4. How to Start Beekeeping

If you wish to maintain the health of your bees and the productivity of your beehive, you will need to carry out various beekeeping tasks. In order to carry out these tasks you will need to acquire the appropriate clothing and equipment in order to protect yourself and your bees. Your protective clothing should consist of;

A Bee Suit: This suit should include a protective veil which fully covers your head and face whilst you handle your beehive. As well as providing sufficient protection, this suit and veil should also facilitate clear visibility and easy breathing.

Beekeeping Gloves: You will need to acquire gloves which offer you protection against bee stings and which can be easily cleaned and thrown away after use. Common examples of beekeeping gloves include disposable latex gloves. This is due to the fact that they do not fester infectious pathogens which could be harmful to you or your colony.

Boots: Strong working boots such as wellington boots or boots with protective toe caps are needed in order to protect you from bee stings or from heavy equipment which may fall upon your feet during beekeeping activities.

Cleaning Equipment: A clean hive is a healthy hive. Therefore it is pivotal that you regularly clean and disinfect your beekeeping clothing and equipment. There are specialist beekeeping cleaning supplies which you can purchase online or from your local DIY or gardening store.

A Bee Smoker: Bee smokers are designed to produce thick cool smoke that you will puff into the hive. When the bees smell the smoke they assume that their hive is in danger, perhaps near a forest fire, and they then start to eat honey to prepare to leave the hive and this eating calms them down. Smoke also masks communication between bees so that they do not raise the 'alarm' as you open the hive. Smokers have bellows attached and a wire heat shield around the body of the smoker to protect you from burns. Lighting the smoker requires some practice as you are aiming to have smouldering material which will produce the perfect smoke. You can use rotten wood, cardboard, damp leaves, Hessian sack or you can purchase smoker cartridges or pellets.

A Hive Tool: Hive tools are an absolutely indispensable piece of equipment for a beekeeper. There are various types of hive tool and which type you choose is a question of your preference. Bees make a sort of glue called propolis from the resin of trees. They use the propolis to seal up any tiny cracks and crevices in the hive (larger gaps are filled up with comb). The hive tool really is the Swiss Army knife of beekeeping. It is used as a metal lever which helps you prise open parts of your hive or scrape up any mess that the bees have made. It can also be used to scrape any debris, beeswax and plant resin from your frames and to clean inside your hive surfaces. It is piece of kit that you will find absolutely invaluable – and not just for beekeeping!

Honey extraction and filtration equipment: In order to produce and sell honey from your hive you will need a honey extractor. You will also need the sufficient equipment to filter your honey of any contaminants or waste before packaging and selling it. All of this equipment can be found online via specific beekeeping manufacturing and suppliers sites.

Feeding Your Bees:

If your bees do not have sufficient food supplies to survive then you can create your own food supplies to prevent them from starving. You can create a syrup substitute for nectar by mixing white sugar with hot water. Whilst making this nectar substitute, you will need to continue stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved.

The type of food which you give to your bees should alter depending upon the current season. For instance, in the winter months your syrup substitute should have a low water content. This is due to the fact that if the water content is too high then your bees may not have time to dehydrate the food sufficiently in order to prevent fermentation before the cold weather begins. Consequently, if your bees require additional food stores during the winter months then you should feed them baker's fondant which they can eat immediately and which will not ferment.

During the spring and summer months you can provide your bees with food which has a higher water content. An acceptable spring and summer syrup substitute should mix one kilo of sugar with one litre of water, whereas in the autumn months you should mix one kilo of sugar with only half a litre of water.

As well as moderating the water content of your syrup substitute, you should also carefully select the type of sugar you use. You should only ever use refined white sugar because unrefined or brown sugar can cause dysentery in bees. Moreover, if you use pure sugar syrup then it will have no odour. As a result, you bees may not even notice your syrup substitute in the hive. To rectify this issue, add a little honey to your mix and apply it into their brood chamber so that they have a food trail to follow.

You can supply your food substitute to your bees via containers known as 'feeders' which can be placed above your brood chamber. These feeders facilitate restricted access to prevent your bees from falling into the feeder and drowning. To prevent your bees from drowning, you should never place an open container of syrup into your hive. Furthermore, you should place your feeders onto your hive in the evening. This will prevent the overexcitement of your bees as well as reducing the chances of external pests depleting your hive's food stores.

Beekeeping Tasks:

Throughout the year there are several beekeeping tasks which you can carry out to facilitate the growth of your hive and the health of your bee colony. These tasks can be categorised by season as follows:

Spring: The springtime is the best season to start a new hive and feed your pre-existing bees if necessary. During the winter they will have relied upon their summer food stores which may be depleted by spring. Alternatively, if your hive has any excess honeycomb stores left over the winter, now is the time to harvest it. If you require to add any new chambers to your hive or carry out any repairs then springtime is also the ideal season during which to carry out these tasks.

Summer: During the summer your bees will be working at their fastest rate; building honeycomb, bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive and caring for their brood. As a result, there are not many tasks which you will need to carry out during the summer months. However, it is worthwhile checking on your bees regularly in order to prevent any future problems from occurring. For instance, if you are using a top-bar hive or if your hive does not have a foundation then you should check that all of your combs are hanging straight. Summer is also the time to harvest any excess honey stores which your bees are producing.

Autumn: During the autumn months you will need to begin preparing your hive for the cold winter months. This will require providing your bees with sufficient food stores to survive through the winter and into the spring, as well as reducing the hive entrance, facilitating effective ventilation channels and applying guards against pests and rodents. Moreover, the autumn is the prime time for collecting the honey which your bees have produced during the summer. However, it is important to leave enough honey stores to enable your bees to survive and feed themselves throughout the winter.

Winter: The winter is the season during which your bees are highly susceptible to the cold and severe weather conditions. On a regular basis your bees will need to maintain temperatures between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius for the general colony, 34 to 35 degrees Celsius for the brood chamber, and up to 40 degrees Celsius for honey maturation. As a result, it is vital that you cover your hive with a protective jacket. You can purchase custom jackets online or construct your own using a thick plastic bag which has been lined with a strip of R19 insulation. You should fasten this jacket to the bottom of your hive with tape or staples to ensure it does not fall off during high winds, rain or snow.

You should also order your new bees in the winter months for their arrival in the following April. It is possible to order bees from specific online stores or to check with your local Beekeeping Association for suppliers near you or for any local swarms. If you are purchasing bees from a local or online supplier, then it is advisable to order 5 or 6 frame nucleus of bees. Nucleus, or 'nucs' as they are commonly known, will consist of a frame of honey bees along with a brood, a queen bee and food stores.

It is advisable that you purchase bees which have been bred locally within the UK in order to avoid a foreign hybrid species. As well as checking online or with your local Beekeeping Association, you can locate a reputable Bee Breeder via beekeeping magazines and journals through which to purchase complete colonies or nucleus.