Q. How do I get started?
A. Contact us if you live in or around Andover or your local beekeepers association. We can offer you some great advice and simplify things for you. More often than not, we can give you some hands on experience with bees and a hive to see if it is really for you. In addition to attending one or two meetings with beekeepers or handling some hives it is recommended to read a book on starting with bees. There are many different publications available on how to get started. Choose one or two publications as the advice and depth of content that they offer varies. Don’t be put off by the volumes of material on beekeeping. At its simplest level, it is a very enjoyable, relaxing hobby. At the same time, there is still much we do not know about bees and the topics for discussion are endless. Andover Beekeepers do maintain a small library of books that can be borrowed.
Q. Do I need any formal training to become a beekeeper?
A. No. Most beekeepers get started with the help of their local association. The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) do offer a range of training modules for beginners and advanced beekeepers that are very useful and convenient and it is recommended that once you have got started, you consider these courses. They will make you a better beekeeper.
Q. Can I keep bees in my garden?
A. Bees do in fact take up very little space and most people will not even know that they are there. It is possible to keep bees in a small garden and a few of the Andover Beekeepers do just that. Before you take in a hive, you need to consider a few things. First, consider your neighbours. Because most people have little knowledge of bees, they can be fearful of them. So, keep your bees in a part of the garden that is out of sight and away from children. If you get a problem, reassure your neighbours and invite them to look in to the hive with you. A jar of honey and a peek in to a hive can often overcome most resistance. Second. Bees do tend to fly in straight lines, so, if they are likely to emerge from the hive and start bumping in to people, put a screen in front of the hive entrance, or place the entrance facing a fence or hedge. This will make the bees fly up and over the heads of anyone in the area. Third. Keep the bees in a place that is sheltered, not in direct sunlight all day and out of the wind. Lastly, make sure that when you open the hive, your neighbours are not sunning themselves on the lawn. Work the bees carefully so as to minimise their disturbance. It is worth noting that in Slovenia, blocks of modern flats will often have a bee house in the grounds of the apartments. Neighbours and bees all seem to get on well and many London beekeepers keep a hive or two in their small suburban gardens. Be sensible in your expectations.
Q. What will I need?
A. In terms of basic equipment, you will need a hive, a hive tool, some protective clothing, gloves, wellies, a smoker and some bees! All the rest of the equipment that you see in the catalogues can come later and be bought when you have more experience in handling the hive and the bees. Your needs and preferences will emerge as you gain experience and interact with other beekeepers, all of whom have an opinion on the best way to manage bees.
Q. Where can I get some bees?
A. There are two “conventional” means of obtaining your first colony of bees. Firstly, it is possible to buy your bees as a small “nuc” or “nucleus” from a bee specialist. Obtain the names of suppliers from your local beekeepers association for advice as they will be able to give you some idea of the quality of bees to expect from different suppliers. This starter colony will include a delivery of a queen bee and around 5 pounds of bees that you can introduce to a hive and get started. The advantage of this is that the bees in general will come with a health check and will have a young, fertilised queen that is raring to go. She will be accompanied by young bees that will look after her and prepare the hive for the colony, building cells and rearing the young brood. There will also be older flying bees that are able to forage and provide food for the colony as it begins to establish itself. The second means, is to get in contact with the local bee swarm officer. Let them know that you are interested in a swarm of bees and if you are prepared to wait a few days or weeks, a colony will soon find its way to you.
Q. What makes a complete hive?
A. Hives are essentially an artificial home for bees, designed to appeal to their nest building instincts. They are composed of a few simple elements. A base on which the hive sits – the base has an entrance to allow the bees to come and go and for you to close them in at night if you need to move them or shut them in for a while. Then there is the brood box (a large open ended box where the queen will lay her brood). In the brood box, hang large brood frames where the queen and her young attendants are confined. She lays her eggs here – some honey and pollen are also collected and stored here. Above this sits a queen excluder (or includer). It is a frame holding a mesh of sorts, designed to let smaller worker bees through, but too small to let the queen through. This prevents the queen bee from wandering to the upper levels where the bulk of the honey crop is stored. You don’t want honey, eggs and larvae stored in your honey crop! Above the queen excluder sit the “supers”. The “supers” consist of a shallower box and frames where the bees build cells and store honey. A large hive can accommodate two or three supers as the colony builds and gets going. A crown board sits on top of this that is designed to top the colony but has a “bee space” so the bees don’t stick it down and on top of all of this sits a snug roof to keep out draughts and give rain protection for the bees.
Q. What hive should I choose?
A. There are many different types, all with their various merits and disadvantages. Before you buy a hive, find out what beekeepers around you are using and what is available from your local bee supplier. Every one has an opinion and it can be confusing, but once you have decided on a hive type ( e.g. National, Langstroth, WBC as examples) you will find that as your colony expands, you will have to stick to equipment that is specific for that hive as the hive parts are not generally interchangeable.
Q. How much time is involved in keeping bees?
A. Most beekeepers are busy with bees from late March until the end of the summer in late September or early October. During this active time, the bees need to be looked at once a week to ensure they have enough space, the queen is healthy, the colony is well and to prevent swarming. In addition, you will be busy cropping honey and enjoying time with your bees. You will need to allow a couple of hours a week for two or three hives. Once the season is over, beekeepers can generally relax and enjoy the fruits of the hive, make wax candles, furniture polish, face creams, honey cakes, drink their own mead (most important), mend and clean boxes and prepare for the coming season.
Q. Can I sell my honey?
A. Yes. It is quite straightforward. There are a few basic guidelines to follow to make sure the product is fit for sale and there are plenty of courses you can attend should you feel the need for extra advice and training. You need to ensure that the honey is clean and suitable for sale (no dog hairs for instance if you pack the honey in your kitchen). Honey has to be marked with your name and address as well as the weight and country of origin. If you are selling honey on a commercial scale, you need to keep the tax man informed!
Q. Will I get stung if I keep bees?
A. Well, yes, but on most occasions when you open a hive or are working with the bees, if you take precautions, wear the right clothing and take care of the bees, it will be rare. A bee sting is not too painful and will subside after a day or two. Some beekeepers build a high tolerance to the stings, whilst others take every measure to minimise the stings that they might receive.
Q. Are Bees dangerous?
A. Bees will not sting animals or people unless provoked or they feel the colony is under attack. It is important to remember that bees can only sting once and then they will die. Stinging, for them, is quite literally the ultimate deterrent and the last thing that they will do.
Most beekeepers wear some form of protective clothing when handling bees, although many do so without gloves. When handled correctly, bees remain calm even when the hive is opened. Sensible precautions, as with any wild creature is always good practice.
Q. What do I do if a person is allergic to bee stings?
A. A small percentage of individuals are allergic to insect stings, and for them a single bee sting is a very serious matter. The body of such individuals over reacts to the sting, causing swelling, loss of feeling, sickness and breathing problems. In such an instance, administering an injection of adrenaline (available from chemists) helps reduce the symptoms, but the affected person must be taken to hospital or a doctor for further treatment.
Most of these individuals will know if they are allergic to stings and what to do, but if in any doubt, call the emergency services for advice. Most sufferers will react immediately to a sting and it will be important to act quickly. As a beekeeper, you will need to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of an allergic response.
Q. As a beekeeper, do I need insurance?
A. Whilst there is no legal requirement to be insured, it is advisable to have some form of cover. Becoming a member of your local Beekeepers association automatically entitles you to insurance covering liability for two hives through the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). It is possible to include more hives for additional small premiums.
The annual membership fee is not high and not only covers you for liability insurance but also includes a copy of the BBKA magazine and membership to your local group where you can exchange information and advice.
Q. Do bees get sick?
A. Bees are wild creatures and can generally look after themselves, but as an amateur bee keeper, you do have a responsibility to ensure the health of the colony. This is not only in your own interests but that of other amateur and commercial beekeepers as well. Bees do suffer from a number of diseases and these are easily spread. It is important that as a beekeeper, you can recognise the various ailments and take relevant action to maintain the health of your own colonies and those of others in your area.
Q. As a beekeeper, do I have any legal responsibilities and duties?
A. Yes, relating to bee health. Keeping bees falls under the watchful eye of DEFRA (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Bees can suffer from two rare but notifiable conditions – American Foul Brood and Hive Beetle. This means that if you detect either of these conditions in your hive, you have to report this to DEFRA who will then take action to prevent the spread of these two highly damaging and contagious conditions.
Q. What is American Foul Brood?
A. This disease affects the developing larvae in the cell. The larvae, once affected, die and turn to a sticky, brown, liquid mass in the cell. The disease is not to be confused with European Foul Brood, which is similar in symptoms. The defining difference is the so called “rope test”. By inserting a matchstick in to the affected cell and withdrawing it, American \Foul Brood is detected if the sticky mess clings to the stick and pulls out a sticky rope. If suspected at all, contact the local beekeeprs association who can help arrange inspection of the hive. If confirmed, the hives and the colony have to be destroyed in order to prevent the spread of this very destructive disease. At the same time, DEFRA have to be notified in order that they can take any additional remedial measures at a national level.
Q. What are Hive Beetles?
A. A number of different creatures may find their way in to the hive from time to time and can cause a nuisance – these include wax moth larvae, mice, woodlice and the occasional visiting wasp! However, hive beetle, a problem in North American colonies are extremely destructive. Not yet arrived in the UK at the time of writing, these beetles cause absolute destruction of a colony and are devastating to local bee populations. They are recognized as small, rounded dark beetles (see picture) and live on the combs in the hive. If discovered, contact the local bee keepers association who will arrange for an inspection of the hive. If confirmed, the hives and colonies have to be destroyed in order to prevent the disease. At the same time, DEFRA have to be notified in order that they can take any additional remedial measures at a national level.