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 or two 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 eggs 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 white wood. 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 in May and 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. 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. Remove any dead colonies. Continue to feed any colonies that feel very light until the nectar flow starts.
Check if all hives are laying and the health of the colony.
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 and egg-laying workers. When dandelion and fruit trees bloom, colonies should be looked at and the floor should be cleaned of dead bees and debris because they retain moisture and restrict space. Colonies that are building up fast should be given a super on top of the brood box to lay in. Remove mouse guards. Check bees once a week, to watch for signs of the colony preparing to swarm.
Early June is definitely the time 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 a super or two on the top to avoid overcrowding. Continue to check bees once a week.
Watch for the honey flow. Any new white wax along the edges of the top bars means the colony needs a super. SUPER AHEAD OF THE FLOW. Giving extra supers gives bees more moving around space and keeps them happy. Watch for any colony slowing down – not flying as it should. Don’t ignore it. Check inside. Disease? No queen? Too many drone cells? Still check bees once a week.
Super if necessary. Remove supers that are full and capped over. Extract them and return them to the colonies to clean out. Store extracted honey in buckets ready for use.
Start feeding colonies and also treat for varroa. Honey resting in settling tanks can be bottled. Late September get mouse guards on.
Take varroa treatment off check weight of hive. If light keep feeding.
November and December
Check over spare equipment and mend if necessary. Treat for varroa after a period of frost when the colony is likely to be broodless.