Understanding how to start beekeeping in the UK is essential if you’re ever going to make that step from curiosity to actual beekeeper!
In this post we’ll cover some important first steps you’ll need to take as a beginner.
Pollinating flowers, producing honey, and being a vital part of the animal food chain, bees are great for the environment.
Of course, though, it isn’t as simple as finding some bees to get started. You need to get your hands on a range of tools and equipment before you can start looking after these small flying creatures, along with doing plenty of learning. So, let’s get started!
Why Choose Beekeeping?
Before exploring how to start beekeeping in the UK, it makes sense to explore the benefits of this type of activity to ensure that you will get something out of it.
Not only is beekeeping fun and entertaining, but it can also come with some real benefits that you will see whether you’re simply doing it as a pastime or want to build a business.
Satisfying & Fun
Looking after your bees, watching your colonies grow, and learning how to look after these creatures can all be very satisfying.
You will be able to see the fruits of your labour from the word go.
While they are not the only creatures that pollinate plants, bees are a crucial part of the ecosystem.
This means that giving bees a place to thrive can improve the environment around you.
Tasty & An Earner
Once you have some hives in place, making honey won’t be too hard. You can either eat this yourself or sell it to others to make some money back; it’s rare to find a hobby that pays for itself.
How To Start Beekeeping In The UK – What You’ll Need
You will need to get your hands on some equipment before you can begin your journey into beekeeping.
It’s no secret that bees can sting, and you will need a suit to protect yourself from these creatures when you are working around them.
Most beekeepers will wear a full-body suit, a fencing mask, and a set of thick leather gloves.
Even with all of this protection, you are still likely to get stung, but it will be worth the pain for what you gain.
Hive & Basic Tools
Bees are able to create their own nests and hives, but you will be able to get the best results when they are living in a hive that has been purpose-built.
You can find wooden and plastic hives on the market, and it should be nice and easy to find an option that appeals to you.
You will also need a hive tool and brush to make it as easy as possible to work with your hive.
Bees release a pheromone called isopentyl acetate when they are agitated by a creature outside their hive.
Smoke can mask this, ensuring that bees remain calm when beekeepers are working in the environment around them.
This makes it well worth getting your hands on a smoker and some smoker cartridges to get started.
Your bees will be able to feed themselves throughout the warmer months, but they will start to struggle with this during winter and autumn.
This makes it worth having a tool in place to enable you to feed your bees, and a plastic feeder is a great choice. This is also essential when you are first establishing a beehive.
Getting Started With Your Hives
This next area will be covering what you need to know to get started with beehives.
A process like this is very complicated, and you need to make sure that you know what you are doing before you get started.
This can make it worth taking a beekeeping class before you decide to start building up your hives.
Ordering Your Bees
Before you can get started with your hive, you need some bees that will be calling it home.
You can order bees online, and you will need to make sure that you have both a group of regular bees and a queen to keep the hive in order. Bees will usually ship in April or May.
Some websites sell bees with queens, making your life a little bit easier as your bees will all be used to her.
If you need to buy a queen separately, though, you will need to make sure that you spend some time letting your bees get used to the one you choose before they are properly introduced.
Adding Bees To Your Hive
Once you have some bees ready, it will be time to start adding them to your hive. Choosing the right location for your hive is very important.
Your bees will need sunlight and shade, a small amount of wind, and access to plenty of flowers to thrive, and it can be worth reading up on this before you get started.
The box that your bees came in should make it nice and easy to add the bees to your hive, though you may need to give it a shake.
You can remove some of the frames from your hive box to give the bees room. Spraying sugar water onto your bees will help to keep them calm and give them some food during this process.
With the bulk of your bees in place, it will be time to add your queen. It’s likely that your queen came in a small box with a bung at the end.
You can replace this bung with a marshmallow and add the whole thing to the hive. This will allow your bees to eat their way into the queen’s cage while getting used to the pheromones she produces.
You can slowly and gently add the frames back into your hive now, but you should make sure that none of your bees are hurt in the process.
Feeding Your Bees
As they get settled in, your bees are going to need some food. A 2:1 sugar and water solution is ideal for this, and you can use the plastic feeder we mentioned earlier to get the job done.
You will need to do this until the bees transition from relying on your sugar water to using the nectar the local flowers are producing.
Covering The Hive & Leaving Them To It
Moving to a new hive can be a very disruptive time for bees, and it’s unlikely that they will start behaving normally for at least a few days.
At this point, you should cover your hive entirely, leaving it for three to five days.
When you come back, you should make sure that the queen has been released, thereby ensuring that the hive has been properly established.
Maintaining & Managing Your Hives
Maintaining and managing a beehive can take a lot of work, and this is another area that can be worth researching when you first get started.
Repairs are crucial to your hive, and you need to make sure that you are repairing the hive and providing your bees with wax to make repairs for themselves.
You also need to make sure that you are monitoring the weather and acting accordingly. Rain shields and drainage are crucial, but you also need to have shade in place for when the weather gets too hot for your bees. You can find some information about keeping bees healthy during winter below.
Periodic inspections will be required to make sure that your queen is healthy and laying eggs, honey stores are being built up, and that your colony isn’t outgrowing the hive that it has access to.
Being a beekeeper is a very dynamic role, and you need to make sure that you are working hard to keep up with the changes in your hive.
Keeping Hives Healthy Throughout The Year
It’s no secret that the UK has some very harsh weather throughout the year. Many of the insects you find in the wild simply can’t survive this weather, disappearing during winter and autumn.
Bees can be heavily impacted by the climate.
In fact, in the winter of 2008, around 20% of the UK’s bees died, and it isn’t uncommon for a strong colony of 40,000 to be reduced to less than 10,000.
There are several steps that can be taken to ensure that your hive thrives during winter.
- Moving The Hives: Bees are surprisingly hardy, and they will be able to produce their own warmth throughout much of the year. During cold months, though, it can be worth moving your hives to make sure that they benefit from as much sunlight as possible.
- Wind Protection: Wind can make a hive cool down very quickly, and it makes sense to make a windbreak to protect your hive from the wind during winter and autumn. Of course, though, there needs to be at least some ventilation to allow for condensation to be dissipated.
- Covering Your Hives: During times of extremely cold weather, it will be worth covering your hives with insulation. You need to make sure that ventilation is still possible, but you can cover most of the hive.
This only covers a few of the steps that can be taken with your bees during winter, and it makes sense to put time into learning about bee life during winter before you start with a project like this.
As you can see, there are loads of different steps that go into beekeeping and there are several things to learn about how to start beekeeping in the UK.
The UK is very well-suited to activities like this, with bees thriving during the summer and requiring relatively little maintenance during the summer.
It always makes sense to research this type of work before you decide to take it on.