The adult in me had flown out the window out to the large lawn littered with beehives. Real hives with real bees. I watched a druid-like cluster around one hive as a demonstration is taking place. My attention is dragged back “Is this your first time?” said a stranger in the queue to register. I feel like a school child entering a new playground, knowing no one. The place smells like a school, we had already passed several doors peeping into classrooms with a blackboard in front of rows of desks to get to the classroom that was the ‘registration office’. I have a vision of sad pupils in long rows looking up at teachers and being talked at. I’m not feeling too sure about this but I’ve travelled a few hours to get here…I’m in too deep to turn back. “Your First time” he had said, do people really go to things like this more than once?  flashed through my mind. This was the start of my immersion for a week at a beekeeping summer school. I had only received my first nuc* of bees three weeks before this. 

Inspecting bees – these are small nucs – 5 or 6 frames of bees only.. But don’t be fooled, there are thousands of bees in each box.

I was a newbee!

I had been very reluctant to leave my new charges to get on without my constant vigilance but I’m sure they were delighted to get rid of this interfering busy-body and get some peace from the disruptive hive inspections.

I was surprised just how many people were there (about 400 attended that year) and a lot of very well established beekeepers were there milling around, I vaguely recognised some faces thanks to having attended night classes about beekeeping which featured some visiting lectures. Many of the experience beekeepers were there to learn as well to take exams during the week. A few stalwarts were even going to do the tough senior examinations or the coveted CFL final presentation to become Certified Federation Lecturers. There were also many others who had a small number of hives for years and there were some other lost looking wannabees like me. We were the ones that looked like startled rabbits and hugged the walls as we walked into the foyers of mingling beekeepers wishing the ground would swallow us up hoping someone would come over and start a conversation rather than us having to cross the abyss to break the invisible barrier around the clusters of regulars just to ask a very basic question. Thankfully there was a healthy balance of friendly souls who made it all a bit easier and enthusiastic newbees were particularly nurtured by the old-guard.

All week we wandered to a choice of friendly instructive lectures and workshops to fit our level. Sometimes I wandered into one that went waaay over my head and bashfully slipped back into the beginner’s course ASAP afterwards. I absorbed some of the beekeepers knowledge (at least I think I did), heard about new and old ideas, explored different techniques, got some hands-on experience and just talked bees morning, noon and night. The Aladdin’s cave of bee related merchandise brought in by suppliers just for this week lured us all to oogle and to buy. Crates of empty honey jars & lids, hive boxes, bee keeping related gadgets and tools and even expensive electric extractors floated past as beekeepers collect their orders to save on the delivery charges. Beekeepers are a fugal lot.

Some beekeeping tools Photo from (to give credit where credit is due.)

The routine of the next few days caused the outside world to melt away.  Breakfast was followed by lecture/workshop /demonstration, followed by a tea break, followed by /lecture/workshop/demonstration, followed by dinner, followed by lecture /workshop/demonstration, followed by afternoon tea break, followed by lecture /workshop/demonstration, followed by supper. The evening was filled with social activities in case we hadn’t enough time to chat about bee keeping in between lectures and meals all day. There is no pressure to attend any event and going for a quiet walk around the grounds or to a nearby beach is a lovely option for a diversion for an hour or two, not that it seemed like many did as the lectures /workshops /demonstrations were always full.

By mid-week I was bumping into now familiar faces and the queues for tea or meals was as good a place as any to pick up tips and advice and stories about beekeeping. The long school tables for meals naturally encouraged mixing and more cross-table bee talk too. I didn’t think it was possible! How could I have spent the whole week talking about and listening to every conceivable aspect of beekeeping and nothing else? I didn’t know there was so much to keeping bees!  The rhythm of the days, the food put on a plate, the flow of people and bee talk was comforting and many were only too delighted to bend your ear about and it wasn’t long before I picked up a few good friends who are still companions on my beekeeping journey.  Oh, and before you ask, of course I went back again the following year.


Most countries have some immersive beekeeping courses. Here is some information about this one if you are curious to find out more. About Gormanston from the County Dublin Beekeepers’ Association – a nice piece written by Claire Chavasse 2005 David A Cushman’s pages Gormanston and his Guide for first timers for a lot more detail and links – these pages have not been recently updated but have plenty of information on Gormanston Bee Keeping Summer School which runs annually at the start of August.

*A nuc is a small hive of bees. But if you want the more complicated version see Nucleus: A small colony of honey bees or BBKA guidance notes.


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