For New Beekeepers

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I am setting up as a new beekeeper

For a New Beekeeper this will depend on the age of the queen heading the colony that you choose.
Nucleus colonies become available around June and have a queen born in the current year.
For more experienced beekeepers, overwintered and full colonies are available for the start of the spring season in April and have a queen born in a previous year.
See the next question…

A nucleus colony has a mated queen born in the current year and is a small colony of bees, with brood and stores over 5 or 6 frames in a nuc box.  It is ideal for a new beekeeper who will grow the colony over the July and August before starting winter preparations in September.

An overwintered colony will have a mated queen from the previous year.  A full colony will have a mated queen from any year before that.  
It will be a larger colony with bees, with brood and stores over 10 to 11 frames.  It will require swarm prevention and control which can be a challenge for a new beekeeper.

Starting with one or two is ideal.
One hive will allow you to experience working with bees, with minimal set-up costs.

With two hives, although there is an increase in set-up costs, there are other benefits:
There is not much more of a time commitment for 2 as there is for 1.
Each colony is unique and having a direct comparison between hives can enhance your learning.
You can share resources between hives. As an example, if one colony is weaker, you can strengthen it with resources from the stronger hive.
You are more likely to have a successful overwintering, if you lose one colony you still have the other.

  • The Basics of Beekeeping – DSBA (available to DSBA members in the Members Download Page)
  • Guide to Bees and Honey – Ted Hooper
  • Practical Beekeeping  – Clive de Bruyn
  • Beekeeping A Seasonal Guide – Ron Brown
  • The Beekeeper’s Field Guide – David Cramp
  • A Practical Manual of Beekeeping by David Cramp
  • The National Bee Unit Booklets on BeeBase


Thomas Seeley has spent many years studying honey bees.  His writings are based on scientific investigations and give an insight into how honey bee colonies function and co-ordinate.
His books include:

  • The Lives of Bees
  • Honey Bee Democracy
  • The Wisdom of the Hive


DSBA has an extensive library of books for its members to borrow.   This will be available in the Members area.

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Apiary location

You should be looking for:

  • ease of access but discreet at the same time, ideally screened by hedges and/or a distance from public spaces and neighbours, and to protect from vandalism
  • an open sunny location but with some shade
    access to clean fresh water for the bees, within 200m/200 yards
  • suitable foraging plants in surrounding radius of 5km/3 miles


Consider enquiring on local social media groups for potential sites.

Consider proximity to your neighbours and talk to them about your plans in the first instance.  Bees can be a nuisance and may not be tolerated by everyone.  They also have a habit of defecating as they exit the hive and, if in line with your neighbours washing or recently polished car, may make you unpopular.

Consider the size and shape of your garden as hives are best located away from frequented patios, paths, plant beds and clothes drying areas.  You can also face the entrance away from passers-by, including pets.

It is worth checking your deeds as some specifically prohibit the keeping of bees.

That depends on:

  • Ability to move yourself and equipment freely around the site and between hives; and
  • available foraging, though bees will forage within a radius of 5km/3 miles; and
  • number of other hives nearby

The more space, foraging and fewer hives nearby, the more hives you could have.  Some apiaries are home to 20 or more hives, whilst others may have 1 or 2.  It can take several years to identify a successful site.  Start off with a few and gradually increase until you have reached a threshold.

The main need for space is to be able to move yourself and equipment freely around the hive, so at least 1 metre apart.
If the hives are this close together, orientate the entrances at different angles to minimise drifting.

Beekeepers are encouraged to register with BeeBase, which is a free information resource for beekeepers.  As a registered member, you can find out about other beekeepers in your area, amongst other useful information. 
Visit BeeBase at https://nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm

Yes.  Many beekeepers move their colonies to forage heather in the late summer months and can provide a valuable end of season honey crop.  Remember the 3-mile rule.
DSBA has access to a local heather moor, if you’re a member you will be sent the details of how to access the heather site in the summer.

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Buying Equipment

If you join the Association, you can get our extensive guide ‘The Basics of Beekeeping’ in the members’ only site.

Types of hive include Langstroth, Smith, National, WBC. 


  • Compatibility with fellow beekeepers, check what the majority in your area is using.
  • Ease of handling frames.
  • Langstroth frames are largest and therefore heaviest when full of brood/stores.
  • British standard deep frames are heavier than standard frames when full of brood/stores.
  • Compare short lugs of Smith frames with longer lugs of BS or Langstroth.

Try before you buy because once you commit to one type it is difficult to change due to incompatibility of types.

Wood is more traditional, and longer lasting if it is cedar which does not require exterior painting.

Some considerations:

  • insulation properties
  • weight
  • ease of  assembly
  • cost
  • longevity
  • weathering


It is very much a personal choice.

Second hand equipment is acceptable but must be disinfected before use due to risk of disease.

We would not recommend buying second-hand brood comb due to the risk of infection.

Second-hand drawn super frames can be used if treated appropriately before use.

Again, compatibility with your existing equipment is key.

Your local association may have equipment to loan or hire.
DSBA has radial spinners, heather presses, wax melter, nuc boxes and varrox vaporiser for loan, candle moulds.  For more info, please email [email protected] 


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Buying Bees

A nucleus of bees, which would include a mated queen, brood, bees and stores, costs c £230.
A queen can be purchased for £35 to £50.
DSBA facilitates the selling of local bees between members in the members’ only site.

The best breed is a local hybrid bee which is adapted to your own local conditions. 

Buy a local hybrid bee which is adapted to your own local conditions.  It also avoids the risk of bringing in disease from elsewhere.
Check with your local association as most beekeepers will have bees for sale.
DSBA facilitates the selling of local bees between members through the members’ part of the website.

Nucleus colonies become available around June.
Overwintered/full colonies are available for the start of the spring season in April.

This sounds too good to be true so probably is.  The current value of a hive with bees and a mated queen is around £400.
Without confirmation of the provenance of the bees, disease status and age/fertility of the queen, it would be wise to decline the offer.

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Feed your bees in September as part of your winter management.
Check your bees regularly over winter and into early spring and feed as required.

There are other times throughout the year when you may need to feed the bees. 
The June gap, is the period between the spring forage ending and the summer forage starting.  Some years it is seamless, other years it is prolonged for several weeks, and/or during prolonged spells of poor weather when the bees are unable to forage and have large colonies to feed.

Total colony reserves should never be allowed to fall below 5 kg.  This equates to 2 full brood combs or 3 full shallow combs of stores.  If they are falling to near this level, the beekeeper must be prepared to feed if the weather turns cold or wet, especially if this happens with a prolonged spring as colonies are building, or in the middle of summer when colonies are large and active, and can soon use up a small reserve.

You can buy ambrosia and fondant in the members’ only site.

As a general rule, feed liquid syrup as part of winter management in September.  Any feed required over winter months should be solid bee fondant rather than liquid syrup.
At other times of the year either liquid syrup or solid bee fondant can be used.

You can buy ambrosia and fondant in the members’ only site.

Commercially prepared bee feed is easier for bees to digest, process and store for winter.
Some local associations may buy in bulk at trade prices and sell to members at competitive prices. 
DSBA buys in bulk and sells to its members. 

You can buy ambrosia and fondant in the members’ only site.


However, home-made sugar syrup that is un-ripened or mouldy, or fed too late in the year, can give your bees dysentery problems.

A recipe for home-made sugar syrup is available at Section 5.7 in the Society’s Beekeeping Notes

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Advice & Registering Hives

Advice that is local to you is best as it takes local conditions into consideration. 
Beekeepers are more than willing to share their knowledge so join your local association where you will meet like-minded beekeepers.
In addition, most beekeeping associations provide mentoring services which are advertised on their websites.
DSBA offers a mentoring service to its members and can be found here.

In Scotland you do not require a licence to keep bees.

Beekeepers are encouraged to register with BeeBase, which is a free information resource for beekeepers.
Visit BeeBase at  https://nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm

No, but you will meet local beekeepers who will offer support you if you do.  Most local associations run interesting lectures and events.
DSBA has a calendar of events for its members 

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Pollen is a fine powder from the male flower than can fertilise the female flower to produce seeds.  Basically it is plant sperm.
Nectar is the sweet substance produced by flowers to attract pollinators such as honey bees.
Pollen is transported back to the colony in the basket on the bees rear legs.
Nectar is transported back to the colony in the bees’ honey stomach.
Pollen is protein (body building food) for the growing bees, whilst nectar is the sugar/carbohydrate (energy food) in the bees diet.  The stored nectar is what beekeepers harvest as honey.

Different plants produce different colours of pollen.  Compare pollen colours from your bees with pollen charts, along with a knowledge of what is growing locally. 
Basic charts can be viewed online, or you can buy professionally produced pollen charts for more accurate identification.  DNA testing shows that colour is only a very basic guide to origin.

This depends upon the weather and what foraging is available locally, and the size of the colony.
A strong colony in a good season (temperatures in high teens to twenties, with more dry than wet days) can yield a minimum of 15kg/30lbs.

Local outlets appear to have an upper price limit of around £10 (which will include a mark-up of 20% to 30%) for a 500g/1lb jar of honey which has been produced by a local beekeeper and is well-presented and labelled.
The average price for a locally produced jar of honey would be £8 for 1lb jar.


Winter-sown oil seed rape honey comes from the vast yellow fields that flower towards the end of April through to  June.  The crystallised honey can be heated carefully to melt it and will then stay liquid longer. It can also be blended and creamed with other honeys to make an excellent soft set honey.


The simplest way is to provide heather honey as cut comb.
You can also press heather honey.  Members can borrow DSBA heather press here

DSBA sells 1lb jars with either metal or plastic lids to its members at a cost-effective price.   

Your preferred bee supply company will also offer a variety of jar shapes and sizes.

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There are 3 castes of honey bee:
Queen, female, has a lifespan of up to 5 years.
Worker, female, has a lifespan in summer of 6 weeks, and winter of 6 months.
Drone, male, will die having mated with a queen.  A drone that had a short lifespan of 3 to 4 weeks is likely to have successfully mated.  A drone living longer, up to 90 days, is unlikely to have mated.

At the peak of the season, a colony on a single brood box can be home to 50,000 bees.

The success of overwintering bees in Scotland is down to correct winter preparation and annual disease management routine. Honey bees will survive typical Scottish winter weather if they have sufficient food, are in a weather-proof hive and varroa is under control.  In very low temperatures they generate heat by shivering and cluster together to retain heat and keep the queen bee safe and warm.