Bees and beekeeping are prominent in the news. This has led to an increase in people wanting to keep bees and starting to keep them. It sounds easy, buy a hive and bees, stick it somewhere quiet and let it get on, after all they are wild creatures. Except it’s not easy and quite complex, not to mention expensive as a hobby (obsession!).
You will be dealing with livestock so knowledge and learning is essential. Things can quickly get out of hand and your one hive becomes 6, you run out of kit and have stinging bees and swarms bothering your neighbours and other beekeepers. Or worse still, your hive has one of the notifiable diseases, you fail to notice it, it spreads to someone else’s hive who does notice it, and has to have their colonies destroyed by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Beekeeping is a brilliant hobby, it is absorbing, time consuming and fascinating, it requires forethought, knowledge and skills.
Our advice would be:
Join your local beekeeping club before you buy anything and definitely before you get bees.
Research a suitable place to keep bees. For advice see: https://www.bbka.org.uk/bees-neighbours-siting-an-apiary
Reconcile yourself to being available to inspect your bees on a weekly basis from the beginning of May until the end of July, possibly August. No 2-week holidays, unless you have a bee buddy!
Go on a course. Some beekeeping associations run beginners’ sessions, have a look at their websites. Northumberland College at Kirkley Halls runs an excellent 12-week evening course each spring. Some commercial companies such as Northumberland Honey run bespoke beekeeping sessions.
As a guide a good course should cover the following as a minimum:
Bees and brood – identification and health of the colony
Feeding – what to feed, how and when
Equipment – what you need to get started
Swarms – how to prevent and control them
Diseases and Parasites – what to look out for and how to manage them
Get some hands-on experience, it is no use finding out you don’t like it when you have spent around £400 on a beginner’s kit.
Get a decent book and read up. Be cautious when watching internet videos. Some are trying to sell you something, some are not relevant to the area you want to keep bees in and some just promote bad beekeeping practices. See our resources page for reputable websites.
When you have done all that and decided beekeeping is for you, then consider getting the kit and some bees. Local area information is vital and this is where your local beekeeping associations and clubs are invaluable. Bees bred abroad or from the southern parts of the United Kingdom may not fair well in a North Pennines winter. Buy local bees, from a reputable source or through your local association or club. Be patient, be willing to wait for the right calm, well behaved bees. Finally, get yourself a mentor or bee buddy, somebody who is willing to do those first inspections with you and get a panicky phone call when things go wrong.
If you decide beekeeping is not for you then have a look at our ‘What can I do for the bees’ page. There is masses you can do to help bees and pollinators without having to buy a hive and bees and give up 2-week summer holidays.
Haynes Bee Manual by Claire and Adrian Waring – an excellent book, clearly written with great photos. A great starter book.
The BBKA Guide to Beekeeping by Ivor Davis & Roger Cullum-Kenyon – The BBKA’s offering on beekeeping.
Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper MBE – the World’s bestselling guide to beekeeping. For novice and experienced beekeepers alike.