So you want to keep bees?

Beekeeping is a fascinating pastime. However if you want to keep bees you need to be sure and the following points are some to consider before you spend your hard-earned money.


Apiary site

An apiary is where bees are kept from one hive to dozens.Choosing an apiary site is important. A home site is ideal as you can keep an eye on your bees however you need to consider if there is available forage and if it is safe to keep them –

What will the neighbours think? Speak to other beekeepers too. It is also a good idea to have an alternative site – an out apiary – in case of bad temper or for other reasons. What do you have available?

Allotments can be a good location, however you need to be sure that the allotment committee is happy and have an alternative apiary site if they subsequently change their mind! (And they can change their mind very quickly!)


Bee Poo

If food goes in, then something comes out and you will see small spots on your washing and car if the hives are nearby. One or two hives is usually OK but if you have lots of hives, then neighbours may complain, especially if they are the sort that wash and polish their car every Sunday! And you can only give a jar of honey as an apology so many times!


How many colonies 

It can be difficult keeping just one colony and you really need a second in case one colony becomes 'hopelessly' queenless - where it is unable to make a new queen. This might be, to give two examples,  as a result of a failed queen mating - it DOES happen - or as a result of the beekeepers ill-advised intervention. Therefore it does make sense to keep a couple of colonies as a minimum. Coupled to that, you should assume that your bees WILL swarm – that is, try to increase - so you will also need spare equipment over and above your ‘base’ number of colonies you intend to keep and you will need to have this equipment in advance - the bees won't wait for you and the suppliers are often so busy in the swarming season that they cannot deliver overnight or they might run out of a critical part.


Cost  

Setting up an apiary is not without cost, although over time it reasonable to assume that it is cost neutral although your first honey will probably be given away! Certainly cheaper than golf!

Consider joining your local association where talks and demonstrations are often undertaken – free for members. There might be 'taster days' too where you can put on a veil and have a look-see. Most associations are affiliated with the BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) and if you are a member there is additional information available on their web site and you are also covered by insurance which in today's climate, is worth considering.


Expect to be stung

You should assume that you will be stung on occasions, more often than not as a result of bad handling! Reactions to stinging tends to reduce over time and it can be an annoyance rather than a real pain for most although occasionally, some people can develop severe allergic reactions. It worth considering or checking whether yourself or anyone nearby is allergic to bee stings.


What you need to buy

As well as the hives, plus spare hive parts you will need a veil, smoker and hive tool. Most beekeepers will need to get treatment(s) for Varroa, frames and wax foundation, feeders and  mouse-guards for winter. An extractor (or access to one) honey buckets, and containers. As a start, for your own use you can re-use jam jars and get by with kitchen implements in many cases. Some hive items can be made if you are good at DIY. Don't go to a bee supplies shop and just get what they tell you to get or stock up on items you may not need; decide for yourself what you need first - (which is why training and experience is helpful before you spend your money). What about getting the honey out? You'll probably want an extractor however you may be able to hire one from your association for a couple of years until you know what type you want. You'll need storage space too. And possibly the most important aspect - a very patient partner. And they're priceless!


A bit of learnin'

If you don’t know what you are doing, you will probably just waste your money. There are courses run by local associations and it is worthwhile going to one of them. (Norfolk Beekeepers run their courses at Easton College). Some local beekeepers also run courses - check widely first if you can! Read books too. Old books can be an interesting read but can contain out-of-date information. You WILL need to understand what's going on in the hive and understand about diseases. Consider being able to understand the syllabus of the BBKA Basic exam even if you don't take it immediately. It's a good qualification to have and is often necessary before you can keep bees on an allotment.


Do you have the time? 

Let alone beekeeping - where the honey is gathered at the end of summer and there is no colony management - is not a viable proposition nowadays and colonies do need to be managed. This really means that you need to inspect weekly between the middle of April and the end of July at the very least and you'll need to spend other time too; for example could you slip out of work to catch a swarm which has issued from your hive?

A weekly inspection shouldn't take long; maybe 10 minutes once you are togged up and you have lit your smoker. However if you need to do more than check over the colony, then you need to allocate more time. You can't rush them and crash about; they need patient and considerate handling.

And of course with luck, you'll need to extract and jar up the honey.


Nucleus Colony

If you are still interested, then see the page on nucleus hives to find out what your first colony of bees will consist of.