Hi my name is Thomas Bickerdike and I have been a beekeeper for eight years and still consider myself a novice as the bees have plenty to teach me. I am a joiner and occasional cabinetmaker I live on a 45’ narrowboat called Dovetail and she generates all my electric and keeps me warm and cosy. We dont have a home mooring but hold what is called a continuous cruising licence and have to move to a new location every 14 days. I have approx 3000 miles of inland waterways to navigate and in time may just cover it all but for now I have work and beekeeping duties so only move up and down a 35 mile stretch of the Grand Union Canal skimming the outskirts of London.
I just love this way of life and the canals are just wonderful, small oases of wildlife and great engineering built at a time when digging was mostly by hand. In most cases dug by the extremely hard working Irish that were called navigators and later shortened to navis and still often mentioned today but unfortunately often in a derogatory manor but to me they have the greatest respect.
I dont overcomplicate beekeeping and try to keep it simple. I see my relationship with the bees as a partnership with them having the leading role. I dont take all their honey only the surplus and minimize feeding and any treatments. I obviously manage them, but dont try and push them to do things they are not ready to do or capable to do. The single biggest thing I let the bees do is let them build natural comb and think this is as important to the bees health and well being as producing honey. So as to allow the bees to build all this natural comb I dont use wax foundation sheets in my hives, but only small starter strips to start the bees building straight comb. This natural comb allows the bees to construct a nest as close as possible to a natural nest in the wild, although be it within a framed hive.
When I fully converted my bees to natural comb I noticed an improvement as they seemed more relaxed and less stressed. They produced as much if not more honey and cope equally well from the common diseases that can affect bees despite all the warnings of pending doom I received from more conventional beekeepers. “You will get no honey” “You will have a varroa factory” were two of the most common comments I received. I probably could get more honey, but then I would have to push the bees to get it and my bees happily produce more than enough for me and themselves. Varroa is still present, but I think its no worse if anything less of a problem and I manage to keep healthy bees with less treatments than most people I know and mild treatments at that.