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Advice to Intending Beekeepers

Updated: Dec 16, 2018

An copy of an old picture of a beekeeper with wooden beehives.
An copy of an old picture of a beekeeper with wooden beehives.

Today's blog post is a look back in time at a leaflet called Advice to Intending Beekeepers, Leaflet 283, produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the UK, and published way back in 1983. However, it still includes useful information and advice.

"Anyone intending to keep bees should think of starting in a small way with one or two colonies. It is very important for intending beekeepers to find out whether they are able to work with bees. After all, the honey bee is an unusual animal to keep, the honey bee colony has a complex but fascinating organisation and bees do sting. Most beekeepers who keep bees successfully on a commercial scale began in a small way. Many beekeepers, however, never aspire to keep more than a few colonies."

The veil of a beekeeping suit
The veil of a beekeeping suit

Protective Clothing and Equipment

"When the bees are handled, full protective clothing and equipment should be used to minimise the number of stings. This gives confidence which then allows efficient colony management and close observation of bee behaviour. Protective clothing should comprise a hat and veil that will fully protect the head and face while allowing clear vision and free flow of air; a light coloured, zipped, light-weight boiler suit worn over normal everyday clothing; beekeeping gloves with gauntlets and wellington boots. A bee smoker should always be used to subdue the bees. A hive tool is needed for prising frames and various hive components apart, and scraping frames and inside hive surfaces free of beeswax and propolis."

A bee brush (left hand side) and bee tool (right hand side)
A bee brush (left hand side) and bee tool (right hand side)


"Personal experience can be greatly developed by help and advice from a local established beekeeper. Membership of the local Beekeepers' Association is an advantage and its Secretary till usually be able to arrange for other beekeepers to help and advise."

Apiaries - the place where bees are kept

"Apiaries should be so sited that only the beekeeper is ever likely to be stung by the bees. If neighbours or pets get stung public relations can be irreparably damaged. Bees can be forced to fly well above close neighbours by high walls or hedges around an apiary. Small numbers of colonies can be kept almost anywhere. Even in urban and suburban areas honey yields can be surprisingly high. An out-apiary site, away from one's home, should be readily accessible by road throughout the year, sheltered, dry and sunny. Frost pockets should be avoided."

A home made wooden nuc with circular entrance for the bees
A home made wooden nuc with circular entrance for the bees

The bees

"There are different strains of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Many are dark brown. But temperament can be a more obvious difference than colour and is mainly an inherited characteristic. Some bees are very easy to control while others are virtually uncontrollable, especially in the hands of a beginner. There is no connection whatsoever between the temperament of bees and their potential productivity. Vicious bees may produce good honey crops. However, they make beekeeping unpleasant for the beekeeper and can be a danger to other people and to domestic animals. So, first and foremost, the only bees to be kept should be easy to manage. They should be productive, and the colonies, after proper preparation in the autumn, must be able to survive the winter in good condition."

Honey extracting equipment

"When surplus honey is produced it will have to be extracted and bottled. The beginner may be able to carry out the first extraction with the help of a neighbouring beekeeper's equipment or that of the local Beekeeper's Association. It is advisable to delay the purchase of equipment until some experience of the process has been gained."

Starting up

"It is best to start in May by obtaining a docile, healthy, four or six-comb colony of bees and installing it in a new hive. Experience and knowledge can be then gained as the colony expands. To be successful, a beekeeper must ensure that:

  • bee colonies are always healthy

  • well fed

  • have satisfactory queens

  • the swarming impulse is controlled

  • there is sufficient honey comb space to accommodate the potential production of honey when the bees are collecting nectar."

Thank you to Lewis Kelly for providing this very interesting leaflet for our information.

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