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 together with friendship and practical guidance, we can also provide you with training to equip you to take a national beekeeping qualification, should you wish.
Beekeeping can be a very rewarding craft and not just in terms of the honey and other hive products that the bees may provide. In fact most beekeepers consider themselves fortunate if they cover their costs!
The knowledge that you are doing something to help our beleaguered pollinators is for many sufficient reason to start beekeeping and there is also the deep satisfaction that comes from working alongside that super-organism, the honeybee colony.
Beekeeping is not just about having a hive at the bottom of the garden and collecting some honey once or twice a year. When you have honey bees, you become an owner of livestock, with the responsibilities it brings – to the bees and to your neighbours. To keep the bees healthy you must practice good animal husbandry and, to prevent annoyance to neighbours, you must try to stop the bees from swarming. However, that is not always possible and some beekeepers specialise in collecting honeybee swarms and find it a fascinating pursuit in its own right.
You may have realised that there is more to beekeeping than you had realised and decide not proceed any further; far better that than buying all the equipment and getting bees only to discover that beekeeping is not for you.
You may decide to attend our “introduction course” held in the Autumn – click the link shown below for more details.
For those who have decided that they do wish to start keeping bees we normally have an annual Beginners Beekeeping Course starting January – more details from the link shown below.
There are various books on beekeeping available; we suggest you pick one or two rather than getting them all!
- The Bee Manual – Haynes by Claire & Adrian Waring. This is an excellent manual for beginners and is our Beginners Course textbook (those enrolling on our course get a discount on the course fee if they already own a copy).
- Complete Guide to Beekeeping by Jeremy Evans. Very good book for beginner beekeepers covering most aspects of beekeeping.
- 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.
More details on other books and leaflets will be given during the course.
Commitments involved when starting beekeeping
Like any other livestock, honeybees are subject to attack from pests in the form of mites, and may suffer diseases, some of which (fortunately rare) are notifiable and require the attendance of a Ministry Bee Inspector. Being a beekeeper requires a commitment to give time to the bees, especially between April and July inclusive when regular inspections need to be carried out.
Throughout the summer the bees will collect and store nectar and periodically additional space has to be provided and the processed nectar removed as honey. In the early autumn the bees are likely to need to be fed to make sure there is enough food for the colony to survive the winter to the end of the following March.
To be a beekeeper there is a financial commitment. You would be wise to belong to a Beekeepers Association and the initial year’s set up cost is likely to be in the region of £400 (excluding bees) with further costs of up to a further £400 in the first few years depending on the form of beekeeping you adopt. Many beekeepers spend considerably more as the number of their hives increases, or they will have to find a home for their surplus bees. Look at www.thorne.co.uk for the price of equipment although there are cheaper suppliers.
Before any of this is undertaken, it is vital to find a site on which to keep the hives. A site that is safe, free from the risk of vandalism and that will not allow the bees to annoy neighbours or the general public. If you are going to keep bees in your garden it will need to be big enough so they are not flying out/in at head height over neighbouring gardens. You will need to site them facing SE – SW and so that you are not crossing immediately in front of the bees’ flight path.
Once set up, one has to procure some bees. Purchasing a “nucleus” of bees on their frames (i.e. a small colony) is a popular way to start but at a cost of around £240. The CBKA is able to help a limited number of beginners by passing on swarms that have been taken to its apiaries but others have to find bees from either swarm collectors or local beekeepers.