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Basic Beekeeping – Getting Started ~ by Paul Hirons

Basic Beekeeping - Getting Started

A practical guide to getting started from beekeeper, Paul Hirons:-

Getting started

The best time to take up beekeeping is in the Spring.  Bees will have been in a cluster all winter and in late March or early April they will start to emerge.  They may be about much earlier if the temperature isn’t too cold; they have been known to pop out for cleansing flights all through the winter.  In Spring the fruit trees and flowers in bloom will supply the new colony with sufficient nectar and pollen to encourage the queen to start laying. 

If you have never kept bees before, start with just the one hive. Being a beekeeper is not only a hobby, but a magical, enchanting ancient craft. You will be joining a long line of beekeepers going back hundreds of years.  Enjoy the experience, read about beekeeping and take it easy, there’s no rush.   Acquire your new skills with patience and care.

 Who can keep bees?

 Beekeeping can be a family hobby.  It is suitable for the young and old.  It is an ideal retirement hobby, or a very relaxing pastime for the busy executive.  Landowners, woodland owners and gardeners would all benefit from keeping bees.  I’ve met beekeepers that are surgeons, and others who sweep the streets, shoulder to shoulder at the local beekeeping association meetings.

You can keep a hive in the bottom of the garden or in out apiaries on your local farms.  Farmers love bees and you should be able to find a number of quiet sites.  When you site your hives, sort yourself out a seat to sit and watch your bees working. Watch them land and takeoff. Heathrow couldn’t beat your healthy hive for the number of takeoffs in one minute.  At the entrance there will be bees just fanning air into the hive, others on guard.  Watch the drones circling over the hive.  Beekeeping is a relaxing hobby and an excellent contrast to a hectic work life.

Why keep bees?

Well, bees produce honey, they produce beeswax and they produce propolis (the only varnish used on the Stradavarius violin).  They also produce royal jelly.  And bees will produce more bees!  Queen bees sell them for about £38 a time or you can take the honey. Good hives will produce over 20lb of honey a season. You might also be able to sell beeswax.  A hive can be made to pay its way if you want to. Your personal reason for keeping bees can be your own choice but you’ll join a wide band of fellow beekeepers worldwide.

Siting your hive

You can keep bees in your garden but please consider your neighbours.  They might not like the idea of being in the flight path of thirty thousand bees!  If you do have a big garden then site the hive with the entrance facing an obstacle like a hedge or a fence.  This forces the bees leaving the entrance to circle like mini jumbo jets to gain height to fly away to forage.  Incoming bees will also stack and wait to come down. You could ask local farmers or your local council for a site.  A little research and you could have your hives sited in the gardens of the local stately home or rear of a garden centre. You’ll be surprised how many landowners welcome a well-mannered beekeeper.  Remember the Country Code!

Bees stink!

Many years ago when the kids were toddlers my wife pointed out that my hive warning signs were spelt wrongly.  I had made several signs saying, “Bees Sting!” My wife said it should be “Stink”!  Well, bees don’t smell unless it’s the scent of honey and beeswax. However Bees do sting, and will sting the curious and the foolish that disturb them.  Bear this in mind when siting your hives and keep them away from places where people walk dogs, schoolchildren may play or vandals might decide to knock the hives over.  For some reason bees do not like horses, so don’t put your bees on the side of a field containing horses.

The livestock - buying bees

Usually you buy what’s called a “nucleus of bees”.  This is a small colony of bees on five brood frames and comprises a young, laying queen and a retinue of worker bees and brood in the comb.  You’ll see these advertised by beekeeping equipment retailers.  They are usually available around April or May.  You can save money by shopping around for a nuc.  The major retailers charge £200 plus for a nuc. Your local Bee Association may be able to supply one for only £95 with loads of free advice.

When you buy a nucleus of bees you will need somewhere to hive them.

The hive

A British National Hive comprises of the following:

  • a flat roof –probably about 4” deep and capped with tin to keep out the elements.
  • a crown board – sometimes called a quilt, the crown board is a framed flat ply board with a hole in the middle. Useful for putting a feeder on the hive, clearing supers and sits under the roof on top of the honey super.
  • a honey super holding 11 shallow frames. This is a square shaped box with no bottom or top and has a rebate in each side. 11 frames sit on the rebates and hang in the box. The frames are fitted with wax that is called foundation and is used for the storing of honey.
  • a queen excluder – a mesh screen that sits on top of the brood box and stops the queen getting in to the honey super and laying eggs in the honey comb.
  • a brood box containing 11 deep frames - very similar to a honey super but much deeper. This has 11 suspended frames and is where the brood live. The queen lays her eggs in the wax cells of these frames. This is called the brood chamber and the brood nest is spread across these frames.
  • a varroa floor -This is a mesh floor.  When the bee grooms off the varroa parasite it falls straight through the mesh. Older hives had a solid wooden floor and it was found that the varroa stayed on the floor and hitched a lift on the next available bee.

The hive stand

This can be a hand made wooden stand, a milk crate or a couple of breeze blocks. It keeps the hive off the damp ground. I make a bench out of old planks or joists and sit a couple of hives on that. I also ratchet strap my hives to the bench. Keeps the hives together in high winds and stops vandals pushing them over.

The beekeepers protective clothing and tools

  • the beekeeper’s jacket – this is usually white and fitted with a hood and veil. It keeps the bees off your face.
  • gloves – soft gloves are essential to stop the bees stinging your hands.  Don’t buy expensive suede gloves; buy cheap blue rubber gloves just a bit thicker than Marigolds. (Marigolds tend to rip)
  • the smoker – the smoker is used to calm the bees down when inspecting the hive. The smoker as its name suggests burns small chips of wood or rolled paper and smoke is gently puffed into the hive entrance. The effect of the smoke is to make the bees think they may have to evacuate the hive so they gorge themselves on honey. This stupefies them and they become more docile.
  • the hive tool – a simple lever similar to a pry bar about 7” long and  used to prise hive parts apart. I use a small packing crate tool sold in B&Q for £3.45. You’ll lose these so don’t bother buying the expensive stainless steel ones.
  • the bee brush – used when you take the hive apart.  Bees invariably crawl onto the sides of the hive boxes. The brush is used to gently clear away any bees that might otherwise be crushed.

The bottom line - the start up costs

  • It’s not necessary to spend thousands of pounds on kit to enjoy beekeeping, but don’t buy anyone’s old hives unless you have them looked at by an experienced beekeeper. Why did the colony die? Did the hive die of disease. A few quid saved on the hive could lose you hundreds if disease takes hold of your future colonies. Disease doesn’t always occur immediately, it could take years to emerge.
  • You can buy a good healthy nucleus of bees treated for European Foul Brood and Varroa for £145. You usually have to collect the nuc from the supplier.
  • A hand made complete hive in white pine is about £140 with a ridge roof (very pretty) for an extra £25. Painted with Cuprinol it will last years.
  • The 11 brood frames and 11 super frames cost approx £1.50 each. You can buy the 11 brood frames and 11 super frames and the brood foundation and super foundation from Thornes Beekeeping Ltd. Wax foundation is simply a sheet of wax impregnated with cell walls. It makes it easy for the bees to draw out the wax into honeycomb.
  • a bee jacket on Ebay - £39 plus postage
  • a hive tool from B&Q £3.45
  • a bee brush from eBay £3.95 plus postage
  • a smoker, about £21 plus postage, these seem to be quite cheap on eBay. Buy a nice big one that will stay alight. Don’t buy any fuel for your smoker, it’s fun to make your own smoker fuels - use old cardboard loo roll centres, collect dry wood and bark, use wood shavings etc. Buy a box of the longer cook’s matches for lighting the smoker.

Some Useful Links:

www.dave-cushman.net – excellent beekeeping site.

http://www.beehivemaker.co.uk/ – hand made, quality, cheap hives.

http://www.britishbee.org.uk/ - British Beekeeping Association.

http://www.thorne.co.uk/ – Thornes Beekeeping, always a bit pricey

http://www.bees-online.co.uk/ - Maisemore, usually cheaper than Thornes

http://www.scottishbeekeepers.org.uk/ – excellent beekeeping info

http://www.beekeeping.co.uk/ – National bee supplies, good range.

Posted in: Practical Guides, Woodland Activities ~ On: 12 February, 2010

19 comments so far

jim from york
19 May, 2017

At 72 I am not very interested in keeping bees but my friends who keeps em gave me some honeycombe and my grandchildren, eating it with a spoon, wanted answers for their show and tell site at school. There will be no honeycombe left to take but they can take the frame it came in and thanks to this site, I can explain a little about it to them.

Good luck with the bee keeping and keep that honey coming!!

Jim Boam

Adeel ahmed
1 March, 2017

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Darren Slate
27 July, 2016

Good article Paul. There are lots of different type of protective suits available these days, the designs have improved from the simple boiler suit and hood, and now include more advanced designs and materials

SALAMAT ALI
13 April, 2015

WE CAN OFFER BEEKEEPING GLOVES,
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and bee keeping suits / jackets etc.
REGARDS.
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MINI LEATHER GLOVES
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Liz
26 March, 2014

My name is Liz and I’m contacting you from Silver River Productions, a TV company based in London. We are currently in production for a BBC2 primetime gardening show ‘The Big Allotment Challenge.’

The series follows a handful of talented amateur kitchen gardeners as they transform a plot of earth in our walled garden into a patch of beauty and reveal all the wonderful possibilities that can be unlocked from allotment growing.

We are looking for contestants to feature in the series, those who have the skill and dedication and who could dig their way to victory and be crowned the winner of ‘The Big Allotment Challenge.’ People who can cultivate the perfect carrot, make their green tomatoes into tasty chutney and turn their dahlias and sweet peas into floral arrangements.

So whether you’re an allotmenteer, a city living window box grower, or a gardening enthusiast, we want to hear from you. We are coming to the end of our application process so email [email protected] for an application form today!

Andrew
2 September, 2012

Hi All, in June this year I started a FREE classified Ads website and Forum called BeekeepingOnline.co.uk. The aim is to try and bring down the high start up costs of beekeeping, something that has already been mentioned in the previous posts.

I am also running a competition in association with Paynes Bee Farm to give away 2 Poly National Hives with Frames – so please check out the website, its free to enter and could help reduce your start up costs if your thinking of starting beekeeping.

Andrew
[email protected]

Steve the new Beekeeper
22 November, 2011

Hi Paul,

Thanks for that. I am already a member of by local BKA, although I think about half of them are on the collectors list already, so I was told that I’ll be lucky to get one through the club. They also have a waiting list for any collected but not wanted, but non beekeepers who want their first one go to the top, so anyone who already has colonies doesn’t usually qualify. Hence the idea of the swarm boxes, I can just use lures, old comb and propolis, then keep an eye on them when I’m walking the dogs. I’m half way through “honeybee democracy” by TD Steeley at the moment, it’s a good book, but just wondered if you had any other ideas really.

I think we still have an old Henry hoover in the shed though, so I could modify him, just in case a swarm collecting opportunity arises too.

Thanks
Steve

Paul Hirons
22 November, 2011

Hi,

putting out several swarm boxes baited with used brood comb and a bit of honey comb may attract a swarm but I honestly think you may be out of luck. Old woodland may have colonies of bees but they may not be attracted to your boxes.

Swarms can be found quite easily by putting a small ad in your local paper stating that you want swarms or contacting your local Beekeeping Association and putting your name down as someone who wants swarms.

In May and June you will be contacted by people who want to get rid of swarms. I had twelve in one day this year!!!

Catching a swarm is never an easy job, it can be quite frightning surrounded by thousands of angry bees. However with the right gear you can simplify the task.

You will need to have all your beekeeping protective gear, beesuit, trousers, stout boots, smoker, hive tool, bee brush and in addition take a set of steps, secateurs, pruning saw and some really good gloves. Find a stout cardboard box. A Wine box or bottle box is ideal.

You need to find the pear shaped cluster containing the Queen, usually on a bush or tree branch and drop that into a cardboard box by cutting the branch they are on. Empty the cardboard box into your swarm box, wait a while and all the other bees will search for the Queen and disappear into the box.

If you got a good audience put your swarm box on the top of a ramp of wood covered with a cotton sheet. Drop the swarm from a branch into a cardboard box and dump the swarm onto the sheet. All the Bees run up into the swarm box as if like magic.

There has been some success using home made Bee Vacs that can reach the eaves of houses. The bee vac has a vac suction hose plugged into a modified box and another hose out of that is used to suck up the Bees. Put frames in the modified box to give the bees something to hang on to and use mesh to seperate the bees from the vac hose. The modified box has a flat ply sheet on the bottom held by runners and the top flat ply sheet has a baffle board that slides in runners to allow a mesh vent more or less exposure. Use this to regulate the suction and keep it to a reasonable level.

The modified box should be the same size as your brood boxes and the bees are transferred by sitting the modified box on a brood chamber, remove the bottom board and allow them to go down into the brood box. The top can then come off and smoke the stragglers to encourage them to go down.

Good Luck with your Beekeeping.

Steve the new Beekeeper
22 November, 2011

Hi,

I’m looking into putting out several swarm catching boxes this year, we have some very old woodland nearby, other than near old trees where bees may already live and facing south, do you have any other tips on where to place them? I would imagine you have come across several wild colonies over the years.

Jon
10 April, 2010

A link to one of the many web pages descibing horizontal top bar hives would also be worthwhile – try this UK based site ‘Friends of the Bees’ http://fotb.drogon.org/index.php

Pau Hirons
11 March, 2010

Thank you for your kind comments.

Keeping Bees is traditional craft and can be enjoyed by many people of all skills, different trades and many lifestyles.

Have a look at the links on the article and the BBKA link will help you find Beekeepers in your area.

If you are thinking of keeping Bees take your time, read up on the subject and enjoy your hobby. In these days of stress and worry, loans and debts, it is nice to loose yourself in quiet contemplation while you attend your healthy colony of bees.

Falade saanu patrick
7 March, 2010

No doubt about this, it is a great article from a deep experience of a reputable beekeeper. I love this and i love u. Please how can i join an association that will assit me in acquiring the needed skills in queen rearing and other management. I am from Nigeria thanks.

BestBeekeeping
25 February, 2010

Emma – Nick Hampshire has written a very good basic guide to natural beekeeping with Warre hives – you can get a free copy at http://www.bestbeekeeping.com/quick_start_guide_natural_beekeeping.pdf

Emma Rogers
24 February, 2010

Good to see more encouragement to keep bees, but what about natural beekeeping? Looking after the bees as the manin priority rather than the honey? A link to the natural beekeeping trust would be good to see!

Paul Hirons
19 February, 2010

Hi, If anybody would like loads of free files on Basic Beekeeping and Plants for Bees please email me and I’ll send you four emails with loads of useful Basic Beekeeping information. Best Wishes, Paul Hirons

Ruthie Corblay
17 February, 2010

Paul – Really nice to find a site with comprehensive info on with facts, figures, prices and everything one would need to know. Been considering taking the plunge for some time now and with a bit of cash saved we’ll see how it goes! Thanks again for taking the time to write the article.

George Lunt
14 February, 2010

Nice article but – the crucial thing is to join your local Bee Keepers Association. Not only do you immediatly gain access to a vast source of knowledge and experience but you also have practical benefits like insurance, up-to-date news about diseases in your area and the control of those diseases and, in many cases, access to specialist kit like honey extractors etc. You can easily find your local association by putting “Bees” into Google or look at the British Beekeepers Association ( BBKA)site – one of the links in Paul Hirons’ article. Woodlands make great homes for bees!

BestBeekeeping
13 February, 2010

Great article, and very timely. Now is the time to get ready for your first bees this spring – read up as much as you can, join your local association, and take the plunge – you won’t regret it!

Peta
12 February, 2010

Hi

This is a great introduction to bee keeping and, for me, rather timely as I’m thinking about adding a hive to my garden. Thanks for the links too as they’ve been really useful.

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