Frequently Asked Questions

There is a minimum equipment requirement which includes:
Protective clothing: quality protective clothing costs around £230, to occasional veils which provide much less protection at around £10.
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 price 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

This is highly recommended.  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 a dedicated apiary.  The training is delivered by experienced beekeepers who guide you through the basics of beekeeping giving you confidence to manage your bees successfully.

This would require a couple of hours one afternoon 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 here.

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. Enquire 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 here.

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 find out more here.

Where can I go if I need help?

  1. 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?

Yes.

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.

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.
Overwintered and full colonies are available for the start of the spring season in April and have a queen born in a previous year.

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 2 hives is beneficial for several reasons:
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.

A Practical Manual of Beekeeping by David Cramp

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 membership to borrow.  Please visit here.

A minimum equipment requirement includes:
Protective clothing
Smoker, and hive tool
Components of a hive: stand, floor, brood box, queen excluder, super, crown board, roof.

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

Consider:
compatibility with fellow beekeepers, check what the majority in your area is using
ease of handling frames:
Langstroth frames at 19” x 9” are largest and therefore heaviest when full of brood/stores
British standard deep 14” X 12” frames are heavier than standard 14” x 8” 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 advantages of poly hives:
better insulation properties
lighter to handle
easy to assemble
some disadvantages of poly hives:
more expensive
not as long lasting and can easily be damaged
exterior must be painted

It is very much a personal choice.

Second hand equipment is acceptable but must be disinfected before use.
Do not buy/use second hand frames as these may carry infection and cannot be disinfected.
Again, compatibility is key.

Your local association may have equipment to loan.
DSBA has radial spinners, heather presses, wax melter, nuc boxes and varrox vaporiser for loan.  Enquire here.

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

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.  Please enquire here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yes.
However, home-made sugar syrup that is un-ripened or mouldy can give your bees dysentery problems.

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.

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.

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.

No, but you there are strict regulations covering the composition and labelling of honey which must be followed. 
The Honey (Scotland) Regulations 2015 at www.legislation.gov.uk
See DSBA honey label guidance here.

Yes, provided the label displays the legally required information. 
See DSBA honey label guidance here.