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Bee-ginners

So you want to keep bees and become a 'beekeeper' ?

Well good for you ... 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. Bee-ginners course

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.

Complete bee keeping kit

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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.

Stand
Start off with a stand and alighting board. Lifts the hive off the damp ground and allows plenty ventilation.
Floor
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.
Brood box
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.
Excluder
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.
Super

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.

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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.
Dadant Hive

Langstroth Hive is probably the most used hive in the world ... except in the UK!
The brood box comes in at 508mm x 413mm x 243mm. Uses the dadant size of frame and fits 10 or 11 frames. Download Plans.

Langstroth Hive

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.
Uses finger tip lifting recesses and is not easy lifting a well filled brood or super. Download Plans.

Smith Hive

National Hive, probably the most widely used in the UK.
Outside dimensions of the brood box are 460mm x 460mm x 225mm. Supers are 148mm high. Takes 12 BS frames and wax sizes. Download Plans.

National Hive

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.
Uses finger tip lifting recesses and is not easy lifting a well filled brood or super.

Commercial Hive

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.
The outer dimensions tend to vary quite considerably depending on the manufacturer and/or if home made. This hive has fallen somewhat out of favour due to its complexity and cost. Download plans.

WBC Hive

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

Top Bar Hive

Warré Hive
Abbé Warré (1867 - 1951) lived in France and developed The People's Hive based on his studies of 350 hives of different systems that existed at his time as well as of the natural habits of the bee, with the aim of finding the best hive for both bees and beekeeper.

  • hive-body box internal dimensions 300 x 300 x 210 mm, with projecting handles,
  • eight 36mm centred 24mm wide top-bars resting in rebates in each box (NO FRAMES),
  • wax starter strips under each top bar (NO FOUNDATION)
Download Plans
Warre Hive

 

Frames
Once you have decided which hive might suit you best and it is a hive that requires frames ... this is yet another mine field.
Once again you are given a mulitple choice ... obviously deep for your brood box and shallow for you super or 'honey crate'. If it is anything other than a British Standard hive, the frames are refered to by the hive name ... easy. (i.e. Langstroth Deep - Langstroth Shallow)

British Standard ... if you wish to call it that ... gives you a choice of SN1 - SN2 - DN4 - DN5 and even Manley frames ...
Now the bees require a certain amount of free space within the hive to be able to traverse across and up and down the hive ... this is known as 'bee space' and is about 8mm. Frames have to be spaced so as to give them that pathway, too big a space and they fill it with extra wax, too little and the bees will tear down your foundation to get through.

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.

Hoffman self spacing frame
Frame

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Other equipment you will need:

Bee suit and gloves
I would suggest buying a better quality beesuit where the seams are double stitched and less liable to come apart. A one piece suit is better than 'jacket and trousers' ... the jacket tends to ride up one's back when bending over and opens up a gap for the bees to get in ... !

Bee suit

Hive Tool
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.

Smoker
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

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.

Tip: Should you wish to approach a farmer for permission to keep bees on his land, try and have some idea of where on his land might be suitable before asking as he will have no idea, and may suggest somewhere less favourable.

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Yougster extracting his first Honey crop 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:

  1.  Should your one hive die in the winter you are immediately no longer a beekeeper.
  2.  Two hives allow you to contrast and compare so you can spot their mutual strengths and weaknesses.  You will learn more.
  3. Should you have a problem with one hive such as it being queenless you can back it up from the other, take eggs from one hive to the other to test or treat it.

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?

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BEEKEEPING HOURS
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
hour
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
hour
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 Basics

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Green Guides: Keeping Bees
ISBN: 9781847869852
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

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
author of Honeybee Democracy and The Wisdom of the Hive

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A list of Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics

National Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics
External dimensions - 18⅛" Square.
Brood Body Depth - 8⅞"
14" X 12" Brood Body Depth - 12½"
Super Depth - 5⅞"
Brood Area is 2,200 Sq. Inch.
No. Of Worker Cells - 50,000
Bottom Bee Space

Frame Sizes
Top Bars – 17" long
Bottom bars – 14" long
Deep side bars – 8½" long
14" x12" side bars – 12" long
Shallow side bars – 5½" long

Foundation sizes
Deep – 13 7/16" x 8"
14 x 12" – 13 7/16" x 11½"
Shallow – 13 7/16" x 5"

How Many Frames in Each Box

Brood Body:
11 Hoffman Self-Spacing Frames (DN4)
11 Frames on Narrow Ends

14" X 12" Brood Body:
11 Hoffman Self-spacing 14" X 12" Frames

Super:
11 Hoffman Self-Spacing (SN4)
10 British Standard Manley Frames
9 or 10 Frames on Castellated Spacers
8 Frames on Wide Ends

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.

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Langstroth Bee Hive Dimensions & Statistics

External Dimension – 20" x 16¼"
Brood Body Depth – 9 7/16"
Jumbo Brood Body Depth 11¾"
Super Depth - 5¾"
The Brood Area is 2750 sq. ins.
No. of Worker Cells 61,400
Top Bee Space

Frames sizes
Top Bars – 19" Long
Bottom Bars – 17 9/16" Long
Deep Side Bars – 9⅛" Long
Jumbo Side Bars – 11¼" Long
Shallow Side Bars – 5⅜" Long

Foundation Sizes
Deep – 16¾" 8⅝"
Jumbo – 16¾" x 10¾"
Shallow – 16¾" x 4⅞"

How Many Frames in Each Box:
10 Hoffman frames in either a brood body or super
8 Manley frames in the super

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Commercial Beehive Dimensions and statistics
External Dimension – 18 5/16" Square
Brood Body Depth – 10½"
Super Depth – 6⅜"
The Brood Area is 3000 sq. ins.
No. of Worker Cells 70,500
Bottom Bee Space

Frames Sizes
Top Bars – 17¼" long
Bottom Bars – 16" long
Deep Side Bars – 10" long
Shallow Side Bars – 6" long

Foundation Sizes
Deep – 15 7/16" x 9½"
Shallow – 15 7/16" x 5½"

How many frames in each box:
11 Hoffman frames in either a Brood Body or Super
10 Manley frames in the Super

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Smith Beehive Dimensions and statistics
External dimension – 16⅜" x 18¼"
Brood body depth - 8⅞"
Super depth - 5⅞"
The brood Area is 2200 sq. ins.
No. of worker cells 50,000
Top Bee Space

Frames Sizes
Top Bars – 15½" long
Bottom Bars – 14" long
Deep Side Bars – 8½" long
Shallow Side Bars – 5½" long

Foundation Sizes
Deep – 13 7/16" x 8"
Shallow – 13 7/16" x 5"

How many frames in each box:
11 Hoffman Self-Spacing Frames in either a Brood Body or Super
10 Manley Frames in the Super

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WBC Hive Dimensions and Statistics
External dimension of lifts - 21½" square
External dimension of brood body and super –17¾" x 16¼"
Brood body depth - 8⅞"
14" x 12" brood body depth - 12½"
Super depth - 5 ⅞"
The brood area is 2000 sq. ins.
No. of worker cells 45,000
Bottom Bee Space

Frames sizes
Top Bars – 17" long
Bottom bars – 14" long
Deep side bars – 8½" long
14" x12" side bars – 12" long
Shallow side bars – 5½" long

Foundation sizes
Deep – 13 7/16" x 8"
14 x 12" – 13 7/16" x 11½"
Shallow – 13 7/16" x 5"

How many frames in each box
10 Hoffman (self-spacing) frames in either a brood body or super. Although it is possible to fit in 11 frames, it is easier for manipulation to use 10 frames and a dummy board.
10 frames on narrow ends in the brood body.
9 Manley frames in the super
8 or 10 frames on castellated spacers in the super
8 frames on wide ends in the super

 

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