A taste of honey for beekeeper Sam, aged just 12

LIKE many boys his age, Sam Stead lists sports such as cricket and rugby among his favourite pastimes.

But he also keeps busy with a more unusual hobby for a 12-year-old, looking after bees – around 150,000 of them.

Sam got into beekeeping last year with the help of his mother after reading about it at a country show.

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In little over 12 months he has gone from a total beginner to now probably the youngest person in the country to have ever passed a national exam meant for adults – known as the “beekeepers’ driving licence”.

Sam, from Soyland, near Ripponden, took the test before his 12th birthday with his mother, Nic Winrow, and both passed.

He had been encouraged to do so by members of the Halifax Beekeeping Association (HBKA) who had been told the youngest person to pass the test before had been 13.

Sam said: “I was a bit nervous beforehand – more about me failing and my mum passing.

“It feels pretty cool to be told that I am the youngest person to pass it. It didn’t really sink in until I actually found out that I had passed.”

Now enthusiasts are urging more young people to follow in his footsteps and take up the hobby.

Although the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) has more than 20,000 members across the country less than 100 of these are juniors under the age of 18.

Gill Maclean, a BBKA spokeswoman said: “We do need more youngsters like Sam to ensure that the art of beekeeping is not lost. To have passed the exam at 11 is very young. Halifax Beekeeping Association must be very forward thinking.”

Phil Gee, treasurer of the HBKA said: “There is gentlemen who comes to give speeches to us and he has always said that his son was the youngest to pass the test. I told Sam that if he made sure he took it before his 13th birthday he could claim that title.

“I run my own beekeepers’ supply business and Sam comes to see me quite often. You can tell he already knows his stuff.

“To say he and his mother have learned how to do this together without anybody mentoring them all the time they have done very well.”

Sam looks after three hives, each with around 50,000 bees. He started with one colony of bees but now has five, having attracted new bees to the hive and successfully separating colonies when a new Queen bee emerges.

Once a week during the summer months he dons protective gear to check on the hives and then at the end of the summer he extracts the honey.

Beekeepers regularly have to monitor their hives to ensure mites are not killing off the colony and check there are no new queen bees emerging which could cause bees to swarm and leave the hive.

Sam uses a smoker to help control the bees and move them around the hive while he is inspecting them .

He said: “They sometimes can be aggressive and you can tell they are agitated and the smoker helps to calm them down.”

To pass their exam Sam and his mother had to demonstrate practical skill; build a frame for bees; and answer a range of questions.

She said: “It was strange having to talk through everything you were doing and why, but it went OK.

“The only trouble was, when I was getting back into the car after we had finished I was actually stung on my nose. Luckily Sam knew what to do and took the sting out straight away.

Asked about her son’s achievement she said: “I am very proud of Sam.

“He has found something he is interested in and really worked hard to understand as much as possible about the subject to make sure he is doing it right.

“I think Sam likes it because it is very interesting and a different pet to have from most people. He went to the Halifax Show to work on the HBKA stall talking to people about bees and how much fun it is.”

Sam said: “When you go into the hive and see what the bees are doing it is really interesting.

“I also enjoy extraction, as it is really fun and makes the kitchen smell of honey for weeks.”

Beekeeping has also given Sam the chance to be an entrepreneur.

From his first honey harvest he was able to produce 751lb (34kg) and this year he intends to double this. He has also designed his own Soyland Honey label and gives the home-made produce to his parents to sell at work.

“It was very popular,” he added. “We sold fifty jars in two weeks, They said it tasted like liquid gold.”