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.

Commitments involved when starting beekeeping

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 specialize in collecting honeybee swarms and find it a fascinating pursuit in its own right.

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.

The CBKA “Introduction to Beekeeping Session” and the “Beginners Beekeeping course”

Having read the outline of what is involved in becoming a beekeeper, you have some choices to make:

  1. You may have realized that there is more to beekeeping than you had realized 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.
  2. You may decide to attend our “introduction session” that is held in the Autumn and to get more information on it contact our Beginners Course Co-ordinator (details below) to let them know of your interest.
  3. For those who have decided that they do wish to start keeping bees we normally have a Beginners Beekeeping Course that is held each year commencing in January but as a result of Covid 19 we have had to postpone the 2021 course until 2022. The theory part is held at Chesterton Community College with practical apiary sessions held later in May/June. The course to be held in 2022  will first be offered to those people who were intending to come on the 2021 course but we are still recording details of interested parties.  The fee for the 2022 course will be in the region of £80 and includes the course textbook and membership of the CBKA but the final figure will depend on room hire charges.

The course will be held on Wednesday evenings between 7.30pm – 9.30pm, the initial 8 sessions of the Beginners Beekeeping course combines the theory of beekeeping with practical advice. These sessions are followed in the late spring by a minimum of 3 practical sessions (in small groups of 4-6 people) which we intend to be conducted at our apiaries either at Impington or Wandlebury. In late summer there is a further session on preparing your bees for winter and a final session in the following spring to prepare you for your first full year.

Applications for places on the course are processed in October and priority is given to those who have attended the “introduction session”. The course is usually over-subscribed and therefore an early expression of interest is advisable as a place on the course will also be given on a first come first served basis so an early registration of interest is recommended.

If you are interested your next step is to contact the Beginners Course Coordinator: either e-mail beginners@cbka.org.uk or write to :—               CBKA Beginners Course Co-ordinator, 17 Gog Magog Way, Stapleford, Cambridge, CB22 5BQ.

Beekeeping books

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). It provides a complete and easy-to-follow reference book with clear instruction and plenty of excellent illustrations. Many find it the book they turn to again and again in their first years of beekeeping.

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.


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