Today, at 6pm in the slightly dim light under the Apiary’s many trees, I took my Basic Assessment in Beekeeping exam, a practical and oral exam which is sort of equivalent to taking your driving test. It is run by the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA), who send a ‘Master Beekeeper’ to test you.
My examiner was a very nice lady, and I looked enviously at the ‘Master Beekeeper’ badge sewn onto her suit. The first test was to make up a frame. I’m no master frame builder, but I managed to get all my nails in straight first time. I was told off a bit for my wax foundation sheet buckling slightly and asked to add a couple of other nails in on the top bar to hold it together better.
Next, I lit my smoker, got my eyes streaming up nicely, and we went in. She asked me to open up someone else’s hive (you never do the exam on your own hive) and tell her what I saw inside. I lifted off two supers (lucky beekeeper) and the queen excluder, carefully placing them down on the ground, and started looking through the brood box where the queen lays her eggs. I saw lots of worker bees, nectar and honey but no eggs. I felt like an idiot when she pointed to a dry biscuity coloured substance in one of the cells and asked what it was, and I didn’t know…turned out it was pollen. Should have known that. Think I would have got it had it been more brightly coloured, but with it being quite neutral I thought it was honey.
As I went through we discovered queen cups and a couple of opened queen cells, a sign that virgin queens had hatched out. Shortly afterwards I found a mated one with a swollen abdomen, though she didn’t seem to have laid any eggs yet. At that point the examiner asked me to close that hive up and open another, as she wanted me to identify eggs and larvae. So I opened another hive up, which I was relieved to find wasn’t violent either. In that I found lots of little larvae, and after lots of peering on my part, some eggs.
Then we closed the second hive up and went onto the oral exam part of the assessment, sitting down in chairs and unzipping our veils. The questions she asked weren’t too bad – what to look for when opening up a hive, the life cycle and purpose of the queen bee, what to do if you find two queen cells in your hive, how to spot worker bees laying eggs, how to harvest beeswax, how to bottle your honey, which plants my bees visit locally, which diseases are notifiable, how to identify and treat American foul brood, European foul brood & nosema, the life cycle of the varroa mite.
The question I got most stuck on was the legal requirements for labelling your honey jar for sale. Not that I’ve got to the stage of having honey yet in two years, but I should have revised that. What would be on the label? I got name, address and expiry date. She said “You’ll kick yourself if you don’t get it”. She was right. One of the things you have to put on the label is… “HONEY”. Doh.
After the questioning the exam was over. I think I did better on the oral than the practical bit, because I’m not the most practical person in the world and I get even clumsier and less practical when I’m nervous. But I think – I hope! – I passed and got over the 50% required correct, though we have to wait a few weeks to find out.
Edit: Found out a few weeks later I’d passed 🙂 Recommend the Mid Bucks Beekeepers Association Basic Assessment study notes for anyone yet to take their Basic. They’ve also put together notes for each BBKA written module. All their study notes are free and can be found under the Categories section on the right hand side of their website.
Edit: A 2013 presentation I gave to the Ealing Beginners group on the Basic Assessment and other BBKA exams:
Some blog posts by other Basic Assessment survivors:
- A Simple Life of Luxury, Taking the BBKA basic assessment
- Miss Apis Mellifera, Taking the BBKA basic assessment on a rainy Sunday afternoon
- Notes from a Small Apiary, BBKA basic assessment notes: On the day