Is Beekeeping for Me?
Do you want to keep bees? Here are five things to ask yourself
1. Have you Ever Been Stung by a Bee and Lived to Tell the Tale?
All beekeepers get stung occasionally – It’s nothing personal, the bees are wild creatures and are not tame pets. On saying that stinging can be minimised by careful and informed beekeeping
If you have been stung, you will know that it hurts! However, the pain is only short lived and most people only get a small swelling, rash and mild itching for a day or so. Some (a small minority) may have a more severe reaction, if you are one of these beekeeping may not be for you.
2. Are you Curious, Committed, Persistent and Maybe a Little Obsessive?
Beekeeping is a long-term endeavour. You will, as a beekeeper, need to make regular inspections of the colonies (about once a week) throughout the active season – approximately March to October. You will also need make visits to check on them during the winter months. Bees are livestock and require responsible consistent attention to maintain their wellbeing.
3. Are you a Student at Heart?
There is always something to learn. Even very experienced beekeepers are learning constantly about changes in colony management, the environment, bee behaviour, disease, medicines and many other aspects of beekeeping.
There are many ways to learn and the best is to visit your local beekeeping branch to find out how to get started.
4. Are you Prepared to Invest Your Time, Spare Income and Energy?
Beekeeping can be hard work, (all that honey isn’t light) but this can be managed easily with help and if you keep your operation small (2 or 3 colonies). This also minimises the cost. Beekeeping is not a profitable, like all other hobbies it keeps eating your hard-earned cash.
There is a substantial upfront investment in your initial equipment and it is best not to spend anything until you have had some training at your local branch. The branches run taster days and beginner’s classes which are invaluable in deciding what equipment you really need.
5. Do you have a Good Place for the Hives?
Location, location, location. This is not just a property TV program. Finding the right place for your apiary is vital not only for you but for the bees as well. You need space to manage the colonies properly and this needs to be away from the public, children and pets.
If you have answered Yes to all the above questions Congratulations! You are about to embark on one of the most rewarding and interesting undertakings in the natural world.
Take a look at Ten Steps to Get You Started
1. Join a Local Beekeepers Association
For those wishing to start beekeeping there can be no better first step than to join a beekeeping association. Most associations meet regularly to share information and insights. Most have beekeeping books, magazines and videos for loan and they bring in expert speakers. Grab a tea or coffee and a lemon square, chat to other members, you will get all the help and support you will need to get you through your early years in beekeeping.
Another benefit in joining Cheshire Beekeepers is that you will automatically become a member of the British Beekeepers Association and receive their monthly magazine and other benefits.
2. Take a Beginners Course or go to a Taster Day
It is increasingly important for new beekeepers to have some training before purchasing any equipment or bees. It is easy to buy your kit then realise it’s not the best for you.
Most local association branches offer Taster Days where you can visit an apiary and try out handling the bees for an hour or so, under expert supervision. Then, if this experience of beekeeping has whetted your appetite you can enrol on the Beginners Course – where you will find out all you need to know to start keeping bees healthy, secure and safe in a friendly and mentored environment.
3. Start Small (but not Too Small)
Even if you plan to scale up or if you have had little or no experience, it’s a good idea to start with one colony and build this up. This will give you an idea of what it takes, how your location works out and whether or not you really like beekeeping.
4. Make a plan
There are a lot of things to think through when you start beekeeping so make a beeline (no pun intended) for your local Branch, get the training and make your plans. A beginner’s course will help you with many of these decisions.
5. Consider Your Equipment
There are a lot more options in equipment than you might think, especially in hive components. It is a significant financial investment and you’ll be living with your decisions for a long time.
Check out local suppliers (your branch will know these and be glad to help). Don’t stint on your bee suit, smoker or hive tools, you want them to last.
6. Review Local Bylaws and Register Your Colonies
There are no real legal restrictions to keeping bees in England. You will be expected to site your apiary where it will not cause a threat or concern to the general public, neighbours and your family. This does not preclude you from having hives in your garden so long as you do this with care and consideration for other people. Many beekeepers keep their colonies on an out apiary, or allotment.
There is also no legal requirement, at present, to register your bees but as a member of a local association as here in Cheshire, we believe it is vital to register your bees on the National Bee Unit’s database, there are many advantages to this
7. Protect Yourself
Firstly, make sure you, or anyone who is likely to come in contact with your bees, are not allergic to bee stings.
Secondly, most beekeepers wear gloves – these are not the old-fashioned type of thick leather which were only worn for protection, the modern gloves tend to be thin nitrile with a thin latex (doctors type glove) worn over the top – these are worn to prevent the spread of disease and NOT for protection. You WILL get stung occasionally but wearing the gloves keeps your scent away from the bees and minimises the risk of stinging.
You will see many bee suits on offer and it is best to get recommendations from your local beekeeping branch
You will also need suitable footwear – Steel toe capped Wellington boots are Ideal as you can tuck the legs of you trousers/bee suit into them and if you do drop a heavy box of bees or honey on your foot they will help protect you.
Thirdly, if you are a member of Cheshire Beekeepers you will automatically get public liability cover and some Bee Disease cover via our association with the British Beekeepers Association.
8. Look and Learn
Courses, books, magazines, discussions with other beekeepers and conferences are all crucial in building expertise and confidence but nothing prepares you better than a Beginners Course at your local Association.
9. Keep Notes
Further to ‘looking and learning’ keep notes on what you are seeing and doing. Some beekeepers keep a journal to track what’s in bloom, weather, actions taken, learning, mistakes, questions. Jot it down!
Finally, give yourself a break. You will make mistakes. You will do some really dumb things – but that’s the way it is. Beekeeping is one of the most enjoyable and interesting endeavors you will ever encounter, but even seasoned beekeepers will tell you that it’s forever a work-in-progress. Do your best, keep learning, keep going, and have fun.