Getting Started

Getting Started in Beekeeping – A Beginners Guide

All the information you need to get started in beekeeping is right here. Use the quick links below to navigate to a specific area on this page:

Considerations First Steps Equipment Where to Buy Hive Setup


Getting Bees Essential Reading Hints and Tips Warnings

Considerations:

Do you have the time and energy to devote to beekeeping? The worst thing that can happen is that a hive is not looked after properly as it could encourage disease which can spread to other hives. Make sure you have the time and are going to take the craft seriously.

One of the most important considerations is the safety of family, friends and neighbours. We are not expecting a mass stinging incident but a few stings are bound to happen. So it is prudent to consider anyone that may react violently and require medical attention if stung. Therefore some investigation on your part wil be necessary to discover any opposition to you keeping bees.

Contact should also be made with the local council in which the hive will reside to make sure it is situated suitably.

Over how much of the year will nectar and pollens be available to the bees? Will the bees require feeding to ensure their survival? In the UK the bees will obviously require feeding over the winter and early spring.

Bees require water every day, so measures must be taken to insure a water source close to the hive.

What will the bees be flying over to get their food and water? Bees defecate in flight and their feces can damage finishes on cars and leave colored spots on everything below.

The apiary or hive must be in a safe position all year round i.e. an area not prone to flooding, very high winds etc. Try to avoid low lying areas as they tend hold cold, damp air for prolonged periods. Hilltops are also a place to avoid as the normally entertain excessively high winds.

First Steps:

The first thing that we advise is to join your local and national beekeeping association. There are also a number of courses available that give a good grounding in beekeeping and allow attendees to network with more expert beekeepers.

Think about either attaining second hand equipment and hives or buy all new. If considering second hand equipment, please ask your local beekeeping association representitive to look over the hives to make sure no disease is present.

They will also be able to advise you on the placement of your hive. Its essential to choose the correct area – the apiary!

Essential Reading:

Practical Beekeeping (1997) by Clive de Bruyn
Bees at the Bottom of the Garden by Alan Campion
Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper
Honey Bees: A Guide to Management by Ron Brown
Bee Disease Control Orders by HMSO
Beeswax (1995) by R Brown
Garden Plants Valuable to Bees by M.F. Fountain
Varroa destructor: monitoring and forecasting by DEFRA
A Manual of Beekeeping (reprint 1999) by E. B. Wedmore

Equipment Required (essential for beginners):

  • A hive either WBC, National, or Langstroth
  • A book like Bees at the Bottom of the Garden
  • A standard galvanised smoker
  • Hat and veil with ring
  • Plastochrome gloves
  • A record book
  • A stainless steel hive tool
  • 1 gallon feeder

Where to Buy Beekeeping Equipment:

Check out our where to buy page here.

Hive Setup:

When choosing a area where the hive will be situated (the apiary), consider if the bees have to fly across a pedestrian, bicycle or equestrian pathway? If so, they have to be encouraged to gain altitude quickly by installing fencing or solid, tall plantings near the hives.

The hive should sit on a slight slope from the the back (being higher) to the front (being lower), providing a gentle slope. Check out our hive information pages for more info.

Getting Bees – Charging Bees – Installing Bees:

There are a number of ways to obtain your bees. In most cases they are bought from another local beekeeper on frames or boxed from a supplier. Swarms can be obtained for free around May, June and July time if you can find them in the wild or in your local area. We advice speaking to your local beekeepers and beekeeper association.

If you have obtained or purchased a swarm then they could arrive in anything from a straw skep to a cardboard box, sometimes the swarm will just be pointed out for collection by yourself. If collecting yourself please seek the help of an experienced beekeeper.

Hiving a swarm is best done in the cool of the early evening. Remove the roof and crown board and dump the bees into the brood body containing frames of drawn comb or even better foundation. An empty super placed on top of the brood body helps to stop the bees spilling out over the sides during this operation. Replace the crown board and roof and the bees should get to work producing wax and constructing comb and in a few days the queen should start to lay! You are now officially a beekeeper! Unless of course the swarm 24 hours after you install them…..feeding them a large amount of warm, thin syrup on the 24 hour mark should assist in the comb building and not swarming!

Buying them in the hive creates its own problems. If you can convince the seller to help you move the hive as its certainly a two man (or woman) job. WBC hives are especially tricky to move when occupied. The roof and lifts are removed and the brood body and supers are tied securely to the floor. Holes on the crown board are covered and a thin piece of foam rubber is used to plug up the entrance. Great care must be taken when moveing these hives because they are so awkward, the leak bees badly and if lifted by the legs you may find just the legs in your hands and the hive on the ground.

When moving a hive all persons involved should be gloved and veiled.

Single walled hives are much easier to move. The entrance is blocked up and once the hive is fixed together it is lifted as a whole, roof included. There are various ways of fixing hives together; staples and metal triangles are simplest. The worst method is lashing together using twine or clothes line. A lock slide device can be purchased from a company like Steele and Brodie, these can be expensive but a relatively safe and easy method.

Hints and Tips for Beekeeping Beginners:

Monitor hive entrances for any build up of dead bees or blockages. Raise the rear of the hive to ensure the floor slopes gently forwards. Repair any Woodpecker or other damage to stop the weather penetrating. Ensure the hive roof is secured with either bricks, blocks or a strap. Gently lift the hive to check food weight, if light put some food over the feedhole. Record your observations and activities for each hive in a book every time you visit, its far more reliable than memory!

If the air temperature is greater than 12C then you can remove the crown board to have a quick look without withdrawing a frame. You must wait until the temperature is 15C or above before a relaxed full inspection can be done.

Dont burn anything in your smoker than produces acrid smoke. If it makes you cough and eyes water then it’s too acrid. Try using dry well rotted wood, wood shavings and compressed cotton waste that can be purchased from beekeeping suppliers. Use a gas fire lighter, the ones with the long pencil like tube at the end and a trigger to ignite the tip. When using a smoker start with a couple of good puffs aimed at the entrance to drive the guard bees inside and a puff under the crown board and each box as you remove them. Look out for the bees bubbling up on top of the frames this can be a sign that they ‘mean business’ a gentle puff drifting over the bees will push them back down. Never fill the hive with smoke! Cork or plug up the smoker to put it out.

Use you hive tool to unstick everything the bees stick together……which is everything! You get the traditional style scraper tool and the popular ‘J’ tool but advice to beginners would be to start with the ‘J’ tool. The sharp end is useful to separate brood and super boxes and the ‘J’ is great for levering out propolised frames. Use the heel of the ‘J’ tool on the frame next to the one that you are about to lift, with the ‘J’ hooked under the frame. Always lever close to the frames vertical side pieces as this is where the frame is strongest

Here are some things to look for when opening the hive: make sure the queen is there and laying eggs, are the bees healthy i.e. no signs of mould or disease= and do they have plenty of space to expand and store honey.

Always keep written records or a diary of events, noting all hive activities. You could do that here buy starting your very own blog for free, then you can access the information from practically anywhere. Even on your smart phone!

Warnings – things to remember:

Make sure you have the time and room for bees! They dont take a hugs amount of time to look after but it is very important that they are looked after correctly.

Situate your apiary carefully! Make sure no friends, family or neighbours are allergic to stings.
Seek advice from your local beekeeping association.
Attend some beekeeping courses, normally arranged by your local beekeeping association.
Get all the right equipment! If you are buying second hand then have it checked by an experienced beekeeper to make sure no disease or mould etc is present. Give a quick scold with a blow torch to disenfect and kill baddies.