Norfolk Honey - getting started in beekeeping

Honey comb ready for extraction

Getting started in beekeeping

If you want to keep bees how do you get started? Where can you get help and advice? Do you read a book? Watch a video on youtube? Go on a beekeeping course? Join your local beekeeping association? Find a bee keeper to help you? Or just buy the bees and get stuck in?

There is no 'best way' to get started in beekeeping. But I think it is fair to say that getting some idea of what bee keeping is all about before you actually buy your bees can't be a bad thing. If you can find a local bee keeper who is prepared to demonstrate a basic hive inspection sometime during the bee keeping season then that would give you a good idea of what is involved. May, June and July are the beekeepers busy months. During these months the bees are making honey. It is also in these months that new queens are raised and that courses and demonstrations take place. It's in these months that bees are readily available to buy.

When buying bees my main advice is to buy local. Bees from a beekeeper in a similar region to you are likely to be the bees that are best suited to your local conditions. is a site set up to help you find a local beekeeper with honey bees for sale.

When it comes to buying your bee keeping equipment you will be spoilt for choice. Not only are there many types of bee hives on the market there are also different bee keeping systems to choose from. In recent years there has been a movement advocating 'natural beekeeping' using 'top bar' hives and 'Sun Hives'. However, I think it is true to say that in the UK the majority of beekeepers use some kind of British Standard National Hive. I say some kind because again there are choices to make. Traditionally hives are made from wood. But today you can choose between having your hive made of wood, polystyrene or plastic. And even the National has an extra deep version of the standard brood box.

You may ask "when is the best time to get started?" Generally the answer is in the spring and early (up until around the middle of July) when you can buy a 'nuc'. A 'nuc' is a smaller colony of bees that has been taken from a large colony or made up from a larger colony to bread a new queen. A nuc is generally made up of 4, 5 or 6 frames of brood and stores and has the all important laying queen with it.

However, if you are buying a complete hive, then you can do that at any time of the year.

The fact that you can get started in bee keeping at any time of the year means that a gift of bees in brood box is often a favorite choice for a birthday present. Or a present at Christmas. You never know if you drop enough hints about your interest in keeping bees then you may be given a hive. If you are lucky you will be given a hive with bees in it already.

If you wish to give a hive of bees for Christmas they need to be set up in the Summer. They can then be moved in the Autumn or Winter. This helps Father Christmas who has a habit of leaving a hive of bees in the garden to appear as is by magic on Christmas morning.


A few tips before you pay for anything:

1. Beware of buying the beehive before you buy your bees. Many beekeepers who sell bees also sell equipment and if bees are in short supply they will ration the sale of bees to their equipment customers only.

2. Make sure that before you pay for your beekeeping course that you will be sold bees at the end of the course by the those running the course. You don't want to get to the end of the course and then start looking to buy bees towards the end of the season.

3. If you can put a deposit down on a nuc early in the season and that way make sure that you do get a nuc when the time comes you could be well advised to do so. I hear too many stories of people being let down at the last minute who don't get the bees promissed them.

Training and Courses

Training courses in practical beekeeping give you a hands on experience. At the end of a practical beekeeping course you will know how to open a beehive and what to look for in order to assess the condition of the hive. Before you take a practical course you could be well advised to do a theory course.

Beekeeping equipment - choosing your hive

Specialist beekeeping equipment is available from a range of bee keeping equipment suppliers and many bee keeping equipment suppliers have local agents who hold a selection of their stock items. Most now have web sites where you can buy online and they will deliver hives, suits, smokers etc. to you. The beehives I use and make up are generally Standard British Nationals see Although I do make up Langstroth nucs.

One note I will again make here is:
beware of buying your hive before you buy your bees. An empty hive sitting waiting for bees with the foundation wax going hard and uninviting (as you search for your bees) is depressing. Most beekeepers who will supply you with bees will also supply you with a hive and that could save you time, money and a lot of hassle.

I'm compiling a page on the different types of beehives click here.

Setting up your apiary

If you have neighbors close by then the position of your beehives is important for obvious reasons - your neighbors won't enjoy getting stung! Other than that an open patch of ground a few yards square that is protected from the attention of large animals and is not exposed to excessive winds from the North and East is all you need. The ideal number of hives is three or four. Tip: The floor of you beehive is best placed on a hive stand (to save your back). You can buy a variety of hive stands but a simple and cheap method of making your own is to use a paving slab and building blocks - see

More on buying your bees (See Wikipedia on the Western Honey bee)

Not all honey bees are the same when it comes to how much honey they make, if they like swarming or if they aggressively protect their hives. There are different strains of honeybee that are kept by beekeepers in the UK that have their own unique temperament and even each individual colony has it's own characteristics. When you are new to bee keeping it will be hard for you to assess one hive of bees from another. For example, until you have had some practical experience of opening up more than one beehive you won't know the difference between calm bees and those that are not so calm. Although you would soon know if your bees are really angry bees.

For general information on beekeeping a good web site to visit is the British Bee Keeper's web site They will also help you find your local Bee Keeping Association
- click here to go to the Norfolk Bee Keepers site

Most counties in the UK have beekeepers association that are affiliated to the BBKA There is also a growing list of links to beekeeping association's web sites here

If you have questions that you think I can answer please contact me


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