Posted on 5th January 2020 at 16:28
Now the hub bub of the festive period has come to a close and I have had time to reflect, 2019 has been a whirlwind of change, opportunity and adventures. What follows is just some of the highlights of 2019 and in no particular order, I begin with Timber festival.
I was invited back to Timber Festival. Once again, I created “Bee TV”. This time a colony of bees where housed in a 1950s television. The bees could be viewed from the sides as well as the front. I put a vent in the top of the television case, mainly to help the bee with temperature control and for folks to feel the heat from the bees and get a bit closer to them. There were lots of musicians at the festival and many came to see me. A number of them had tuning devices and were able to discover in which musical key the bees were humming. “C” and “A”, if you are curious. I cannot help but think this is an avenue to follow.
We have developed a series of regular events that we attend. It turns out many people expect me to be there and make a point of coming the event with the intention of seeing me in particular, which is at once flattering and scary. I will be attending Ashby Steam again. This year  it moved venues to Scamhazel Farm just outside Ashby de la Zouch. Scamhazel farm has more room than the previous venue so more room for everything.
Moira Canal Festival was a quieter affair than in previous years. However, it was a lovely day out and we talked to lots of people and old friends. The canal festival is held at Moira Furnace just at the other end of the village from me. It is good to support local causes. The canal festival is a fund raiser for the Ashby Canal Association.
Unfortunately, Jim’s Tractor run was washed out this year. Hopefully the weather will be kind in 2020.
Ashby Show was really good this year. We had the weather and folks really came out to support the event. The show is a traditional country show with animal classes (cattle, sheep, horses, budgies, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens), crafts, food classes and stalls selling everything from honey to tractors. Everything you would expect from the country show that is in its 103rd year.
Giant Miniature Steam is a new event which we have supported from its inception. If you like you steam engines on the small side then this is the event for you. There are full size steamers but mainly it is held at Statfold railway. If you have not been to Statfold Barn Railway you are missing a treat. The weather held and the event was very well attended. We did some good business and even had time to have a ride on the steam trains. One day I will get a foot plate ride.
Melton Mowbray Food Festival was as great an event as ever. Proper food sold by the people who make it. It is an undercover event held in the Melton Mowbray auction house. It is a ticket event and it is always gratifying to see so many people prepared to book advance ticket and queue up in the rain before doors open at 10am. We have a regular set of customers that come from all over the country for the event and make a bee line (pun intended) for me and my honey.
The fun thing about the events is the stall holders. There are the grumpy ones, the jolly ones and nervous first timers. As regulars at events we often have the same pitch and often the same pitch neighbours. Which means we have a bunch of annual friends we only meet at those events.
The “we” I refer to is my good lady Hazel who helps on the stall at the events. Hazel is much more personable than me. The customers tend to speak to me on technical stuff. So a big hug for Hazel and the support she lends me.
Dates for your diary
9th & 10th May - Statfold Giant Miniature weekend
16th & 17th May - Moira Canal Festival
27th & 28th June - Ashby Steam
12th July - Ashby Show
3rd & 4th October - Melton Mowbary Food Festival
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Education has been a growing part of the business in 2019. The two day Foundation course in Bee keeping continues to be popular. I ran courses eight times in 2019 and trained 42 people. We have people booked on course for the first three months of 2020. When you have completed the course, you have an open invitation to join me and the other students on our Beer n Bees night which I run on the second Tuesday of each month at a pub in the district. They have proved popular as brand new beekeepers get to talk to slightly more experienced beekeepers about there trials and tribulations. It is a peer support group rather than an ego thing for me. As we get more trained beekeepers the Facebook page has more activity which is nice. Again, it’s a peer support facility.
I ran a couple of workshops in 2019 on seasonal topics. It was very much a piece of market research. It seems to go down well so I will do more in 2020.
School for Bees has been really rewarding personally for me and has been a big hit in the schools that bought into the scheme. In a nutshell the school builds a hive, adopts some bee to put in it, the kids learn about bees and look after them. In the autumn they extract the honey and jar it. As well as covering aspects of the science curriculum along the way they learn soft skills, a bit of joinery and marketing too. We have two more schools joining the scheme in 2020. Room for more …. just saying!
The colony visits I offer took off in 2019. I think the collaboration with Cattows Farm made the proposition more attractive. Working with a venue such as Cattows is mutually beneficial. My bees pollinate their soft fruits and pumpkins, the bees add to the 360 view of food production. Literally the cherry on top is that you can have cream teas in the café to make the colony visit an extra special event.
Corporate training has been a thing. Aggregate Industries and Aldi under their Corporate Responsibility obligations engaged me to train their staff in beekeeping. In one case to go on to establish an apiary and in the other case mentor the staff to get them on track with their existing colonies. Both were interesting adventures.
I have given short talks to a number of social clubs and organisations (Inner wheel, Young Farmers, WI). In the Q&A there are always stories of bees and the people who kept them. The folks of these clubs have an interest in honeybees but also the impact on the bees by the current state of the environment. All are interested in what they can do to help.
Want to know more? Click HERE to visit my education pages
I have been doing more media work. I did a piece for BBC Radio Leicester morning show on bumble bees. Then a piece for the BBC Political show on rewilding of road verges. We even were able to facilitate a closing link on Teresa May’s last days in office. The biggest session was shooting an episode for a show on BBC. It airs sometime on 2020. I cannot say more than that.
I also had the chance to support the National Forest by doing a very short piece to camera which formed part of their celebration video for the 25th anniversary of the National Forest and their vision for the next 25 years.
I am not sure if this is media but I cover it here just because.......
I was a finalist in the Rural Business awards held at Nottingham University. Later in the month I won my category of best food and drink producer in the Leicestershire Tourism Awards. It was quite unexpected. I had treated the event as my works Christmas outing. Attendees from The Bee Farmer Ltd … one. Present at the awards were several businesses I know from around the forest in North West Leicestershire. Several were runners up or won their category. Well done to them.
Trials and tribulations
It has not all been roses. My work truck developed a gearbox fault. It had cost serious money to get through the last two MOTs. I decided to invest in a newish truck. I researched and decided an Isuzu was the pick up truck for me. It turned out that Isuzu in my budget range are like hens teeth…..scarce. I made contact with a few Isuzu dealers with my shopping list. One came through for me before the old Ford gave up completely I even got a little trade in. Finance sorted, PDI (Pre-delivery Inspection) completed I got my new truck. Two and bit year sold, 32000 miles and full service history, canopy, tow hook, bedliner, seat covers, hand free telephone. Brilliant!! Three days later the engine expires. Something inside the engine let go whilst driving and burst out the side of engine block. The engine was destroyed. Timing was less than perfect as I had a producer from the BBC with me when it happened. As you might imagine I was not slow to ring the dealership. What followed can only be described as outstanding customer service. B & B Tractors did an exemplary job of resolving the problem and getting the vehicle repaired under warranty of which there was a little time left on it. They also gave me a truck as a replacement, a very nice twin cab Isuzu with all the toys. Kudos George at B&B.
Just in case it was quite busy enough this year I have all manner of red tape to deal with. Environment Health did their visit following the up grade of my extraction facilities. I received a five-star rating for my set up and processes, which is nice. Then we had the Valuation Rating Agency come for a visit and measure up. I qualified for Small Business Rate relief which is a relief but it was a strain waiting for the determination especially when the rate demand came before the notification of the rate relief. Weights and Measures came out to test my processes and scales lest I be cheating you all out of honey. It turns out you are not but I am being forced to buy a set of scales that are less accurate but have an official stamp upon them.
As I have accreditation under DASH (Disease Accreditation Scheme for Honeybees) from the Bee Unit of DEFRA. Essentially, I am my own bee inspector. I am audited periodically. Guess what? It was this year. With staff upheavals at the Bee Unit it was a little late in the season for the Bee Inspector to call. He called, bees inspected, protocols and records reviewed. I have accreditation for another three years
Red tape. don’t you love it!
My lovely wife, Hazel was invited to the Queen’s garden party. She was nominated by the National Forest Company for her here work in the area and support of the forest.
Luckily, I was invited as Hazel’s plus one. It was a very special day out.
Onward and upward for 2020. I have created a product called the Introduction to Beekeeping. It is a one day course partly of class work and partly with the bees. I have bookings for the course already. The course is to be run in collaboration with Squirrel at Wellesborough.
The biggest deal for 2020 is the launch of the Diploma In Bee Farming. This has been a long standing wish of mine to have a properly backed course that potential Bee Farmers can use to get the training they need to start up successful businesses with bees. The course is backed by The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers and City & Guilds. It might be the only approved course for Bee Farming in the world. 
In and out of all of the above I managed to look after my own set of bees, ride my motorbike, take a few days off, keep up with my VAT, write a few blogs, (Click HERE in check them out) have dinner with old friends, make new friends and sup a few beers.
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