I am thinking of becoming a beekeeper
How much does it cost to set up as a beekeeper
There is a minimum equipment requirement which includes:
Protective clothing: cost of quality protective clothing ranges from £130 (BBWear) to £230 (B J Sherriff), to as little as £10 for an occasional veil which provides much less protection.
Smoker, tools and the components to build a hive: £350 to £400
Bees on a budget kits, including clothing, are also available and vary in quality, and cost from £270 to £450.
In addition, you will need bees. A nucleus of bees, which would include a mated queen, brood, bees and stores, costs c.£225.
Your budget would be between £500 to £850.
Do I need to go on a course?
This is highly recommended, and essential to become a successful beekeeper. Keeping bees is a fulfilling experience when done with confidence based on learning, rather than by trial and error which can be off-putting – and costly if you lose your bees.
Check with your local beekeeping association for new beekeeper courses.
DSBA runs an annual New Beekeepers course which includes lectures, and practical training at the DSBA apiary. The training is delivered by experienced beekeepers who guide you through the basics of beekeeping, giving you confidence to manage your bees successfully.
Enquire about DSBA New Beekeepers course here.
What is the time commitment for keeping 1 or 2 hives?
This would require a couple of hours one day a week during the active season from April to August.
Less frequent, but regular checks every few weeks are required from September to March to check for weather damage and food stocks.
Will I get stung?
Yes. However, most stings happen with poor handling skills. As your beekeeping skills improve you are likely to experience fewer stings.
In addition, always wearing your protective clothing and using your smoker effectively will further reduce the likelihood of stings.
How can I try beekeeping to see if I like it before committing to having bees?
Check with your local beekeeping association as they may offer apiary visits.
DSBA host an open day at the apiary, usually in August, where you can put on a bee suit and inspect a hive. For information please visit here.
How do I find a suitable site for an apiary?
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 posting on local social media groups for potential sites.
Can I keep bees in my garden?
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.
How many hives can I have on one site?
That depends on:
ability to move yourself and equipment freely around the site and between hives
available foraging, though bees will forage within a radius of 5km/3 miles
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 reach a threshold.
How far apart should hives be?
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.
How will I know if there are other beekeepers’ colonies nearby?
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 here.
Is it possible to move colonies to heather?
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 for its members. Enquire here.
Do I need a licence to keep bees?
In Scotland you do not require a licence to keep bees.
Do I need to register my hive?
Beekeepers are encouraged to register with BeeBase, which is a free information resource for beekeepers.
Visit BeeBase here.
Where can I go if I need help?
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 offer a mentoring service which you can find here.
What is the lifespan of a honey bee?
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.
How many bees are there in a hive?
At the peak of the season, a colony on a single brood box can be home to 50,000 bees.
Do bees survive Scottish winters?
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.
I am setting up as a new beekeeper
When is the best time of year to start keeping bees?
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 at the start of the spring season in April and have a queen born in a previous year. See next question for more information.
Should I buy a nucleus or an overwintered/full colony?
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.
They will be larger colonies with bees, with brood and stores over 10 to 11 frames. Both would require swarm prevention and control which can be a challenge for a new beekeeper.
How many hives should I start with?
Starting with 1 or 2 hives 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:
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.
There is not much more of a time commitment for 2 as there is for 1.
Can you recommend books on beekeeping?
The Basics of Beekeeping – DSBA Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper
Practical Beekeeping by Clive de Bruyn
Beekeeping, A Seasonal Guide by Ron Brown
The Beekeeper’s Field Guide and A Practical Manual of Beekeeping both 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. Please visit here.
What equipment do I need to get started?
You can find DSBA’s recommendation for Basic Equipment List for Newbeekeepers here
How do I choose what type of hive?
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 and Langstroth frames with longer lugs of BS
Try before you buy because once you commit to one type it is difficult to change due to incompatibility of types.
Your local apiary may hold an open day where you can experience handling different equipment.
Check What’s On at DSBA apiary.
Which is better wood or polystyrene boxes?
Wood is more traditional, and longer-lasting if it is cedar which does not require exterior painting. You can buy assembled, which is more expensive, or flat.
Polystyrene is pre-assembled. It has inherent insulation properties and is lighter in weight. It does not require painting. It is cheaper than cedar boxes.
It is very much a personal choice.
Should I buy second hand equipment?
Second-hand equipment is acceptable but must be disinfected before use.
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.
Remember, compatibility with any existing equipment is key.
Can I borrow equipment?
Your local association may have equipment to loan.
DSBA has radial spinners, heather presses, wax melter, candle moulds, nuc boxes and varrox vaporiser for loan. Enquire here.
How much would I expect to pay for bees?
A nucleus of bees, which would include a mated queen, brood, bees and stores, costs c.£225.
A queen can be purchased for £35 to £40.
DSBA facilitates the selling of local bees between members. Enquire here.
What is the best breed of honey bee?
The best breed is a local hybrid bee which is adapted to your own local conditions.
Where do I buy bees?
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. Please enquire here.
What is the best time of year to buy bees?
Nucleus colonies become available around June.
Overwintered/full colonies are available for the start of the spring season in April.
I have been offered a bee hive with bees for £50. Is that a good deal?
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.
When do I feed my bees?
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.
If the weather turns cold or wet, and coincides with spring when colonies are building, or in the middle of summer when colonies are large, reserves can soon be used up.
Total colony reserves should never be allowed to fall below 5kg.
What do I feed my bees?
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.
Where do I buy bee feed?
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 DSBA members. Enquire here.
Can I make my own bee feed?
However, home-made sugar syrup that is un-ripened or mouldy, or is 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 of DSBA Basic Beekeeping Notes.
What is the difference between pollen and nectar
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.
How do I know where the pollen is coming from?
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.
However, DNA testing shows that colour is only a very basic guide to origin.
How much honey will a colony of bees produce each year?
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.
How much does a jar of locally-produced honey sell for?
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 a 500g/1lb jar.
Do I need a licence to sell my honey?
Where can I buy jars?
DSBA sells 1lb jars with either metal or plastic lids to its members at a cost-effective price. Visit here.
Your preferred bee supply company will also offer a variety of jar sizes and shapes.
Can I make my own honey labels?
Yes, provided the label displays the legally required information.
See DSBA honey label guidance here.
What is OSR honey and is it any good?
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.
Is heather honey easy to process?
The simplest way is to provide heather honey as cut comb.
You can also press heather honey. Members can borrow DSBA heather press here.