Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What equipment do I need to start beekeeping?

A: A lot less than you will be told! Be careful of some of the lists available as they are often "standard" lists copied from elsewhere, with a lot of things you may never use. These will just clutter up your shed with more junk. I think the best thing to do is to buy the absolute minimum, then add to it when you have decided that you actually need something. It is easy to buy things because you are told you need them, but often you don't. Be patient.

The minimum should be: Hive tool, Smoker and protective clothing including suit, gloves and boots. See elsewhere for other equipment details, but a hive and feeder could be sourced after seeking sound advice.

Q: Shall I buy a Beginners kit?

A: These are usually advertised as "All you need to get started" and to a degree they are, but there are often things you may not want or are of poor quality. They usually have fixed contents that can't be changed so you have them, whether you want them or not. This means you could have a book, frames, feeder, queen excluder, etc, that you have been advised against. It is easy to see what is included, then look at the catalogue and see how much money you may "save", but in reality some of what's included could be cheap, shoddy imported kit, that won't last and not the same as you have priced.

Q: Where do I get my beekeeping equipment from?

A: Often you will find a supplier locally. There are major suppliers who usually offer good quality as they have built up a reputation over many years and need to retain it. Equipment can now be purchased online and they don't often make anything, but source from elsewhere, often from China and India and from what I have seen some of the quality is very poor. I would certainly avoid buying online unless you know the company or has been recommended.

Q: How do I decide on what hive type to use?

A: This is a personal choice and is best made after attending a few apiary sessions and handling the different types. All I would recommend is make your decision and stick with it!

Langstroth: Top bee space, most common hive in the world. Bigger brood box for more prolific queens

National: Bottom beespace. Most commonly used hive in England

Commercial: Bigger brood box and common in the UK

WBC: The iconic hive. Comes with multiple parts, is harder to manipulate and has a higher cost per unit but looks wonderful.

Polystyrene and plastic hives are also available

In general you need compatibility with local beekeepers and I suggest you use what the majority of them do. It will be easy to buy frames and foundation and exchange frames on odd occasions. It will also be easy to sell if the need arose. For those who intend going down the "natural" beekeeping route there are a few hives made commercially, but they can all be made at home, which is what many do. The bees won't mind what you provide them with. You need to take into account the weight and ease of lifting.

Q: How much spare equipment should I have?

A: It always makes sense to have some spare equipment, either for additions, replacements or emergencies. If you have a ready source locally, then don't bother too much about it. It makes sense to have a Nucleus hive and at least enough frames to fill it

Q: What type of bees shall I get?

A: Another complex question! All Honey Bees are not the same and this is a major problem in beekeeping. Basically there are two sorts - prolific and non-prolific and this relates to the number of eggs the queen lays.

In general the prolific are more suitable to the warmer climates where the weather is fairly reliable. Colonies are large with a large foraging force that are capable of storing a lot of honey. In these areas winters are usually quite short and the queens don't go off lay, they just reduce to suit the conditions. Bees of this type include Italians (Apismelliferaligustica)

Non-prolific bees are more suitable to the cooler climates, with longer winters and variable summers.The queens usually lay eggs in response to the conditions and in cold winters will stop laying altogether. They are usually more frugal and look after their food much better. The whole of Northern Europe has these conditions and the native bee here is the Dark European Honey Bee (Apismelliferamellifera).

In the U.K. the prolific bees will produce more honey in a good season, but in a poor season the non-prolific colonies usually perform much better, because the queens reduce laying in spells of non-flying weather, thereby conserving stores. I have many more poor summers than good and over a period of several years the non - prolific bees out - perform the prolific. In spells of bad weather there are many more bees to feed in prolific colonies and as the queens carry on laying at the same rate, in a short time, the stores can get seriously depleted, with starvation a distinct possibility - even in the summer.

What the beginner mustn’t be fooled by is some of the usual "advice" such as:

  • • "Black" bees are bad tempered. They can be, but so can some of the lighter yellow bees.
  • • Buy docile bees. This is usually meant to mean what are known as Italians or another race, carniolans. In the pure state all races are usually good tempered, but early crosses can be very bad tempered, which can happen if your colony swarms or supersedes their queen

So, what do you do? Quite frankly I wouldn't acquire anything other than local. If your local BKA is good, they should be able to steer you in the right direction. Speak to several members and find out who are the ones who have good bees. Make sure they have been keeping bees a long time and have raised their own queens, not imported.

Q: How do I obtain bees?

A: This is quite easy. Please don't buy on the internet. You don't know what you are getting and it will be difficult to send them back if there is a problem. They may be coming from some distance away by carrier. You probably won't be able to inspect them first. In our view you should buy local wherever you are.

If you have a good BKA they should have a way of providing beginners with bees. This could be as part of a structured programme where you will get tuition as well, a simple sale or a swarm that is collected locally. They are all good ways of obtaining bees.

I have seen many unfortunate incidents involving beginners buying bees and this is why I advise caution. It is so easy to see bees as a simple commodity like a wheelbarrow, but they aren't. If you buy bees that are infected with foul brood, there will be a standstill notice placed on you and they are likely to be destroyed by fire - not a good experience for a beginner. Not all bees are diseased, but it would be safer to have them checked before purchase and removal. Although some commercially sourced bees are good, others may not be. Some are made up from a number of colonies and given an imported queen. You should be aware that all national U.K. and Irish BKAs have a policy of non importation of bees and queens. That is for a reason. Don't forget that a seller may have a reason for holding a different view.

Q: Can I keep my bees on my allotment?

A: You will have to find out. There is advice in BBKA Leaflet L015

Q: I do not want more than one colony of bees, is that ok?

A: If you only have one hive and you have a problem with it, or it dies, you will need help or more bees from elsewhere. I always recommend a second hive fairly soon after the first, so you don't have to rely on others. One important issue that is missed by most is that with two colonies you can compare so you can spot their strengths and weaknesses, which will help you improve your bees. You will learn more and that is never a bad thing. It doesn't take twice as long to look after two hives as it does one.

Q: Can I keep bees in my garden?

A: Yes, in the UK there is no legislation to stop you. You should make sure there is room to keep at least 3 colonies, as during the summer months there may be times when you will temporarily increase your colony numbers for management purposes. There is some very good advice in BBKA Leaflet L011.

Q: Do I need to belong to a local BKA?

A: In the U.K. and Ireland you don't need to belong to a BKA, but I would always advise it. If you haven't already joined one, then visit all those in your area, see what they are like and join the one that suits you best. The benefits include help, advice and possibly insurance.

Q: Should I be insured?

A: It makes sense in these days of litigation and no win - no fee solicitors. With some BKAs, there is a blanket policy for members that may include such things as public and product liability. In England and Wales beekeepers have the opportunity to insure losses caused by destruction as a result of notifiable diseases. This is where the BKA is a member of Bee Diseases Insurance (BDI).

Q: I want to be a natural beekeeper. Are there any problems?

A: There are problems with all kinds of beekeeping, but you should remember that no form of keeping bees is natural. This is a myth. There are many ways of keeping bees, some work well, some don't. I think it advisable to keep bees in a conventional way before investigating other methods.

Q: Where do I get help from if I need it in a hurry?

A: It depends what help you need. If you think you may have a notifiable disease, then contact your local Bee Inspector. Identification of diseases should be taught by your BKA. If you need other help in your early stages, then contact your local BKA.

Taken from an article by Roger Patterson. Find more FAQ's in the Members Section...