How To Start the Art of Bee Keeping

To start off your beekeeping you need to take a theory course and join an association who will help you start with a nucleus of bees and give you support.

By becoming a bee keeper you will be doing good for the environment because without bees, we would have a lot fewer food sources. To start off with your beekeeping, the easiest way is to buy an established colony from a known local beekeeper. Another way is to buy packaged bees and queens and transfer them into new equipment. A third possibility is by finding and installing swarms.

Beekeeping is not a complex task. The management is generally based on natural nectar flows. Beekeepers want their colonies to reach maximum strength before the nectar flows begin. In this way, the bees store the honey as surplus which can be harvested by the beekeeper.

Processing honey is the result of the beekeeping process. As a beekeeper, you will need to invest in the honey extracting equipment, because it is specialised. Sometimes used equipment is also available. Alternatively, you can borrow from fellow beekeepers or use the club facilities. 

The First Steps
Simple - join a club such as SCBKA and . . . 

anyone who is interested in becoming a beekeeper should first find out if they are allergic to bee stings. You can still go ahead and learn about beekeeping if you are allergic, but of course you are going to have to take special precautions and be much more careful when you are dealing with the bees.

 

Learn About the Bees
The next crucial step in becoming a beekeeper is to learn about bees by reading as much as you can. There are many different types of hives available around the world, and the best idea is to select a specific hive type to learn about first, to make it easier on yourself.  SCBKA use Nationals, 14x12 Nationals and Commercial hives.

Bees

The vast majority of bees in the UK. couId be described as as British Standard Mongrels, being a mixture of both indigenous and imported races. Their colour, prolificacy of the queen, frugality, quietness on the comb, and temperament can be variable.

There are three types of honey bees, the workers, the drones and the queen bees. The workers basically do all the work of the colony of bees, and a colony may have as many as sixty thousand workers. The drones are the male bees and they fly from the hive and mate in the air with queens from other colonies. The queen is a fully fertile female specialised for producing eggs.
Please speak to any of your committee at the club and/or see if a member could let you have some bees, or make it known that you would like a nuc/swarm if one became available. 

It is often best that beginners should start with a nucleus, which is a small colony with 3-5 frames of bees. It is easier for a beginner to handle a small colony, BUT REMEMBER, they won't stay small for very long. If you have attended the training courses obtaining and managing a full colony is possible given you have had experience of handling a full colony of bees at least through a full year.

Every beekeeper should know the life cycle of each caste. This will help you to assess the problems a colony may face, and will help you to understand what happens when a colony swarms. Swarming is a natural process of every colony and you must know the life cycle of the queen in order to understand the various swarm control techniques that are available.

The beehive should be made of good quality wood, and Western Red Cedar is often used to make them. Some others use pine, which is relatively cheaper, but not as stable.  Polystyrene hives are also becoming popular and are now available in Langstroth, National and 14x12 National sizes.

Many gardens will accommodate a couple of hives providing they are sited sensibly, but don't risk problems with your family or neighbours. Some people have a fear of insects and may not share your enthusiasm, so please be responsible. Many people in towns and cities keep bees, often unknown to their neighbours, and they often do well because of the flowers in parks and gardens. Before investing in equipment, it would be a good idea to attend several practical bee demonstrations to make sure you are comfortable handling bees.

 

Equipment

The following is an absolute minimum requirement when starting out:-

  • Beehive
  • Smoker
  • Bee Suit
  • Hive Tool
  • Gloves

 

Proper use of the smoker makes it possible to manage the hives, since the bees remain docile when you have the hive open. If you don't use a smoker, there is every chance of stings for the beekeeper as well as others nearby. It will also cause the colony to be more aggressive in the future.
The bee suits also helps you from not getting stung as you work with the hives. It keeps the honeybees from crawling into your clothes and masks your body odour. It also helps you to keep cooler if you are working in the direct sun.
Hive Tools and gloves are necessary to have in your beekeeping equipment. The tools come in various styles. The gloves prevent the bees from stinging your hands and keep them from crawling up inside your sleeves. 
Ankle and wrist straps are totally optional, but are nice to have if your bee suit or clothing does not provide them already. With these straps you can seal up your legs and sleeve cuffs to avoid bees from crawling in.

Probably a full body suit is ideal to provide excellent protection, comfort, convenience and durability. If it is properly sized and worn, the full body suit provides total sting protection when you are working the hives


Siting the Hive
It is easy to keep honey bees anywhere, where there are flowering plants which produce nectar and pollen. For beekeeping, the chosen site should be sheltered from winds and it is better if it is partly shaded. It is advisable to avoid low spots in a yard, where the air is cold and damp in winter.

It is advisable to tell your neighbours and keep the hive away from crossing paths, public footways, playgrounds and other public areas.

 

Disease

Bees have a few diseases, and these should be understood. There are two notifiable diseases, European Foul Brood (EFB), and American Foul Brood (AFB). As their names suggest they are both brood diseases, and are both quite rare, and that is the problem. Many beekeepers never see them, so when they do have an outbreak they are often unable to recognise it, and if nothing is done their bees could be a source of infection to others for some time. Recognition is important and there are excellent photographs in the booklets supplied by the National Bee Unit (NBU) which is part of The  Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). There are Bee Inspectors who visit beekeepers to check for both these diseases. The best approach is to recognise what healthy brood should look like, and if there is anything wrong that you can't handle, then call a knowlegeable beekeeper or the local Bee Inspector.


The two notifiable bee pests are:

  • Small hive beetle
  • Tropilaelaps mite


If one of these pests or diseases is found in your apiary, the NBU will serve a notice requiring that the hive is treated or destroyed. The inspector will provide you with more information about what you need to do.


Varroa is in every colony and must be dealt with in some way. It is essential to understand the varroa life cycle in order to use the various treatments. Monitoring for mites should be studied and practiced, firstly to tell you when to treat, and secondly to indicate if the treatment has been successful.