How To Start the Art of Beekeeping
Becoming a beekeeper is not at all that difficult. By becoming a beekeeper you will be doing good for the environment around you because without bees, we would have a lot fewer food sources. To start off with your Beekeeping, the easiest way would be to buy an established colony from a known local beekeeper. Another way is to buy packaged bees and queens and transfer them into new equipment. A third possibility is by finding and installing swarms (this is not recommend for novice beekeepers).
Beekeeping management is not an easy task. The management is generally based on natural nectar flows. Beekeepers want their colonies to reach maximum strength before the nectar flows begin. In this way, the bees store the honey as surplus which can be harvested by the beekeeper.
Processing honey is the result of the beekeeping process. As a beekeeper, you will need to invest in the honey extracting equipment, because it is specialised. Sometimes used equipment is also available. Alternatively, you can borrow from fellow beekeepers or use the club facilities. The amount of honey that is produced shows the fruits of good beekeeping.
The First Steps
Simple – join a club such as the MDBKA. Anyone who is interested in becoming a beekeeper should first find out if they are allergic to bee stings. You can still go ahead and learn about beekeeping if you are allergic, but of course you are going to have to take special precautions and be much more careful when you are dealing with the bees.
Learn About the Bees
The next crucial step in becoming a beekeeper is to learn about the different species of bees, how they nest, what their hives are like, about their personal characteristics, and so on. There are many different types of hives available around the world, and the best idea is to select a specific hive type to learn about first, to make it easier on yourself.
The vast majority of bees in the UK. couId be described as British Standard Mongrels, being a mixture of both indigenous and imported races. Their colour, prolificacy of the queen, frugality, quietness on the comb, and temperament can be variable.
There are basically three types of honey bees, the workers, the drones and the queen bees. The workers basically do all the work of the colony of bees, and a colony may have as many as sixty thousand workers. The drones are the male bees and they fly from the hive and mate in the air with virgin queens from other colonies. The queen is a fully fertile female specialised for producing eggs. Please speak to any of your committee at the club and/or see if a member could let you have some bees, or make it known that you would like a nuc/swarm if one became available.
Western Red Cedar is the best choice of wood for constructing bee hives because its natural oils make the wood stable when exposed to severe weather conditions. An alternative is pine, which is relatively cheaper, but it is not as durable as Cedar.
Many gardens will accommodate a couple of hives providing they are sited sensibly, but don’t risk problems with your family or neighbours. Some people have a fear of insects and may not share your enthusiasm, so please be responsible. Many people in towns and cities keep bees, often unknown to their neighbours, and they often do well because of the flowers in parks and gardens. Before investing in equipment you will have to dispose of if you decide beekeeping is not for you, it would be a good idea to attend several practical training sessions.
The following is an absolute minimum requirement when starting out:
- Bee Suit
- Hive Tool
- Wellington Boots
Looking at the list above the most important tool to work the bees is a good quality hive tool. This will allow you to open the hive and remove the frames, in a smother way and keeping the bees calmer. Bee suits come in many types from full body suits to smock types. They come with fixed veils or separate hats with veils attached to keep the bees away from your head. The bee suit keeps the bees from climbing into your cloths. Also a pair of Wellington boots, so your bee suit trouser legs can be touched in, as this stops the bees climbing up into your cloths. To protect the hand a pair of thin nitrile gloves are best. They allow you to feel the bees if one gets trapped under your fingers when working them. Resulting in it less likely for you to get stung. If you do get stung it allows you to wash your hand to remove the pheromones so other bees are not attracted. In the case of leather gauntlets this is not possible.
When it comes to working the colony, a smoker is important to calm the bees. You should not over use a smoker as this can agitate the bees. A couple of puffs of smoke at the entrance to the hive should be sufficient. Also when opening the hive and working the bees bee gentle, this will keep them calm. Lastly it is important that you keep all your tools, bee suit clean and use new disposable gloves on each visit to your apiary. This will reduce the risk of transferring diseases and is good bio protection practises.
Siting The Hive
It is easy to keep honey bees anywhere, where there are flowering plants which produce nectar and pollen. For Bee Keeping the site to be chosen should be sheltered from winds and it is better if it is partly shaded. It is advisable to avoid low spots in a yard, where the air is cold and damp in winter.
It is advisable to tell your neighbours and keep the hive away from crossing paths, public footways, playgrounds and other public areas.
Bees have a few diseases, and these should be understood. There are two notifiable diseases, European Foul Brood (EFB), American Foul Brood (AFB) and one notifiable insect is the Small Hive Beetle. As their names suggest for the diseases are both brood diseases, and are both quite rare, and that is the problem. Many beekeepers never see them, so when they do have an outbreak they are often unable to recognise it, and if nothing is done their bees could be a source of infection to others for some time. In the case of the Small Hive Beetle has not been reported in the UK as yet. Recognition is important and there are excellent photographs in the booklets supplied by the National Bee Unit (NBU) which is part of Animal Health and Plant Agency (APHA). There are Bee Inspectors who visit beekeepers to check for both these diseases. The best approach is to recognise what healthy brood should look like, and if there is anything wrong that you can’t handle, then call in your local Bee Inspector. Varroa is in every colony and must be dealt with in some way. It is essential to understand the life cycle in order to use the various treatments. Monitoring for mites should be studied and practiced, firstly to tell you when to treat, and secondly to indicate if the treatment has been successful. Any treatment to the colony must be from the authorised list on the Veterinary Medicine Directive (VMD) list. As honey is a food product and failure to use the correct treatment can lead to prosecution. A list of approved products can be found here. Please select Bee in the species field.
There are some diseases that require a microscope for detection. The MDBKA provides assistance in the testing and advice. Please use the contact form to arrangement for the testing of your bees.