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Do's & Don'ts For Beginner Beekeepers

by Chris Browne

My beekeeping life started over 10 years ago with an impromptu decision to buy a hive and nucleus of bees… The beginnings of a colony and a lifelong desire to become a beekeeper was realised. 

I learnt from beekeeping books and thoroughly recommend Bill Turnbull’s book ‘Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper’ that feels like a mirror of my own misadventures. Beekeeping has many variables and some of my early failures were entirely typical and recognised by more experienced beekeepers… It’s called bee KEEPING for a reason because they do often want to fly away… don’t we all?!

I learnt most from the many mistakes I have made over the years. From 1 hive to 4 hives in very short order and an additional ‘natural ‘beehive it’s fair to say my hobby has grown.

In these past 10 years I have saved a huge colony from our chimney and relocated it 15 miles away to a new home. I have caught and re-hived 9 swarms that descended on my garden over the years... 3 in one day once! I coped with a sudden ‘honey flow ‘one hot May Day that resulted in 40 kilos of honey needing to be harvested in a weekend!

A big part of the reason why I started beekeeping was the many media articles about declining bee populations and the impact this would have on pollination and the food chain.

They are under threat from increasing disease and parasitic attack as well as the little understood ‘sudden colony collapse disorder’ and the decline or over urbanisation of their habitat.

There is a grain of truth in the famous saying, attributed to Einstein ‘if the bee dies off the surface of the earth, then man would have no more than 4 years left to live’ but the fact is most flying insects have a role, to some extent, in pollination. The need to protect our bees plays a hugely important role in the protection of our environment as a whole. 

So, you can keep bees to assist in their health and the growth of the bee population, but you can also do your bit by buying local honey direct from beekeepers, or shops stocking it (local honey is also a great remedy for hay fever), along with many other bee related products such as propolis, royal jelly and wax candles. 

Beekeeping sustainably includes harvesting only what the bee colony can easily withstand losing, because the survival and success of the colony is the beekeepers overall aim.

Businesses can allow professionals to install beehives on their roofs in urban areas and this can have an incredibly useful effect on the nearby plant life.... and don’t worry, bees are very good at finding flowering plants in even the most unpromising situations. Beekeeping is addictive, rewarding and requires less of your time than you may think. 

Beekeeping received a huge boost during the covid lockdown and I sincerely hope that these new beekeepers continue with this vital and unbelievably rewarding craft. To celebrate World Bee Day this month, I've rounded up my do's and don'ts for caring for your colony as a newfound beekeeper...

1. Do invest in the right equipment such as a fine brush for gently removing bees and a hive tool for cracking open the boxes and frames inside the hive.

2. Don’t forget to check that your suit and bee face-protection are perfectly zipped up with no open seams… Bees are masters at sneaking inside!

3. Do leave the bees enough honey to survive the winter, after all, that’s why they make and store it, for energy.

4. Don’t forget to inspect your hive regularly, if it’s swarm season they will up and leave in a heartbeat!

5. Do sit and observe your bees coming and going with a glass of wine on a summer's day… It’s better than meditation.

6. Don’t obsess about getting it right straight away, beekeeping is as much an art form and all beekeepers develop their own methods and style.