Getting Started with bees

The following may sound familiar: ‘I’ve been thinking about keeping bees for a long time and now I want to give it a go,’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to do this and now have the opportunity,’ or ‘It has been in the back of my mind for quite a while, since I was at school’.

So ‘How do I start?’

This is a simple question, but there are a very broad range of skills and knowledge required to become a competent beekeeper.

Keeping honeybees is a fascinating and rewarding pursuit. Beekeepers keep bees for several reasons, for example to be able to watch these fascinating creatures in the garden and get away from the hurly burly of everyday life. But along the way many hope to get good honey crops. There is just something special about producing and bottling your own honey. The most populous colonies usually produce not only the most honey per colony but the most honey per bee.

After experience in the management of a few colonies, some beekeepers expand their beekeeping to keep more hives: most commercial beekeepers began this way.

Anybody intending to be a beekeeper should firstly become familiar with honey bees, after all, the honey bee, whilst a fascinating creature, is an unusual insect to keep and it is much more difficult than you may first think.

Keeping bees is a form of livestock management. Beekeepers have a duty of care to look after them properly; it can be quite demanding and heavy work at times. For example, one super can weigh in excess of 20-25kg.

During the summer months you also need to carry out inspections every week to ten days: to control swarming and to make sure that your colonies have young queens and plenty of space for the expanding bee population and storage of honey. You will also need to ensure that any disease is managed appropriately.

bee pest

Varroa destructor

Varroa destructor is a pest which can cause serious damage to honey bee colonies. If you keep bees in the UK, you will have to manage Varroa populations by using a combination of good management techniques and medicines. This just touches the surface of what is involved when keeping bees but as you can see, there is a lot to think about.

LBKA in field

LBKA

LBKA has several districts that offer beginner courses which mainly take place in the spring. These consist of both theory and practical sessions in the district apiary. All districts provide bee suits and equipment you will need, so there is no need to invest in any equipment at this stage. The courses cost is £65. There are also opportunities to join a taster day see events page for details.

Joining such a course is a good way to find out more. Once you have gained a little more experience you may decide to get some bees yourself.

How do I get started?

Prior to committing to the craft anyone considering keeping bees should firstly talk to and visit someone who is already experienced in beekeeping. Most people will have a beekeeper not too far from them, but will probably not realise this, please get in touch with your nearest district and they can put you in touch with a local beekeeper who can show you the ropes.

Most experienced beekeepers are only too happy to discuss beekeeping with potential beginners and following initial discussions will probably offer to show you their apiary.

Stings

Bees can sting; this is something that you must consider before beginning beekeeping. You must be able to withstand bee stings, since they cannot be avoided altogether. The first sting is unlikely to cause serious disturbance, but there will be pain with some local reddening and swelling round where the sting has penetrated. With subsequent stings, swelling and reddening are likely to be more pronounced, even when the amount of injected venom is minimised by immediate removal of the sting. The swelling may persist for several days and there is likely to be some itching before the symptoms disappear. As more stings are received, immunity to their effects usually develops, although some swelling around the site of a sting is quite common, bee stings are always painful.

When handling bees, protective clothing and equipment is required to minimise the number of stings. This gives a confidence which allows efficient colony management and close observation of bee behaviour.

Good apiary hygiene is a very important part of apiary management to prevent the spread of pests and diseases either from apiary to apiary or, colony to colony. Filthy bee suits and poor apiary hygiene such as not cleaning hive tools between each colony or leaving exposed wax, honey or feed will increase these risks.