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.
produces high yields of honey and one can produce 300 pounds of
honey in a single season. Without rape, 30 - 40 pounds is
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Your Own Colony
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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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