Starting out – what you will need…..
A hive? Yes, but not just one! It is likely that your bees will make swarming preparations or indeed swarm, so you will need two. Then, they might try and swarm again depending on their characteristics. And if you do not have enough kit, you will be fighting a rearguard action buying more equipment in the summer when it will be more expensive and making it up in a panic late in the evening, and that assumes that the suppliers themselves have it in stock. In a good year, they have been known to run out themselves!
So I would recommend that you plan to have two hives and a nucleus box ready for your first bees. Later, it is a good idea to aim to have a minimum of two colonies, so that if there is a problem with one, it can be solved with the other-usually!
So, two hives and a nucleus box, but what design? Your hives should be of the same design so that frames can be moved between them. Most people starting out choose the hives that are commonly used in their area, which would be either a National, more properly called a Modified National, or a WBC. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but they use the same frames (British Standard). Other hive designs that may be used are Commercial, which are much bigger, or Langstroth the most widely used in the world especially in America and Australia. Some believe that the brood box in a National (11 frames) or a WBC (10 frames) is too small, and a deeper brood box and frames can be used (14” X12”). Some new beekeepers are tempted to start with a Top Bar Hive, in the belief that this is more ‘natural’ beekeeping, but we would not recommend that when you are starting out.
What constitutes a ‘hive’? Well, floor, brood box with frames, queen excluder, supers with frames, crown board and roof. How many supers? I would suggest at least two for each hive.
What design of frames to go in the brood box and supers? Most of us now use Hoffman self spacing frames, thereby avoiding putting spacers on the frame ends, in the brood box at least. I would recommend using shallow Hoffman frames in the supers as well, at least when starting out. They do not hold as much honey as other available designs, such as the SN1’s or self spacing Manleys, but there are advantages.
What design of queen excluder? I would recommend framed wired because they provide a bee space, rather than a plastic slotted, but they are more expensive.
Dummy boards sometimes called division boards are invaluable especially for the brood box. They can be bought but are easily made.
What about bees? It is the policy of WCBKA and the BBKA to encourage members to source their bees locally. This ensures that the bees are adapted to the local climatic conditions, rather than to those in Greece or Italy, for example, and there is less risk of importing disease and pests. New beekeepers usually start with a nucleus or ‘nuc,’ a small colony that they can manage as it expands to a full colony. Several members have nucs available for sale, so please make enquiries in the association. Bees could also be advertised in An Hes or on Facebook. Please, please don’t buy bees from the internet, at least not without seeking advice first.
Of course, if you don’t want to pay for bees, you could put your name down to receive a swarm. You might get a swarm of fantastic hard working, healthy, good tempered bees, but you might not, so beware.
Why am I writing this now in November, when you will probably not be getting your bees until April or May? Well, as I said, it is not a good idea to be buying equipment when on the back foot in the swarming season. Thorne’s do an excellent sale just after Christmas when many of us buy our kit for the forthcoming year. The equipment in the sale is usually seconds, but it is fine, so look out for that sale. Also, the association does a bulk purchase of wax foundation from Peter Kemble whose wax is superior to other wax on the market; we will be notified of that through An Hes.
But I haven’t finished. You will need some protective clothing, either a smock or full bee suit. We are fortunate to have two major suppliers of good quality clothing on our door step, BBWear and Sherriff’s. Cheaper clothing is available but, as in other areas of life, you get what you pay for. The clothing people will try to sell you leather gauntlets, but it is very difficult to manipulate a colony wearing these and hygiene is a problem. Much better to use disposable gloves, latex or nitrile, or Marigolds.
You will also need a smoker and hive tool, and I would suggest that you try out a couple of hive tool designs before buying. There is no end to bits and bobs that you carry in your tool kit, matches, match boxes, queen cages, queen introduction cages, forceps…..
And please purchase a text book suitable for beginners. There are now several available which are reader friendly and up to date. A selection can be borrowed from the library before choosing your own, or ask the librarian for advice.
Anne McQuade (Education Coordinator) Rev. November 2018