical task of making honey!

Like many new (or not so new) beekeepers, I wouldn’t have had much idea of where to start but Roger demonstrated the ways to recognize and keep the characteristics that we want in our bees. These may not be the same things for everyone – each person will want something slightly different, but we now know how to decide what we want, assess our colonies and decide on the most appropriate actions. Although this can seem a daunting subject for a beginner, Roger made it all sound very straightforward.

If, like me, you thought bee breeding and improvement was only for those with hundreds of colonies, and who spend many of their waking hours dedicated to their craft, you’d be wrong. This course is designed for people with only a few colonies, who nevertheless want better bees. And breeding better bees means getting better queens.


Roger Patterson outlined the ways of selecting queens easily. He showed how it can be dovetailed in with what the bees are naturally doing over the course of their year, and he took the mystique out of rearing the queens you want – for the characteristics that suit you. He showed that it is possible – actually better – to use our own queens, raised locally, rather than buying in queens that we don’t really know much about.

The day wasn’t completely plain sailing though. As well as the foul weather, we had other problems. The day was split into four sessions, with tea, coffee and biscuits served four times during the day – no mean feat for the volunteers in the kitchen – especially as the electricity blew if we plugged everything in at once!

Add the snow and the electricity to problems with the plumbing, which at one point necessitated the ladies going to the gents facilities and vice versa, (trust me, you don’t want to know the details!), as well as central heating steam setting off alarms, we had our share of challenges, but we “rode the storm” and it was all worth while.

I’m sure everyone who attended will have learned something. Some will have learned a great deal, while others may have picked up one or two useful pearls of wisdom to add to their existing beekeeping knowledge.

We all met new people from other Associations. We even got to know some of the people in our own Associations a bit better, as we laughed our way through the challenges of the day.

This course is to be recommended to anyone who can manage to attend. There are dates arranged throughout the coming year in various locations, so if you can get along to one of them, I would urge you to do so, especially if you’ve only been keeping bees for a short time.


Katey Slater