Did you know that…
During the summer, a strong colony (hive) of bees will have one queen, a few hundred drones (male bees), around 40,000 workers (female bees), and during the year the colony will rear over 200,000 bees.
A worker bee will live for only six weeks in the busy summer months as it flies several hundred miles back and forth collecting nectar
A colony will gather some 150Kg of nectar and 50Kg of pollen during the summer; once converted to honey, only 10-30Kg of it is available for the beekeeper to harvest; the rest is used by the bees to provide winter stores and feed the colony during the year.
A bee will visit from 100 to 1,000 flowers on each foraging flight, to bring back only a twenty-fifth of a gram of nectar, half its own body weight. It will make over a dozen such flights on a good summer’s day. It takes as many as 50,000 bee flights to gather a jar of honey, flying a distance equivalent to twice round the world.
Here is a simple guide about what you will need and introduction to the beekeeper’s year. If after reading this, you would like to learn about keeping bees, or would like to spend some time watching an experienced beekeeper at work before committing to beekeeping as a hobby or even profession, then contact us at chalfontsbeepeepers.co.uk, or join us at one of our monthly meetings, which are held every 4th Tuesday in the month at the Parish Centre at St Joseph’s, Austenwood Lane, Chalfont St Peter, SL9 8RY. Meetings start at 8:00 pm and are held every month except August and December. You are welcome to join us for any meetings.
To take up beekeeping, you will need a bee suit; this can be as simple as a veil to cover your face and a pair of household rubber gloves, as complex as a full suit – and anything in between.
You will need a beehive to house the bees’ these cost about £150 new, but second- hand ones are often available from retiring beekeepers, and if you are handy with a hammer, nails and saw, you can make your own. Plans are available on the internet. Of course, you will also need bees. These can be purchased from the society or beekeeping supplies outlets. Beehives can be kept in suburban gardens, providing they are not too close to houses, or at the society’s apiary, which is in Maple Cross. We can also help you find a suitable site to keep them if you prefer.
You will also need a smoker, which is fueled using materials such as wood shavings, rolled cardboard or rotting wood. The smoke generated is used to calm the bees, while you examine them in the hive. There are various other tools you will need to open the hive: the bees have a habit of using propolis to seal up gaps in the hive. Propolis is a sort of glue that bees make with resins from trees. A nearby water supply is also necessary as bees need water to survive. This can be a dish placed near the hive, providing you remember to keep it filled, but if you have a pond or water feature in the garden, this is ideal.
The Beekeeping Year
New beekeepers should start in late January/early February at the beginners course held by Chalfonts Beekeepers’ Society. For experienced beekeepers, January, February and March are quiet months, it is too cold to examine the bees in the hive, but bees can be seen flying in and out of the hive during sunny days. The winter months for the beekeeper are to check over the equipment and clean and repair it if needed, these are necessary preparations for the warmer months.
April brings the first real activity, not only is it the month when the annual beekeeping show is held at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, but it is also the month when bees start their real work. Crops such as oil seed rape come into flower and trees such as willow, produce pollen and nectar that the bees love, and the honey starts to be produced in significant quantities.
The purpose of this is to check that the bees have enough space to store the nectar and pollen they are collecting, to make sure that the queen bee is laying eggs and that there is healthy brood and larvae.
You also need to check whether the bees are trying to produce another queen as there is a possibility that the bees may swarm when they raise another queen.
Swarming is the natural process of creating additional colonies in the wild. Beekeepers need to control the swarming process, so they can enjoy having an additional colony, and not risk losing their bees in a swarm: don’t worry, swarm control is relatively easy. From May-early August, honey can be removed from the hive for extraction from the comb, which is how the bees store it.
It can also be entered into the annual Chalfonts Beekeepers’ honey show, which is a sub-section of the Chalfont St. Giles show held in September. There is a section for beginners, so you won’t have to compete against the more experienced beekeepers.
Late August to mid September is when things start to slow down in the hive and you need to start to get it ready to over-winter. Treatments for the varroa mite can be given now, after the honey has been removed, and you can feed the bees to make sure there is sufficient stored honey for the bees to last through winter. This is particularly important if the beekeeper has taken away their honey. October is a good time to put a grid at the entrance of the hive to stop mice getting in: they find the beehive a nice warm place to spend winter.
November and December; the beekeeper can relax; if it is windy, you should put a heavy stone on the roof of the hive and some protection around the hive if woodpeckers visit your apiary. Maybe you can try your hand at making a honey cake, or if you have collected some beeswax, you can make some candles, beeswax polish or have a go at making some soap.