Getting Started with BeeKeeping


First borrow a book on beekeeping from the library. Read it through to see if you really have the time and money to start it up. If you have, then the best thing to do is get onto a course of beekeeping and try your hand at it.

Join your local branch; go to their meetings and see what courses they are running. This will put you in touch with other beekeepers who will aid you, and also you will get bulletins and other paper work from the county and The British Beekeeping Association (BBKA). You will also be insured against Public Liability and automatically have your first couple of hives insured against Foul Brood diseases.

Before getting your bees you will need a beekeeping suit, wellingtons and gloves. You will also need a smoker, smoker burning fuel, a hive tool, small wash bucket (to clean your hive tool), and a plastic box to put odd bits of wax into.

You will need to buy at least two hives of bees to keep. This is because if you lose the queen in one of these hives you can use very young larvae from the other hive to raise a new queen. Hives come in many styles, but the ‘National’ is a useful size and well-supported by many manufacturers and popular amongst hobbyist beekeepers. They can be bought fully made up but are cheaper in flatpack form – all you need is a hammer. They can be made from cedar or pine. Cedar is more expensive but more stable and more resistant to rot. A screen mesh floor  makes varroa control easier. You will also need a queen excluder to stop the queen from laying in the supers of honey.

Understand that you must check your bees every week to avoid swarming especially from mid-April to June. Also you must have quite a few spare supers to cope with the honey flow.

When you take your honey off you will need an uncapping knife, a honey extractor, a settling tank, correct honey jars, lids and labels. Most branches of GBKA can loan an extractor. Locally, Maisemore Apiaries can supply you with equipment and bees.

You will also need sugar syrup feeders for feeding your bees after you have taken off their store of honey.

The Beekeeper’s Year

January and February

Catch up on your bee reading. Blow torch any equipment that needs cleaning. Nail up frames. Get supers filled with frames of foundation. Any colonies that feel very light give them a feed with fondant.


On any warm flyable day examine all colonies. Double check any not flying. Close up and remove any dead colonies (try to understand why they have died). Continue to feed any colonies that feel very light until the nectar flow starts. Remove mouse guards as soon as the first main pollen (willow) comes in.


Check if all hives have eggs and the health of the colony. Add a super ahead of any nectar flow. Swarming may start in April so keep a look out for queen cells and have a plan to control swarming.


This is the key month! On a warm day, look at all frames to check on the colonies condition: lack of stores, poor queen (uneven brood pattern), swarm cells, colony not building up or is queenless. When dandelion and fruit trees bloom, colonies should be looked at and the floor should be cleaned. Colonies that are building up fast may require additional supers and additional space for the queen to lay in. Check bees once a week, to watch for signs of the colony preparing to swarm.


Continue to check for signs of swarming. A swarmed out hive will not produce a honey crop, and may even lose its queen and finally the whole colony. As an emergency measure you can destroy queen cells, but there are better methods of controlling swarms which you can learn from established beekeeping friends, or a club. Overcrowded colonies will cover the tops of frames with wax. Add additional supers as required to avoid overcrowding. Continue to check bees once a week. If there is a nectar dearth (the June gap) and insufficient honey stores in the hive, then feed the colony with sugar syrup, having removed the empty super(s) first to avoid adulterating your honey.


Watch for the main honey flow adding supers ahead of the flow. The hive should now have reached its peak with lots of foragers bringing in nectar which they process into honey during the warm evenings. The laying rate of the queen will be slowing down in preparation for winter. Still check bees once a week.


As the flow comes to an end clear the supers of bees and extract the capped frames full of ripe honey. Some honey should be left on the hive for the bee’s winter stores. The wet supers can be returned to their colonies for the bees to clean them out. Store extracted honey in clean, air-tight, food-grade, buckets in a cool, dark place, ready to bottle later. Reduce the size of the hive entrance if wasps are a problem.


Start feeding colonies with sugar syrup to top up their winter stores. This is also a good time to monitor and decide if you need to treat for Varroa to make sure you have healthy winter bees. Honey resting in settling tanks can be bottled.


Add mouse guards to avoid them overwintering in the hive. Strap the hives for winter.

November and December

Check over spare equipment and mend if necessary. Treat for Varroa after a period of cold weather when the colony is likely to be broodless.