There are numerous good sites offering sound advice about how to source your first bees.

The bbka offer advice.

This is simple sound advice and can be expanded on by further reading.

You can ask other bee keepers, but remember the old adage if you ask three experienced beekeepers the same question you will get at least 5 answers.

Do not be dismayed – one lesson in bee keeping is that there is always more than one way to do something.

I hope to offer a little insight in the way of mistakes I made.

In my work, when I was training, I was used to reading and being shown new skills and having to learn to apply them very quickly. I had always wanted to keep bees and when my son was enthused by a friend who lives in a neighbouring village we decided we would do it. Now!

We both read Ted Hoopers book Guide to bees and Honey (much recommended). Kit was ordered (much inappropriate and at a ridiculously excessive cost -buying equipment something later in the website). I contacted a beekeeper in Gloucester to buy a nucleus. He filled me with confidence but told me in July better to have a full colony as nucleus would not build up and I would probably get honey if I had a full colony. I now wonder if he simply did not have a nucleus or preyed on my naivety.

I got the colony home and sited it at the end of my very long garden, one suitable choice. I opened the hive expecting the bees to stay nice and clam like the books said and the pictures. They seemed everywhere. I closed the hive in a panic.

I then did the first sensible thing in my far from illustrious start to beekeeping. I found the phone number and rang Bruce Roberts the secretary of the local beekeeper branch. Once he had expressed concern that firstly someone had sold me a complete colony in July and secondly I had taken on a bee colony having never handled bees (which he did very politely but firmly, leaving me in no doubt about my lack of wisdom) he was a fantastic mentor.

I was allowed to go to branch apiary meetings where I gained experience both handling and observing. I also did the introductory course over the winter. My colony survived the winter, despite me and although I still needed help from experienced beekeepers that season (and still do sometimes) I was able to progress and generally handle our bees.

If the message is not clear. Before you get bees my advice is:

  • Do the introductory course with your local beekeepers
  • Join the BBKA
  • Get a mentor
  • Do some practical training sessions at the branch apiary
  • Start with a nucleus or a swarm

In the spring I went to the BBKA spring convention (there are often interesting workshops for beginners and experienced beekeepers as well as many interesting lectures). Waiting for a lecture to start I chatted to a very experienced beekeeper. I told him where I had obtained my bees. He immediately warned me that it was likely my queen would fill the box with brood and run out of space and be very likely to swarm. It was a shock. It was the first I had heard of or thought that queens were that different. I did wonder about sour grapes. But she did swarm and I had to go on double boxes. Double boxes is another story but suffice it to say another complicated level of beekeeping I did not need in my first season. Again Bruce helped me through.

Message – most commercial beekeepers I have met either use hives much larger than the standard national or use a double box. There queens are bred to fill this space.

  • When you buy your nucleus make sure you understand about the queen. Consider buying a nucleus from a local beekeeper who uses national hives routinely.

In my second year we decided to buy two colonies. I keep bees with my son and we were aiming for two each. I ordered them went off to Gloucestershire again. I still had not learned enough. The bees had to be collected. I paid and left with the two colonies.

I only had time to literally set them up before having to leave to work away for a week. My son rang me to say why had I only bought nuclei. Both hives had 5 frames of bees, stores brood etc. and 6 blank new foundation frames. Diddled is the phrase. It was only later l learned that the correct time to move hives is in the early morning or late evening before when all the bees are in. moving in the middle of a warm day leaves all the foraging bees behind. Obvious when you think about it.

Message

  • Insist on inspecting the bees before you collect them if you do not know the vendor well.
  • Close the hive for collection at the correct time.

Our third foray into buying colonies came when an advert offered hives from a retiring bee keeper. We met the lovely very elderly chap. Long yarns of keeping bees for 60 years. The bees seemed good natured. There were in fact two almost full supers on each hive. He would not allow inspection. He had other people interested in purchasing the hives and they could not be inspected repeatedly. He assured us they were healthy and queen right when he inspected them 2 days previously.

We collected and installed them. Did an inspection a few days later. The super frames had been replaced with blank foundation, the brood chamber was a horror. The oldest dirtiest wax I have ever seen. The bees did not do well. A varroa drop count showed huge varroa levels.

Message

  • Insist on inspecting the bees before you collect them if you do not know the vendor well.
  • Look closely for disease, there were so many varroa that they were easily visible on the bees.

Bee keeping is a great hobby. In general amateur bee keepers are enthusiastic gregarious people who welcome new bee keepers. There is lots of help available. However, it easy to be put off. The idea of exposing my own errors is help you not fall into the same traps and become despondent. Do not do it like we did do it the right way, the conventional way.


BeeBase

Beebase News Web feed
  • A confirmed finding of a single Asian hornet in Felixstowe, Suffolk
    29 April 2022
    The National Bee Unit is carrying out enhanced monitoring and awareness raising together with local beekeepers after a single insect, confirmed to be Vespa velutina was killed at a sentinel apiary, reported by a beekeeper.

    Laboratory analysis has shown that the Asian hornet was a female but as it was dried out and damaged it couldn’t be ascertained if it was a queen or worker. Additionally it is highly likely to be from the European population rather than a new introduction from Asia and is highly unlikely to be the offspring of either of last year’s nests in the UK.

    Further information regarding the yellow legged Asian hornet can be found on Defra's Asian Hornet sightings page and on BeeBase’s Asian hornet page. Please direct all media enquiries to the Defra Press Office: 0330 0416560

    We continue to ask beekeepers to remain vigilant, record monitoring trap locations on BeeBase (guidance here) and report suspect sightings here.
  • Registration Page - Error - FIXED
    24 March 2022
    We are currently experiencing an error with our registration page which is preventing beekeepers from registering.  We are working hard to find a fix and will update this News items as soon as a fix is found. 

    To register, please come back in a few days or give the NBU a call on 0300 3030094 and we can process your registartion for you. 

    UPDATE: This has now been fixed. 
  • Analysis of 2021 Asian hornet nests
    03 March 2022
    During the 2021 season, two Asian hornet nests were located and successfully destroyed by NBU inspectors and APHA colleagues, following sightings reported via the Asian Hornet Watch app.

    The nest found in Ascot, and destroyed on 11th October, was 35 cm in diameter and contained six combs. Results from genetic analyses suggest that all Asian hornets collected in the surrounding area were likely to have come from this nest, and that the nest hadn’t reached the stage of producing adult sexual stages.

    The nest found in Portsmouth, and destroyed on 31st October, was 31cm in diameter and contained 4 combs. Results from genetic analyses suggest that all Asian hornets collected in the surrounding area were likely to have come from this nest. The nest had reached the stage of producing sexual stages but was highly inbred and a large proportion of the offspring were triploid.

    The queen and drones for both the Ascot and Portsmouth nest were highly unlikely to be direct offspring of the Gosport nest from 2020.

    Further information regarding Asian hornet can be found on Defra’s Asian hornet sightings page and on our BeeBase Asian hornet page. Please direct all media enquiries to the Defra Press Office: 0330 0416560.

    Use the Asian hornet Watch app for Android and iPhone to report sightings.

    Yn ystod tymor 2021, cafodd dau nyth cacwn Asiaidd eu darganfod a'u dinistrio'n llwyddiannus gan arolygwyr yr NBU a chydweithwyr APHA, yn dilyn golygfeydd a adroddwyd drwy'r ap ‘Hornet Watch’ Asiaidd.

    Cafodd y nyth a ganfuwyd yn Ascot ei ddinistrio ar yr 11eg o Hydref. Roedd yn 35 cm mewn diamedr ac yn cynnwys chwe adran i atgenhedlu. Mae canlyniad y dadansoddiadau genetig yn awgrymu bod yr holl gacwn Asiaidd a gasglwyd yn yr ardal gyfagos yn debygol o fod wedi dod o'r nyth hwn, ac nad oedd y nyth wedi cyrraedd y cam lle y caiff ffurfiau rhywiol llawn dwf eu cynhyrchu.

    Roedd y nyth a ganfuwyd yn Portsmouth, a'i ddinistrio ar 31 Hydref, yn 31cm mewn diamedr ac yn cynnwys 4 adran i atgenhedlu. Mae canlyniad y dadansoddiadau genetig yn awgrymu bod yr holl gacwn Asiaidd a gasglwyd yn yr ardal gyfagos yn debygol o fod wedi dod o'r nyth hwn. Roedd y nyth wedi cyrraedd y cam lle y caiff ffurfiau rhywiol llawn dwf eu cynhyrchu ond roedd wedi mewnfridio i raddau helaeth ac roedd cyfran fawr o’r epil yn driploid.

    Roedd y frenhines a'r dronau ar gyfer nyth Ascot a Portsmouth yn annhebygol iawn o fod yn uniongyrchol o’r nyth darganfyddwyd yn Gosport yn ystod 2020.

    Mae rhagor o wybodaeth am y gacynen Asiaidd ar gael ar dudalen golygfeydd cyrn Asiaidd Defra ac ar ein tudalen cyrn Asiaidd BeeBase. Dylech gyfeirio pob ymholiad gan y cyfryngau at Swyddfa'r Wasg Defra: 0330 0416560.

    Defnyddiwch yr ap Gwylio Hornet Asiaidd ar gyfer Android ac iPhone i roi gwybod am olygfeydd.