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So you want to start keeping bees...

The craft of beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding pastime but, before you start, there are a number of factors to which you should give some consideration.

For more information on courses and keeping bees…

Cost – initial outlay and ongoing

Getting started can be expensive and there will also be ongoing regular yearly outgoings. As an absolute minimum you will need to buy a hive, bee suit, smoker and a hive tool and that’s before you buy the bees: if you think in the region of £500-£600 you won’t be far out.

It is possible to reduce cost by buying second hand equipment or hoping to catch a swarm. However care must be taken to ensure equipment is clean and sound, and taking in swarms is not generally recommended for beginners as the health and temperament of the bees will be unknown. After your first year you will need a second hive to ensure you are able to carry out swarm controls.

Space – for both bees and equipment

Keeping bees in your garden is a real pleasure but there are some very important points to consider. Close proximity to footpaths, schools, livestock or playing fields should be avoided.

You should chat to your neighbours about your plans as your bees will fly over their gardens. If you do keep bees in your garden you should make sure the bees have a gentle temperament. Most beekeepers keep their bees at an “out-apiary” where neighbours are not an issue. 

Over time you will also build up a surprising amount of equipment and you will need a bee-proof place to store it when not in use.

Time & commitment

In the active season in spring and summer you will need to inspect your bees weekly to check that they are healthy, that they have enough room to store that all important honey crop but most importantly to check that they are not preparing to swarm. If you don’t do this every week you may lose bees when they swarm which will reduce your potential honey harvest.

Bees are a rewarding but long-term commitment and we would always recommend that you read up on the subject and attend a beginners course before investing in bees and equipment.

It is heavy work...

Honey is heavy! A full super of honey can weigh up to 14kg and hopefully you will handle many of these during your time as a beekeeper. The main brood chamber will also be heavy with both bees and honey. Through the year you will need to lift and move the various parts of the hive and so if you have difficulty lifting heavy weights this could be an issue for you.

...and it can hurt!

Unlike other flying insects, like wasps, honey bees have a “use once” sting. If keeping bees, you should  accept that you will, at some point, be stung. If you keep well-tempered bees and handle them gently it should be a rare occurrence, but it will happen. The effect of a sting on any person is variable – from a sharp pin-prick, through to painful swellings; and, in rare cases, potentially life threatening reactions. Please be aware of the risk.