How to Start Beekeeping
If you are wondering how to start beekeeping, you need to be sure that you can dedicate the time and have the money to invest before you even start. During the main beekeeping season you need to go to your apiary every 7-10 days to check all is well and do any swarm control necessary, if you don’t, you could find that half your bees have gone next time you do an inspection. There is also the cost to consider, as there is a reasonable outlay required to get started, of course, once you are past this initial cost you could start to recoup this by selling honey or nuclei of bees.
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and as such there is a lot to learn, there are lots of good books on the subject, but before you do anything else I would suggest buying or borrowing a copy of “bees at the bottom of the garden”, it’s written for complete novices in layman’s terms. If this wets your appetite it’s worth contacting your local beekeeping association to see if they are running any beginners courses, these often cover all the basics you need to know and will usually give you hands on experience in handling honeybees. If all goes well join your local association because you will meet numerous people who have been doing it for years and will be able to offer plenty of advice. They will probably have a library of beekeeping books too, so read all you can on the subject, the club librarian should be able to recommend good books.
Location, Location, Location
You now need to start thinking about where you will keep your bees. There are a number of ideal environmental factors which the bees favour, such as facing south, in dappled shade, close to varied forage and water. You also need to consider keeping them away from people and livestock, avoiding frost pockets and being hidden away, as hives do get stolen from time to time. If you live in the country, just ask around, someone may know a friend with a big garden or of a bee friendly farmer. If you live in a town or city many people keep them up on the roof of commercial buildings, it’s been suggested that urban beekeepers do better than those in the country these days, due to the longer season and variety of flowers which grow in public parks and private gardens.
On the equipment side of things, it’s worth mentioning that you really need 2 hives of honeybees together in the same location, this means you can take from one to give to the other if you encounter certain problems such as a queen-less hive, so all the hive hardware itself needs to be doubled up. The bare essentials you need to get started are:
- A Beehive – (or two) with all the frames and foundation needed for the year, it’s easiest to buy them as “ready to go” kit’s, so everything is included, you just need to decide if you want wood or polystyrene hives and what type to go for (it’s best to just use the same type as other people at your club, quite likely British Nationals).
- Bee Suit – to prevent yourself from being stung, particularly if the bees are having an off day.
- Gloves – many people don’t use gloves at all, I suggest you do at first, you can buy leather ones, or use washing up gloves like I do.
- Smoker – this has the effect of pacifying the bees, in actual fact when you give them a puff of smoke, they think there is a fire, so dive inside the hive to gorge themselves on honey, just in case they have to fly away.
- Hive Tool – you’re bound to lose it, so buy a couple.
This is the basic equipment you will need to start, but as you progress you will also need nucleus boxes, a spare hive for swarm control, various disease treatments and of course, honey extraction equipment (although this could probably be borrowed from your club for the first year or two).
You can’t start beekeeping without some bees. A good place to ask is your local club, someone may have a nucleus which is excess to requirements, otherwise have a look on the Internet, but try to buy locally if possible, as this helps to prevent the spread of disease around the country.
You will hear lots of people say that a particular type of bee is more docile, produces more honey, is prone to swarming or is more inclined to rob from other hives, the fact is that like people, there is good and bad in all of them, plus the way that bees mate means it’s almost impossible to get a pure strain these days. You will hear about Carniolans, Buckfast bees and British mongrels. Again, a benefit of getting your bees from someone you know means you can see them before committing and at least know that they are docile which is quite important when you are starting out.
So there are the basics on how to start beekeeping, but please do remember this is a basic guide and membership of a beekeeping club, attending a course and a few good books will give you infinitely more information about how to start beekeeping.