Get Started

Why keep bees?

There are lots of reasons to start keeping bees.  At a minimum having a beehive will help support bee numbers and provide the local area with superb pollinators.  Even better, the bees will provide valuable products including honey, which tastes great and has health benefits, and wax which can be used to make things.

How does a hive work?

Basically, the hive is a way of giving bees a home and also allowing you to harvest honey.  It consists of a series of boxes (containing frames) which sit on top of each other.  The bottom box is called the ‘brood chamber’ which is where the queen bee lives and lays all the eggs.  The brood chamber is purely for the bees themselves (you never harvest honey from this).

Above the brood chamber you have one or more boxes called ‘supers’ which is where you can actually harvest the honey.  To stop the queen bee from moving from the brood chamber to the supers you need a device called a ‘queen excluder’ which sits between the brood chamber and the super.  This works by having metal wires which are too narrow for the queen bee to pass upwards into the super.  This is important because you don’t want the queen to start laying eggs where you will be harvesting honey.

What do I need to do to start beekeeping?

  1. Get some books from your local libary
  2. Contact your local beekeeping association to find out more about beekeeping
  3. Attend a a beginners beekeeping course so you can learn the nuts and bolts and get your hands on a beehive for the first time.  These are usually held at intervals by the beekeeping association.  They will also get you in touch with experienced beekeepers who will be an invaluable source of help as you get started.
  4. Buy a reference book in case you get stuck
  5. Purchase the hive.  Hives can be very expensive and the best hives are made from Red Cedarwood.  It’s worth the investment though as the cheaper hives are more likely to get damaged and apparently a good quality hive should last you a life time.  Buying a hive for the first time is a bit tricky.  It’s much easier if you understand how a hive works (see About beekeeping).
  6. Build the hive
  7. Order the bees
  8. Introduce the bees to your hive and leave for 3 days
  9. Inspect the hive for the first time
  10. Regularly inspect the hive every 7-10 days

Where can I keep bees?

Anywhere!  As long as you are not causing inconvenience to other human beings, there is really no restriction.  Even in the middle of great cities like London there are city beekeepers with hives on roof tops.

What equipment do I need?

So the key things you have to remember to buy to get started:
  • stand with legs
  • floor (get a varroa floor with galvanised metal tray and mesh)
  • brood chamber and frames with foundation to put inside (get Hoffman’s frames)
  • queen excluder
  • super and frames with foundationto put inside (get 10 slot metal castellations)
  • crown board
  • eke
  • roof
  • frame feeder
  • Ashforth feeder (used for more rapid feeding)
You’ll also need some props to help you:
  • smoker (to calm the bees down)
  • beesuit (to protect you)
  • hive tool (to help you move things as it can get a bit sticky)
All of this could cost up to £500.  To save on money, if you have the time, buy things flat-packed.  This way you’ll have to spend a day making the hive, but you’ll benefit by learning how it all works which will be handy if you want to make your own hive in the future or need to repair things.  You can also buy some equipment though your local beekeeping association or bulk buy with friends to save on postage costs.During the first winter you’ll need to get:
  • varroa treatment
  • sugar feed – around 12kg per hive
  • jars (to put your honey in next year) – you should prepare for around 100lb (45kg) honey from the hive.
Next year you’ll need:
  • labels (for your jars)
  • another hive
  • nucleus hive
  • 2 supers for the original hive
  • 2 supers for the new hive
  • frames and foundation
  • settling tank and honey strainer
  • honey buckets

Although buying new equipment is expensive, beginners should not buy second hand equipment for several reasons:

  • poor condition
  • incorrect dimensions
  • will need sterilisation to prevent disease

What type of hive should I buy?

There are a number of different hive designs.  The best one to buy really depends on where you live and your local beekeeping group.  In some countries, like England there is a standard hive (the National Hive) so it would make sense to start with this type of hive.  The benefit of this is that you can use standardised equipment which can be purchased from multiple providers.  In addition, if you have the same type of hive as other local beekeepers then they will be able to help you get started more easily.  For example, they may be able to provide a the first sets of frames for your brand new hive to get you started.

What’s the best location for my hive?

There are lots of factors to consider and you really should think about this before the bees arrive.  If you are keeping the bees at home in your garden think about:
  • Space – you need about 2 metres all around the hive – particularly the back so that you can inspect the hive.
  • Protection from the elements – ideally some sort of a windbreak such as a hedge or fence nearby will protect the hive from winds.
  • Other people – ideally keep the hive entrance pointing away from any footpaths to prevent people colliding with the bees flight path.
  • Altitude – ideally keep on higher ground to reduce the risk of frost or flooding affecting the beehive.