Beginners

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Learning About Beekeeping

Before you even think about buying bees and equipment, you should join your local association,   take a beginners course and gather as much information as possible.    This will prevent some of the more common and costly mistakes.    Even the most experienced beekeepers will say they never stop learning,  so yes,  there is a lot to learn but by joining our association you will have access to some of the foremost experts in the UK and the help and support of all the members. We have beginners and intermediate courses using our own apiaries,  usually in the Spring.

Is beekeeping for me?

You need to be sure before buying what can be costly equipment.  By coming to the meetings you will have the chance to decide if this is for you,  the meetings are social as well as informative and by mixing with others you will soon decide if you want to proceed to beekeeping or maybe take  an active role in supporting others.  By taking a beginners course and visiting the apiaries through the summer you will find out what is best for you with regard to purchasing equipment,  clothing and most importantly what type of bee.

What equipment will I need?

Assuming you decided that Beekeeping is for you, this is a list of the basic equipment that you would need :

  • Protective clothing
    1. Veil.  These come in various styles. It can be a smock (a jacket with a built in veil) or a bee-suit (a full length overall with built in veil).
    2. Gloves.  Some beekeepers do not use gloves, however, latex or nitrile disposable gloves are preferred.  If you use these make sure you get the ‘unpowdered’ (powder-free) type.   Some people are allergic to the powder but the main reason is you do not want it in your honey.  You should use a clean set of gloves every time you visit a colony so disposable ones are ideal.
    3. Boots.  Wellingtons or galoshes (short rubber boots used by caterers and food processors) are needed to prevent bees crawling into shoes or trouser legs.
  • Bee-equipment
    1. Smoker.  Buy a good stainless steel one and bigger is usually better.  Buy one with bellows which can be replaced and a cage around the body to reduce the risk of accidents.
    2. Fuel.  You can use just about anything that burns,  dry wood,  cardboard,  sacking,  dry leaves.  You can get smoke pellets that are slow burning.
    3. Hive tool.  We recommend a good stainless steel one.  the most common are the ‘J’ shape tools,  but others are available.  Buy a big one if you can as you will need to use this to lever frames apart.
    4. Feeder.  There are many types and sizes but a small ‘rapid’ ,  usually round and made of white plastic is best to begin with.
    5. Queen Marking Cage.  Even with a nucleus with a marked queen,  you will need to mark a queen at some stage.  The most common type is a ‘Baldock’ cage.
    6. Queen Marking Pen.  A different colour is used each year.
    7. Notebook.  Or some method of keeping records.  You can buy templates or use computer programmes.   You are required by law to keep a note of treatments you use in your hives,  especially if you sell honey.    From day 1 keep a notebook.  Write in what you have done and seen every time you inspect a hive.

There are other tools and items but these would probably  not be necessary for the first year.

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The Hive

There are different types of hive,  available in flat pack or ready made.  Ready made is best for a beginner. The best wood is Cedar,  though it is expensive.  If you are starting from scratch then you need at least:

  1. A hive stand,
  2. 1 floor with mesh,
  3. 1 brood box,
  4. 12 brood frames with foundation,
  5. 1 queen excluder,
  6. 2 supers,
  7. 24 super frames with foundation,
  8. 1 crownboard,
  9. 1 roof.

Foundation

Wired foundation is best for both brood and super frames.  Wired foundation is strong enough to cope with being spun.  Although you are not going to be putting brood frames in an extractor,  they can be very heavy and the extra strength can be needed.

Polystyrene Hives

These are cheaper and have good insulation for winter but can be false economy.  Although quite robust when new, it can deteriorate once the hive tool is used by bits breaking off or getting gouged.   In addition a wooden hive can be treated with a blow torch and this is not possible with polystyrene.   Many who start with these hives tend to revert to the more traditional wooden  hive but as with everything it is a matter of choice.

As a beginner we strongly recommend you buy all new equipment if you can afford it.  Even good second hand equipment often needs mending and can carry disease.  There are many sources of beekeeping equipment:-

E.H Thorne (Beehives) Ltd,    Northern Bees,   National Bee Supplies,  BBwear Ltd,  Paynes Bee Farms,   Bee Hive Bits,   Most of these have web sites giving product details and prices.

Buying Bees

It is important to only purchase bees from a known source.  The Scottish Beekeepers Association gives the following advice:-

“This is a warning to be extra careful if you are offered bees by someone you don’t know.  There are unfortunately,   unscrupulous people out there who will rip off new beekeepers,  so do not part with any cash until you have taken some precautions.

One of our members has just bought 5 nucleus off a guy north of Inverness.  Two of the nucs had no queen but sealed queen cells,  no eggs or larvae and few bees.  The other 3 had a laying queen but as little as 2 frames of bees   These were only inspected after payment at a cost of £120 each”

A nuc should have:-   A laying queen of this or the current year,   Brood of all stages,  i.e. eggs larvae and sealed brood.  Be of 4 to 6 frames with at least one good frame of stores.   Be disease free.

If you do not know the seller,  ask to see inside the nucs before you buy.

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Getting started

So,  you have done your beginners course,  bought your hive,  protective clothing,  equipment and your bees are due to arrive. You now need to decide the position of the hive as a lot of wasted time and effort can be saved if you make the right decisions now.

If you are keeping the hive in your garden you need to consider your neighbours.  Ensure the hive entrance faces a  high fence or wall.   If the fence is 6 or 7 feet high,  then the bees will need to fly to that height when leaving the hive and should then be flying above  the heads of passers by.

There should be plenty of spacer around each hive to allow for access and maintaining the site,  e.g. grass cutting.    Place the hive on a stand of 18 – 24″ high,  this will prevent backache when opening it and also provide ventilation around the hive which is beneficial.   Do not place bees in a frost pocket or in any area prone to flooding or under trees on the edge of a wood.  Protect hives from prevailing winds and have the hive entrances facing south or south westerly if possible.

If you have more than one hive,  place them in an irregular pattern with the entrances each facing slightly different directions.  This will help prevent bees drifting into the wrong hive which can spread disease.

Finally a nearby water supply should be available for the bees,  especially so in winter as they need water to dilute the winter stores,  low temperatures at this time prevent them from flying too far.  You can help by placing a moss filled shallow tray soaked with water within a few metres of your hives and topping it up regularly.