Where do I start?

Contact your local BBKA Association for advice, tuition and support and consider becoming a member.  Most associations run ‘Taster Days’ which are ideal for obtaining a basic understanding of bees and what is involved in beekeeping.  This can be followed by an ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course where you can learn some of the theory required to be a good beekeeper and gain valuable practical experience before you make any investment in equipment and honeybees.  Your local association will also be able to assign you a mentor who will be able to help as you start to keep bees for yourself.

There are over 270 area associations and branches who serve their local area with support and education.  To find your nearest branch click here.

What equipment will I need?

Minimum equipment needed for keeping bees:-

  • A suitable hive
  • Protective clothing – a beekeeper suit and disposable ‘Marigold’ type gloves that cover the wrists.
  • A smoker and fuel
  • A hive tool
  • Feeder
  • Bees

The cost will vary considerably depending on where you purchase the equipment but always purchase the best quality you can afford.  It is possible to buy second hand equipment but always be mindful of the potential for introducing diseases.   Again, your local BBKA Association is the best place to offer help and advice.

                       

Will I be stung?

Yes, you are likely to have an occasional sting.  Some bees are more feisty than others which can be the result of bad handling so it is important to learn and develop good handling skills right from the start.  If stung, most people will experience some degree of swelling or itching for a short time and then will gradually become more immune to the occasional sting.

Where can I keep my bees?

A reasonably sized site of at least half an acre is required with a continual supply of food for the bees throughout the spring, summer and autumn together with a source of water.  Avoid placing hives facing onto a neighbour’s property or near a public footpath.  Facing a hedge or fence will usually encourage the bees to fly above head height and avoid being a nuisance. The site should be easily accessible and you will need enough room to work in when inspecting the hives.  You may also want to consider if there is enough space to expand in the furture.

If your own garden is not suitable then the BBKA do offer a 'Bee and Bee' service whereby people advertise their land for beekeepers to keep their hives on.  Click here here for further information.

   

How much time does it take?

Beekeeping is a seasonal hobby so the time needed varies.  In the winter you only need to occasionally check your hives to make sure they have not been disturbed and that the bees have sufficient food stores.  The busiest time is during late spring and into summer when hives need to be checked weekly.  It is essential that hives are inspected during the active season in order to control swarming and to provide more space for the bees to store honey.  This can take up to an hour once a week.

 

What kind of hive should I buy?

There are different types of hive available and it can be confusing for a beginner.  The most common type of hive in the UK is the National.  Again, your local BBKA Association is the best place to offer help and advice on which will be the most suitable.


 
What bees should I buy?

Bees can vary widely.  The BBKA always recommends local bees and not the use of imported bees and queens.  This helps prevent any importation of pests and diseases and also ensures the bees are suited to our climatic conditions.

   

Where can I obtain bees?

You can acquire bees on combs from other local beekeepers or from your local association.  A small colony on 3-5 frames is best as a start.  The price will vary depending on the locality, source and time of year but, as always, seek advice from your local BBKA association.  Swarms are usually free but you will need guidance from your local BBKA association.  However, if the origin is not known then the bees can be diseased or bad tempered.  In both cases it is vital to seek advice from an experienced beekeeper.

                                              

When can I start to harvest any honey?

The main crop of honey usually comes off the hive in summer in the south and later the further north you are.  As always, it is worth checking with your local beekeepers for the best time to harvest and advice on how to go about it.  On average 30 – 50Ibs of honey per hive may reasonably be expected although it could be more in a good year and, of course, nothing in a bad year.

Do I need to feed my bees?

You may need to feed your bees in the autumn to supplement what they have stored themselves and to replace any honey you have harvested.  You should only harvest what is surplus to their requirements.  They will require enough food to survive the winter until foraging can resume in the spring.  If there is poor weather in the spring and summer they may also need additional feeding.  Bees are normally fed with a syrup made from ordinary refined granulated white sugar and water or some beekeepers use baker’s fondant that is a little like cake icing sugar.

How do I prepare my bees for winter?

The bees will need to be strong and healthy.  Small, disease free colonies can be united in late summer or early autumn to make a stronger colony that is more likely to survive the winter.

Hive entrances should be fitted with mouse guards and the hive itself may need some extra insulation such as a layer of polystyrene.  It is also important to ensure there is adequate ventilation during the winter.  If the hives are on a windy or exposed site weigh down the roof with something heavy like some bricks and for extra security strap the whole hive together.

You will not learn everything about beekeeping straightaway but will be continually learning and gaining experience over many years. It is always best to seek advice from your local BBKA association or an experienced beekeeper.

Suggested books for beginners:

“BBKA Guide to Beekeeping”
by Dr Ivor Davis NDB

“Keeping Bees”
by Pam Gregory and Claire Waring


“Better Beginnings for Beekeepers”
by Adrian Waring


“Beekeeping. A Practical Guide”
by Roger Patterson


“Bees at the Bottom of the Garden”
by Alan Campion