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How to get started with Beekeeping

There are many items of equipment which modern beekeepers will wish to consider as they pursue their hobby, but to get started, the basics are very modest, which makes the craft easily accessible to the novice.

Getting Started

Getting started in Beekeeping requires a little forethought and consideration before jumping in. How many hives should I have? Where will I site them? Where will I get them from? Is there a risk of upsetting the neighbours? How long will it take me to become competent?

The road to becoming competent starts by attending an Introductory Course, preferably before obtaining bees. This is usually held in the Winter in a classroom environment, and followed the following Spring by a Practical Course. It is usually during this practical course that beginners obtain their first colony of bees. The learning curve is quite steep in this first year, and many people return to the course in the second year to refresh their memory, but by the end of the second year a fair degree of competence has been obtained

It is usually advisable to start in a small way, with one hive, progressing to two or more in the second year. It is a good idea to keep, eventually, more than one hive, so that if you should be unfortunate enough to have a colony die out, replacement is within your own hands


Siting the hives is important. The principal consideration is that they are placed in a position where the bees will not present a nuisance to either you or your neighbours. Bees do not set out to sting people. It is not in their interest, as they lose their life. But if someone becomes an obstacle in their flight path to and from the hive, then a collision is possible. So the hives should be sited with this in mind.

Sources of Bees

There are three basic ways of getting into beekeeping:

    * By buying a complete hive of bees.

    * By obtaining a swarm.

    * By buying a nucleus.

A complete hive of bees

This would include a hive, an established colony of bees, and frames containing brood, pollen and honey.

The advantage of this method is that as you are taking over a "going concern", a crop of honey will probably be obtained in the first year. The disadvantages are:

   1. The age of the queen is unknown; she could be past her prime.

   2. The temperament of the colony is unknown. Temperament can vary between different strains of honeybees, and the last thing a beginner wants is bad tempered bees.

   3. Endeavouring to control a strong colony with very limited knowledge or experience can be problematic.

By obtaining a swarm

Swarming is the bees natural way of reproducing. One colony will divide into two, with half the bees leaving the hive to form a new colony elsewhere.

The advantage of starting this way is that a swarm can be obtained at no cost, so it is a cheap way into the craft. A hive will still be required however, to house them. The disadvantages are very similar to those connected with a complete hive:

   1. The age of the queen is unknown. The queen with the swarm is the old queen.

   2. The origin of the swarm is usually unknown, so there is a risk of disease being present.

   3. The temperament is unknown.

   4. As the bees will have to set up a new home from scratch, they will probably require feeding.

By buying a nucleus

A nucleus is a small, specially bred colony of bees supported on 4, 5 or 6 frames instead of the usual 10 or 11 in a full sized colony. The nucleus is placed in a normal hive, and encouraged by feeding, to grow into a strong colony. For the outright novice, this is without a doubt, the best way to start. The advantages are:

   1. Because the nucleus has been specially prepared for you, the queen will be a new queen.

   2. She will have been bred from a gentle strain (there is no point in breeding from temperamental strains).

   3. If purchased from a reputable source, there will be little risk of disease.

   4. It will take several weeks for the nucleus to grow into a full sized colony, in which time the beekeeper's knowledge and confidence will grow.

The disadvantages are that it is unlikely that a honey crop will be produced in the first year, and feeding of sugar syrup will be necessary

Equipment Required

There is one fundamental item of equipment which is required to get started, that is of course a hive. There are several types available, and the beginner should seek advice before making a decision, but whichever type is chosen, it should consist of a floor, a brood chamber, a queen excluder, at least two honey supers, a crown board and a roof. Frames, beeswax foundation and spacers will be required to furnish the interior of the hive.

Tools Needed

There are only a few tools necessary, the most important of which is the smoker. This is a must, as it is your means of keeping the bees under control.

A hive tool is useful, as it is used for prising apart frames which are likely to be stuck together, and for scraping and cleaning hive parts

In order to help the bees maintain the temperature within the hive during inspections, a manipulation cloth will be found to be a great asset

Clothing and other personal equipment

In order to handle bees with confidence, sound protective garments are essential. Firstly some sort of coverall is required. A zip fronted boiler suit will do, preferably white, or at least a light colour (because bees don't like dark colours). To protect the head and face, a hat and veil is required. There are several designs and prices available, again seek advice on which is best for you. Thirdly a pair of gloves. Beekeeping gloves are usually made from soft leather, however it is generally accepted now that leather gloves are not a good idea for several reasons:

1.  They don't stay soft for long

2.  They are clumsy and get more so as the propolis builds up

3.  and probably most importantly, they are not hygienic.  If you wear suitable rubber gloves you can wash them in washing soda between hives.  Apart from hygiene considerations, this also keeps them free of propolis.  Some Divisions don't allow leather gloves to be used in their apiaries.Disposable latex gloves are also becoming more popular.

Footwear is usually covered by a pair of wellies.

You are now ready to become a beekeeper

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