So you want to keep bees and become a 'beekeeper' ?
Well good for you ...
Not only will you find this a very interesting but also a very rewarding hobby and hopefully by the end of the summer you should be rewarded with a few pounds of honey for your labours ... but more importantly your bees will have helped pollinate many of the fruits and flowers in your garden and the surrounding area. Not only will you benefit but also all the small mammals and birds who need the seeds for their winter fodder.
The first thing I must suggest is not to go out and buy a whole load of equipment that you think you might need or something that you might have seen on TV or in someone's garden.
Contact your local beekeeping association, we do have a good list (Scotland) on our Links page and then ...
Go grab a mentor ... that is a'wise and trusted person who can act as a teacher'
someone who has been keeping bees for some time and who should know what he/she is talking about.
First get your mentor to show you their 'apiary' and if you didn't know what an 'apiary' is, it is the place where your bee hives are placed and not somewhere where monkeys live !
Borrow a 'bee suit' from your mentor and have a look inside one of his bee hives.
|I ran a bee-ginners course some years ago for youngsters 12 - 16 yrs olds, plus a few 'oldies'. When we opened up a hive for the first time and the bees bubbled up and over the top of the box ... all the youngsters stepped forward a couple of paces to get a better look ... and the 'oldies'... well, not being quite sure, moved just a little in the opposite direction.|
Did you like what you saw ? The construction and workings of the hive explained ? Still want to keep bees ?
Setting up and the buying of equipment can be quite intimidating and expensive. There is vast quantity of 'stuff' on the market, that you just don't need and even basics can bee very confusing.
Second hand bits and pieces sometimes become available and can be to some degree quite acceptable, but take your mentor with you for him to have a quick glance. Bee careful not to buy a 'pig in the poke'
You can buy a complete beekeepers kit from around £400 upwards, where the hive and frames are flat-packed ... assemble yourself.
The market is a 'mine field' of assorted bits and pieces, many of them really not necessary and I do feel that in some instances you can do better by buying individually, for instance where it is worth paying a little extra for a good quality bee suit.
There is no way to "keep" bees in any hive. The only way the bees stay in the hive is if they decide to. If they like your beehive, they will stay. If they don't like it, or it is too
small, they will leave very quickly.
Hives are but a tool for the beekeeper, the one you find best to use is the best ... the bees won't object as long as it is dry and fits their needs.
'Conventional' hives are all made up the same way ... I say conventional as those hives you might buy from a supplier of beekeeping equipment.
|Start off with a stand and alighting board. Lifts the hive off the damp ground and allows plenty ventilation.|
|A floor sits on top of the stand. This one is a solid floor but most beekeepers use a 'varroa' floor during the summer and a solid one over the colder winter months.|
|On top of the floor sits a brood box. This is where the Queen is normally confined and where the young bees are raised. Within the brood box we fit Frames ... evenly spaced and fitted with Foundation ... wax sheets that are impacted with hexagonal shapes onto which the bees build their cells.|
|On top of the brood box we sometimes fit a Queen Excluder. A metal mesh that prevents the Queen from passing through but big enough for the worker bees to pass. However some beekeepers call this a honey excluder as even the worker bees see it as a barrier and won't pass through it.|
On top of the Excluder we fit a Honey Super. This is where the bees will store their honey ... which you will no doubt steal from them at some time ! The Excluder below, stops the Queen from entering the Super to lay her eggs ... egg free honey !
... And of course we fit a roof on top of this lot.
Okay ... so which hive should I buy ?
The cottage garden traditional hive is the WBC. If you want a couple of hives in your garden and want them to look good, go for the WBC. Don’t be put off by some beekeepers who will say they’re impractical. Yes, they are awkward to move but if you want to stay with a small-scale hobby, you probably won’t want to move them anyway.
The National hive is the most widely used hive in the UK. It is a square hive (square means you can rotate the brood/supers through 90 degrees to the floor and have the frames either at right angles to the entrance or parallel, warm or cold ways). The hive boxes have rebates in their sides that serve as hand grips, easy to grab hold of. Many beekeepers now view the brood box of the National as too small for the laying activity of modern strains of queen bee, so operate the National with a brood box and one super. This is sometimes called "a brood and a half". While this provides enough room for the brood, it also increases the number of frames that have to be checked through regular inspection. Because of this the National hive brood boxes are also now available in a 14 x 12 inch size which gives a brood size similar to the Commercial or Langstroth.
If you are living in the north of Scotland, my advice would be to start with a National or WBC Hive
|Dadant Hive is biggest of them all, the brood box is a whopping 508mm x 470mm x 298mm. This can be a very heavy box when even nearly full ... watch your back.|
Langstroth Hive is probably the most used hive in the world ... except in the UK!
Smith Hive was designed by W. Smith in Scotland and the construction is similar to the National hive. Outer dimensions of the brood box are 464mm x 416mm x 225mm. Takes 11 British Standard (BS) frames and wax but the end lugs on the frames are shortened to 19mm viz normal at 25mm.
National Hive, probably the most widely used in the UK.
Commercial Hive brood box is just slightly bigger than the National at 465mm x 465 mm x 267mm and with slight differences in mounting of the frames, allows slightly larger frames to be used but they have shortened lugs.
WBC Hive ... William Broughton Carr designed his hive in 1860 and was the first double walled hive in Britain. The inside dimensions of the brood box are 381mm x 422mm x 225mm. Takes ten BS frames and wax sizes.
Top bar hives are used extensively in Africa and the Caribbean. The principle is simple: a box with sticks across the top, to which bees attach their comb. Centrally placed in the floor is a mesh panel for removing debris which also includes a simple varroa drawer.
Building a top bar hive is no more difficult than putting up shelves and can be done using hand tools and recycled wood. Top bar beekeeping really is 'beekeeping for everyone' – including people with disabilities, bad backs, or a reluctance to lift boxes: there is no heavy lifting once your hives are in place, as honey is harvested one comb at a time.
Support and further information about sustainable beekeeping on the author's web site www.biobees.com
British Standard ... if you wish to call it that ... gives you a choice of SN1 - SN2 - DN4 - DN5 and even Manley frames ...
Might I suggest to fit your hive out with 'Hoffman' self spacing frames ... DN4 (Deep National) and SN4 (Shallow National) ... Picture top right is the side bar of a self spacing frame.
Other equipment you will need:
Bee suit and gloves
Make sure you purchase a good one with a thin end which will be much easier to use, and kinder on your boxes than some of the thick ended ones that are available.
If you are buying new then look at all those available, as there are very few really good ones. Many are poorly made and the bellows are very stiff to operate. Make sure you are comfortable with it and it doesn't tire you out.
Where do you get them ... look on our links page and you'll find a dozen suppliers
Most beekeepers buy second-hand equipment at some point. Great savings can be made. Here are a few pointers to help avoid disappointment and contracting disease.
What should I check ?
Before buying make sure that hive parts are the correct size. The dimensions can be obtained from hive plans or some bee-keeping textbooks. If the clearances are too great, brace comb will be a problem and if too small parts will be propolised i.e. gummed up. Similarly, it is worth checking the size or fit of anything else you are considering. Make sure that it is what you want!
Should I buy comb ?
Never buy second-hand comb. It may harbour disease. If you should acquire it do not use it; burn it, render it down for exchange or make candles, etc. Foundation that is professionally manufactured represents no risk to the spread of disease.
What do I check when buying live bees ?
If buying bees make sure that they are healthy. If you are not sure about the signs of disease get someone who is competent to look at them with you. Often at 'Bee Fairs' or 'Bee Auctions' an Authorised Bee Inspector will have checked the bees beforehand. The Auctioneer will usually say that this has happened. This check only means that there are no visible signs of Foul Brood disease at the time of examination. It is done to safeguard against the spread of disease. Don't forget to check the hive or box that the bees are in when considering a fair value. Often bees sold in hives represent better value than buying hive boxes alone.
What should I do having acquired second-hand hives ?
When you have obtained used hives disinfect them before use. To do this, first scrape the boxes using a paint scraper, hive tool or other suitable instrument, so that the bits of wax and propolis fall onto some cardboard or newspaper. This should subsequently be burnt. Be especially careful when cleaning the internal corners of the boxes and the frame runners. Consider removing frame runners and replacing with new ones after disinfection. When done, clean your scraper. Then disinfect in one of the following ways.
How do I disinfect plastic components ?
Plastic components can be effectively disinfected using Sodium hypochlorite. This is present at a concentration of about 3% in household bleach. Check the container label for details, and take suitable safety precautions.
Research has shown that immersion in a solution of 0.5% Sodium hypochlorite in water, kills American Foul Brood spores in twenty minutes. It is essential that the spores are in contact with the solution so any items immersed need to be clean.
How about smokers etc ?
Smokers and hive tools should be scrubbed clean using a soapy water solution. The hive tool should be scorched off using a blowlamp. DO NOT heat it to the extent that you damage the metal hardening.
What should I do when buying second hand beekeeping overalls?
These should be washed in the normal way. A small quantity of washing soda crystals mixed with the detergent helps to remove propolis. BEWARE when washing veils. It is best to wash them by hand. Putting them in a washing machine may cause damage.
Once you have your basic hardware ... where do you set the hives up ?
Yes ... you can put them in your garden and you don't neccessarily have to have a large one ... but there is always a caveat ... 'Beware of thy Neighbour'. The only regulation within the UK that would affect you is that of 'Public Nuisance'
A lot of people freak out if you mention bees, they have seen too many horror films and of course bees sting. You can chat to your neighbours about how interesting hobby is and how important bees are to the environment, possibly encourage them to put on your spare veil and look into your hive and make sure they are well supplied with honey.
Bees do have cleansing flights and are prone to “poop” over the neighbours washing line.
Or, you can say nothing ... I have known folk to have bees in their garden for years and their neighbours are blissfully unaware.
Should you be unfortunate not to have a garden or have unsympathetic neighbours, you will have to set up an 'out-apiary' ... that is locate your bees some other place than your garden. But where ?
You will have to tour the surrounding countryside looking for a small piece of ground that appears to be unused/derelict.
Ideally you should look for but is not always possible.
|Youngster extracting his first honey crop|
As a new beekeeper you may want to keep your hobby as small as possible, and that to you means just one hive. I would always recommend you should try to have at least two hives on the go. There are several reasons why I say this:
How much time do I have to spend with the bees?
Two hive takes just a few hours work per week from April to September. The regular checks are such as, are the bees healthy? Is there enough room for egg laying and honey storage? If not, we add another box of combs. Are they preparing to swarm? Have they got enough food? What flowers are they working?
Back Yard BKA, Southwestern Connecticut
Keep in mind that the weather, climate, neighbourhood and even the type of bees will dictate what you should be doing. This list is only an overview of what’s happening each month in the hive. There are suggested tasks for the beekeeper, and a rough estimate of the amount of time you might spend with your bees during a given month. Remember this is only a general guide.
|The Bees||The Beekeeper||Time spent|
|January||The queen is surrounded by thousands of her workers. She is in the midst of their winter cluster. There is little activity except on a warm day (about 45-50 degrees) when the workers will take the opportunity to make cleansing flights. There are no drones in the hive, but some worker brood will begin to appear in the hive. The bees will consume about 25 pounds of stored honey this month.||Little work is required from you at the hives. If there is heavy snow, make certain the entrance to the hive is cleared to allow for proper ventilation. This is a great time to catch up on your reading about bees, attend bee association meetings, and build and repair equipment for next season. Order package bees (if needed) from a reputable supplier.||< 1
|February||The queen, still cozy in the cluster, will begin to lay a few more eggs each day. It is still “females only” in the hive. Workers will take cleansing flights on mild days. The bees will consume about 25 pounds of honey this month.||There is not too much to do this month. Attend bee association meetings/workshops, read and ready your equipment for spring.||< 1
|March||This is the month when colonies can die of starvation. However, if you fed them plenty of sugar syrup in the autumn this should not happen. With the days growing longer, the queen steadily increases her rate of egg laying. More brood means more food consumed. The bees will continue to consume honey stores||Early in the month, on a nice mild day, and when there is no wind and bees are flying, you can have a quick peek inside your hive. It’s best not to remove the frames. Just have a look-see under the cover. If you do not see any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need to begin some emergency feeding. But remember, once you start, you should not stop until they are bringing in their own food supplies. If you are planning on getting swarms have enough equipment on hand and ready to go.||2 hours|
|April||The weather begins to improve, and the early blossoms begin to appear. The bees begin to bring pollen into the hive. The queen is busily laying eggs, and the populationis growing fast. The drones will begin to appear.||On a warm and still day do your first comprehensive inspection. Can you find evidence of the queen? Are there plenty of eggs and brood? Is there a nice pattern to her egg laying? Later in the month, on a very mild and windless day, you should consider reversing the hive deeps. This will allow for a better distribution of brood, and stimulate the growth of the colony. You can begin to feed the hive.||3 hours|
|May||Now the activity really starts hopping. The nectar and pollen should begin to come into the hive thick and fast. The queen will be reaching her greatest rate of egg laying. The hive should be bursting with activity.||Add a queen excluder, and place honey supers on top of the top deep. Watch out for swarming. Inspect the hive weekly. Attend bee association meetings and workshops.||4-5 hours|
|June||Unswarmed colonies will be boiling with bees. The queen’s rate of egg laying may drop a bit this month. Th main the honey flow should happen this month.||Inspect the hive weekly to make certain the hive is healthy and the queen is present. Add honey supers as needed. Keep up swarm inspections. Attend bee association meetings and workshops.||2-5 hours|
|July||If the weather is good, the nectar flow may continue this month. On hot and humid nights, you may see a huge curtain of bees cooling themselves on the exterior of the hive||Continue inspections to assure the health of your colony. Add more honey supers if needed. Keep your fingers crossed in anticipation of a great honey harvest||2-3 hours|
|August||The colony’s growth is diminishing. Drones are still around, but outside activity begins to slow down as the nectar flow slows.||No more chance of swarming. Watch for honey robbing by wasps or other bees. There is not too much for you to do this month. Have a little holiday.||1-2 hours|
|September||The drones may begin to disappear this month. The hive population is dropping. The queen’s egg laying is dramatically reduced.||Harvest your honey crop. Remember to leave the colony with at least 60 pounds of honey for winter. Check for the queen’s presence. Continue feeding until the bees will take no more syrup||2-3 hours|
|>October||Not much activity from the bees. They are hunkering down for the winter.||Watch out for robbing. Install inner cover wedges for ventilation. Install mouse guard at entrance of hive. Place Insulite boards under hive cover to help keep colony dry. Setup a windbreak if necessary. Finish winter feeding||2 hours|
|November||Even less activity this month. The cold weather will send them into a cluster.||Store your equipment away for the winter||1 hour|
|December||The bees are in a tight cluster. No peeking.||There’s nothing you can do with the bees. Read a good book on beekeeping, and enjoy the holidays!||None|
|Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have issued a .pdf file ... 'Beekeeping Basics' which you might find interesting.
You can down load it here
Beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding activity and is hugely important to the survival of our declining bee population, as much covered recently by the media. This attractive book offers practical and informative advice on how to get started, how to achieve and collect good harvests, beekeeping through the seasons, troubleshooting, queen rearing and more. It even suggests ways of encouraging bees for `non-beekeepers`. Written by well respected experts Pam Gregory and Claire Waring, it provides accurate and reliable information on this increasingly popular pastime and is the ideal giftbook for the budding beekeeper
“Keeping Bees With a Smile is a valuable guide for independent-minded beekeepers who are seeking ways to keep bees without treating them with chemicals, disrupting their homes, and otherwise intruding on their lives. Fedor Lazutin, one of Russia’s foremost natural beekeepers, describes a beekeeping system based on a trust of a bee colony as a living being capable of solving life’s challenges without human assistance. Beginner-friendly and complete with fascinating photographs, it is a special book, and one that I expect will ‘shake up’ the thinking of the independent-minded beekeepers in North America and Europe.”
— Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, Professor, Cornell University
A list of Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics
National Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics
How Many Frames in Each Box
14" X 12" Brood Body:
12 Hoffman Self-Spacing Frames can be fitted in to a brood body/super, although it is recommended that 11 is used as this make manipulations easier. Also with the use of a Dummy Board.
Langstroth Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics
How Many Frames in Each Box:
Commercial Beehive Dimensions and statistics
How many frames in each box:
Smith Beehive Dimensions and statistics
How many frames in each box:
WBC Hive Dimensions and Statistics
How many frames in each box