Who hasn’t dreamed of enjoying their own home-grown honey? Ever dreamed of having a beehive at home? Producing honey—and contributing to bee conservation—is indeed possible. But before starting, there are a few preparatory steps you should take if you are a beginner beekeeper. In the UK, you don’t need a license for keeping bees, but you should receive training and support so that you’re all ready to welcome your new neighbours. The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) has many resources, including a search engine to help you find your local beekeeping association.
While the BBKA website is full of great information, they recommend joining a local association so you can access the locally-specific expertise that’s essential for a healthy hive. Your local association will also be able to provide training and a community of knowledgeable beekeepers for support.
While you are waiting for classes near you, here are some essential beekeeping for beginners tips & advice, from choosing a hive to producing your own honey.
You can tell a good beekeeper by their equipment
Getting the right setup is not easy when you don’t know all the technical terms. There are many different sizes and types of hive. We’ll be looking here at the Warré, the Kenyan Top Bar and the Dadant.
We’ll keep things simple by looking at the classic 10-frame Dadant model. This format allows swarms to expand significantly in the hive. We recommend using a plastic hive base to help the bees take off and land with plenty of nectar and pollen.
This type of floor prevents rising damp—when water from the ground enters the structure by capillary action—in winter and summer. In addition, it is super easy to clean with hot water.
You can also add an entrance reducer to limit draughts and stop pests from entering the hive.
Beekeeping for beginners: designing the interior of your hive
After the base, choose a brood chamber—also known as a hive body or deep super—for your 10-frame Dadant model. This is where the bees will stay to store nectar and pollen. The queen will also take up residence here to lay eggs and build up the swarm. The brood chamber must be thick enough to insulate and protect the bees.
Next, add 8 or 9 Dadant honey or “shallow” supers to your hive. They will allow you to collect the honey produced by the bees. We recommend getting two or three to make visits to the apiary easier. You can also use what’s called a queen excluder, which prevents the queen from going to the honey supers. She’ll only be able to lay eggs in the brood chamber, keeping the shallow supers just for the honey!
You will need to add a wax-coated feeder or a 10-frame Nicot shallow super to keep bees fed in winter and help restart the swarm in spring.
You should also use a crown board to separate the hive roof from the supers and to make opening the hive less stressful for the bees. Next, add a flat roof or Gabled roof. Gabled models look great but can be a bit heavier to manipulate.
Finally, don’t forget to install interior insulation in the roof area for seasonal extremes of hot and cold weather.
The heart of the hive
Inside the hive, choose the frames and wax. You’ll need 10 frames for the deep super (brood chamber) in Dadant format. And to collect your honey, you’ll need 8 or 9 frames for your shallow super. Next, get some embossed beeswax and attach them to the frames. The honeycomb structure will help out the drones as they work in the hive.
As a beginner at beekeeping, don’t forget to protect your hive from the elements. To do this, paint the external surfaces with several coats of linseed oil or with exterior wood paint. Avoid dark colours or your hive will overheat in summer.
It’s time to welcome the bees!
Time to get a swarm of bees. You can easily purchase a swarm online, but we also recommend using a professional beekeeper.
There are different breeds to choose from, including Buckfast and Carnolian. The breed of the bee is important because it affects specific criteria such as honey consumption in winter, swarm stamina and even aggressivity.
Safety in and around your apiary
A full body or half body bee suit is essential when handling the hive. It will protect you from potential bee stings. Bring synthetic or leather gloves and boots that go over the suit to protect your feet and make sure there aren’t any openings. Last but not least— the bee smoker and its fuel are indispensable to the art of beekeeping.
It is also important to choose your equipment carefully so that you are using the right sizes and quantities. For example, your smoker should have a minimum supply of one litre.
Beekeeping for beginners: making your honey
For the honey house, you will need an extremely clean area to extract the honey. Everything must be absolutely spotless. You will need a manual or motorised extractor – 2 frames to 9 frames. This will allow the honey to be extracted from the supers without damaging them.
Next, pass it through a double sieve; this will filter out and separate any impurities from the honey. You will then need two or three ripeners. A ripener is a container that stores the honey extracted from your frames before final packaging.
To keep things hygienic, label your jars with key information such as the expiration date and type of honey collected. This will ensure you can easily find your way around later.
Written by Zeprodortie
A teacher in horticultural production and landscaping, Zeprodortie has been developing a permaculture and organic garden for several years and is also a beekeeper.