27 May 2013

BBKA Basic Assessment notes: On the day

On the day of the assessment it's very easy to be extremely nervous, to think you've forgotten everything - or believe never knew it in the first place. But those nerves will go, as soon as you're in front of the bees.

Make it easier for yourself
'Be prepared' well in advance, first by attending local classes, reading the study notes book or using online resources. It would be a good idea to make sure you have all the gear ready a couple of days beforehand, to be sure there is no last minute search for some gimp pins, a large matchbox or a tack hammer.

You WILL need a clean suit or smock and veil etc as well as clean gloves and clean hive tool. Borrow from your BKA if necessary. There are good reasons why you should wear protective clothing on this day, even if you don't normally :
  • It's good manners, and good practice, to wear clean outer clothes to somebody else's apiary.
  • You will be opening a hive you don't know and, although it should be disease free and easy-ish to manage, something might have happened since the owner last looked.
  • You will probably be nervous - bees can often sense this, it makes them nervous too.
  • The colony could have become queenless because it's recently swarmed or she could have died. A queenless hive will probably be tetchy.
  • The colony could be subject to robbing, or could be under attack by wasps - and so be very defensive.
  • During your inspection you may discover signs of foulbrood. It isn't likely, but it's possible - it  happens. Your outer clothing can be packed into a bin bag so your suit can be washed and your boots sterilised - to be sure your own bees are protected from infection.
Other equipment
You will be surprised at how much you need to take with you. Make sure all your inspection hardware is clean, and is not covered in lumps of old propolis, wax or tar.
  • Your smoker should be clean. Make sure it isn't full of old wood ash. Take time to soak and scrub the spout*  with a hot solution of washing soda (wear washing-up gloves when you do this), and scrape any tar from the top of the main cylinder to be sure it closes properly. You could carry your smoker in a metal container (bucket) if you've got one. *Some spouts are held on by a split pin - remove this carefully, and don't lose it.
  • You will need your own fuel, and something to light it with - e.g. long matches, cigarette lighter, barbecue lighter, blow torch. You may need to take a plug of grass or a cork to seal the smoker's spout after finishing the colony inspection, to be sure it goes out before you leave the apiary - less chance of in-car accidents. Remember to lay the smoker on it's side when you've finished with it.
  • Carry your hive tool in a plastic container with washing soda solution - it will show you take cleanliness seriously. Put your hive tool in the container after the inspection, and wash your hands before taking off your gloves.
  • If you normally have a tool box or similar, which keeps all your gear together, take it with you. Your assessor will probably take note of what's in your box - bee brush, queen marking cage, uncapping forks, cover cloths etc. - even if you don't use them.
  • If you normally use cover cloths - be sure to wash and dry them before the day of the assessment.
  • Wear wellies, they're easy to disinfect if necessary. There is no need to have the most expensive, and they don't have to be white.
  • If you normally wear leather gloves it's good practice to cover them with either latex or nitriles when inspecting somebody else's bees because there's less chance of transferring pathogens.
Frame making
  • Practice on a couple of frames during the days before the assessment, just to remind yourself how easy it is.
  • Take everything you will need, including wax, which is best carried between two pieces of thick cardboard so it doesn't get broken en route.
  • If you normally use plastic frames then ask beforehand, to find out if you will be expected to make a wooden frame - and if so, treat it as practice, because one day you may need to.   
 The Assessor & Assessment
  • Your assessor may be somebody from a nearby association, it should not be somebody you know.
  • You should, if possible, be given the chance to open a hive of the same type as your own - but if you're a Top Bar Hive keeper it's less likely, because they aren't as common, same with Dadant and perhaps Warre.
You will be expected to discuss what you can see on the inside of the hive - so be sure you can recognise the difference between :
  • capped worker brood and capped honey;
  • capped drone and capped worker cells;
  • capped drone cells and queen cells;
  • nectar and pollen.
The assessor isn't trying to catch you out or trip you up with awkward, unanswerable or ambiguous questions. You will find they will lead you onwards to the correct answer if it's clear you're a bit stuck, or a bit too nervous to think straight - so try to relax.

Each assessor is likely to have their favourite questions, but expect to give at least one detailed response to two or more items from each section of the syllabus - take particular care to know the information about diseases, especially the foulbroods. You may be asked extended questions during your hive inspection - perhaps explaining why pollen is closer to the brood than the capped honey; how old a group of larvae are (you may have to guess based on how big each one is, and the length of time those larvae take to develop); whether the laying pattern is good for the time of year, and why.

The vast majority of people pass the Basic Assessment - you are unlikely to fail unless you haven't really been looking after bees for over a year, or if you haven't bothered to do some extra reading or to have revised what you learned on your beginner's course. As you're reading this page then the chances are you'll have found plenty of other online sources too - and you'll pass with flying colours.

So, relax and enjoy it your time with the assessor.

Good luck.
There are 'notes' for each section of the 'Basic Assessment' syllabus:
BBKA Basic Assessment : Syllabus 2013
Basic Assessment notes - Part 1 : Manipulation of a Honeybee Colony
Basic Assessment notes - Part 2 : Equipment
Basic Assessment notes - Part 3 : Natural History of the Honeybee
Basic Assessment notes - Part 4 : Beekeeping
Basic Assessment notes - Part 5 : Disease and Pests
BBKA Basic Assessment notes : On the day


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