WCBA & Industry News

Darran Shows How to Keep Bees – From a Wheelchair

Darran Colquhoun has been using a wheelchair for the past 24 years due to a rare disease called syringphydromyelia, but that hasn’t prevented him from keeping bees. He talks about his love for bees and the challenges he has had to overcome.

Tell us about your Beekeeping Journey?

Growing up on a farm with a love for nature, I was always curious about bees but I was scared and allergic. In 2014, we moved to my parents-in-law’s farm outside Ladismith in the Western Cape. This was the perfect opportunity to pursue my interest in beekeeping and I did a beekeeping course in Durbanville before we moved.

My beekeeping journey started in 2017 with the help of a nearby beekeeper and mentor, Pete and Yvonne Froggott, when I discovered a hive on a small overgrown patch on our neighbouring farm that I presumed to be abandoned. I contacted the beekeeper, via the DAFF number on the hive, and asked if it would be possible for me to take the hive over and manage it from my wheelchair, which he agreed to. Sadly, I lost the colony a couple months later during the winter months from attacks by baboons and a honey badger as there was a severe drought at the time.

In December 2017, I almost caught my first swarm after leaving a catch box on our stoep. Within three days we noticed lots of bee activity early one morning and had to quickly move the catch box away to a more accessible and safer area but sadly the bees were driven away by ants before they could even move into the catch box due to not using oil cups with my hive stand.

How did you overcome this setback?

While cleaning up and repairing the damaged hive, I posted some questions on bee groups for advice on how I could adapt a standard Langstroth hive to allow me to keep bees from my wheelchair. At that stage it was not possible for me to see inside or lift boxes on my own.

I was contacted by Andre Lazarus who has inspired and supported me from the beginning. He helped build two adapted hives that wouldn’t require me to lift or remove boxes. We did this by connecting two brood boxes and a honey super with a hive connector, which would stand on a bottom board with the front of the hive facing downwards on the bottom board with a lid on either side that would swing open for me to access the hive and frames. I had these couriered to me once completed. The old boxes were kindly donated by a fellow beekeeper.

In February 2018, I caught my first, very small swarm in a catch box, which I managed together with my mentors for almost a year, until the colony was strong enough to be transferred to a 10-frame adapted hive. Transferring the bees to the new adapted hive was a learning curve for us all as the bees couldn’t be shaken into the new hive, due to the box standing at a different angle. We turned the hive upright and shook the bees into the new adapted hive before placing it on its side again.

We managed this swarm for about two years while another swarm moved into an empty 10 frame adapted hive.

The first colony swarmed as there was not enough space for them and I had not figured out how to attach a second honey super that wouldn’t require me to lift or remove the box.

How are things looking now?

I currently have one colony which we have transferred from the adapted hive back to a standard Langstroth hive due to difficulties I had with the removal of frames while doing hive inspections.

I have my hive on a low-standing hive stand to allow me to see into the hive and between frames. It is placed on an open, level piece of ground with enough space all around the hive for me to move around in my outdoor wheelchair, a Mountain Trike. I have hinged the honey super and the brood box together on the one side to help me with access to the brood. The honey super is pushed up and rests on two wooden blocks as supports that are attached to the box. I haven’t needed a second honey super on the hive as yet.

What is your ambition from here?

I would like to have more hives and be able process my own honey and get to the point where I have the knowledge and means to manage my hives without having to call on anybody for assistance. I also want to share my bee journey and experiences with others via a Youtube blog to inspire other people and gain more knowledge on beekeeping.

There are a few things that I am in need of to help me continue my beekeeping journey. I am in need of a portable lifting device that will aid me to remove honey supers and be placed down next to the hive, as well as lifting the super back on to the hive.

I also need five complete beehives to be able to expand my beekeeping and a bee suit for my wife to be able to assist me when needed, a frame-wiring board, uncapping knife or fork, and lastly a small honey extractor to help me extract my honey which will be sold by my small business, The Adaptable Bee, which also markets other bee-related products.

What have been the highs and lows?

Through the few years that I have done beekeeping so far I have experienced so many highs and lows, from bees swarming off, dealing with bee pirates, hive beetles and wax moths. But I have also been so overjoyed when a trek swarm moves in, seeing how they thrive, tasting my first jar of honey and the love and respect I have for them. Bees are amazing insects that I can just watch for hours on end. I’m also fascinated how each swarm seems to have a different temperament. My young son loves to watch me inspecting the hives from the safety of the house. He likes being with me and it is only a matter of time before he’ll be able to don a beesuit and help me work my hives. 

Being in a wheelchair is not going to hold me back.  I will continue finding ways to become an independent beekeeper.  For years, I  have been adapting things that most people take for granted, to try to make my life more manageable.

If you’d like to contact Darran you can do so via his company The Adaptable Bee.

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