So you are thinking of taking up beekeeping. There are many different reasons why people take up keeping bees, but the first thing to recognize is that these days most people would agree you need to be a Beekeeper, not just a Bee Owner. In years gone by you could put an empty hive in the back garden, hope a swarm would find a home in it and then at the end of season go and harvest some honey. For most people who live in the Weybridge Beekeeping Area that is not really an option. Putting aside the factors around bee disease control, a responsible beekeeper needs to try and prevent their bees swarming, as most people will be keeping their bees in relatively close proximity to other people.
The following therefore tries to answer some common questions around beekeeping. One thing is important though, if you ask two beekeepers a question you are likely to get three answers! There are few definitive things in beekeeping – just different views. And what complicates things is that bees are really bad at reading the text books; every now and again they just don’t do what all the books will tell you they should be doing. So here are the ten most common questions we get asked. If you want more information on our training course or the course application form please click the buttons below:
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- How many hives do I need?
It is generally recommended that you have two hives. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is as a beginner it allows you to compare one hive against another so you can better understand what is normal. Bees do sometimes want to swarm, and by splitting a colony to prevent this you in effect often get an increase in colony numbers. So although you may start with two, your biggest challenge may be keeping it at two and not increasing. Of course there are many different types of beehives you can keep.
- How much space do I need?
This obviously depends on how many hives you have – two hives with room around them to work will require an area of about 3m x 3m.
- What about my neighbours?
One obviously needs to be considerate to neighbours. Bees approach and depart a hive on a flight path, so if hive entrances are pointed at a high hedge, fence or other barrier, they tend to go up and over and keep flying at that height. Pointing your hive entrance at a low fence towards your neighbour’s garden may lead to challenges. WBK members can come and visit your garden and give you advice on where you might place a hive or two. The British Beekeepers Association has produced a leaflet that may help you decide if you can keep bees in your garden.
- How much time will it take?
Time will increase based on the number of hives you have and also your style of beekeeping, more interventionist v more natural, and finally what you want to do. Some things like Queen Rearing can take up lot more time. As a basic guide though, if you have two hives in the back garden then one should allow 30 – 60 minutes per week during April to August, with about 30 minutes or less in the other months..
- Where do I get bees from?
You can buy bees either from local breeders, often advertising in the WBK newsletter or from other major national suppliers. WBK members can also ask to be put on the swarm list to have a swarm that has been picked up by a member passed on to them.
- Can I go on holiday?
Yes, ideally you need to inspect your bees every 7 – 10 days during the swarming period (late April – early August), but there are things you will be taught that can help ensure it is fine to go away for two weeks. And of course you may have your bee friends that will pop in and help you as well.
- How much will it cost me?
Just like with buying cars, both a Mini and a Rolls Royce will get you from A – B but the costs are very different. And then of course it depends if you buy new or second hand. Some of the most expensive equipment, like settling tanks and honey extractors, can be hired from WBK for just a few pounds. It is likely that by the time you have bought a bee suit and the basic equipment for two hives you will have spent anywhere from £500 and up. Most bee equipment will last for many years, so costs in subsequent years will be much less.
- Is it only honey you get?
In addition to honey, there is also honey comb and bees wax. With the bees wax you can make candles and some people go on to make both cosmetics and furniture polish. Honey can be made into mead. It all depends on you, in fact there are many products made by bees.
- Do I have to tell the tax man about my honey sales?
You can sell up to £1,000 (2019 tax status) of honey and associated products per year as a ‘hobby’ and not have to generally inform the tax man. Obviously we are not tax advisors and you should check this out if you are concerned.
- How do I get started?
WBK runs taster days every August, look on our website to see the dates for this year. The taster days allow you to come along, put on a bee suit and have a look inside a hive. Don’t worry if you miss the taster days, get in touch and we can often find a bee suit for you at one of our summer meetings.
Once you know you want to start, then WBK runs a Winter Theory course over 10 weeks and a Summer Practical course followed by Summer Meetings the following summer when you have your bees. Just click on the Beginners Beekeeping Course page for more details.