A group of beekeepers from North Somerset travelled down to South Devon last Thursday (28/7/22) to pay a visit to the Basterfields at Blackbury Honey Farm. The last time we visited was before Covid in 2019 and the welcome and care offered by Maureen and Ken was again unsurpassed and we all enjoyed a beautiful afternoon looking round their gardens and honey production facilities.
At the start, Maureen described, never without humour, the historic background of their move from Plymouth to Colyton and the start of large scale commercial beekeeping nearly 50 years ago. The business has evolved since then and now has three principal arms: honey products (about 10 tons per annum), bee-related educational activities, and catering with the on-site cafe.
Then a tour of the gardens and expanding apple orchards led through wild flower meadows to the teaching apiary.
Ken is not short of strong views concerning many significant beekeeping topics. So, the over-stated effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees, the inappropriate use of Queen excluder boards, the poor performance of Porter Escape gates, the worthlessness of open mesh screen floors for brood boxes, all received a thorough analysis from all sides. It should be said that Ken's opinions are solidly based on over 50 year's personal experience and cannot easily be dismissed.
The abandonment of Queen Excluders and the parallel decision to allow the bees themselves to determine the brood nest size is an interesting arrangement. But it has produced a remarkably low annual swarm rate of 7%, where 40% is the norm. We noted that large, adapted Commercial Brood Boxes were used, but even so, the brood nest often rises into the second box. This could make the honey harvesting process more complex but the time saved by reduced swarming will compensate.
The final section of the visit was time spent with Ken in his "Shed". This workspace is packed with special tools and devices invented and assembled by Ken specifically to help with the daily work of the beekeeper. No half-experienced beekeeper would fail to be impressed by the ingenuity and skill there on display.
Many thanks to Maureen & Ken for the time and effort they expended to make our visit so useful and enjoyable.