For so many years I dreamt of keeping bees, it was something that I yearned to do and yet looking at the prices of setting up, it seemed impossible and of course there was the question of Is the world of beekeeping inclusive?
And then my health problems started and after way too many surgeries on my knees, I became reliant on a wheelchair full time and that I thought meant my dream would never come true.
However some years ago I saw a TV programme where they were building Kenyan Hives also known as a Top Bar Hive.
The hives were used for two reasons and the first is that they are easy and cheap to build and very simple and the second was as you can see from the photo above, to keep elephants from destroying crops by hanging them from posts around their fields.
Yep even elephants won’t mess with an angry bee!
I then had a Eureka moment, no not about elephants destroying my garden, about the fact that it may just be possible for me to keep bees.
As a wheelchair user I face barriers all the time, this world is just not accessible and it seems that there isn’t enough being done to change that.
But a Top Bar Hive is accessible and I drew up plans using different sources for reference and designed it to be as accessible for me as possible.
And it is accessible, when the lid is opened on its hinges, the hive is table top height and due to the sloped sides of a Top Bar Hive, I can get in close as my legs go under enough for me to gain access. It also requires no heavy lifting as is needed with National and Langstroth hives.
And yet the world of beekeeping still wasn’t accessible!
We are told we should join a local beekeeping association and take one of their courses and this seems to be the way to be accepted by the majority of beekeepers.
But for me it wasn’t possible for two reasons!
The first barrier is financial, I am unable to work and my wife is my carer and so we are reliant on welfare and that means not only does society frown upon you, but it also means that I can’t afford the simplest of things outside of making sure the rent & bills are paid and making sure that we have the most basic of food in.
My hive was built using money I was given for my birthday and done on a very, very tight budget, the jacket, the tools and all the extras were from the following Christmas.
The second barrier is what appears to me from the outside and this is likely to ruffle some feathers. It is the stuffy and narrow thinking views of the beekeeping fraternity.
I cannot afford to attend a beekeeping course and my health makes me unreliable, I never know when a flare up will hit and how long it will last. Also most apiaries are not wheelchair accessible and so I was already at a very great disadvantage.
But I did have my hive built with the help of a family member who has all the tools and knowledge and that was in August 2019 and it was then put in place and I was good to go.
But not quite!
The price of a Nuc of bees is at least £200 and sometimes £300 plus and so that was very much out of the question and so I had two choices open to me.
Contact the local beekeeping association and ask to be put on a list to be given a swarm when one is available or to bait the hive and hope that a swarm decides to move into my hive!
I did both!
But I knew that I was likely to be considered unsuitable to be given a swarm, after all I have not attended any courses, I have not joined the local beekeeping association and I have not even shown my face to say “Hello I am the one who has a hive that is frowned upon”.
Now why do I think it is frowned upon?
I have gotten to know some amazing people via social media who have taught me so so much and have been very supportive but that isn’t the general view of the beekeeping world.
On a Facebook group dedicated to Top bar Hives, many have reported that even though they have followed the approved route and registered their hives with BBKA and BeeBase, only to be told by a ‘Bee Inspector’ that they shouldn’t have a Top Bar Hive.
Now this sort of narrow minded view isn’t just seen in the beekeeping world, there are many clubs and associations where they are afraid or just not prepared to embrace anything that isn’t ‘the way they do it’.
I was very lucky that one weekend in May a beekeeper I had been talking to on Twitter through @beekeepershour phoned me. He told me that he had phoned someone from my local beekeeping association and politely asked them if they were encouraging people into beekeeping or just putting up barriers.
He said he had told them that I had been reading up, that I had learnt about beekeeping and that the inaccessibility of the beekeeping world should not stop me from becoming a beekeeper or stop me being included for consideration of getting a swarm.
It was heart warming to hear someone say that and to take the time to help me but I wasn’t hopeful that it would work.
I had barely put the phone down when it rang again and it was this person from the local beekeeping association to say they had a swarm for me and that it would be brought to me within the hour!
My colony is very settled in, they have been very busy and productive and I have successfully managed to carry out a few inspections and I am still learning but I could still face a bee inspector who won’t agree with my hive or possibly the fact that I haven’t completed any courses.
Whilst I understand that it isn’t ideal for someone to build or buy a hive and get bees with no experience and no hands on experience from a mentor, surely it should be accepted that this isn’t always possible and that it shouldn’t mean the door to beekeeping is closed to them!
Also shouldn’t all forms of bee hives be accepted, especially as the Top Bar Hive has so many benefits over the traditional honey farms that stand like sky scrapers only to be robbed of their stores only to be artificially fed during winter and often to be treated with all kinds of nasties to try and keep them free of Varroa?
The Top Bar Hive world is making headway into keeping bees without any treatments and doing so successfully and surely the men and women who keep these hives deserve to be accepted by the rest of the beekeeping world?
Surely our more natural approach to beekeeping is something that should be embraced?
Also by shunning Top Bar Hives, they are also excluding the possibility of disabled people like me becoming beekeepers and we deserve to be included and a Top bar Hives works for me and would work for many other disabled people.
Even if they don’t enter the world of beekeeping, they can still have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a working hive that is truly accessible!