The Basic assessment is the first of the BBKA modules a new beekeeper can take. It is intended to confirm to the candidate that he knows more about beekeeping than he thinks and is the first rung on the ladder to Master Beekeeper, but that is a long way off.
You are supposed to have a minimum of one year’s experience before you can sit the exam. “Sit” is the wrong word, there are no exam papers, stern examiners in stuffy halls with clocks counting down how little time is left. The test, even that is not an accurate description, is almost all practical, with a few questions thrown in over a cup of coffee.
Preparation starts when you first learn about bees, buy the hive bits and bring home the bees. As you examine your bees, see what they are doing and try to outguess what they will do next you are already learning for this Basic exam, and each time you open the hive you are revising. It is as simple as that.
I had just finished my first year of beekeeping when I went in for the test, with another beekeeper who seemed to know an awful lot more about bees than me. But all new beekeepers feel that way.
We met up with our association’s teacher and mentor in a pub a few weeks before the test. The coaching consisted of going over what we have been doing that year when we check up on our bees. It is one thing doing it, but another to put that into words, i.e. to describe what you do, and most important, why you are doing it. It takes a bit of thinking about, but once you get into the habit it’s not difficult. I write out a little plan, just a few lines on paper, what I expect to see and what I plan to do about it. It’s not the same as saying it to someone – maybe that is what is meant by “talking to the bees”? Whatever I plan goes out the window as soon as I open the hive, they’ve beaten me to it again, whatever that is.
On the day we drove up to our examiner’s house. As there were just two of us taking the test we had to go to the examiner. If there is a group taking the test then the examiner will come to you (or your association’s apiary). A nice sunny day, little wind and warm sunshine – perfect for bees, and beekeepers. I was voted second victim, so had time to sit and see the examiner and my fellow beekeeper in action. I was too far away to hear what was said.
When my time came it was just a friendly chat as I went through my examiner’s hive – desperately trying not to crunch bees, I felt that would make a bad impression. You know that horrible noise? I did not make too many gaffs; luckily I corrected my mistake with the queen excluder before it was too late: bottom bee space with National hives! After that came the questions over a cup of coffee, followed by a chat before setting off home. Comparing notes while driving home we seemed to have had the same questions and things to do. Nothing different from what we’d do in our own apiary.
We both passed. Happy beekeepers. The next hurdle will be MUCH higher.