Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Ad­vice for small­hold­ers


LIT­TLE IN LIFE RI­VALS THE TASTE OF FRESH HONEY – sweet, golden and ooz­ing from its hon­ey­comb. But ask bee­keep­ers why they keep bees and few will say it’s for this rea­son alone. No, the joy in bee­keep­ing comes from the crea­tures them­selves – see­ing bees fly in with ‘bloomers’ of pollen; lis­ten­ing to the con­tented hum from a hive on a warm sum­mer’s day and mar­vel­ling at the pre­ci­sion of their hexag­o­nal combs. Bee­keep­ing needn’t take up huge amounts of your time – but it’s hard not to spend hours just watch­ing them.


The jerky move­ments of a flus­tered bee­keeper are guar­an­teed to make bees grumpy. The best way to stay calm is to know what you’re do­ing, so find a course near you through The Bri­tish Bee­keep­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ( Books such as Ted Hooper’s Guide to Bees & Honey (North­ern Bee Books, £12.99) are in­valu­able. The­ory is im­por­tant, though noth­ing beats hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. Many lo­cal clubs have their own api­aries and will let you help out with hives.


Be­fore you’re ready for your bees to ar­rive, you will need some equip­ment (try and bee­keep­ There are sev­eral types of hive but most pop­u­lar in the UK are the Na­tional and the tra­di­tional-look­ing WBC (named af­ter its in­ven­tor Wil­liam Broughton Carr), which is a bit more fid­dly to han­dle. In­side, bees build up wax comb on frames. Most bee­keep­ers use a queen ex­cluder to sep­a­rate the ‘brood frames’ at the bot­tom – where the queen lays eggs – from the ‘su­pers’ at the top, where honey is stored, so that they’re left with won­der­ful, clean frames of honey.

To in­spect the frames, you’ll need a smoker (a puff of smoke calms the in­sects) and a hive tool to prize apart the var­i­ous sec­tions. Bees have a knack of get­ting into any open­ing, so an all-in-one suit with elas­ti­cated cuffs and a veil will pro­vide you with the best pro­tec­tion.

A colony con­tains a sin­gle queen (who lays all the eggs), a few hun­dred drones (male bees) and, at the height of sum­mer, up to 50,000 worker bees (in­fer­tile fe­males). Bees can be pur­chased as a ‘nuc’ (a small colony on five or six frames) from rep­utable breed­ers – find these through the BBKA or your lo­cal club. Later in the sea­son, you might be of­fered a swarm – a colony of bees look­ing for a home. The trou­ble with this is that you don’t know what sort of bees you are get­ting. Colonies dif­fer in tem­per­a­ment and, as a be­gin­ner, it is best to have docile, gen­tle bees, which a breeder should be able to lo­cate for you.


The busiest time is spring and sum­mer, when you will need to check in­side the hives once a week. In ad­di­tion to look­ing for health prob­lems such as the var­roa mite, which sucks bees’ blood and makes them more prone to in­fec­tion, bee­keep­ers also need to look for signs of swarm­ing – where the queen flies off with half the work­ers to es­tab­lish a new colony. Al­though she will leave a new queen to emerge, swarm­ing means you lose half your bees and much of your honey crop. For this rea­son, bee­keep­ers may try to trick bees into think­ing they’ve swarmed al­ready by shak­ing them onto a comb in a new hive – a ‘shook swarm’.

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