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How To Start the Art of Bee Keeping

To start off your beekeeping you need to take a theory course and join an association who will help you start with a nucleus of bees and give you support.

By becoming a bee keeper you will be helping the environment because without bees, we would have a lot fewer food sources. To start off with your beekeeping, the way is to buy an established colony from our Association.

Beekeeping management is generally based on natural nectar flows. Beekeepers want their colonies to reach maximum strength before the nectar flows begin. In this way, the bees store surplus honey which can be harvested by the beekeeper.

As a beekeeper, you will need either to invest in the honey extracting equipment, or you can borrow from fellow beekeepers or use an Association extractor.

The First Steps

Simple - join our Association. (SCBKA)

Learn About the Bees

The next crucial step in becoming a beekeeper is to learn about bees by attending a theory course, a practical course and reading as much as you can. On the theory you will discover there are many different types of hives available, and the best idea is to select a hive type to suit you. SCBKA use National Standard, 14x12 National and Commercial hives.


The vast majority of bees in the UK are now hybrids which are a mixture of both indigenous and imported races. Their colour, prolificacy of the queen, frugality, quietness on the comb, and temperament can be variable.

There are three types of honey bees, the workers, the drones and the queen bees. The workers (female) basically do all the work for the colony, a colony may have as many as sixty thousand workers. The drones are the male bees and they fly from the hive and mate on the wing with queens from other colonies. The queen is the only female in the colony that produces eggs.

Beginners should start with a nucleus, which is a small colony with 3-5 frames of bees. It is easier for a beginner to handle a small colony, BUT REMEMBER, they won't stay small for very long. Every beekeeper should know the life cycle of each caste. This will help the beginner to assess the behaviour of the colony and to help prevent and control swarming.

Many gardens will accommodate a couple of hives providing they are sited sensibly, but don't risk problems with your family or neighbours. Some people have a fear of insects and may not share your enthusiasm, so please be responsible. Many people in towns and cities keep bees, often unknown to their neighbours. Before investing in equipment, it would be a good idea to attend a practical course to make sure you are comfortable handling bees.


The following is an absolute minimum requirement when starting out:-

  • Beehive
  • Smoker
  • Bee Suit
  • Hive Tool x 2
  • Gloves

Proper use of the smoker makes it possible to manage the hives, since the bees remain docile when you open the hive. If you don't use a smoker, there is every chance of stings for the beekeeper as well as others nearby. 

The bee suit and gloves help prevent stings as you work with the hives. A full body suit is ideal to provide excellent protection, comfort, convenience and durability. 

There are a number of different hive tools for different tasks within the hive. 

Siting the Hive

A hive site should be sheltered from winds and it is better if it is partly shaded. It is advisable to avoid low spots, where the air is cold and damp in winter. It is advisable to tell your neighbours and hives must be keep away from public footpaths, playgrounds and other public areas.


Bees have a few diseases, and these should be understood. There are two notifiable diseases, European Foul Brood (EFB), and American Foul Brood (AFB). As their names suggest they are both brood diseases, and are both quite rare, and that is the problem. Many beekeepers never see them, so when they do have an outbreak they are often unable to recognise it, and if nothing is done their bees could be a source of infection to others for some time. Recognition is important and there are excellent photographs in the booklets supplied by the National Bee Unit (NBU) which is part of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). There are Bee Inspectors who visit beekeepers to check for both these diseases. The best approach is to recognise what healthy brood should look like, and if there is anything wrong that you can't handle, then call a knowlegeable beekeeper or the local Bee Inspector.

If one of these diseases is found in your apiary, the NBU will serve a notice requiring that the hive is treated or destroyed. The inspector will provide you with more information about what you need to do.

There are three notifiable bee pests as well:

  • Asian Hornet
  • Small hive beetle
  • Tropilaelaps mite

The NBU inspector will provide more information if you suspect you have seen these pests

Varroa is in every colony and must be dealt with in some way. It is essential to understand the varroa life cycle in order to use the various treatments. Monitoring for mites should be carried out, which indicates when to treat and secondly to indicate if the treatment has been successful.

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