How to get started
Bees are in the news and have been for a few years now, this is great as it raises the profile of the honey bee (and other bees) and many people now want to take up beekeeping as a hobby. Easy isn’t it? Just buy a hive and some bees and stick them in the garden – except it isn’t!
Beekeeping is a complex business and involves no little investment in equipment and bees. You are after all dealing with livestock, so some degree of learning on your part is essential before you actually dive in and get your first bees. Having said that, beekeeping is fascinating, absorbing, fun and a brilliant hobby. It can connect you with like minded people and many children absolutely love it and learn very quickly.
So what is the best way to get started?
• Join your local association – They will help get you started and ease you in gently. They also have the best local knowledge.
• Go on a course – Beginners’ sessions in the North East are run by local associations these are usually free to members. Northumberland College at Kirkley Hall runs an excellent course each spring. Companies such as Northumberland Honey and Pure Honeycomb all offer courses of varying length and cost.
• Get some ‘hands on’ experience – There’s no substitute for it. Our Beginners’ sessions are designed to provide this.
• Get a book and read up – There are lots of good beekeeping books out there and, while it’s no substitute for hands-on experience, it will give you an idea of what it’s all about. A suggested list is provided below.
When you’ve done all these and have decided that beekeeping is for you then you can consider getting your own bees. Local knowledge is vital as are local bees. Bees bred overseas or even in the south of England won’t necessarily cope with our cool Northumberland summers. Buying locally bred and raised bees also means you are not at risk of bringing disease into our area. HBKA and our members may be able to supply you with bees or will know where to get them from. Patience is key, you want a colony of local, well behaved, calm bees. Be prepared to wait for the right ones.
Here at Hexham Beekeepers we run Beginners Sessions right through the summer. These are informal, basic, hands-on sessions at our association apiary near Wylam, which was set up specifically to educate new beekeepers.
These sessions are free to Hexham members and a great way to find out if beekeeping is for you – it isn’t for everyone. You can come to one session for free but then we expect you to join HBKA.
There is no need to buy expensive equipment immediately. We have suits and gloves to borrow. You just need a pair of wellies and an interest in seeing what it’s all about. We will demonstrate a range of different beekeeping skills and ways to deal with what you may find in a hive when you open it.
The things we will cover are briefly:
• Bees & brood – identification and health of the colony
• Feeding – what to feed, how & when
• Equipment – what you need to get started
• Swarms – how to prevent and control them
• Diseases & Parasites – what to look out for and how to manage them
For details on dates and how to join see our Beginners’ Sessions page.
Hive Loan scheme
So, once you have done all of the above and remain convinced that you want to have a colony of your own you might be deterred by the initial outlay to purchase your first hive. We have a limited scheme designed to assist a small number of new beekeepers each year who might otherwise be put off ‘taking the plunge’ due to the costs involved. Further details are set out on the Hive Loan Scheme page.
Haynes Bee Manual by Claire and Adrian Waring – an excellent book, clearly written with great photos. A great starter book.
The BBKA Guide to Beekeeping by Ivor Davis & Roger Cullum-Kenyon – The BBKA’s offering on beekeeping.
Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper MBE – the World’s best selling guide to beekeeping. For novice and experienced beekeepers alike.