Beekeeping is increasingly popular, rising alongside our increased understanding of their importance in our eco system. But is your garden or outside space suitable for your own hive?
A quick glance online will show that the number of beekeeping courses and events has increased hugely in recent years. But how can you start your own beehive? And should you?
Although we tend to associate bees with the countryside, if you are a city dweller and have written off beekeeping as a hobby, think again. Remarkably, bees tend to do well in cities. Allotments, gardens, and rooftops are all ideal environments for beekeeping. And you may have noticed an increase in ‘urban bee’ honey in the shops.
The point is that beekeeping is potentially suitable for a lot more people than you might think.
What do you know about bees?
In the UK alone, there are over 250 different bee species. However, there is just one species of honeybee that lives in the UK called the ‘European honeybee’. These are the bees typically used in beekeeping.
Whilst we love their fluffy bums, bumblebees aren’t suitable for honey hives. There are 24 species of UK bumblebee, but in nature bumblebees live in underground cavities so cannot survive in man-made hives in the same way honeybees can. They can technically be kept in a ‘bumble bee box’ but these are extremely difficult to maintain, especially for first time beekeepers. For this reason, it is probably best to stick to standard honeybees if you are new to the world of beekeeping.
To find where you can track down European honeybees, the British Beekeepers Association website has lots of advice. Particularly helpful is the section that links you with your local experts and members – where you can share ideas and learn about the craft. It is also possible to catch a swarm yourself, but this takes experience and isn’t recommended for a beginner.
Learning about the craft
As mentioned above, there are plenty of beekeeping online courses available which can give you some insight into how to start your own beehive. It’s strongly recommended that you do some research before launching into this.
As well as the British Beekeepers website, which will help guide you and give you links to local live groups, look also for social media groups. On Facebook, for example, there is a private group – Beekeeping for Beginners UK. The more information and support you can gather, the better.
Think also about your equipment, the protective gear you need to buy and so on. Even down to the cost of things to keep your honey in. Don’t go at this without doing your homework.
And whilst I’m at it – it’s really important to ensure that where you live offers enough in the way of plants and flowers for bees to gather from. If you’re miles from anywhere that flowers grow, your bees will die. Again, lean on experienced keepers, or the Beekeepers Association for advice on this.
What kind of beehive should you have?
There are loads of different styles of beehives but the three most popular are The Langstroth, The Warre, and the Top-Bar.
The Langstroth Hive
This is the typical hive that comes to mind when you think of beekeeping. These hives are boxes with vertical hanging frames that the bees use to build their comb. The hives are easily expandable by adding new boxes on top of the existing ones. Being the most common hive means that it is easily to source and replace damaged or old components.
Pros: parts easily replaced and expandable. Also is a good option for urban beekeeping.
You can purchase a Langstroth Hive here from Bee Equipment.
The Warre Hive
If you’re looking for something lighter, the Warre Hive is quite similar to the Langstroth but smaller. They are also expandable but instead of adding new boxes on top, they are added to the bottom. As a result, despite the smaller and lighter frames, it can be heavy to move up all the boxes up when expanding. Overall, this hive is still generally considered low maintenance, making it a popular choice.
Pros: lower maintenance
Cons: heavy when expanding
You can purchase a Warre Hive here from Thorne.
The Top-Bar Hive
This one is the most aesthetically different of the three. Not only do these hives tend to be cheaper, but they are also taller, allowing for easy access. The Top-Bar is light to handle with the individual comb being lifted instead of heavy boxes. However, because of its simplistic nature it lacks the ability to expand and add more boxes. This hive style is especially appealing for first time and hobbyist beekeepers.
Pros: taller and lighter, great for beginners
Cons: not expandable
You can purchase a Top Bar Hive here from Heather Belle Honey Bees.
Expenses of beekeeping
Beekeeping is not the cheapest hobby to take up by a long stretch. Money must be spent on the bees, the hive, and the equipment. The overall cost of beekeeping can be up to a whopping £1400. Cheaper beginners’ kits are also available online for around £500 not including the price of the bees themselves. For those who are patient, it is possible to source out cheaper secondhand materials.
Another important factor to consider when starting beekeeping is the time that needs to be invested. It is estimated that in the first year roughly 15-30 hours must be spent caring for your bees. Keep in mind that beekeeping is a seasonal hobby, with the most work taking place in the spring and little to do in winter. At the peak in spring, an average of 5-30 minutes a week is spent with the bees. Frequent routine checks are also important to ensure there are no issues and the honey production is processing smoothly.
Do your research…
Before doing anything, check out your local laws and find out the city councils’ stance on beekeeping. In some place’s beekeeping requires a license and in certain areas its even banned.
Purchase the correct equipment…
The correct equipment is important not just for the bees but also for yourself. Remember to buy a beekeeping suit, gloves and bee smoker for your own safety.
Get involved with local bee groups…
Find other people with the same passion as you through the British Beekeeping Association and to get involved in beekeeping courses, local events and honey selling.
Rush into anything…
Beekeeping is a commitment that requires a fair amount of sustained work over the year. There is a level of responsibility that comes with keeping live animals and nobody needs 30,000 bee deaths on their conscience.
Expect immediate results…
Using honey for personal use in the first year is often advised against, especially if the hive was not started in Spring.
If it’s just honey you are after, there are plenty of local honey sellers to buy from. This means you get to support the bees and local beekeepers too.
For support and information – The British Beekeepers Association