We will be running some one-day beginner courses at Fragile Planet Ltd
Available Dates are as follows
Saturday 28th June May 9:30am to 5pm
Saturday 9th July 9:30am to 5pm
Course will be hands-on, bring wellingtons and ladies wear trousers
First-come, First served
Contact us to book on 07855 331121
This page is designed to give new starters and newly interested customers some advice which they might find useful and informative.
First of all - please let me do the standard disclaimer
This is a personal view and comes from keeping hundreds of colonies of bees over several years and running Fragile Planet Ltd.
Questions we are asked
What do I need to start?
This all depends on how much you want to spend
We only provide bees now - see details of our nuclei
What clothing do I need?
Beekeeping should be fun and interesting - If you're not fully protected then when you get stung - it hurts.
This means that you'll tend to rush with your bees and they will be disturbed and more aggressive.
The key word with bees, like all animals, is to act calmly.
This is difficult when you're under attack (see best type of bee below)
We would always recommend that you buy a full suit.
You can get away with a smock but this obviously leaves your legs vulnerable.
We would advise against only wearing a veil - this is called a bee trap and unless you're very careful the bees will get in
and you'll end up with a fat lip or worse.
We would also advise that when you start you invest in some proper bee proof gloves. When you've gained experience and can assess the temper of the bees better then you can start using marigolds or even no gloves at all.
When you get stung on your fingers again it will make you rush - this causes problems
With a full suit and a pair of gloves you will feel secure, you will be calm(er) and you and the bees will get on much better!
What other equipment do I need?
You will need a hive tool - you can buy either a standard tool or a J-type. Quite honestly this is personal choice. Both have their adherents but there much of a muchness
You will need a smoker - we advise against using 'liquid smoke' which is yet another chemical you don't want in your hive.
If you use hedge trimmings, dry leaves and sticks then that's the best. Be careful of using cardboard because sometimes it is treated with insecticide
You can use a water spray but to do a proper inspection, smoke which disorientates and calms the bees is the best option we think.
How do I learn beekeeping?
This is the big question. We would always advise that you try and find some person who will help you, however be careful.
Some old (and not so old) beekeepers can be dreadfully dogmatic and demand that their novices only do things there way
Our advice is to go on a course, listen to other beekeepers (they're always full of opinions) and then do your own thing.
Just a short aside to give you some idea of what I'm talking about.
Inside a hive we have frames on which the bees draw their comb.
These frames can be at right angles to the entrance, this is know as 'the cold way'.
Alternatively the frames can be parallel to the entrance - 'the warm way'.
Acres of print, fights, snarls and hot air has been talked about this by beekeepers for years.
This is a hotly debated topic. However, if you find a wild colony of bees, in a tree, or in an old hive or wherever.
They will always build their comb the cold way. That is, at right angles to the entrance.
So I would say, the debate is meaningless, bees always go cold way.
If you want to keep them warm way then they will adapt since they're biological organisms,
however that isn't what they would do in the wild.
This debate is unfortunately not the only thing beekeepers argue about.
What type of hive should I buy?
Again another big question. I would say that whatever you buy and wherever from
please, please don't buy a plastic (or polystyrene) hive.
My reason is that if you find you don't like beekeeping, or you want to give it up, what do you do with the hive?
If it's wood then you can burn it, otherwise it remains as a biological waste hazard.
Bees and wasps will raid an empty colony and a swarm might move in bringing all kinds of diseases and also it's hardly sustainable to use plastic.
Otherwise I would always recommend a British National since all the suppliers make this type and so parts are generally very available.
If you get a second hand hive then ensure that you have sterilised it inside using a blow torch, and no, a wash with a biocide is not good enough,
a) A lot of the pests are sporifying (produce spores) which are chemically resistant
and b) again you're introducing another chemical into the hive.
Never re-use old frames and foundation since they could be full of disease. Always burn them (again a problem with plastic).
Can you recommend a book?
We recommend 'Bees at the bottom of the Garden' by Alan Campion.
It's full of information, amusingly presented and the kind of book you can read from cover to cover.
An alternative is 'Bees and Honey' by Hooper. This is OK but he's terribly dogmatic.
For example, he says that 'package bees' (where you buy a queen and a load of bees in a bag) is a bad thing for a novice.
He gives no reasons for this idea and everywhere apart from the UK, this is the standard ways of selling bees.
Another alternative is 'Beekeeping for dummies' but be aware that this is a US book so a lot of the information is not relevant to the UK.
Where do I get my bees from?
This is probably the most difficult thing for a novice.
There's even more heat and light about this subject than the 'cold and warm way' above.
A lot of pseudo-biological statements are made about UK bees, however
1) Up to about 11,000 years ago we were suffering an ice age in the UK so all the bees we have now have come in after that time.
2) The Roman legions who invaded the UK in approx 0-400AD brought in Italian bees. Each legion had a legionaire whose main job was to look after a hive and bees.
3) In the early 20th century due to Isle of Wight disease (Acarine?) many colonies were imported.
4) Wild bees (not feral) are nearly extinct in England due to Varroa.
So most of our UK bees are hybrids and mongrels, which is fine. If I want a strong dog I'd go for a mongrel any time, this I believe is valid for insects as well.
The black bee has a reputation for being a bit grumpy,
which is why Brother Adam at Buckfast introduced the 'Buckfast Bee'.
This is a cross between the black bee and the italian bee.
So I would say, for a novice, get a good tempered bee such as a Buckfast or Carniolan (Slovenian).
If you decide that you would rather have 'black bees' then requeen later when you have more experience.
Don't take much notice of people who say 'get a local bee' since those local bees are mostly crosses etc and if you think about it
a queen lives for approximately 3 years. If they were imported and crossed in the early 20th century then the maximum number of generations is 30.
This is hardly any time for any changes to take place.
Also availability and cost is a big issue - a nucleus of bees will cost between 180 and 220 collected.
Whatever you do, I suggest you are very careful about bee suppliers who do equipment swaps or allow you to take your own hive or nucleus onto their premises.
This, I think, is a recipe for disease dissemination.
Also I would suggest that you take care if your supplier wants cash - would he inform you if he gets a notifiable disease - you take a big risk.
Where do I put my hive?
You need to be aware that
1. The bees will fly across the garden unless there is a barrier to force them to fly high. A simple 6 foot high trellis about 8 foot from the hive entrance will work.
2. After you inspect the hive (a weekly job with a frame hive) then the bees will be upset and a 30 foot radius is a very good idea around the hive.
3. Bees need a water source, this needs to be at least 10-15 feet from the hive, it can be as simple as a bucket with some rocks in it.
4. The colony survives best if it's entrance is south facing and it's in a generally sunny position.