Behind the veil: Barbara Bryant
Our next interviewee is our recently-elected President, Barbara Bryant. Barbara is Chairman of the Wirral Branch and has been a stalwart member of the CBKA for many years. But let her tell her own story!
Let’s start with the usual question: how did you come to take up beekeeping?
I started beekeeping with my husband in 1974. A very good friend of ours, Harry Holland, kept bees, and watching him open a hive with no bee suit and no gloves - just a veil—and with such gentle bees decided us that this was the ideal hobby for us.
We bought a WBC hive, badly in need of attention, for £51; and as my husband’s main hobby was woodwork, he soon had it in good order. We joined the Wirral Branch and at our first County Convention, in Hartford at the home of Marjorie and Frank Griffiths, we purchased our first bees—a 5-frame nuc of very gentle bees—and we were on our way. Harry came and gave us lots of good advice.
The bees purchased from Frank were very good to handle, and the queen lasted three years before supercedure. They produced 80 lbs of honey in the first year. Beekeeping at that time was a joy—no varroa and no oil-seed rape!
Did you have a “mentor” in your early beekeeping days?
In 1975 we went to our first County AGM held at Tarporley. The meeting was followed by a very tasty hotpot and lots of home-made wine. We were made very welcome and it was at this event that we were introduced to Bill Corbett.
As Bill lived near us, he took us under his wing. Bill would phone us and say, “There is a swarm at Heswall (or Wallasey, or some other place) and I will pick you up in ten minutes.” and off we would go. Bill would be so excited—it was like a gold rush on the Klondike. Sometimes we would collect a good swarm, sometimes we would be informed that it had taken off fifteen minutes ago. We gradually built up our colonies to five hives in the garden.
So how did you get involved with the running of the Association?
In 1983 Ian McLean was giving up producing the Yearbook, and David Smart, the then President, asked me if I would take on the job—as my husband was a printer. I agreed, and I continued until 2008, when I handed over to Bob Spencer—a stretch of 24 years.
My husband died in 1984. Family and beekeeping friends were very supportive, and beekeeping continued to play a big part in my life. This was also the year of the Liverpool Festival, and I helped man the wonderful display that we put on - a great deal of interest was shown by the public. In 1985 I went onto the Wirral Committee; our chairman then was Michael Minter.
You obviously continued beekeeping on your own.
Yes, but after my little dog got stung, my bees had to be sited in out-apiaries. Alan Knowles, a Wirral member, and I began sharing apiaries and working bees together. This was the time I found out about working bees in the late evening. The bees couldn’t see you coming, but were all at home and could be very fierce. It was after one of these evenings driving home with Alan holding the smoker that upon opening the car the next morning I found a large burn-hole in the seat . A new set of seat-covers put things right. Just another day in the life of a beekeeper!
Alan and I decided to take hives to the heather, so we loaded up the trailer with four hives and arrived about 11.30 p.m. at the field opposite the Liver Inn in Llandegla. We were told to site the bees next to the silage bales, as it was pitch black. Alan set off around the field and struck lucky at the third corner. We then had to carry the bees across the field. We balanced each hive in turn on the gate, Alan climbed over while I held the hive, and then I climbed over. We did this four times in pouring rain to the accompaniment of the hooting of an owl, and arrived home at about 2.30 a.m. This was repeated the following night. What it is to be so enthusiastic (and slightly mad)! But it was good fun.
What have been some of the high points of your beekeeping career?
At the 1991 AGM in Tarvin, our chairman, Derek Lockett, asked for somebody to sew a kneeler for Chester Cathedral. This was a project to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Cathedral. 1092—1992. A basic format and colour scheme were provided, and each organisation was to have a design on the front representing their activities. I agreed to take on the task, and the Cheshire Beekeepers’ kneeler was one of 500 dedicated on the 7th June 1992.
In 1999 I was honoured with the Canon Evans Cup for services to the Cheshire Beekeepers: an award that I feel greatly privileged to have received.
How has beekeeping changed over the years since you started?
My beekeeping has changed considerably. Mesh floors now instead of solid ones, and the use of Apiguard and oxalic acid to treat varroa. I am still keeping my solid floors in case we go back to using them. I find that swarms or nucs much prefer them to mesh floors but once they have built up they go onto mesh.
This year, with a warm spring, my stocks have built up well, and the varroa drop has been a lot lower and not only have I felt better for the warm weather but the temperament of my bees has been good.
As our President, how do you see the present and the future of our Association?
I think the four Branches in Cheshire work very well. However, there are some things that are best done on a bigger scale. For example, Queen-rearing workshops have been run in various Branches, but we need to do more of this, if we are to meet the demand for colonies. Beginners are buying imported queens, which leads eventually to bad-tempered stocks, which will put people off beekeeping. Would it be possible to have a County queen-rearing site? Working together is the way forward to rewarding beekeeping.
And what about the future of beekeeping?
Until there is a solution to the varroa problem, all beekeepers, whether novices or highly experienced, are going to have to pay attention to the current methods of varroa control. If we don’t, we wont be doing any more beekeeping. The CBKA, along with all other associations, must ensure that members are kept up-to-date with methods of managing varroa.
If they do this successfully, there will still be honey for tea!
Barbara Bryant was talking to Pete Sutcliffe