Beekeeping FAQ

Whats my first step if I want to start keeping bees?

Check out our beekeepers directory and find your local beekeeping association, visit their website and if they do beekeeping courses then sign yourself up!

What is the bare minimum equipment needed to keep bees?

  • A hive – There are different types, see our hive page to see which one is for you.
  • Bee suit, gloves and veil
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • A feeder
  • A porter bee escape
  • A good book to refer to
  • A diary to keep note of happenings (why not start a blog here to do this!)

How much time does it take to keep bees?

As beekeeping is a seasonal hobby the time will vary from season to season. In the middle of Winter there is practically nothing to do, except to check for damage, snow blockages at the entrances and some feeding.

The busiest time is in summer where weekly checks must be carried out to stop swarming and add supers. Once you get the hang of doing these checks then it should only take minutes each time.

Check out our beekeepers year blog post here.

How much is it going to cost to get started?

If you buy new and get everything possible you will spend a fortune and make the beekeeping suppliers very happy indeed. In reality and in todays economic climate its prudent to buy second hand.

A hive with bees will cost around £50-70 and your local association might do you a good deal as a new member. A new bee suit and veil will be around £40 and can sometimes be bought with a smoker, gloves etc as a pack and should come to less than £100.

The most expensive piece of equipment you will want within a year or two will be a honey extractor and these start at around £150+, however most associations or other local beekeepers will allow you use of a shared extractor.

Do I need to join my local association?

This is most definitely advisable! Associations are a great place to network, find cheap equipment, bees and get excellent expert advice etc. Find you local beekeeping association in our directory.

Do I need a license to keep bees?

Not in the UK but in some countries you do so please check with your local authority.

When is the best time to start beekeeping?

Well beekeeping is a continuous cycle and the best times to start the craft would be in Autumn or Spring. If you join with a local association and take their courses over the Winter then they can best advise you on all these things.

What kind of hive should I get?

Read our hives page here and make your decision based on that.

Should I use open mesh floors?

It does have benefits. It was introduced to help diagnose Varroa by allowing the mite to fall through onto a tray beneath the colony. The natural drop can be used as an indicator to estimate the mite population. After using it beekeepers noted the bees benefited from the extra ventillation it offered.

Having mesh floors also means a narrow entrance can be kept all year which is easier for the bees to defend. It is also thought that live Varroa fall out of the colony and perish which is obviously a good thing. All in all it seems to have definite advantages and is recommended.

See our hive ventillation page and find out how to make your own.

What style of frame should I use?

So the main choices are self spacing frames (Hoffman frames) and ones that require seperate spacers. The space between frames is necessary and is called ‘Bee Space’ which the bees will use as a passage and not fill it with more wax comb. Hoffman frames create a slightly tighter spacing than that given by conventional frames and spacers. Some beekeepers claim this to be detrimental, most do not.

New beekeepers have a tendancy to use the Hoffman frames as they are less fiddly to use. A good idea would be to use Hoffman frames in the brood chamber where the frames remain a fixed distance and use narrow or wide spacers in the supers as required.

Should I use Castellations?

Castellation fix the exact positions of frames and negate the need for Hoffman frames or spacers. This sounds like a great idea but they prevent you from widening the bee space in the supers and from sliding frames around whilst manipulating the brood. Its probably best to start without them and try them at a later date should you feel the need

What type of bee suit should I buy?

You should really try and get the best that you can afford. If you are a beginner it is best to feel as safe as possible so you enjoy the experience all the more. It is not advisable to buy a veil only, try and get a full suit or atleast a jacket or smock with built in veil.

The older style veils have netting all around the back and can cause problems when the netting folds inwards letting the odd bee sting the back of your neck. Try and get one that has a fabric back and looks a bit like a fencing helmet.

What type of smoker should I buy?

Smokers mostly come in two sizes: large and small. They are manufactured in three types of metal:

  • Tin plated steel: Cheapest option but expect it to look pretty tired within two seasons.
  • Copper: More resistant to corrosion but has a tendency to get easily dented.
  • Stainless steel:These are the best but the most expensive option.

A wire guard will stop you from burning yourself but is a less common option on a small smoker.

The large smoker used to be the smoker of choice for beekeepers but with the advent of compressed cotton as a fuel the small smoker comes into its own. Using the compressed cotton means a small smoker will burn for a lot longer. This means it is more suited to beginners with only a few hives as its easier to hold and manouver.

Can I make my own hives?

Yes of course you can and you can find the plans and everything you need to know on our ‘Make you Own’ page.

Where do I get my bees?

  • From a beekeeper: Sometimes a more experienced beekeeper wil be prepared to split there hive to get you started. There also could be an old beekeeper who wishes to give up their hive(s), so try advertising your wants locally.
  • From a swarm: You can catch a swarm locally if you have the experience. Be warned that you do not know their history, if they have disease etc but definitly the cheapest way to acquire bees.
  • From your local association: Some associations will provide ‘starter colonies’ for beginners or will supply bees only, often delivered and installed for you by an experienced beekeeper. This is an excellent way to start.
  • By post: Some companies post you what is called a ‘package’ of bees in a travelling box or a nucleus hive. In the UK it is more typical to buy a nucleus hive often shortened to just ‘Nuc’ pronounced ‘nook’.

A nucleus hive is normally half the size of a usual hive and commonly has five brood frames with a queen ready to be transferred to a full size hive. This can provide high quality bees but at a price. Make sure the frames are compatible with your equipment when ordering and the queen will be available marked or/and clipped for small additional charge.

A ‘Package’ of bees is loose bees without frames in a specially designed travelling box containing the bees with their queen in a separate cage. The travelling box has a feeder built in to nourish the bees during transport.

Will i get stung?

More than likely! You cant call yourself a beekeeper until you get stung. Some people are allergic but most will just swell slightly and build up immunity. If you, a member of your family or your neighbours are allergic then you should think very carefully about keeping bees as it could prove dangerous.

How many bees are in a hive?

Well it depends on the hive but on average hives will contain 35,000+ bees in mid-summer. Around 40% of these will remain in the hive as they are too young to fly and forage for the hive.

Can I keep bees on my allotment?

Yes but you should contact the allotment secretary. Sometimes you may have to be covered by insurance and prove your ability to keep bees.

Site the hives in a way that bees do not fly towards gardeners and have an obstacle such as a high fence, trees or a hedge in front of the entrance to force the bees to fly high. Try to ensure bonfires are not a possibility near the hives.

Can I keep bees in my garden?

Yes there is no legislation to stop you in the UK but this may not be the case in other countries. If you are a beginner you should try and get a colony that is gentle in nature. Unless your garden is very large two colonies should be your limit. Again care must be taken in the placement of the hive and making sure no neighbours etc are allergic.

Can I use a lawnmower next to the hive?

No not really. Keep the mower atleast three metres away from the hive at all times. Try placing the hive in a non-grassy area facing the entrance away from any nearby grassy areas and making sure bees are blocked from flying straight out of the hive. They must be forced to gain altitude.

Will they bother and sting my neighbours and pets?

Its definitly a possibility. If you have a gentle colony then there shouldnt be a problem as bees will usually only attack when they feel threatened. Bees can have an off day and sometimes it is best to leave them be and not agitate.

Will they mark my washing or car?

Yes in a number of ways. They will drop pollen on their way back to the hive thus giving your washing a lovely yellow spotted look (its easily removed). If you have placed your hive near a parked car the bees will deficate on it as they leave the hive (bees deficate whilst taking off from the hive) and if left there will lift the paint, also it doesnt smell that great. So make sure and place your hive carefuly!

Where is an apiary best situated?

OK the ideal situation for an apiary would be on the edge of trees on a South facing slope, with no public access or footpaths close by and be away from cattle. Know any places like that? If you do then your very very lucky. For the rest of us its sometimes better to think where not to put an apiary. That would be in a place thats damp (like the middle of a wood), somewhere thats well ventillated but thats not subjected to ecessively high winds. Consider public access and any nearby cattle etc. A really good place to situate an apiary would be on an organic farm (away from cattle of course) as they dont spray their land with chemicals that would harm bees. So find a friendly organic farmer and see if they will allow you to set up an apiary.

If you find a suitable site set the hives no closer than one metre apart and avoid the entrances being in a straight line (put them in a semi circle if possible) as this may encourage bees to drift in to other hives atrait that can transfer disease quicker.

Should I only keep one hive/colony of bees?

New beekeepers quite often just want to start of small and just look after the one colony and keep there hobby smaller and more managable. This is a mistake and every new beekeeper should aim to have two hives on the go within their second season and here is why:

  1. If your only colony dies in the winter then you are no longer a beekeeper!
  2. Having another colony allows you to compare and contrast, allowing you to spot more easily their strengths and weaknesses. You will learn so much more by doing this.
  3. If for whatever reason one hive becomes queenless then you can easily take eggs from the other hive to help rectify the situation.
  4. You’ll get more honey!!

Can I paint my hives?

Yes. It is best to use the water based fence treatments readily available from DIY superstores. Household paint should be avoided. Only the outside should be painted and leave painted boxes to air for a few days before you put them to use.

What colour should I paint my hives?

Well think about the surroundings. If they are in a place where the public might see them paint them a colour that will blend in with the scenery. If the hives are in your garden then paint them whatever colour you like.

Do I need insurance?

If you are a member of the British Bee Keepers Association (BBKA) you are covered for third party risks and product liability. Upto £5 million cover with no more than 40 colonies.

Is beekeeping exploitative?

Ahhh you must be a vegan? Are you mad? This is what bees do. They prefer to be out working than stuck in the hive in bad weather (any experienced beekeeper will testify to the grumpyness of bees when they have been stuck in due to bad weather). Bee keepers provide a nice home for bees, they provide care and attention, sorting any disease outbreaks etc. Bee keepers are helping the whole planet by keeping bees. Bees will normally always make too much honey and do not require all the stocks, and if they are a bit short then the bee keeper will supplement their food!!

Where do I get help in a hurry?

Your local association and fellow beekeepers. Keep their numbers handy or check out our directory to find the contact details of your local directory.