The Chilled-out Walrus Philosophy of Beekeeping and Life

Having fun at Glorious Goodwood
Having fun at Glorious Goodwood

When I was between the ages of five and ten years old, I was labelled a “genius” and a “prodigy” by several of my teachers because everything came easy. Once I went to secondary school, it soon became apparent that I was neither of those things; I had just been a slightly quicker developer than my peers, but they caught up. I put it down to being obsessed with reading in my formative years. Back then I could learn almost anything theoretical rapidly, but as I aged it became increasingly hard to teach an old walrus new tricks. Today, I have The Chilled-out Walrus Philosophy of Beekeeping and Life:

Wisdom and Stories

With age comes wisdom, or that’s what old people say. I think that wisdom might be realising that we rarely understand anything fully; there are always new angles and perspectives from which to approach a subject. The learning curve may flatten off in its trajectory, but it is potentially infinite. And there is another thing; we are continually trying to categorise things, and draw dots between data points to make stories that explain what happened. Sometimes, especially with a lot of data, our stories turn out to be pretty accurate, and repeatable over the long term. But only sometimes.

This is why, even with something as seemingly inoffensive as beekeeping, we get ardent disagreements between different groups of practitioners. Each is probably ‘right’ based on their understanding – the stories that they have made to join the data points that they have seen, or heard about. We don’t all see the world with the same eyes, and we have different perspectives and values. The chances of any reasonably large group of people agreeing on very much at all are unsurprisingly low. My current feelings on the challenges of beekeeping, and indeed life, are encapsulated in the following question:

“Would you rather be right or happy?”

In The Middle of Snipers Alley

Of course, the ideal would be to be both right and happy. However, many of the crusaders that I see and hear about do not seem to be happy at all. My mission is to be less a crusader, and more a chilled-out walrus enjoying the moment, rather than vexing unduly about disasters to come. Some would accuse me of being an ostrich; head buried in the sand as the world burns around me. I don’t care. I have, if I’m lucky, another twenty good years in me. It could well be less; a doctor described the years between 55 and 65 as “sniper’s alley” – the time when many fall. Those that emerge from this precipitous time apparently tend to have many healthy years ahead of them. So, right now, I am bang in the middle of the danger zone.

Editor of Bee Farmer Magazine

My latest venture has been to produce the August – September issue of Bee Farmer magazine, which is the journal of members of the Bee Farmers’ Association (BFA). Suffice to say, there was a steep learning curve, and I’m still climbing hard. When I asked my predecessor to check on my progress at various points, as I pulled the magazine content together, I was staggered at the number of errors he found. Luckily, I’m one of those types who are grateful for such oversight; I now have a better chance of spotting such errors myself next time. I thought I was good at details, but apparently not. I did have the help of ChatGPT for standardising any references/citations at the end of articles, which was useful.

Cover of Bee Farmer Magazine
Bee Farmer August 2023

My efforts to produce a decent magazine, combined with bee work and the inescapable fact that most of what I now say about beekeeping is repetition of previous stuff, has led to me neglecting my blog of late. I decided to post less frequently, even though it means fewer viewers and worse stats. I’m not really concerned about that anyway. Furthermore, if I do come up with some earth-shattering original thoughts on beekeeping, I’ll probably put them in the magazine, which means I can’t put them in my blog. The editor job pays; the blog doesn’t.

New Book Will be Stunning!

There is some exciting news to share, however. My new book, written with Paul Horton of Apidae Honey, will be published before the Beekeeping Show at Telford next February. The publisher was very complimentary about our work, so hopefully other beekeepers agree. The word “stunning” was used. I think that’s good, right? We are still haggling about the title, as the one we preferred isn’t good enough. A certain well-known bee farmer in Perthshire (with nearly 5,000 hives) has agreed to write the foreword, but I think he’s a little busy right now. He’s always busy. He does know a bit about beekeeping, though, so it will be advantageous if he finds it a pleasant read.

The Season Has Been Pretty Good

As far as my beekeeping season has gone, I think it’s been pretty good. The spring honey harvest was above average, due to the unseasonably warm and sunny weather. So far, from what I have seen, our summer harvest is a bit below par because we never really had summer weather in July. August has followed suit; I was removing supers in the rain today. For me, because I expanded my hive numbers in spring, I will still probably get more summer honey than spring, but a lower honey yield per hive. The weather is a massive determinant of honey crop, and there is nothing we can do about it. Actually, there is; we can move bees to where the weather and forage are better, but most of us don’t do that. I now have 47 production colonies and 37 nucs. Let’s see how many I have next March. It will be less, I expect.

Rosebay willow herb
Willowherb and rare blue sky

Presently we are in the process of removing supers, treating colonies with Formic Pro or Thymovar, extracting honey and then storing the supers and frames. They won’t be needed until April. We extract apiary by apiary, and label the buckets of honey so that we know where it came from. There is often a difference in flavour from one apiary to another. I have taken to wrapping stacks of supers in cling film (pallet wrap) so that robbing can’t take place. The supers are stored in a shed which is not bee-proof. I quite like Formic Pro because the treatment is so quick. I only use it on big colonies; nucs get thymol.

Bees On Balsam

My bees are on a balsam flow as far as I can tell. They are frantically working away, flying in the rain much of the time. With luck, this shall be stored around the brood nest and will mean that I don’t have to spend too much on sugar syrup. A lot can happen between now and October. It feels as if we are due a spot of sunshine.

2 thoughts on “The Chilled-out Walrus Philosophy of Beekeeping and Life

  1. Excited to hear a new book is in the pipeline. Interviews With Beekeepers was really interesting, because it didn’t just retread ground I’d seen elsewhere.

  2. Well done on the Editor’s job, Steve. I am relieved to hear that this is the reason for lack of recent Walrus blogs. Looking forward to the new book as well. Best wishes from Ann.

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