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.

Daddy comb mummy comb and baby comb

Bees filling a frame with natural comb

A good outer frame lots of drones

A complete frame of natural comb and hard to tell the difference from one of foundation apart from the important gaps at the bottom and lower frame sides.

The blunt and the steering end

Home sweet home.

Boat in snow

I love it when it snows with me all nice and warm inside

This is always a worrying moment

This is always a worrying moment


13 Responses to About

  1. Tim says:

    Hello Thomas,
    My name is Tim and I am from Australia. I have just been shown your blog by my wife who thought I might like it and as always she is right. I haven’t read much yet, just enough to know I want to read from the beginning about your boat and bees. We too keep bees, only three hives, and have done so for about 4 or 5 years so even more of novices than your self. I wrote a bit here as I won’t comment on all your previous posts. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • thomas73640 says:

      Hi and Thanks Tim
      I think I would still be a novice with twenty years experience as the bees have so much to show us. Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog, I am not that prolific, but try my best and try to keep to what is important to me.

  2. Denise says:

    Hello Thomas, I’m on a boat in Uxbridge, would love to buy some honey! My Great Grandfather, Grandmother and Aunt were beekeepers, I grew up on it! Do you have comb too please? Denise lapwing@hiddendepthscanalcruises.co.uk

    • thomas73640 says:

      Hi Denise, wonderful Uxbridge down at Brentford at the moment but will be that way come the late spring. I have plenty of honey but the only bit of comb honey is a piece of chunk in a jar of honey. I know what you mean comb honey is the best. The honey won’t be from Uxbridge although it would be nice to have hives there one day as I pass through but from either Brentford or Feltham. I will drop you an email and take it from there.

  3. MerryBee says:

    Hi Thomas,
    Just found your blog today and I am loving it.
    I am a new beekeeper ( less than a year) , so on a very steep learning curve there!
    I also love narrow boats and the canals. Sadly for me it has just been a few holiday rentals, though we did think seriously about buying a boat a few years ago when my mother passed away and left me some money. Didnt take the plunge in the end. The rest of life seemed to get in the way.
    Keep up the good work and I will keep reading.

    • thomas73640 says:

      That’s lovely and thank you for the compliments. It’s a lovely relaxing way to live on the canal and perhaps you will get one or two more holidays in the future. Good luck with your 2nd year as a beekeeper and you and your bees enjoy every second of working together.

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  6. lizard100 says:

    Where are your bees? I assume not on the boat itself. I’m quite envious. We also keep our bees more naturally and have African top bar hives too. They make completely natural comb.

  7. Gareth Hurley says:

    Hi Thomas,
    I live next to the canal at Warren farm, near the Fox. My daughter suffers badly from Hay fever, and I wonder if you produce honey from this area and if I could buy some from you?
    Kind regards,

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