Starting out: Beekeepers' expectations.

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Moggs 

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I am a novice beekeeper. A newbeek in the first year of my bees managing me. What started very tentatively in May has become something of an absorbing hobby, shall we say. In fact, it has been a sharp experiential learning curve and, on the whole, quite a positive one.

There have been trials and tribulations along the way and as some of you will have noted, these have involved quite a wide cross-section of challenges, taking in artificial swarms, queenlessness, recombining, treatments, the honey harvest and so on. I see myself as being quite privileged to have accommodated all of this in the first year as I now move forward toward the winter with perhaps four strong colonies (though we haven't bedded them down yet of course).

Now, to the point of this post. With hindsight (which we all know is a wonderful thing) I cannot for the life of me see how I could have accomplished this without the laborious preparations commencing around this time last year. Indeed, even with a highly-respected winter training course under my belt and the (at least partial) absorption of the advice contained within several good books, I started in the field feeling decidedly under-prepared.

There is no doubt that this year's experiences have consolidated so much of that prior preparation and I feel quite comfortable now that I have grasped the basics. But that is all it is. I can but hope that the bees may not need to be as forgiving as we move into the second season but that presupposes that this year's work has been successful and on that, time will tell!

I am quite intrigued then, when I hear of people who have been able to 'jump in at the deep end' (perhaps as a result of recent 'bee-mania') and who successfully maintain these complicated creatures, sometimes without so much as a passing reference to the vast and comprehensive range of guidance that is so widely available. Are they extremely fortunate or have I perhaps just experienced a year's worth of 'testy' bees?

I suspect that I know the answer to that question. My point is that, in the sure and certain knowledge that there is so much to learn (and much of that can only be by experience with bees) it is vital to secure a really good foundation, afforded either by a good training course or under the mentorship of an experienced 'keeper. There is no doubt that this forum serves as a wealth of good advice but I heartily recommend a more formal 'apprenticeship', as I said, with the benefit of hindsight.


I for one, will be re-reading the work of Ted Hooper and quite a few more to while away the darker nights.

Interested to hear of other newbs' experiences...
 

margob99 

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I've just entered my 16th month of beekeeping. I have found it:

1. Harder work than I ever thought possible. Being a typical new-age city creature, I was all romantic about it before and as I started, and have become distinctly hardened as I progressed. This is all about smallhold farming, make no mistake. Hard graft, not very profitable, expensive, but utterly, utterly engrossing. And when the honey finally comes, one of the most rewarding enterprises of my entire life.

2. As one of those who leapt in head-first despite all the cautions from my beekeeping association, I regret not having a year of shadowing a mentor first. Some of the big, and practical, tasks, like shook-swarm, splitting a hive, collecting a swarm, managing QCs etc, you just flounder about - regardless of any Beginner Beekeeper course, there's nothing like seeing it being done first-hand for learning. Better still to have a mentor who makes you do it for them!

3. More expensive than I thought. It hasn't taken me long to look at all the beek catalogues with more than a jaded eye and an empty pocket. Don't buy too much! Learn to make it yourself ... (I also discovered I'm a pathetic carpenter).

4. Sad that we've entered this world at a time when fighting disease has overwhelmed every other aspect of beekeeping. I wish I'd done this waaaay back in the day, when it wasn't all about disease issues.
 

Erichalfbee 

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A steep learning curve,yes.
I too started this year with a year's worth of reading and practical experience as foreplay.
I made one serious error in overfeeding my nuc and not spotting a really well camouflaged QC (OK sorry that's two mistakes).
I have had wonderful help from my mentor at my local BKA and from this forum.

Whether my bees survive with my help or despite it I look forward to next spring.
You never stop learning.
 

Skyhook 

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Hi Moggs

I'm also new this year- and have had a much quieter time of it than you, by the sound of it. Basically, got bees, bees made honey, took honey. My bees obviously read the right books!

I had a little previous knowledge, having helped my father with his bees in years gone by. Started with a beginners day, got hooked, went to assoc. apiary every week, pestered mentors with unending stream of questions, read Ted Hooper 3 times, read anything else I could get my hands on, discovered the forum (RESULT!), reckoned I'd got to the point where my brain was full and needed to actually DO. :willy_nilly: Got my hive about end of June and they have been my total focus of attention since: real train-spotter time. Still almost as excited as the day I got them, can't wait to increase next year. bee-smillie
 

peteinwilts 

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I was a newbie last year and started for environmental reasons.

I was cautious at first but the experienced people on this forum gave me confidence and I jumped right in.
I had an interesting time and learnt 'on the job' without having a mentor (although it turns out I was living next door to another member, Somerford who I bounced ideas off of). My first colony came with no queen. I can only assume she packed her backs a day or so before receiving her.
The instructions came with 'squish any QC's' as the bees will swarm. I did as instructed and within a couple of weeks I knew something was wrong.

I did not do a training course, I am not a member of a club or organisation, although during my first hive (which survived) I learnt a great deal reading and webbrowsing for many weeks.

I also learnt very quickly that just because you read it in a book, or hear it on a forum does not make it right. As with all hobbies there are a multitude of way of gaining success and failure.

Last year many were feeding in early August. I only fed one colony in August and it was the only colony that failed. (not saying that I should not have done this!)
Last winter scores of peoples colonys failed, some of which lost dozens of hives (one experienced guy I know lost 3/4 of his hives). I can't believe the long cold winter has been solely responsible as our Northern Member does not normally have such catostropic events.

Understanding the basics of how bees work and why they do things, combined with common bee sense goes a very long way.

The guys on this forum have been great and would have struggled without them, but not all advice is good advice. Often you have to take the advice that 'feels' right for you.

My questions have become less frequent, so must have learnt something!
 

Queens59 

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I took on my bees On June 25th - after taking advice from my local assoc.; as I am unable to attend courses etc. due to ill-health and my discoveries are:

1. Extreme frustration at the things the bees do that aren't in the books.
2. Depression that I don't have the bees the books say exist!!
3. Depression and feeling out of my depth when I can't understand what they are doing and why.
4. Absolute joy when the girls seem happy and a pleasure to inspect.
5. First experience of forums and the positive support they can provide along with the ablity to make you feel as thick as two short planks!
6. The realisation that an association is no guarantee of support.
7. The awful realisation that an unexpected bill can't be paid as the money is sitting in a 'bee-form' in the shed...
8. A bookshelf full of reference books - and still10 answers to every problem!
9. The wonderful warmth, friendship, support and mentorship offered by wonderful experienced beeks to people they have nver met.

Would I get rid of my bees? NEVER
Do I regret buying my bees? NO - except when they sting me...
Am I a beekeeper? NO - the bees keep me...
Is this a lifeling obsession? I have a horrible feeling it may well be...
 

Brosville 

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Ho hum, acting purely as devil's advocate, I've found the opposite really- thanks to "local politics" I've turned my back on the local association, and have relied greatly on my friends on the 'net, and have pursued what has become known loosely as "natural beekeeping", and the longer I keep bees, the more convinced I am that I've chosen the path that suits me.......
As an "outsider", I look on in some horror at many practices drummed into newbies as "the one and only true way".......... regarding swarming as something to be "controlled", culling queens and drone brood, incessant intrusive "inspections", smoking the bejaysus out of them, provision of foundation, nicking all the honey and replacing with sugar, dousing them with synthetic chemicals etc - the main word summing it all up being "control", based on the assumption that mankind knows better than bees, and bees are to be bludgeoned into doing our will..........
I'm FAR more laid back, honey being somewhere way down the list of priorities, and work on the principle that the greatest experts on the care of bees are........... bees!
Costs? - around £150 total outlay has seen me with 4 hives, 4 healthy colonies, and all the equipment I'll ever need (which isn't a lot......)
This is not to be confused with total "hands off" management, more an "only interfere if you need to" attitude, and am learning that you can find out a great deal of what's going on in a hive by sitting quietly and watching the comings and goings, and non-invasive tools like sticky paper varroa monitoring.......
My advice for any newbie is "if in doubt, don't - leave 'em to it, they know better than you ever will........

Retires behind (eco-friendly) blast wall :biggrinjester:
 

peteinwilts 

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Brosville: is that total lack of swarm control or 'managing' swarms.

Total lack of swarm control brings grumpy people in the area blaming you for swarms that are nesting in their chimney...

I agree that you can 'feel' when hives need inspecting (normally when they are very full!) and often leave bees for weeks...
 

Brosville 

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I do not attempt to "control" swarming in any way whatsoever - if I lived in a built-up area I may consider some of the gentler methods like splits and artificial swarms, but am very fortunate in living "miles from nowhere", and my few neighbours are country people who look upon bees and swarms as normal, natural, and all "part of life's rich tapestry"....,
I've doubled my colonies this year by catching my own swarms and hope to have surplus ones for beekeeping friends and neighbours next year
As I said, I've found the path that suits me, and where I live.......
 

oliver90owner 

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gentler methods like splits and artificial swarms

And examples of 'more violent' methods of swarm control are....?

Lost for ideas, I'm afraid.

Regards, RAB
 

Queens59 

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Brosville - how did you manage to get 4 colonies for £150 inc. kit? My one and only colony cost me £80 - plus everything else - hence a year with one colony only as I can't afford another!!
 

Erichalfbee 

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Brosville - how did you manage to get 4 colonies for £150 inc. kit? My one and only colony cost me £80 - plus everything else - hence a year with one colony only as I can't afford another!!
Make the same mistakes as I did :svengo:
I nuc, overfed, AS, missed QC so swarmed.(AS Q disappeared, but that's another story)
1 nuc = 3 boxes of bees

My husband had made a TBH (cost zilch as all stuff was scavenged, even the screws) but it wasn't quite finished otherwise the swarm would have gone in there........:eek:
 

madasafish 

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I started this year having wanted to keep bees for a year but having done NOTHING about it. Went to my local beekeeping asscoiation hands on lectures at apiary. Liked it. Built one TBH from new wood and bought a nuc. With help of another keeper caught a swarm... second TBH built from scrap except screws , roofing felt and glue..

So two hives plus bees plus home built nuc plus another TBH (with window ) in prolonged build.

Total outlay on bees, Apiguard. hives . clothing and sugar approx £220..

I rarely smoke bees - twice in 6 months, I rarely inspect, no swarming yet, on edge of country, neighbours like them, no honey , lots of work..Bare hands most of time. Bees VERY docile...

Read a lot. learned a lot.. Made a few mistooks - none too bad yet...



By no means a fanatical environmentalist nor a greenie nor a natural beekeeper.. just mean. And being mean, you learn to find alternatives ...which cost little...and are usually friendlier to bees...
 

Brosville 

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I've so far made 3 top bar hives and a Warre, using mostly "cheap" wood from the local market and my £3 bench saw (boot fair), and paid £10 each for two swarms last year, both of which have presented me with a new swarm this year. £10 for a secondhand smoker, around £ 7.50 for a hat/veil thingummy, £18 for a white boilersuit -a few quid for screws and linseed oil....
And if I can build a hive, so can anybody!:sifone:
 

Juststarting 

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Okay - I seem to be the other end of the spectrum. I also started this year. I bought my bees after just doing a taster day - I couldnt at that time get on a course so decided to dive in. I've loved every minute of it.

I had read several books and been scanning this forum for about a year before the taster day and have now finished a course which a group of us organised for ourselves. I'd still be waiting for next years local Bka ones.

I only have one colony (money prevented me getting 2) but I have been through an AS and recombining on my own, albeit having asked lots of questions here.

I now want to expand rapidly and manage a lot more hives! I am trying to get as much experience as possible but it seems quite hard to arrange. I want to take my BBka exams but am thwarted by having to have 1 yrs experience to the take the basic and 2 yr+ basic to do the modules (even just the courses!).

I know there is no substitute for hands on experience but having spent most of my working life rapidly learning and then managing complex technologies I find it frustrating that I cannot get on with learning the theoretical side of things in parallel with the practical. I know I can do it myself and will keep reading everything I can get my hands on, but I liked the discipline and structure offered by the courses.

So I am investigating opportunites to rapidly build up my stock, finding suitable out apiaries and looking for someone who will let me experience larger scale bee keeping.

I know I'm probably trying to run before I can walk but I'd really like to try jogging!
 

Erichalfbee 

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Okay -

I want to take my BBka exams but am thwarted by having to have 1 yrs experience to the take the basic and 2 yr+ basic to do the modules (even just the courses!).
There is a reason for this.
Experience.

You could always teach rather than keep.
 

Juststarting 

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I know you need experience for practical exams but for theoretical ones! Theres also a vast difference in that experience each of us get in a year or two - just this thread shows the wealth of different levels of experience we've all been through in just a few months!

Teaching is fine - been there done that, but I want to learn! Just quickly!
 

JamesB 

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I was lucky tbh my father had 30 odd years experience nad retired for 3yrs before i decided to start up, hes been my rock if im honest and would have struggled without his guidance :)
 

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