So, you are looking to start beekeeping?

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Monsieur Abeille 

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You are a person who wants to keep bees, and you have 101 questions to ask. Welcome to the community and hopefully you will have many years indulging in this fascinating hobby.

This thread is intended to answer some of the standard questions that aspiring beekeepers have. The crux is
1) Learn about beekeeping
2) Plan your hives and locations,
3) Get your bees.

First things first. Some like to dive in head first and cope with whatever challenges then arise as a consequence. This is not generally a good strategy in beekeeping, at least it is very prone to errors which could be costly to you and your bees.

The more you know about beekeeping before you start the better chance you have of making the right choices.

There are three principle methods of learning about beekeeping - books, courses, and your local association – all are generally a good idea

Books
Books are the easiest and cheapest way to get an idea if the rigours of beekeeping are really for you. There are a variety of beginners books available – current favourites include The Haynes Beekeeping Manual, Bees at the Bottom of the Garden by Alan Campion, and Practical Beekeeping by Clive de Bruyn. The acknowledged Daddy of them all is Ted Hooper’s Guide to Bees and Honey , but this does go into some depth so may be a better second book to buy.

There is discussion on the various beginner books at this thread http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=8587 and others

Courses
While taster days are very useful for just that, once you are fairly sure that you want to pursue this hobby, a good next step is to enrol on an introductory course. These will normally be about ten sessions long and cost anything from £30 to £150. They can be run by Beekeeping Associations, individuals or colleges. In general they are a very good thing to go on, especially those that give hands on experience – it is not unknown for aspiring beekeepers to be scared off when actually confronted with 50,000 angry ladies.

Local Associations
Most parts of the country have a local beekeeping association. These tend to be affiliated with a larger County Association, which in turn is normally affiliated with the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA), the Scottish Beekeepers Association, the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers (INIB), the Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations (FIBKA) or the Ulster Bee Keepers Association (UBKA).

At the local level though, you will meet fellow beekeepers in your area and be able to take advantage of what the local association offers – this may be courses, an association apiary, access to local nucs for sale or swarms, renting or borrowing equipment, a honey show, social events, regular meetings etc. It should help you make contact with experienced beekeepers near you who can help out if you find yourself in a pickle. Cost is normally about £25 per year which should include some insurance for hives.

A list of associations associated with the BBKA can be found at http://tinyurl.com/bnhpnys

A Quick Word About Stings and Allergies.
As a beekeeper you will get stung. Hopefully not often, but it will happen. People react differently to stings, and this can also change over time. Most of us are lucky enough to be able to treat stings as a minor irritant, although stings to fleshy parts such as around the face can cause a dramatic swelling. However a small minority -2-3% of adults - have a full blown allergy which will send them into an anaphyactic shock which can prove fatal without swift intervention. Further details can be found here http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=9236&. People known to be allergic will be prescribed an EpiPen by their GP which they should carry with them at all times. It may sound stupid to say, but if you know you are allergic then you must not keep bees.

Apiary site
If you get this far then you are pretty committed to becoming a beekeeper.

You will need somewhere to keep your hives. Some keep them in their garden, however be aware that this opens up a wide range of potential problems, especially if you have neighbours nearby. There have been several threads on this forum discussing the pros and cons of garden beekeeping, such as
http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=14664 and http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=13902

If you are lucky enough to own large swathes of land you can of course keep your hives there, or if not many local farmers or landowners will be happy for you to keep hives on their land. You will have to ensure that these are protected from wildlife and live stock such as sheep, and are not visible from a road for security’s sake. The normal rent for using a field is a jar or two of honey a year per hive.

The best sites are close to good all year round forage, but this may not become apparent until you have kept bees there for a year or two. Be aware that even if they are near fields laid for, as an example, oilseed rape (a particular favourite of the honeybee) there may still not be decent forage for the remaining 48 weeks of the year. Urban beekeepers are normally well blessed with forage variety throughout the beekeeping year.

Hive type
This is where it starts getting confusing, and where everyone has their own opinion.

The principal hive types used by UK members of this forum include National, Lansgstroth, WBC, Commercial, Smith, Top Bar and Warre – several others exist though.

Hive material is normally wood (cedar is favourite though cheaper options are available) or Expanded Polystyrene.

The standard UK hive is the National. The brood box (the heart of the hive) for this comes in two sizes – the Standard (aka deep), and the 14x12 (aka Jumbo) - which is about half as big again. WBC hives are the traditional pagoda shaped, and have an inner and outer layer, which makes them difficult to move - but this is not normally an issue for the beginner and they can look pretty in a garden. They are also available with a standard brood box or a 14x12 variety. Langstroth are the world’s (as opposed to the UK’s) most popular hive and the Commercial is a good size hive, similar to the National 14x12. Smiths, similar in size to the National, are very popular in Scotland.

Top Bar and Warre hives each have their own proponents who champion the different style of beekeeping these hives encourage (often referred to as Natural Beekeeping, although many would argue that they are neither more nor less natural than conventional methods)

When deciding on your hive type it is worth considering what most beekeepers in your immediate area use, as bought in local bees are likely to arrive on frames of that format.

Further discussion on hive types can be found here http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=5

Wood. If looking to get yourself up and running with decent kit for little money, then many of the principal manufacturers do startup kits. At present the best value appears to be Thorne’s Bees on a Budget range – a standard national setup which includes a lot of the essential kit (see below).

At the other end of the scale there are those who will handcraft a beautiful hive to your specification. There are at least two regular posters on this forum who perform this service to a very high standard at a reasonable price.

In between there are many suppliers out there who will mass produce standard hives in all sizes and shapes, or you can take a punt on 2nd hand equipment from popular auction sites - but make sure any such equipment can be sterilised.

If skills permit you can of course look to build your own, and designs can be found on this forum, at the late Dave Cushman’s excellent site, or on the Scottish Beekeepers site.

Polystyrene. Very popular with many members on this board, its insulation properties are seen as a significant help to colony development. Currently available in the UK in Langstroth, National or 14x12 sizes. Cost is generally slightly less than the equivalent in cedar.

Again, there are many threads on this forum regarding pros and cons of Poly hives v traditional wood. Actually at the end of the day your bees will not be overly bothered as long as you can give them adequate dry space. There are further hive design choices such as the type of floor but I am trying to stop this post turning into a small novelette

Nucs. I should finally mention nucs (short for nucleus hives) – you will hear many references to these, and indeed there is a good chance your first bees will come in one. They are in essence half size brood boxes (although still available in standard National, 14x12 and Langstroth sizes, and probably others) – and in both wood and poly - and have many uses to the beekeeper which I won’t bore you with now. Suffice to say that they are not essential kit for the beginner, but you will probably find yourself getting one before too long.

Essential Kit
for the beginner looking to set up a one conventional style hive:

• Hive to include stand, floor, broodbox, 3 supers, Crown Board, Roof.
• Spare hive or nuc, with as a minimum a brood box, floor and roof.
• At least 20 brood box and 30 super frames and foundation
• Queen Excluder
• Hive tool
• Smoker or spray
• Bee proof clothing – can be a suit or separates with attached hat and veil. Gloves. Footwear

There are many, many, many optional extras which you and your bank manager will come to know and love, but you can’t easily get away with less than the above. The most expensive item commonly in use is probably the honey extractor, but your local association may be able to lend or rent you one.

And you will never have enough equipment.

Note that although this is for one hive, you will find that a two hive setup gives more flexibility and you may well aspire to this before too long.

Sourcing bees
You can buy bees from fellow hobbyists, at auction, via your local association, from the principal beekeeping suppliers, or you can keep your fingers crossed that a swarm lands in the bait hive you’ve just set up. There is a section on this board with offers of new season nucs for sale here http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=18 . It is also possible to buy full colonies within their own hive. If you want to lure in your own swarm then there are several threads relating to setting Bait Hives such as http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=11109

When buying bees make sure you ask as many pertinent questions as you can, and ideally have an experienced beekeeper with you. The most important thing to look at is the health of the bees.

The colony takes its general mood and behaviour from its queen, and as a beginner your principle requirement should be for calm bees.

Availability is from early spring throughout the year, although there is little point in buying bees after the late summer harvest.

This forum
Finally a word blowing our collective trumpet. This forum is a fantastic source of information. Unfortunately much of it contradicts itself, but in the fullness of time you will learn who posts sensible and helpful threads and more importantly learn how to evaluate and make up your own mind .

Keep a thin layer of chain mail to hand on when posting as sometimes replies can be, shall we say, somewhat direct, but most are made with a good heart. It can be a bit daunting posting your first request for advice, and there are some helpful tips on this to be found here http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=7153

The forum has an excellent Search facility, the button for which is somewhere near the top right of your screen. Further instruction can be found here http://www.beekeepingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=7864

If you do use this forum then contributions to its upkeep are always gratefully received by its owner/manager - Admin - who pays for it all out of his own pocket. And a small contribution gets you the lovely
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