So you would like to keep bees

Are you thinking that this is something you could do and think you would like to try?

We are looking for new beekeepers to help save honeybees from dying out. However, beekeeping is difficult to learn on your own and we ask you to think carefully about our  guidelines before taking this big step.

Honeybees are amazing, hard working little insects. They are fascinating to watch and study and give hours of pleasure.
A hive or two  would definitely improve the pollination in your own garden and the surrounding area so you would be doing your bit for nature.
Apart from the important role honeybees play in pollination they offer other benefits as well. Nothing tastes better than your own honey and you could even make your own candles, cosmetics and health aids from by-products of the hive.

The best way to start

Beware if you are being told that anyone can keep bees. Before you go out and buy any equipment or bees you should find out all that is involved in beekeeping so as to avoid mistakes and pitfalls that could drive you to despair and failure. Contact a local beekeepers association and go along to some social meetings and ask guidance from friendly, experienced beekeepers. If the weather is fine you would be able to handle some bees to see if you will be ok with them. Then you could attend a beginners course to learn the basics. After which you could join the club and get even more practical experience with mentors.Learn as much as you can, read some beekeeping books for the first year and plan to get your own bees the following Spring.
For the first two years the learning curve is steep. Indeed, even experienced beekeepers are always finding out new things.

Beekeeping often requires heavy lifting and manual work.You may need help from others if you are unable to do this on your own.

To handle bees correctly, calmness, gentleness and patience is required.
If you have these qualities you should do fine.

Several stings in a season are a part of beekeeping  so you have to get used to them.
Sometimes bees can get tetchy if a thunderstorm is coming or may not be pleased when honey is taken off.
Some stings may be due to mishandling them. People react to stings in different ways, some good some bad. A few stings before you commit yourself can be a good way of finding out your reactions to them.  If you know you are allergic then beekeeping is not a good idea.


Time involved and Commitment
Beekeeping is harder nowadays due to the many problems that honeybees face and work varies for different seasons depending on what needs to be done.
Spring and Summer: expect to spend maybe 2 hours a week or more inspecting the colony to make sure it has enough food and is free from disease. Experienced beekeepers often only make fortnightly inspections. Swarm control will take extra time. Honey extraction takes quite a few hours in the Autumn. Therewill be other various odd jobs that need doing.

October onwards: when you have settled the bees down for the winter there is less work. Inspections would only be quick and only necessary if you are concerned that their food stores are in short supply.

Inspecting colony after winter - Photo P PerryThe hive would have to be checked on a regular basis to see if it is sound especially after snow or bad storms and winds.
Now is the time for cleaning up spare equipment (this can take quite a while) and planning and preparing for the new beekeeping year.

Bees, like dogs and cats are a commitment as they depend on you to look after them but they do not have to be fed every day or shutting up at night. If they are kept in a secure place you can go on holiday but you may find you have to adjust your holiday times to suit the bees, especially in swarming season.

Bees are totally wild, can fly where they want to and will never cuddle or even recognise you.  Every colony and every season throughout the year is different.

Siting your hive, neighbours and pets

First talk to your neighbours to see if they would object. You can always bribe them with the promise of some nice honey. Explain how good the  bees would be for their garden and the environment. If your bees are gentle they would not sting unless they felt threatened and would ignore pets unless they got too close or tried to catch one. However, bees have off days and being inexperienced you may not realise this and carry on manipulating them which could end up with many bees flying aggressively around your garden and over next door’s fence.  Remember that if a neighbour gets stung they will blame it on your bees! Occasionally bees have cleansing flights and could land on your neighbours washing line,  leaving behind a trail of yellow dots on their lovely clean clothes!

It’s not necessary to have a large garden but the siting of the hive has to be considered carefully to minimise any problems. Have you some level ground facing south? Can you avoid facing a road or footpath where passers by could get stung?  Can you erect a tall screen in front of the hive to force the bees to fly high above peoples heads and also to keep them out of sight?  Is there a water source nearby?  Would rubbish be burnt anywhere near the hive? Are there lots of flowers in all seasons in your neighbourhood so your bees can have an abundant supply of pollen and nectar? If your garden is not suitable then an allotment is a possible idea but we would not recommend this until you have some experience. Most associations have apiaries where they can put beginners hives.

Cost (prices are approximate)
If you follow our guidelines then to start with you would only have to buy a protective bee suit, gloves and a hive tool which would cost about £100. When you are ready to keep bees then you buy a standard basic hive and smoker.  Add another £250. At this point third party liability and disease insurance is necessary which you can only get if you join an association.  Joining fee for one person including insurance with our association is £49 per year – see Membership section

Beekeeping  can be an expensive hobby. Later on you will want to buy spare hive boxes and parts, some honey handling equipment, treatments for disease and sugar for feeding to name but a few.

Costs soon mount up and if you get really hooked you will be after another hive!
Do not buy any equipment until you are sure what you need.
You can often obtain it a bit cheaper through an association which also can provide starter colonies for beginners.
Second hand equipment is sometimes available but the wooden parts would have to be flamed with a blow torch to kill any possible bacteria.

Honeybees on artichoke - Photo P Perry

Take it easy, one stage at a time. There is a lot to consider.