Taking the Basic Beekeeping Assessment

Our beekeeping adventures continue and we have now taken the WBKA Basic Beekeeping Assessment. There is no obligation for beekeepers to do such things but as beekeeping has always been a hobby for us rather than a money-making or even honey-making scheme, this just seemed like another aspect to the hobby.

Study Groups

For us, this part of our beekeeping project started last year when we joined a study group set up by our beekeeping association (ABKA) aimed at improvers. We’d already done the beginners course run by ABKA but they had decided it would be nice to run some educational programmes for people who were a little futher along in the beekeeping career. A study group was therefore set up that would essentially follow the syllabus of the basic assessment. We signed up to this as it’s always nice to meet up with our fellow ABKA members, especially as an essential aspect of all ABKA  meetings is tea and cake!

These Study Groups were run over the winter and Spring with each group being led by a couple of the attendees. They were very informal and we just got together over tea and cake and talked about the various topics covered by the assessment. there was no pressure to take the exam at the end of it though and only a few of those that attended the study groups did actually do the exam.

Theory Preparation

The Basic Assessment covers huge amount of material but doesn’t go into too much depth. It is divided into three main parts, a practical examination, an oral theory exam and the construction of a frame. I won’t go over the entire syllabus here as there are some excellent study notes online that cover this better than I ever could.

I only I’d read them all before I took the assessment rather than looking them up afterwards whilst writing this blog post. Actually, Anna and I did have copies of the study noes and had looked through them but as the assessment approached we ran out of time and didn’t really get around to doing much if anything in the way of revision.

Practical Preparation

Inspection Preparation

Inspection Preparation

As well as trying to read through the study notes for the oral exam, we had to prepare for the practical as well. The practical assessment involves inspecting a hive and talking about what you are doing. Hygiene is of course a top priority as the assessment is carried out on someone else’s hive and we therefore want to prevent the transmission of  diseases as much as possible. We therefore washed our suits and gloves in the washing machine before hand, made sure our kit was all up to scratch, cleaned our hive tools and tidied up our beekeeping tool bag. We even made up a batch of smoker fuel rolls and cleaned our smoker so that everything was clean and working well.

Taking the Assessment

The day of the assessment came around quicker than we thought and it was sunny and warm so looked as though it would be a good day for it. We were both fairly confident that we knew most of the stuff that we needed to know even though we’d done little revision. Anna was a little worried about the inspection as she doesn’t inspect our bees as much as I do, but in some ways that is probably an advantage. I do it so much that I’ve no doubt picked up some bad habits and probably don’t think about it enough.

Tea, Cake and Frames

We arrived at Ann’s Apiary with all of our kit in plenty of time so started off with the obligatory tea and cakes whilst others were still being assessed. As well as the Oaty Banana Bread that we took along, there was a Banana, Raspberry and Chocolate Cake baked by Phil, a Carrot Cake and some Welsh Cakes. Mmm Mmm.

After the cake we built our frames ready for the assessors to scrutinise and then headed off for our assessments.

Oral Theory Exam

Anna wanted to get the hive inspection over and done with so did that first while I was quizzed orally on my beekeeping knowledge. We don’t know how well we’ve done yet but I was a little surprised with a few of the questions, mainly because the assessors were looking for specific words in your answer. So for instance it seemed to be no good saying that one of the reasons a colony might swarm was because ‘the queen had reached the end of her productive life’, ‘had run out of sperm’ and ‘was no longer laying’ or ‘had become a drone laying queen’, if you didn’t that a colony might swarm because of the age of the queen… The word they were looking for was ‘age’ of the queen.

My cursory look through the syllabus at the pests and diseases section had only seemed to mention AFB, EFB, Chalk Brood, Sac Brood, Nosema, Small Hive Beetle, Tropilaelaps, Acarine and Varroa, I struggled a little therefore with one of the disease photos as it was a photo of Bald Brood… I should have known it but I was focussing so much on the syllabus and it didn’t match any of the diseases mentioned in the sylllabus that I failed to get it right. I think I did OK on most other things though. Questions asked were things such as the various roles of worker bees within the hive, forage plants available locally throughout the year, lots of things about American Foul Brood and European Foul Brood, what causes it, how to spot it etc. Quite a bit about Nosema too, and more common sense things such as factors to consider when setting up an apiary. I was also asked to explain a method of swarm control, which is difficult to do without actual hives, models of hives or at least a piece of paper but I think I did OK.

Pratical Assessment

Anna and I then swapped over. Anna said that the practical assessment had gone OK for her, so now it was my turn. I donned my suit, scrubbed my hive tool in disinfectant and headed off to hive 6 which looked to be a busy hive with 3 super on it. After a few quick questions from the assessor it was time to start inspecting. I just got on with it as I usually would except for the fact that we have never had quite so many supers to remove and certainly not ones that weighed this much, nor have we had so many bees!

A Busy Frame

A Busy Frame

The hive was certainly a busy one with no stores at all in the brood box simply because it was full from end to end with brood. I therefore couldn’t point out capped honey, nectar or pollen to the assessor. I did manage to spot the queen though and several formative queen cells so we had a little chat about swarming and the fact that I would have to tell Ann that her hive needed some attention in the form of an artificial swarm. I also managed to get stung on my arm by a bee – the first time I’ve ever been stung whilst beekeeping I think. Typical that it would happen whilst in the middle of an assessment.

The assessor asked a few more questions and once again I think it went OK but they weren’t giving much away. Hopefully I haven’t picked up too many bad habits, but I did go into auto-pilot a little and just did an inspection as I normally would rather than really thinking about what I was doing and performing it as if in an exam. Apparently after both he practical and the oral theory assessment the assessors had told Anna that she had done well, they didn’t say this to me. Hopefully that’s just because they felt as though Anna needed some reassurance whereas I didn’t, but it could just be that I didn’t do well enough!

Only time will tell once we get the results, but it’s done now and Anna has already been looking at the syllabus of other modules – If you do them all you can become a ‘Master Beekeeper’, but these are much more in depth studies of a particular topic within beekeeping and involve written exams too. Apparently some of them are really quite difficult.

2 Responses

  1. Emily Scott says:

    I’m sure you’ve both passed, it’s unusual to fail. Bet the inspector was thrilled to have such a fine selection of cake to choose from, that should have put them in a good mood!

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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