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The secret life of a young beekeeper

What does a beekeeper look like? When they take off their protective suit, who’s underneath? The average age of a beekeeper is 66, but passionate 18-year-old Emma is proof that caring for bees is for everyone. She caught up with us to share what a day as a young beekeeper can look like.

I'm Emma, I'm eighteen and I'm a beekeeper.

On weekdays, I get up at 7am to go to college then I come home to have some dinner and maybe do some homework before going to my part-time job at a local pub. In all honesty, in between college and my other commitments it's not always easy to get out to see the bees. I'm really lucky to have a beekeeper friend who keeps the hives in his garden that I'm welcome to visit as much as I can. Because beekeeping is such a rewarding hobby I find time for it and, on days where there really isn't time to get suited and booted to look at the bees, I make some hive frames which is a job that always needs doing!

Beekeeping might not be something you’d expect the average eighteen year old to be interested in, but I actually got involved when I tagged along with a beekeeper friend of my mum’s for the day. I’d always liked bees but was amazed by how gentle they were, especially as I was poking around in their home! I spent the whole summer with the bees, and it was only in the autumn that my beekeeper mentor, (now a friend), suggested that I do the British Beekeeping Association Junior certificate.

Honestly - I panicked. Exams stress me out and my time with the bees had been helping me to recover from them. But there was no need to stress; the exam is aimed at kids a lot younger than me, mostly Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and everything I'd been casually practising over the season gave me more than enough knowledge for it. Now I have a qualification for life in something I love doing.


For me, beekeeping is the perfect way to pick myself up when I'm feeling completely beaten down by college work; being able to manoeuvre the frames and recognise all the different goings on in the hive makes me feel capable and independent. These are feelings that are sometimes taken away from me by the constant exam papers and grades at college.  

A-Levels are so intense so it's really important to have some downtime. There are days when I do next to nothing to relax, but beekeeping is a great way to forget about the stress of college because it gives back. When I'm up to my neck in homework and revision I lose sight of my goals, but when I'm beekeeping I feel instantly rewarded for the work I put in. I feel proud whenever I open one of the hives and see thousands of beautiful, healthy bees that I've helped care for.

A large part of what motivates me is the fact that I love and respect bees. A lot of the time being able to get up close to and help look after such beautiful and hardworking creatures is enough, but we all know that bees are in trouble and I want to do everything I can to help. Bees do so much more for humans than just make honey: in Britain alone they're responsible for around one third of our crops because of their vital role as a pollinator. Bees are an 'indicator species' which means if they can't survive there's a similar fate installed for mankind. So when the bees themselves aren't enough to motivate me, impending doom is.

I have loads of hopes for my beekeeping future and I really want my own hives in my garden when I'm older. But, more importantly, I want to get more people my age involved with bees! The beekeeping community is welcoming and supportive but it's almost exclusively made up of people aged over 50. It means that getting my generation involved in bee welfare is incredibly important.

The way I look at it, I'm getting college qualifications to help my future career, but I am beekeeping to help my future world. Bees are essential for our planet and our survival so if no one is left to care for them after the current beekeepers are gone we will be in trouble.

Having said that, I know that beekeeping itself isn't realistic for everyone (and some people may dread the idea of getting up close and personal with something that stings). Luckily, there are lots of little things you can do to help that don’t require a suit and mesh visor.

Turning your garden into a bee sanctuary, for example, is rewarding and easy to do. Plant herbs and flowers like thyme, sage, lavender, sunflowers and rosemary to attract bees - these are easy to grow in small gardens or even in window sills if you've got no space. Keeping a water source in your garden, whether it's a fountain or just a bowl by the flowers, will also help keep bees hydrated - they fly up to five miles a day when foraging which is a long way even if you're under 1cm tall!

On the same note, exhausted bees on pavement are a common sight during summer, so if you spot one stick it in the shade and give it some water (sugar water is even better). Bees almost never sting; I've been messing around with them for almost two years now and I've never been stung, so don't be afraid to handle a bee that really needs some help!

If you do want to get serious and keep a hive you don't need a qualification but it's best to get educated first, as knowing more about bees will help you be a better beekeeper and care for them properly. There's endless 'beginners guides' out there and a huge online support for new beekeepers on both official sites like the British Beekeepers Association and blogs from other beekeepers. In addition, beekeepers are surprisingly common and notoriously enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge, so chances are there's a friend of a friend who has bees and will teach you about them.

Taking little steps to care for our bees will go a long way. I certainly can’t imagine my life without beekeeping now.

Written by Emma Bradley




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