I’m Thinking About Keeping Bees, What Do I Need To Know?

Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby and there are many reasons why people start keeping bees. If you are thinking that this might be something you would be interested in please read the following-

‘Save the Bees’. A great marketing campaign to increase knowledge and improve habitats for over 270 species of bee in the Uk. This worthy campaign has been hijacked and over-simplified to promote the honey bee to the detriment of all other bees.

Whereas honey bees in the UK and Europe are doing well, solitary bees and bumble bees are really struggling.  If you want to start beekeeping because you want to ‘save the bees’ then your interest would be much better focused on protecting or creating habitats for bumble bees and solitary bees. If you need some ideas on how you can help, we have developed a solitary bee and bug trail located at our apiary in Hinchingbrooke Park, Huntingdon.

Still interested in keeping bees, then read on…..

The natural way honey bees reproduce is through swarming where the old queen leaves with half the colony, leaving behind a virgin queen/s to continue. Responsible beekeepers try to manage this behaviour and are generally successful although they can still be caught out!

Firstly, swarming is managed by inspecting hives every 5-7 days from mid-April to mid-July.  This means you can’t go on a 2 week holiday during this period.

Secondly, the techniques to manage swarming require extra beekeeping equipment which require storage and the money to buy it of course!

Thirdly, when bees swarm they are trying to find a new place for their colony. They favour places at least 3-4m above the ground with a decent sized space to build wax comb and store honey and an entrance they can defend. If your hives are located in your garden near to other houses then a swarm will naturally find their way into cavity walls, chimneys, soffits, bell towers, sheds, summer houses etc. etc. Therefore, if you live in a built up area we would not recommend keeping bees in your garden. However, you could consider an ‘out apiary’ which is well away from buildings.

Fourthly, we recommend you have a minimum of two hives i.e. more money and more storage required!  This is because if your virgin queen fails to get mated, is badly mated or fails to return from her mating flights then you can place a frame of eggs from your other hive into the queenless hive. The worker bees should be able to raise a new queen.  The alternative is that you buy another queen (more money) from a UK based company.

Still interested in keeping bees? Then keep reading…….

At certain times of the year bees can be very defensive, for example in late summer when marauding wasps try to gain entry to the hive.  They can also become defensive due to the genetics of the queen (more money when you buy a new queen to replace her). It really is very unpleasant being bombarded by bees trying to sting you and follow you all the way back to your car or to the house.  Generally, the beesuit and gloves you wear will protect you from most stings but if you are allergic or react badly or a member of your family does then keeping bees may not be for you. 

Before you buy the two hives and all the frames, foundation, tools etc. required to start your beekeeping journey we recommend you join a beekeeping association and attend a beginners’ course that has a practical element.  Huntingdonshire Beekeepers’ Association runs beginners’ courses and an apiary where you can gain practical experience. It also runs taster sessions where you can have a two hour session with an experienced beekeeper to see if you actually like being in a beesuit, putting your hands in a hive and being surrounded by lots and lots of bees!

A quality made bee suit, gloves, smoker, hive tools etc will cost about £200-£300.

After you have paid your membership fee, completed your beekeeping course and found a suitable site location you will now be in a better position to decide on the type of hive you will buy and where to get your bees. A well made cedar hive with frames will cost about £500. You will need two, so your budget is £1000. Then you need to get your bees. A nucleus of bees, which has a proven laying queen and has been treated for varroa will cost circa £180-£280.  You could capture a swarm but there is no provenance for the queen and bees. Usually, you do not know where they have come from and whether or not they are carrying any diseases…..did we mention yet about European Foul Brood? This is a notifiable disease of bees where you will have to destroy and burn your hives if found.  It is highly prevalent in the Cambridgeshire area.

Last, should you be so fortunate to have bees that produce enough honey for you to take some then you will need an extractor and associated equipment. Each full super box of honey will weigh about 20lbs, which you will need to be able to lift and move when you are carrying out your inspections.

If you are still interested in keeping bees please book your bee taster session with the Apiary Manager.