Home Interviews Interview: Blackbury Honey Farm
Blackbury Honey Farm

Interview: Blackbury Honey Farm

There is nothing better than being in the presence of, and having conversation with, an expert in their own field. After my meeting with Ken – Master Beekeeper of Blackbury Honey Farm – I was immediately struck by the overwhelming passion he and his family have for their work.

Ken never tires of conversation when it’s to do with his beloved honey bees. With his inexhaustible knowledge, gained through many years of experience, I am certain that the beekeepers of the future are in good hands when they come to learn the trade at Blackbury Honey Farm. I for one would love to sign up for one of Ken’s ‘meet the bees’ sessions and I hope you enjoy reading his interview as much as I enjoyed meeting Ken and his family.

What inspired you to start keeping bees?
At the age of six my primary school teacher brought in some honeycomb and the smell stayed with me; redolent of autumn woodland walks. That is when I was seduced.

On leaving university in the early 1970’s, I was prompted by an amateur radio discussion I took part in, concerning a swarm. Later on, our co-op insurance agent came to visit whilst I was cleaning up some old combs from a hive. He asked what they were and I reached one from the ground to pass to him. I have a very good sense of smell and, thinking that the comb might be  a little manky from its time on the floor, I smelt it before passing to him to check it would be alright. It was that very smell from 6 yrs old, and the smell triggered such a vivid flashback of memory that I was overcome. I could see in great detail the classroom, the fields beyond our playground, the sun shining in, the teacher, my friends around me and even to the picture I was colouring. Scent does trigger those hidden memories. I determined there and then that I would be no mere hobby beekeeper but a master of bees and I have been doing it now with about 150 hives for more than 45 years.

When did you open Blackbury Honey Farm? 
September 2010, but this was inspired by the return of our son Daniel, who had been born into the beekeeping business, grew up in it and excelled as a superb beekeeper himself before going of to University. Daniel had worked  for IBM and a number of banks and while the executive high life was good, it was very demanding. Maureen and I were about to retire from commercial activity with the bees – though we would always keep bees as a hobby – when Daniel wished to revive the beekeeping business. By then we were down to about 25 hives but when he came home in 2006 to take over, it was his idea to set up these integrated facilities on this 50 acre farm site. Both Daniel and I hold the highest UK qualification in beekeeping  The National Diploma in Beekeeping. Physically, I am now too weak for the heavy lifting, but with Daniel by my side, I’m like a “born again” beekeeper!

Blackbury Honey Farm

Credit: Collette Dyson

Is there anything about bee keeping that still amazes you?
Everything! There is so much linkage to the whole of life. The amazing communication between the bees of the hive, their co-operation and shared decision making, their adaptability, the hive economy management and their abiding successes and failures. They are truly enchanting.

With all the problems our bees face today – from pesticides, the varroa mite and wet summers – how have your hives coped? Have you seen a decline in your population?  
Our hives require more management, particularly because of the Varroa mite and the viral diseases that it vectors as a blood sucking parasite. We have a very good working relationship with the farmers where we keep most of the bees following the flowering arable crops. We accept that pesticides are necessary, but they are so well regulated and managed  that we have not had a case of pesticide poisoning on the farms our bees have worked for the past 45 years. For example, the spray contractor willingly sprays at night, when bees are not flying, to avoid any harm to them.

Blackbury Honey FarmWhat can the general public do to help bees? 

Plant nectar and pollen rich plants and trees and do not attempt to keep bees yourself without learning the very necessary husbandry skills to keep them alive. especially in the face of the threat from Varroa.

 Can you tell us a little bit about the educational courses you offer? 

We run short ‘Meet the Bees’ sessions, a familiarisation where people can come and hear about bees, see the equipment necessary for keeping them, and then go into the home apiary and handle bees themselves. It allows people to decide whether they might like beekeeping without the heavy commitment.

We also run beginners courses in the winter looking at the equipment involved in beekeeping, the behaviour of the bees and the management tasks that a beekeeper needs to do. This is comprised of six sessions in the classroom and two sessions in the apiary. This gives a new beekeeper the basic understanding and confidence to get their first hive of bees up and running.

Blackbury Honey Farm

Sculptures by Jo Golesworthy

I am the Courses Director for the National Diploma in Beekeeping Examination Board, a group of highly qualified and experienced beekeepers who train and qualify the people who will go on to train ordinary beekeepers. See the website national-diploma-beekeeping.org/

We run 2 day short courses providing fundamental knowledge and practical skills, along with an annual one week residential course preparing candidates for the prestigious National Diploma examinations. All these course are heavily subsidised by Defra under their ‘Healthy Bees Plan’

Could you tell us some little known fact about bees?

Bees manage the hive economy and match it to the seasons, reducing their population to about 10,000 bees in the winter, to reduce the demands on their winter stores. They increase their numbers in the spring by up to about 60-70,000 in July, when most of the honey is created. At this point, the bees need a large foraging force to replenish their stores.

What is your favourite way to eat honey? 
In hot milk on my cornflakes.


For more information about Blackbury Honey Farm visit their website at www.blackburyfarm.co.uk

Read Ken’s 5 amazing facts about the honey bee here!


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