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From a to bee james dearsley

Copyright © James Dearsley, 2012
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced
by any means, nor transmitted, nor
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without the written permission of the
The right of James Dearsley to be
identified as the author of this work has
been asserted in accordance with
sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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in which it is published and without a
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subsequent publisher.
Summersdale Publishers Ltd
46 West Street
West Sussex
PO19 1RP

eISBN: 978-0-85765-721-3
Substantial discounts on bulk quantities
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This book is dedicated to Mum and Dad
for their unwavering support over the
years and to my sister Emma, to my
lovely Belle-Mère and also to Peter who
is sorely missed but never far from our
thoughts. However, my darling Jo
deserves all the credit for putting up
with my crazy plans and ideas – for
which I am eternally grateful. I am proud
to be her husband each and every day.

Finally, this book is dedicated to my
beautiful boys, Sebastian and Edward,
with whom I look forward to a lifetime
of adventures and mischief.
I ran a social media competition to name
the title of this book and so I must
personally thank everyone that suggested
a title. The winner, From A to Bee, was
suggested by Henrik Cullen, but I also
have to extend my thanks to my good
friend Rob Hoye, who was beaten into
second place by a mere seven votes.
Another good friend, George TC, came
joint third with Liz Bennett. It was great
fun and thank you to all that took part and
thank you to Summersdale, who allowed
me to run this rather madcap campaign

and have been supportive throughout and
a joy to work with.


James Dearsley, the Surrey Beekeeper,
started The Beginner Beekeepers page
on Facebook, one of the largest online

communities of beekeepers, and is on
Twitter (@surreybeekeeper). His site
www.surreybeekeeper.co.uk started as
a blog, so others could learn from his
mistakes, and expanded into a shop and
general online resource for beekeepers.
He has written for a variety of
publications around the world including
The Ecologist and has recorded a DVD,
Beekeeping for Beginners, with Charlie
Dimmock, which is now on general
release. He lives with his wife and two
sons in Surrey.

Diagram of a Beehive

Beekeeping… Oh my, what have I done?
I am thirty years old, have been
married for three years and am a new
father to a fantastic little boy. Surely
there are things that I should be doing at
this age which do not involve little
yellow and black insects that can hurt
you if you are remotely clumsy – which,
at 6 foot 5 inches, I have an amazing
ability to be. My wife, Jo, thinks I have

lost my mind, and my little boy looks at
me rather strangely when I start running
around the living room making buzzing
noises and flapping my arms frantically
as I try desperately to make him laugh. I
think maybe my wife is right. My mother
has somewhat disowned me and blames
my father for my eccentric ideas – he is,
after all, a morris dancer. My colleagues
think I have simply lost the plot; they
take a wide berth around my desk and no
longer engage in conversation, knowing
that it will end up with me talking about
It is no surprise, therefore, that I should
reflect on precisely what it is that I am
about to undertake. Especially when, a) I
have spent my whole life running away

from what I have always felt to be
frightening insects, and, b) I don't
particularly like honey. And yet
regardless of these two small issues, I
have started to learn the simple – or so I
thought – art of beekeeping.
My decision to become a beekeeper
started in the middle of the year on one
of those fantastic summer evenings when
the light is beautiful, resting on the
garden, and I was there, glass of wine in
hand, watering the flower beds. It was
one of those moments to treasure until I
realised I had completely drenched a
poor bumblebee trying to seek shelter in
the flower of a gladioli. The poor little
thing did not look too happy but just
bumbled along onto the next flower. I

was transfixed, and sometimes it takes
just a moment for me to become
obsessed. This was a glorious creature
just going about its duty when a great
beast of a thing (me!) came along to
interrupt its vital role in the great world
we live in.
That moment got me thinking about the
whole bee world and it was then that I
started reading about the plight of the
honeybee. I hadn't even considered that
there was more than one type of bee (I
now know there are over 200 different
types of bee in the UK alone). It sounded
as if they were having a hard time – and
I mean a seriously hard time – and not
just from the likes of ambitious and
competitive gardeners watering their

plants. Honeybee populations are
dropping in considerable numbers due to
a multitude of factors which have
collectively been termed 'colony
collapse disorder' and not a lot was
being done, it appeared.
There were also other reasons why
bees were starting to appeal. I was
becoming increasingly fascinated by
elements of the self-sufficient lifestyle
and I love growing vegetables on the
allotment. The old romantic in me had
idealistic notions of taking my little boy
up to the allotment, and each Saturday
going to check the bees with him just to
teach him about the world and where
everything that ends up on his plate
comes from.

In order to turn my idealistic thoughts
into reality I had to start to learn the art
of the beekeeper, if only to help the bees
in my area. Maybe I could make a
difference and cause a butterfly effect in
the UK which would spread throughout
the world and save the humble bee…
I made it my mission to learn
everything I could about bees. I would
get a couple of hives, bore my friends
and family (even my morris-dancing
father) with my new-found wisdom of
the bee world and have a simple aim.
Despite established hives being able to
produce upwards of forty jars of honey
per year, I only wanted to produce one
pot of honey this year. Yes, that's right,
just one jar of honey. It might not sound

an awful lot but I have heard it can be
rare for first-time beekeepers starting
from scratch to get any honey in their
first year. I hope you enjoy the journey.



My beekeeping career started today with
the first of ten two-hour classes. I found
the beekeeping course by performing a
Google search and discovering that there
were beekeeping associations that ran
evening classes. I was already starting to
feel old even thinking about beekeeping,
let alone thinking about attending
evening classes.

I was feeling quite nervous as I drove
to the local school where the course was
being held, as I simply did not know
what to expect. I was pleased to be
earning brownie points as well as
learning a new skill because, should we
ever win the lottery, Jo and I would love
to send our son to this rather grand
school set in the heart of the Surrey
countryside. Therefore, I reasoned, this
was to be a reconnaissance mission as
well as an evening class.
While driving along on this miserably
dark autumnal evening, I was wondering
how beekeeping could possibly take ten
weeks to learn. Surely these little black
and yellow insects would be easy to
look after. I was more interested in what

the fellow enthusiasts were like, let
alone the teacher. I had a very clear
vision, probably gleaned from my
knowledge of morris men: usually old,
with beards, red cheeks and noses, wellrounded tummies and generally a
fondness for drinking ale. I felt that
beekeepers and morris men would be cut
from the same cloth. I wondered if being
beekeepers would only have partial
beards, slight tummies and merely a hint
of reddening of the cheeks and nose. The
teacher, on the other hand, being fully
qualified, would have all the attributes
of the morris man.
As I drove into the school's vast
driveway I was immediately in awe of

the beautiful building in front of me,
softly lit by floodlights. It was Gothic in
appearance with impressive stonework
and the most imposing arched windows
and doorways dotted around its facade. I
could just imagine Sebastian coming
here. I approached the door of the
classroom (which was one of the
outbuildings and not so impressive,
having probably been built in the
1960s!) with my heart beating slightly
faster than usual. The strange
nervousness of a new situation was
dawning on me – as well as the
frightening thought of a room full of
morris-dancing beekeepers.
I opened the door and walked into the
classroom. In fact, everyone looked

pretty normal. Only about 40 per cent
had beards – none of the ladies did –
and there were only a few rounded
tummies. They all said hello to me,
which was nice. The classroom had
desks laid out in two horseshoes, with a
desk at the front. Having only just got
there on time I was the only one sitting in
the smaller, inner horseshoe with
everyone else behind me. I felt like a
naughty schoolboy having to sit closest
to the teacher and voiced this point to the
others to subtle smiles.
So the most difficult bit was done.
Nerves gone, I just had to sit down and
enjoy the next two hours. David, the
teacher, was incredibly informative and
immediately likeable. I hadn't spotted

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