Beekeeping is not difficult, and there are many sources of information for the newcomer. The best way to learn is from experienced beekeepers, and the beginner is advised to join their local beekeeping association and take an introductory course on beekeeping. If you are still undecided about becoming a beekeeper, attend one of the many one-day “taster” courses that demonstrate what is involved. The National Beekeeping Centre for Wales, a partner of the Tŷ Hyll honeybee initiative, runs regular courses, visit www.beeswales.co.uk for information.
A variety of honeybees have been imported into the UK over the years, for reasons such as docility and larger honey yield. However, interbreeding often results in the loss of the beneficial characteristics and the development of undesirable traits. There is now a strong movement to maintain the indigenous European dark bee, Apis Mellifera Mellifera. This bee is generally agreed to be most suitable for our conditions, so we recommend you obtain your bees locally, preferably through your local beekeeping association.
It is usual to start with a nucleus, which is a small colony with a new and laying queen. The bees should be free of disease. Such colonies usually become available in May or June. Alternatives are to buy a full colony or to obtain a swarm.
Bees can be kept in a variety of places, including gardens, roof spaces, or in the corner of a field. If you do not have a suitable site at home, your local association can often help you find an ‘out apiary’.
Basic equipment is needed to get you started. This includes:
- Protective clothing, such as a bee suit with integral hood and veil, gloves and wellington boots.
- A smoker to calm the bees.
- A hive tool to open the hive.
- A hive. The most common type in the UK is the National hive.
- Roof: to keep the hive dry.
- Crown board: A board with one or more holes for ventilation, feeding or clearing the bees,, which sits on top of the boxes.
- Supers: One or more boxes where the bees can store honey.
- Queen excluder: A grill with spacing such that worker bees can pass through, but the queen cannot.
- Brood box: Where the queen lays her eggs.
- Floor: A tray with an entrance for the bees and usually with a mesh base.
- Entrance block: Restricts the entrance.
The brood and super boxes contain typically 10 or 11 wooden frames. These hold thin sheets of wax with a preformed cell-pattern (foundation). The bees build their wax cells on this foundation, and the queen lays eggs in the frames of the brood box. The worker bees collect nectar that is deposited in the supers above the queen excluder.