For new beekeepers it can be somewhat daunting to work out what you need to get started in beekeeping. I know it was for me and my advice to myself if I was to avoid some of my early mistakes would be as follows:
- Join your local association – there is likely to be one close to you and it will be the best single piece of advice I can give you:
The BBKA Assocation Finder
Most associations run introductory courses for new beekeepers giving valuable theoretical as well as hands-on experience.
- Get some hands on experience with an association to see if you are comfortable with handling a colony of bees. I would also recommend getting stung a few times – bit drastic, but if you find out you have a severe reaction then I would think twice about getting into beekeeping.
- Decide if you want to get your own bees – if you are then be prepared to spend quite a bit of money to get started. I would estimate around £400 for the (basic equipment) and more if you need to invest in an extractor, uncapping and storage equipment to process your honey crop. Again by joining an association you can normally rent the honey extraction equipment rather than have to buy it in your first season.
- Ideally a nucleus colony (normally between 3-6 frames of bees with a new queen)is the best way for a beginner to start out beekeeping. A nucleus has less bees than a full size colony and is therefore easier to manage. If you can get a full colony early in the year then you may well be lucky enough to get a small amount of honey off it in your first seasonWhere to get your first colony from?
When I started I purchased a nucleus colony from one of my local association members and would recommend this approach. However, it’s not always possible to do this and therefore the you need to think about one of he following alternatives:
- Purchase a nucleus or a full size colony from another beekeeper, ideally in your local area. Ask other beekeepers to to recommend somebody as you are more likely to get bees with good traits rather than buy a “bad tempered” colony.
- Purchase a colony from a recognised bee breeder – this can be expensive and there may well be a waiting list. The bees from bee breeders do tend to be top quality when it comes to temperament, productivity, swarming tendencies etc.
- Collect a swarm – probably the cheapest way to get a colony of bees. Again via the local association will be the best route to do this as they will have a swarm collector to co-ordinate collections for association members. The main challenge with a swarm is that you don’t know anything about the characteristics of the bees until you start looking after them. Also I would recommend getting an experienced beekeeper to inspect them with you once they are settled to make sure that they are disease free and behaving as expected.
- Purchase a colony at one of the various auctions run during the early part of the season – normally April-May time. The bees should have been inspected prior to the auction by either a local bee inspector or a very experienced beekeeper so you can be assured that they are disease free and of reasobale quality. Beware though prices can get quite silly.