How do I learn about keeping bees?
The best way to learn about keeping bees is to join the beginners course that the Association runs during the winter and spring. This will introduce you to the basic skills and knowledge about bees and you will be able to meet experienced local bee keepers who will be able to help and advise you if you decide to start keeping bees.
What do I need?
The basic kit consists of a veil (or you may feel more secure in a bee smock or suit), gloves (thin rubber ones are best and cheapest), a smoker to pacify the bees when you open the hive and a hive tool for separating the frames in the hive so as to inspect the frames. Once you decide to keep bees, then you will need a hive, frames and wax foundation on which the bees make their honey and brood cells and of course some bees! Cost for the initial equipment - £75 - £100. Cost for a hive – around £450. See the suppliers listed on the Links page.
Why should I keep bees?
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby which not only helps with pollination of fruit in your local area but which may also provide around 30 lbs or more of honey per colony. In addition, you will be able extract beeswax for making candles, soap, polish etc. Bees themselves are fascinating to watch and you never stop learning once you become a beekeeper. Beekeepers are always delighted to talk to others about their hobby so you will also have a ready made group of enthusiasts to help you with your bees and with whom you can discuss your ideas and queries.
Will I get stung?
Yes, but unless you are allergic to the stings, the general experience is that the stings hurt less over time. Beginners are likely to get stung more often than experienced keepers but accidental stings are part and parcel of beekeeping. If you are genuinely frightened of bees or allergic to their stings then it would be unwise to take up the hobby.
How much space do I need?
So long as you site the hives away from your neighbours, then you need very little space for one or two hives. You do not necessarily even need a garden – a hive can be sited on a flat roof and in fact this would avoid bees flying at head height near your neighbours (make sure the roof is strong enough for you to stand on though and be very careful when lifting gear up and down from it if you need to stand on a ladder). Bees often do better in towns than in the country as they have a greater variety of flowers to visit than in the countryside where there may be vast swathes of single crops (although this is less likely in Jersey).
How much time will it take?
It depends on the season. During the summer you are likely to need to check each hive at least once a week which will take 20 minutes to half an hour. As you become more experienced that time is likely to reduce. Sometimes, during the swarming season, you may need to check your hives more frequently so as to avoid your bees swarming and causing a nuisance to others. During the winter, you will not be inspecting your bees as they need to keep warm in their hive but you may need to spend time on maintaining your equipment.
How do I learn more about bees and beekeeping?
There are hundreds of books about beekeeping but the best way is to join the Association and the beginners course. Beekeeping is a practical hobby and you will learn best by doing it. Most experienced beekeepers are very happy to share their knowledge with new starters and to show them their hives and allow them to handle the bees. If you become really hooked, you can if you want start on the road to becoming a bee master by studying for the BBKA Basic Assessment which covers the basics of bee keeping.
What do I need to know?
The beginners course will outline the life cycle of the bee, the different types of hive and their parts and functions, the diseases and pests which sadly bees are prone to and how to extract and present honey.
What diseases are bees prone to?
There are two particularly serious diseases which effect bees – European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB). These are notifiable diseases i.e. they must be reported to the States Vet at the Environment Department if they are found and the Island had a serious outbreak of AFB in 2010 which required the destruction of a large number of colonies as a result. AFB is not harmful to humans but is very infectious to bees and stays in dormant for many years. It is the bee equivalent to Foot and Mouth Disease in cattle. Bees are now also subject to the varroa mite, a blood sucking insect that weakens bees and spreads viral diseases. All hives now have varroa and some of the treatments which used to be recommended are becoming less effective as the mites have become resistant to them. Good hive maintenance and procedures help tremendously and will be described in the beginners course as well as being the subject of Association meetings during the year.
What sort of hive should I have?
Don’t buy anything until you have attended a course and handled bees otherwise you could be wasting a lot of money! There are a variety of different types of hive now available from the traditional WBC (the typical white painted, stacked type) and National hives to more modern polystyrene/plastic hives which have been introduced in Germany and Scandinavia. They each have their pro’s and con’s and their supporters amongst beekeepers and require standardised frames which may be expensive. There are also top bar hives which have been made to various designs over the years and which can be more easily constructed at home by a competent woodworker and which may therefore be less expensive to buy. Speak to members of the Association about their particular preferences and visit a number of different apiaries to see which you prefer and then stick to it. There is nothing worse with the bees buzzing around you than finding that the frame you intended to put into a hive won’t fit because it is of the wrong type!
With the current outbreak of American Foul Brood in the Island, it is very important that you take advice from a member of the Association before purchasing ANY second-hand equipment. AFB is extremely contagious and any old equipment may be infected with the spoors and thus liable to spread the disease. If in doubt, contact a member of Council for advice.
How do I get some bees?
The $64,000 question! In Jersey, the only practical ways to obtain bees is by either hiving a swarm or taking over a nucleus (small colony) of bees from an established beekeeper. It is not possible to import bees from the UK or France without the permission of the States Vet and is very difficult anyway. Following the AFB outbreak in 2010, there will be considerable pressure on those with surviving colonies to produce nucs to expand their own apiaries and to supply to others whose colonies were destroyed. You may be able to attract or trap a swarm but this is not advisable for beginners. The best thing is to contact the Association and ask to be added to the list of those looking for a colony and cross your fingers for a good summer with plenty of swarms.
How do I get honey from my hives?
The Association has an extractor available for hire at a very reasonable price. If you only have one or two hives then it is probably not worth buying your own extractor.
Why do bees make honey?
Unlike solitary bees such as bumble bees, honey bees over-winter in the hive so need stores of food to keep them going through the cold weather. The bees do not hibernate but rather cluster together to keep warn (around 32 degrees centigrade) which takes a lot of energy and hence food. An average hive needs about 30 pounds of honey to get through the winter but a strong hive in a good year can make two or three times that amount which the bee keeper can then take.
How do they make honey?
Bees visit flowers and suck in the nectar, a sweet sugary substance, and then fly back to the hive. The nectar is mixed with enzymes that the bee produces and once back at the hive, they deposit the nectar in wax cells. The nectar/honey has too much water in it to store without the mixture fermenting so the bees leave it in the cells until much of the water has evaporated. Once the water content has fallen to about 17%, the cells are capped with a thin layer of wax and the honey will then stay preserved almost indefinitely – so much so that edible honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, thousands of years old.
Why do bees collect pollen?
While honey contains all the sugars that bees need, pollen provides them with protein for nourishment. Pollen is also stored in wax cells and by studying the types of pollen collected, the bee keeper can tell which flowers the bees have been visiting. Bees collect the pollen in pollen baskets attached to their back legs and you can often see the brightly coloured pollen as the bees enter the hive, or even when they are in flight.
Do the bees miss the honey that is taken?
A strong colony can collect more than enough to see it through the winter in a good summer. A wise bee keeper will leave sufficient honey in the hive for the bees to use over the winter and can also feed sugar syrup in the late summer and autumn if the bees have not collected enough honey for their needs.
Why are there different types of honey?
Different nectar (and different strains of bees) makes different types of honey. In Jersey, there are not large areas of single types of flower so Jersey honey is almost invariably a mixed honey. Where bees are visiting one type of flower, such as heather, then the honey will have the characteristics of that type of nectar. The honey that the bee keeper collects is usually liquid (‘runny’) otherwise it could not be extracted from the comb, but if left long enough, liquid honey will solidify to make ‘thick’ honey.
What do I do if I see a swarm?
First of all – don’t panic! When bees swarm, they fill their stomachs with honey so they have food for the journey and so are very placid and happy. If they are causing no bother, then leave them to settle where they want which is usually the branch of a tree or on a bush. In fact, they may decide that the first place they settle is not ideal so will fly off to find somewhere more suitable. Once they do settle, contact the JBKA President via this site or phone the States Vet’s office at Howard Davies Farm. A swarm of bees is very valuable to a bee keeper and someone from the Association will be very happy to come and collect it for you as quickly as possible. Do try and watch (from a safe distance!) because you will be fascinated by the process.