Jack Silberrad – From Suits to Boots

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One bee farming apprentice’s journey to graduation

Locating Jack as a child often required thrashing out vegetation or looking aloft into trees, so it would follow naturally that after gaining a first-class degree in microbiology, he yearned for something more than a comfortable position as a medical sales representative could offer.

Childhood tales of Roger Silberrad managing colonies in Zambia, often found as pictured with no protective clothing, inspired Jack to take up bee-farming through Apprenticeship

Settled in Cambridge, he began keeping bees as a keen hobbyist, quickly seeking opportunities to experience and learn in assisting larger scale hobbyists with their own bees. During this time he applied to undertake an apprenticeship, to shed the suit and put on his boots, under the tutorship of Steve Benbow at the London Honey Company.

Experience managing around thirty colonies was helpful, but with hands-on teaching to manage 350 colonies, Jack’s confidence in key decision-making grew dramatically. Working day-to-day, seeing hundreds of colonies in a week, leaves its mark; the speed and ‘bee-sight’ of a commercial bee farmer are just two things that experience brings, and were honed through a breadth of apiary locations. From rooftops in London with tricky access, Heather moors and fierce elements, to woodlands in Kent and estates in the Cotswolds, each has their own variation on a season, forage, and physical challenges. Getting Hiluxes out of sticky situations is still a work in progress, perhaps avoiding them in the first place should take precedence. 

With solid theory and practical skills garnered after three years as an apprentice, Jack cultivates gentle, productive colonies in Cambridge, and looks to begin rearing queens in the near future.

Alongside producing a wide array of honeys and products of the hive, essential teaching blocks led by Celia and David Rudland at East Surrey Bees provided a thorough base of theory knowledge with immediately apparent practical applications.  With an ever-growing theory underlying the hive ‘mind’, and a plethora of further reading suggestions that any beekeeper would do well to investigate, the support this element of the apprenticeship offers continues to make a big impact on how Jack approaches his daily work. 

The apprenticeship also encourages a sabbatical in the third year to spend time with different beefarmers nationally and internationally, for exposure to often very different management techniques, business structures, and ethos. With pollination services essential to food security, the concept of training tomorrow’s beefarmers fit well with sponsorship criteria of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, who in summary look to support viable artisanal trades, people and crafts now and in the future. 

Laden with three hundred supers – a typical load – bee-farming in New Zealand operates at a vast scale, in a challenging tropical climate. Apprentices are encouraged to take up alternative placements during the course to broaden their experience

Bringing together encouragement, sponsorship by Highgrove Enterprises, and support from the London Honey Company Jack was packed off to work New Zealand’s Mānuka season under Alex Hislop and Aylsha McCusker at Manuka Island Honey. This has yielded unique insight into queen rearing and novel management techniques for 750 double-queen colonies in an environment almost as challenging as London’s congestion zone. 

Jack remains more passionate than ever about managing bees, about a way of life and work outside of corporations, and to continue learning and upskilling. The apprenticeship leaves him looking to future endeavours to rear and develop his own queen lines, to bring delicious and varied honeys to market, and grateful to have had the opportunities that ultimately took him from a back-garden beekeeper to work full-time in an industry that predates almost any other human activity.

Working as an apprentice has taken Jack on migratory bee practices to produce monofloral honeys such as Ling Heather and Borage. Hands-on experience is core to any apprenticeship, with learning often blending tradition with modern practice.