Posted: Monday 27 August 2012
by James Alexander-Sinclair

We know a fair bit about bee-friendly plants [...] but I am currently toying with the idea of going one step further and actually getting a hive of bees

Bees on a poppy

It will not have gone unnoticed by you keen lot that bees are very important. To our plants, to mankind and to the world in general. Quite apart from the fact that without bees the Honey Monster would have been a little short of career opportunities.

We know a fair bit about bee-friendly plants (the picture above shows a poppy, which is providing succour to about half a dozen bees) but I am currently toying with the idea of going one step further and actually getting a hive of bees.

My wife is allergic to bee stings and not terribly keen on honey but provided that the hive is a bit away from the house I don’t think it is an insurmountable problem. On the assumption that I manage to overcome this domestic objection, how do I start? Presumably we need a hive, one of those baggy veiled bee suits and a smoke blower.

Oh. And some bees.

Bees swarm when there is new Queen born and the colony splits. I witnessed a swarming earlier in the summer while in a client’s garden. It was quite something: the first thing was the noise and then thousands of bees descended upon the wall of the next door church. To start a new colony you need to get hold of a swarm of bees. Maybe not quite as big as this one.

To be honest, I think the best thing would be to take a course rather than floundering around running the risk of hurting either myself or the bees. The place to start is the British Beekepers Association who have a very informative website with links to your nearest regional association.
This year has not been the best for bees: all that rain has made life tricky for beekeepers and honey yields are down. Maybe I can get set up for next summer because (we are optimists, us gardeners) 2013 is going to be warm and fabulous.

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Talkback: Beekeeping
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petra-vesna 28/08/2012 at 14:09

I love the idea too but I am also aware of how big responsibility is to look after them while they are hungry or sick. It is not a cheap hobby either. How big is a colony and how much food they need while active even in winter as I witnessed? Is there enough food for them while sharing it with other wildlife such as bumblebees and butterflies? I love watching the buzz and I try to plant plants so they flower in sequences all the year but I am aware that two-three flowering plants per month are not enough to sustain a beehive colony. Unless I could let some local beekeeper keep his/her hive for a jar or two of honey to get the experience of the pleasure and trouble before trying for real. BBA does not provide such information but it is a good start.

Green Magpie 28/08/2012 at 16:10

My husband took up beekeeping a couple of years ago. He has got very involved and loves it, but there's a lot more to it than just getting a hive or two. You need to choose your bees, learn to check them and treat them for diseases, cope with swarms, feed them when they run out of food, etc etc. The honey is great, but the bees certainly don't pay their way, as there's quite a bit of expense involved (hives, frames, protective clothing, smoker, honey containers, possibly an extracting machine, etc.)

Honey bees will fly 2 or 3 miles in search of food, so they won't have to rely on your garden. Usually they'll find good sources of nectar, although this summer there was a big "hungry gap" in the cold early summer, and they started eating up their stores. Honey yields are down by perhaps 75% this year. They don't share as much as you might think with other species - other types of bee, for instance, have longer tongues and can reach into different flowers.

And yes, beekeepers will sometimes put a couple of hives in a large garden and give the owner a few pots of honey in exchange, but they'd want to check it out and make sure they bees could be in a place where they wouldn't cause a nuisance to you or to others. We have two of our hives in a local cider orchard now, and it's produced some very good honey with a nice sharp tang to it. But after the apple blossom season, the bees had to go elsewhere and the later honey is very thick and crystallised - possilby they found some bean-flowers, or oilseed rape.

It's a fascinating subject and you can do various courses in all aspects of bees and beekeepng.

The best thing would be to contact your local branch of the British Beekeeping Association and talk to some local members. They will know where you could join a local class where you're taught the basics before you get as far as actually acquiring bees.



Obelixx 28/08/2012 at 16:16

I thought about beekeeping but was put off by the investment needed just for protective gear and a decent hive.  We don't eat much honey either so I'd have the bother of selling it.   I do, however, have  several species of wild bee in the garden and that'll do for me.

I do like to have honey for cooking and occasional crumpets though.   Chestnut honey bought on hols a couple of years ago was really tasty.   This year I bought a pot of local Charente spring honey - really pale and delicate from all the wild flowers - and a pot of sunflower honey which is so yellow I thought it was lemon curd.  Haven't tried it yet.


Sammy Hudson 30/08/2012 at 15:58

I suffer terribly from hay fever, but after hearing that eating local honey can help you to build up resistance against it I've not looked back - it's amazing what those busy bees can do.

I have noticed the bees are loving my lavendar plant this year, despite all of the rain. Although it sounds like it's more than just rain that's causing problems - I read an article about a bee virus ( that has been threatening bee colonies throughout the world.

Gary Hobson 30/08/2012 at 17:17

I think this must be a fascinating hobby, but too ambitious for me to want to undertake.

I have loads of nectar plants, throughout the season, and lots of bees, and I sometimes wonder where they come from, especially the honey bees. I wonder whether there is a beekeeper not too far away, who has the hives.

A few weeks ago I had some flowers inside the greenhouse. I was keeping them there out of the bad weather. Honey bees were finding their way into the greenhouse, collecting the nectar, and quite easily finding the door out, and back home, whereever that is.

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