Thinking of becoming a beekeeper?

Beekeeping in Britain is largely a hobby. There are commercial beekeepers, but the vast majority of them use beekeeping as part of their income and the number who rely entirely on bees is very small.

Challenges of beekeeping 

Beekeeping may not be too tough, but it is challenging, nonetheless. It requires physical activities and rational thinking to get a productive hive. Some basic carpentry skills are also involved in the upkeep of your equipment.

We would recommend that in the first instance you contact your Local Association as they can provide you with the local level of support required to get started. By taking part in an Introduction to Beekeeping course, you will benefit from a basic understanding of what becoming a beekeeper will entail. Most associations support the course with a visit to a local apiary where you can handle bees before you make the investment in equipment and your honey bees.

Bee stings 

If you are allergic to bee stings, beekeeping is naturally not the best for you. You need to be mindful of the fact that avoiding bee stings completely is almost impossible. You will be stung from time to time, but once you master the rudiments of beekeeping, you will significantly reduce the number of stings you receive. If you are not allergic to be sting, there is no need to be too afraid.

Time requirement 

One of the good thing about beekeeping is the fact that it is a seasonal pastime and so the time requirement varies depending on the seasons of the year. The busiest time for beekeepers is in Spring and early summer. It is necessary to check the hives regularly to prevent swarming. Even during this period, it wouldn’t take you so long to do what is necessary.

In the winter, there is nothing much to do to the colonies of bees themselves, other than occasionally checking the bees have adequate stores, but this is the time of year when you clean and maintain your equipment, and build new equipment ready for the next season of beekeeping.

Being composed 

A beekeeper should be composed when he/she is close to the hive. Bees are very sensitive and can easily detect fear and anxiety. They also react to these emotions. Sudden movements, swatting at the bees or frantically moving backward when some approach should be avoided. If you can’t handle the insects and stay composed around them, beekeeping may not be your thing.

The cost of setting it up 

Setting up a beehive is the initial cost of your hobby and the ongoing costs are then minimal. There are businesses that offer beginners kits that will include everything you need to start. Joining a club will also help you to get the best equipment and start you on the right foot.  It is recommended that you source local bees for your area, ensuring their suitability to your local environment.

What do I need?

Essential Equipment

  • Bee suit
  • Gloves
  • Wellie boots
  • Smoker, fuel and lighter
  • hive tool
  • A beehive – this is not actually essential at first, as you may like to gain experience working with another beekeeper or on your association apiary at first, and to see if beekeeping is for you or not.

British National Hive

The National hive is the most popular in the UK, it is a single walled hive and is easy to handle and manipulate, adaption is easy. You can add gabled roof, sloped alighting floors, stands and shallow roofs quickly and easily.

  • A flat roof – usually 4″ deep, capped with sheet metal to keep out the elements.
  • A Crown board – this is a framed flat plywood bad, usually with a hole in the centre. Useful for putting a feeder on top of the hive, clearing supers and it sits on top of the hive, under the roof.
  • A honey super – a square box with no top or bottom, it has a rebate in each side to hold 11 frames. The frames hold a sheet of wax, called foundation, that the worker bees ‘draw out’ to makes cells to store the honey in. Usually two or more are required per hive.
  • A queen excluder – a mesh screen that sits on top of the brood box and stops the queen getting into the honey super and laying eggs in the honey comb.
  • A brood box – similar to the honey super, but deeper. This holds 11 frames and is where the brood are reared. The queen lays eggs in the cells of these frames. this is called the brood chamber, and the brood nest is spread across these frames.
  • A Varroa or open mesh floor – this is a mesh floor that the Varroa mite can fall through when the bees groom themselves and knock the mites off. It prevents the mites from being able to get back into the hive and hitching a ride on another bee.
  • A hive stand – to keep the hive up off the floor, this helps prevent damp getting into the hive and aids hive ventilation.

Non-essential Equipment

  • Spray bottle
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Bee brush
  • Basic tools
  • Hive straps
  • Queen cage
  • Queen marking pen
  • Skep
  • Nucleus hive
  • Spare hive parts (second hive)
  • LED torch
  • Feeder
  • Mouse guard
  • Entrance reducing block
  • Eke
  • Frame holder
  • Books – preferably the one’s the bees read!

Honey Processing Equipment

  • Honey spinner
  • Uncapping tray
  • Uncapping knife/fork
  • Sieves/strainers
  • Capping bag
  • Honey buckets
  • Warming cabinet
  • Honey ripener tank
  • Jars
  • Labels
  • A suitable location to keep your bees

Home and hive position

One of the first things you need to consider is your home and neighbourhood before setting out to establish a beehive. You don’t want your bees to disturb your household or your neighbours. You need to be sure that you can establish a safe beehive somewhere within your property without posing a danger to people or creating discomfort for the bees. The hive must be positioned in such a way that they have a flightpath that is away from travelled path. It is also necessary to position it somewhere hidden.

Other important factors 

There are some qualities a beekeeper should have. Inquisitiveness, rational thinking, resilience and patience are really necessary. As has been stressed before, beekeeping can be a little challenging. These qualities will help a beekeeper to deal with the few challenges.

To be honest, anyone that has the space and an interest in beekeeping can do well with the right amount of effort. Unless you are allergic to bee stings, beekeeping can be easy and exciting. If you have the passion for it, go ahead and give it a try.