Start a Bee Keeping Business


Beekeeping - apiculture - is the ideal way to generate honey for family use, while also providing wax and other bee products to sell or make into other useful items.  You do not need land or wide open spaces to keep bees successfully, and profitably.  Hives can be kept in a small garden or on the roof of a townhouse, even on a balcony or in a tiny back yard.


Bees must be kept in areas rich in nectar-producing plants, like clover and other meadow flowers.  The best place is close to where oilseed rape is grown.  This is a particular favourite of bees who will travel up to four miles to collect the nectar. 

Rape nectar produces high yields of honey and one can produce 300 pounds of honey in a single season.  Without rape, 30 - 40 pounds is more realistic.




Successful beekeeping means knowing and understanding your bees, what they need, and what intervention they will, and will not, tolerate from you.  Keeping bees is much like any other kind of animal husbandry, demanding regular care, maintenance, time, skill and knowledge gained from experience.  The one essential difference is that bees are wild creatures, not domesticated animals.  Bees work for man, even with man, but they do not need humans and will remain in the hive only while it suits them.


The Hive


The most common model is the Langstroth hive, named after its inventor.  The most important feature is the brood chamber, being a wooden box filled with frames of wax foundation arranged vertically with the familiar honeycomb pattern. This is the nursery where the queen lays her eggs and where the colony stores its food.


Once the chamber is filled, further chambers with 'supers' are added where the surplus food and honey is stored.  Between the brood chamber and supers, a queen excluder is added, allowing workers bees to pass through, but not the queen with her trail of eggs and larvae to contaminate the honey. 


The Beekeeper's Role


Beekeeping means managing the hive in a way that maximises honey production.  No-one should start keeping bees before learning the basics first, preferably from experienced beekeepers and books about bees and beekeeping.  Local beekeepers' societies are wonderful places to learn the art.  Make contact with your local branch a priority.


The beekeeper inspects the hive regularly to make sure all is well, that the queen is laying, and the bees are happily collecting nectar and pollen.  He also checks for signs of disease and obvious distress among the bees.  An unhappy hive is not a productive hive.  Often the mood of the queen dictates that of fellow bees, and it is she who is usually replaced.


From May onwards, the beekeeper checks for new queen cells which are destroyed to prevent a new queen emerging and the old one leaving with followers and as much honey as they can carry.  This is called swarming and is often due to overcrowding or the appearance of a new queen. 


What You Need


A minimum of equipment is needed for operating one or two hives.  You'll need bees, of course, as well as a hive, a hive tool for opening and inspecting the hive, some form of protective clothing for you, and a smoke box.  Smoke has a calming effect on bees and a light puff of smoke at the entrance hole calms the bees and makes inspecting easier.  Most equipment can be purchased inexpensively, even second-hand, through specialist suppliers listed later and via most local beekeeping associations. 


Starting Your Own Colony


Essentially there are three main ways to get your bees, by obtaining a colony in an existing hive; a nucleus; a swarm. 


The first is the easiest, if not also the costliest option, and many ready-made colonies are available from established beekeepers and specialist suppliers such as those listed later.


A nucleus comprises a queen and a few hundred workers from another colony.  They can be introduced to your hive and fed with sugar water until they are sufficiently established to fend for themselves.  You must not add a super to the nucleus brood chamber until all the frames in the chamber are filled with honey.


Hiving a swarm is the cheapest, most difficult, and potentially most dangerous start to keeping bees.  First you have to find a swarm, usually a queen and several thousand workers whose habit is to cling together in a huge ball dangling from a tree branch where they remain until scout bees return with news of a suitable home. 


The swarm can be gathered by shaking the branch hard or cutting it off, so the whole mass of bees falls into a box.  Turn the box upside down with a stick under it to leave a gap through which the scouts can return to the swarm.  Then take the box to your empty hive, lay a white sheet on the floor leading up to the hive, and shake the bees on to the sheet.  Bees tend to crawl upwards and will usually head straight for the hive.


Seasons in Beekeeping


There are definite seasons in beekeeping, when sometimes bees are self-sufficient and do most of the work themselves, while at other times the beekeeper takes lead role. 



Summer demands your special interest.  Bees must be stopped from swarming and honey can be extracted from the hive as it is made.  Regular inspection is vital to ensure bees have enough spare combs to build on.  Honey production reaches its height.



Bees should still be producing honey, but in reduced quantities.  Any shortfall from honey extracted by you should be replaced with sugar.  As winter approaches, a blanket and mouse guard can be added to the hive as protection during the colder months.



Bees can be left almost untouched throughout the winter months, as long as the hives are safe and not blown over in winter gales or flattened by snow. 



Bees that have been dormant all winter will know it is spring when you remove the blanket and mouse guard from their hives.  On the first warm day the bees emerge from the hive on a 'cleansing flight' and start the search for nectar- and pollen-producing plants.  The honey season is with us again.


Beekeeping Principles and Legal Obligations


The real secret of successful beekeeping is to manage your bees properly and avoid being a nuisance to your neighbours.  Check what local by-laws say about beekeeping before you establish your colony.  Some local authorities forbid the practice, while others positively encourage bees for their enormous benefits to the community.


The newcomer's first task should be to join a local Beekeepers' Association, where many benefits and services are offered to members.  Local associations are affiliated to the BBKA (British Beekeepers' Association), who offer courses, examinations, books, and other information services.


Consideration for Others


Not everyone likes bees.  In recent years, increasing legal actions have developed against beekeepers.  The British Beekeepers' Association says "There is no doubt that many people are genuinely afraid of bees.  This is not necessarily because of the possibility of stings but is a real fear of what they regard as 'creepy crawlies' - a massive swarm in flight can induce panic.  .....  Fear always gives rise to feelings of anger and aggression.  Sometimes beekeepers show less sympathy with these feelings than they  might and fail to understand why bees, which they regard as clean and altogether admirable creatures, are regarded with such dread by a small minority."  The Association offers much useful advice and information to members.


Bees in Small Gardens


Bees can be kept just as effectively, and profitably, in small gardens as in extensive agricultural sites.  The most important thing is to have a good source of pollen close by for the bees to forage from.  In small gardens or residential areas, you and your neighbours will be entirely safe from bees if the hives are sited high, meaning the bees' flight path remains unhindered.  Locating your hive on a platform or roof is a good idea.  Alternatively, site your hive behind a hedge or bush, forcing the bees to rise before flying away. 


Harvesting and Marketing Honey


Honey made from oilseed rape must be extracted as soon as possible, before it sets too hard for collecting by conventional methods.  Otherwise, the main honey harvest is in late summer when the heavy frames are taken out and the wax caps removed from the combs using a sharp, heated knife, or other more sophisticated equipment.


Honey is normally taken from the frames by spinning the wax in a centrifugal extractor, following which the honey is filtered and bottled.  The wax can be cleaned and melted down for various other uses.  The final harvest traditionally takes place on 24th August, the Feast of St. Bartholomew, after which honey is left in the hive as nourishment for the colony during the winter months.


Honey can be sold direct to consumers or through shops, supermarkets, markets, even at craft and country fairs.  Alternatively, you could sell your produce through the Women's Institute.  You do not need to belong to the W.I., or even be female, to sell from a W.I. market stall.  You just pay a small fee for your goods to be displayed and sold on a commission basis.  The market controller of your local W.I. Market will advise.  If you have a talent for producing honey, try entering it into shows, like The National Honey Show or smaller, county shows.


Money From Other Bee Products


It isn't just honey we gather from bees.  Propolis, pollen, royal jelly and beeswax are other profitable bee products which can generate a useful income for you.  A wide range of books will show you how.  Keep all your wax cappings and damaged combs.  These can be melted down and reused in your own hive or sold to people who use wax to manufacture foundation cream, polishes, cosmetics, candles and ornamental plaques.




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