Home‎ > ‎

Advice for beginners

If you are starting beekeeping for the first time and just beginning to buy hives and bees then
here are a few words of advice.

The bees 

It may seem too simple to say that the most important part of bee keeping are the bees. I my opinion
the most important thing are the bees and not the box. Good natured, strong, healthy bees that make 
honey are what you want - what kind of box they are kept in will make no difference if the bees are angry 
or unwell. The aim of this site is to try to put those looking for bees in touch with good local bee keepers
who know their bees and breed their own queens. Beekeepers who may also be able to give you some 
local knowledge and advice when you need it. Beekeepers who have taken the time and trouble to have
their bees inspected before offering them for sale. However, even though every beekeeper should have 
their bees inspected, as a buyer you need to go into beekeeping with clean start and you should have the
bees you put into a new apiary inspected once they are sited and have settled down.

Choosing your first hive

There are so many options when it comes to choosing your first hive that it could be quite a task
if you want to explore every available option first. My advice would be to buy a National hive with bees
in it to start with. And then as soon as you can learn to breed your own queens and expand your stocks.
Once you are familiar with raising new stocks of bees then you will be well set up for trying any of the 
alternatives types of hive.

However, if you want to research each hive system before you purchase then the Internet is full of
sites that offer hives for sale and information on different beekeeping methods. Essentially you will first 
need to choose your bee keeping system - movable frames or top bar hives.

Movable frame hives

The Langstroth bee hive was patented in October 1852 and all movable frame hives are based
on Langstroth's realization of the 'bee space' and the way way honeybees use space within the
colony. Movable frames were developed in order that beekeepers could manage their bees and
take honey without having to destroy the whole colony of bees, as was often the case with the earlier
skep method of bee keeping.

There is a wide range of movable frame hives available. In the UK the most popular is the British
Standard National Beehive - generally known as the 'National'. Although some beekeepers in the UK
prefer the Langstroth. The Langstroth is mainly used by beekeepers in the USA and Canada.

The difference in the size of the box may be important to you if lifting the box could prove difficult.
There is a box size to suit everyone depending on their age and fitness. Longstroth, Commercial,
Dadant and Deep Nationals are all larger sized boxes and the Smith hive is smaller than the National.

As the greater number of UK beekeepers use the National then that is the easiest hive to buy parts for
and the easiest hive to exchange equipment and parts with other beekeepers.   

The other popular hive in the UK is the Victorian Cottager Hive or WBC that has the distinctive
beehive look. Rather than being just a box the WBC is a box inside a collection of 'lifts' that form an outer
cladding. The brood box take the same sized frames as the National but less of them as it is narrower.
Old WBC hives tend to be slightly different sizes are not standard one hive to the next.

You will also need to decide what you want your hive to be made of - wood, plastic, or polystyrene.

If you are in the UK then www.ukbeekeepers.co.uk has links to companies offering hives for sale.

Top bar hives

Top bar hives don't use frames or pre made foundation (sheets of wax ) as movable framed hives do.
They let the bees form their own wax in their own way and the system is seen as a more 'natural' way
of beekeeping. The bars are movable but as the wax has no support the process of moving is not as easy
as it is in a movable frame hive.

There are two main types of top bar hives - vertical and horizontal and the two are really quite different to
each other.

The Warre is a vertical hive of stacking boxes. The boxes are square as the National but are a smaller box.
Unlike the National the boxes are all the same size and of course there are no movable frames but simple
bars at the top of each box. The bees make their own wax in a rather random way and move from box to box
in their own way too. (You can do a similar system using standard National boxes and wired frames without
foundation. This allows the bees to make their own wax but the frames and wires give some support.
Especially if you start by having foundation in alternate frames that you can then remove once the bees
have made enough of their own wax. You can put a frame without wax, but with wire, between two
frames of the bees own drawn out wax. The bees will then make a more uniform untwisted frame of comb.
You can also leave out the queen excluder and allow the bees free range within a collection of boxes. You
take honey from the top box at the end of the year or from some of the side frames as the year progresses)

The Kenya style horizontal hive is designed to be easy and cheap to make as is the slightly different but similar
Tanzanian Top Bar Hive. The names of these hives give you an indication of where they have been primarily
used and developed recently - but the design principle is probably a very old one. 

You can introduce bees into a top bar hives by taking them from another hive as nuc using a top bar nuc box.
Or in the case of the Warre taking out the one box that has the queen in. Or you can introduce the bees as a
queen and package of bees. To my mind introducing imported packages of bees to this kind of system is not
as sensitive as using locally bred bees and defeats the object of the exercise.

How do you choose a supplier of bees?

If you are thinking of starting beekeeping then first ask around in your local area. With over 20,000 beekeepers
in the UK a local bee keeper can't be far away. Beekeepers are not always highly sociable and many tend to
keep out of the limelight. But when approached in the right way few will be slow to offer advice. Although it is
not safe to assume that all will have bees for sale as most of them will not.

If you can't find a beekeeper near you then you can try your local Bee Keeping Association. You can find them
by asking the NBKA. Joining an association is one way of finding out where you can buy bees locally.

And of course we are here to help you.

Choosing your bees

I won't offer advice about the types of bees you should buy other than that they are best if they are calm and easy
to handle. And of course best if bred locally to you.

Things to ask the bee breeder

Have the bees been inspected recently?
Is the queen this years/last years?
Is the queen marked?
How new are the frames and wax?

My final word of advice is not to bother trying to buy the very cheapest bees you can find on the Internet. But to buy
bees from a beekeeper near to you who offers you the best after sales service you can find. The right advice at
the right time from a beekeeper who knows your bees as his own will be invaluable to you. And if he is a hive maker
too, then so much the better as you will find that once you start to rear your own queens and collect swarms that new
boxes will always be needed.