Interested in getting into Beekeeping ? Go on, Go on, Go on ... Why Not !
OK lets get the negative stuff out of the way first... I do realise much as I love it, it's not for everybody.
The thought of handling a full colony of thousands of potentially stinging insects can be daunting at first.
As if you have just taken the roof off their warm cozy home, on your weekly inspection in the summer. They are usually a tad Piddled Off . Often to the extent that they are intent on exacting a painful revenge on whatever available body part presents itself, justifiably in their eyes.
But its all part of the experience .
Though it is hands down, I believe, one of the most rewarding crafts to engage in, without doubt.
So how does one start, find out more about it, and what is required to embark on this beekeeping path ?
First port of call is to get yourself a decent book on the subject. Such as the popular
Next, why not join me in the Wonderful surroundings of Airfield Gardens and Estate, a 37 acre working Farm in Dundrum, South Dublin for an Introductory 2 Day Course.
On this you will get a good overview of how to become a Beekeeper, what is involved and get the chance to see inside one of my working Hives.
after this 2 day course if your appetite is whetted you can contact your local Beekeeping Association and book yourself onto a Beginners Course. These courses usually start early February, one night a week and are great fun,
and usually involve Tea and Bikkies at half time.
Or best of all, do all three above ! ( Making sure to incorporate the Tea and Bikkies bit ).
It is essential to complete the Beginners Course before attempting to get yourself a starter colony of Bees.
( Called a " Nucleus Colony " ). Why .. Says You ? ( like I did ). Why can't I just go to Maxizoo and buy the Bloody things so I can have Honey for my toast next week ?
Well first off, because Maxizoo, or Pet stores in general don't sell them, and secondly because it is, believe it or not, an incredibly detailed, and has to be said, for me anyway and maybe will be for you too, an all consuming craft.
You need to attend this course to get an overall understanding of the complex working of a honeybee colony.
To acquire an understanding of the various manipulations involved in managing such a colony, and the basic skills to ensure your beekeeping does not impact upon others, through the nuisance sometimes a swarm of bees can cause to the Public who ( incorrectly, but understandably ) view such occurrence as a threat.
To find out where your nearest local Beekeeping association is located, check out the FIBKA Website
( Governing body of all registered Irish Beekeeping Associations ).
After you have spent a late Winter/Early spring attending the course, and talking to other beginner Beekeepers you will have met on said course, and reading up at length on the subject both in hard copy and on line.You will now be ready for take off !
So what do you do now. ?
No ..remember you can't go tearing out and buy them in a Pet store. Focus Please !
First you need to identify a suitable location where you will keep your bees.
Your average suburban medium sized back garden in a Semi D or Terraced House is usually not suitable.
Unless you want to incur the wrath of Mr & Mrs Hyacinth Bouquet next door.
If they know you have Bees, and are not in favour of them ( some kind souls are ) every time a winged insect enters their house you will get the blame. Also for your weekly inspections of the hive, there is a real chance someone in the nearby neighbouring garden could get stung.
Ideally you need a location, sheltered from the North winds, with no people, or livestock within 20 or 30 metres, where the hives will get the morning sun, and further sun for a reasonable portion of the day.
Or a good sized garden and hedging that will provide a good Buffer / De Militarised zone between you and your neighbours, so the hives and more importantly returning and departing bees are not flying close to where people or livestock will be.
Don't get me wrong, some larger gardens are suitable, it just needs careful consideration and some sage advice on the subject.
Ok so the "Jobs Oxo" and you're sorted as above. What Next....
You need to book, with a Beekeeper who produces starter Bee colonies to sell in the Spring, ( usually available early May ), a Nucleus/starter colony of preferably of overwintered Bees. ( You can, in Summer purchase a Nucleus of bees with a freshly mated / non overwintered Queen which will also , given correct conditions thrive and build up sufficiently to overwinter into the next year ).
This Nucleus colony is a miniature Beehive , polystyrene or timber, usually and preferably made up with, 6 frames of Bees, 2 Frames of Honey stores, and 4 frames of Brood ( developing young Bees ) and a Queen.
The Queen will have had one clipped wing and will be marked with a colour dot on her Thorax to signify she was mated last year. The clipped wing is to ensure if you lose her with a swarm through missing a Queen cell being raised ( happens to the best ! ) that the swarm will leave with this Queen and she will not be able to fly more than a couple of feet, the swarm of Bees then in most cases will sense she is not up to the task and return to the hive. You then have a queen less hive, that with advice, you can re queen, as opposed to having a queen less hive , AND having lost half your worker bees, and chance of a Honey crop.
You ideally should book this Nucleus colony in early January, as sometimes the demand for these far outstrips supply following a poor season.
You then need to make sure, in plenty of time before your Bees are ready to collect, you have your basic kit.
This needs to have been checked, prepared and tested for readiness for the Big day.
So what do you need ?
A good quality Bee Suit ( B.B.wear or Sherriff ).
Good quality gloves.
A good pair of Wellies.
A good quality Smoker ( Dadant make the best ).
A Beehive ( always useful unless you had planned to keep them in your bedroom, in which case go back to the very start ! ). The best option for a beginner is a standard "National" Hive , the most popular hive type used here in Ireland.
With this you will need the Frames that go inside the Hive, complete with wax foundation sheets ("Brood Frames" in the deeper bottom box and "Super Frames" in the shallower Top box, where the Bees will store a lot of Gorgeous Raw Irish Honey, you are going to pilfer from them later in the Summer ! )
A Hive stand, usually about 1800mm Long, made of treated wood and capable of sitting two hives on
( Yes... you will very soon want to get more than the original one Hive ! )
Sundry Items, such as a Hive Tool, to prise open the boxes and prise apart the frames inside the Bees will have glued in place for your weekly summer inspections.
OK so what the Hell is all this going to cost me ?
Well it's not too heavy duty.
Your Bees in a small Nucleus Hive Box ( which you can re use yourself to make a Nucleus Colony, but more on that another time ) will cost approximately € 250.00
Your Hive, Gloves, Suit, Smoker and Frames/Foundation, as in a "Beginners Starter Kit".
Can be got for about € 380.00
Your Hive stand about another € 80.00
So it will all stand you about € 710.00 approximately !
If you are a Handy Andy ( or Andreas ! ) You can cut the cost and make a Hive stand.
You will then be ready to collect your new Bees you have booked and paid a deposit for in, weather dependent, probably early May.
You will need to allow the day to collect them and get them installed in their new Apiary ( Area where you keep Bees ). You will most likely need to collect them in the cool of the evening, when all Bees have returned to the hive.
On getting them to their new home you will place the colony on the stand, leave to settle untouched for 10/15 minutes and gently ( Suited and Booted ! ) open the entrance.
Stand a few metres back, and watch in fascination as they spill out and fly in a circular pattern up to orientate themselves as to where their new home is located.
After this, if you have to move the hive, they must not be moved more than 3 feet, or if have to be moved to a location further away, must be closed up when all inside, in the evening and moved a minimum of 3 miles or they will return, and cluster on their old hive location ...Clever Little Bees !
Within a few days you will need to transfer them from this Starter Nucleus Hive to a full sized Beehive , adding pre assembled frames of wax foundation to take up the larger internal space in the new hive. These frames of new foundation the Bees will draw out new wax comb on if all is well with the colony, for the Queen to lay in, and for the workers to store Pollen and Honey.
You will now need to put all that newfound knowledge to use over the next few months.
As you inspect weekly your new colony to ensure they are healthy,developing and expanding, and to head off any swarming plans they may be hatching.
This is intended only as a brief overview and introduction as to the path required to take to get up and running in this wonderful craft. It is by no means is intended as a complete guide as to what you will need to know and do.
So get the books, read till your eyeballs hurt and get out and enroll for a course and most of all .... ENJOY !!!
Congratulations, if you are still with me at this stage, and suitably excited to push on, you are now on the path to becoming a Beekeeper ...let the Fun and Fascination begin !