Why keep bees?

Beekeepers are a diverse lot, but united in their love of bees and their friendliness to newcomers to the craft. You are assured of a welcome at any of our meetings, and of all the assistance you could wish for as a beginner. Together with friendship and practical guidance, we will also provide you with training to equip you to take a national beekeeping qualification, should you wish to.

Commitments involved when starting beekeeping

What does it mean to be a beekeeper? Beekeeping is not just about having a hive at the bottom of the garden and collecting some honey once or twice a year. If you intend to keep bees there is a significant time commitment. Before taking up beekeeping you need to arrange for theoretical and practical training in beekeeping, preferably through a local Beekeepers’ Association. Training usually involves a course of lectures and practical sessions in an Association Apiary or with an established beekeeper.

When you have honey bees, you become an owner of livestock, with the responsibilities that brings – to the bees and to your neighbours:

  • To keep the bees healthy you must practise good animal husbandry.
  • To prevent annoyance to neighbours you must try to stop the bees from swarming.

Honey bees numbers have been in decline. Bees are subject to attack from pests in the form of mites, and diseases, some of which are notifiable to the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and require the attendance of a FERA Bee Inspector, after which the bees may be quarantined.

Being a beekeeper requires a commitment to give time to the bees at least once a week between April and September. There are two main activities during this period. The primary one is examining the bees and their brood to check on health and implement swarm control. The second is to be on the lookout for infestations of mites and diseases and to arrange treatments when necessary.

Throughout the summer the bees will collect and store nectar and periodically additional space has to be provided and processed nectar removed as honey. In the early autumn the bees are likely to need to be fed with sugar syrup to try to ensure there is enough food for the colony to survive to the end of the following March.

There is a financial commitment to becoming a beekeeper. You should be a member of a Beekeepers’ Association and you should have enough hive parts to support at least two colonies of bees (one for the colony and one to cope with swarm control), protective clothing and a variety of tools including a smoker.

The initial year’s set up cost is likely to be in the region of £400 with further costs of up to £600 in the first few years depending on the form of beekeeping you adopt. The recent problems with bees have resulted in beekeepers needing to replace their own stock and the shortage of bees has caused the price of bees to increase to as much as £200 for a nucleus colony. Look at eg Thorne for prices of equipment.

Before any of this can be undertaken, it is vital to find a site to keep the hives which is safe, free from the risk of vandalism, and will not allow the bees to annoy neighbours or the general public

The CBKA Beekeeping for Beginners course (see below) is aimed at those who wish to keep bees. The Course is very popular and often becomes oversubscribed. This means that the level of support we try to offer to new beekeepers may not be available as there are not enough experienced volunteer beekeepers in the Association to support everyone. If, having read the outline of what is involved in becoming a beekeeper you decide your main interest is just in finding out more about bees rather than keeping a hive, let us know of your interest and the CBKA will try to arrange a short seminar on bees and beekeeping for those seeking only background knowledge.

The CBKA Beekeeping for Beginners course

A course of eight evening classes run by Cambridgeshire Beekeepers’ Association will be held for those considering taking up beekeeping for the first time and for existing beekeepers who would like to update their knowledge and improve their beekeeping.

The list is now open for registrations of interest in the 2018 course or the 2019 course. You will be contacted nearer the start date of the course to see if you still want to attend.

  • A fee is payable with confirmed course booking. The fee is yet to be agreed for the 2018 course; it will be confirmed when you are invited to attend. The likely cost will be £45 for 2018.
  • The course takes place from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on Wednesdays
  • It’s held at Chesterton Community College, Gilbert Road, Cambridge. CB4 3NY

Try-A-Hive scheme

On completion of the Beginners’ course we run a Try-A-Hive scheme, whereby you can build and buy the hive, have a colony of bees which you keep for the season, and at the end of the season either keep the hive or return it back to the Association for a refund. Those beginners taking advantage of the Try-A-Hive scheme are expected to attend as many training sessions as possible to ensure you are able to gain experience in handling bees and looking after them correctly.

Beekeeping books

There are various books on beekeeping available; we suggest you pick one or two rather than getting them all!

Starting Out with Bees by John Williams. To quote Andrew Butler from BeeCraft: ‘This is a lovely publication and is for anyone beginning to explore beekeeping as well as for new beekeepers. The book focuses on the practical aspects of beekeeping and what beekeepers need to do, month by month, when starting out with bees. It includes a section on preparing honey and making mead as well as candles.’

Complete Guide to Beekeeping by Jeremy Evans. Very good book for beginner beekeepers covering most aspects of beekeeping. Chapters helpfully progress through what is likely to happen in the first three years. Good for both reading and for quick reference. Particularly good illustrations.

Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper. A good solid reference book with a useful technical content which will serve a new beekeeper for many years.

Practical Beekeeping by Clive de Bruyn. A well written book which is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of bees and their management. Good summaries for each chapter. Useful tips for both beginners and more experienced beekeepers. Good photographs and drawings but is likely to be more expensive than the other books.

More details on other books and leaflets will be given during the course.

Join CBKA

Find out more about how to join and the benefits of membership!