Thursday, 8 May 2014

On starting as a beekeeper

I've said it quite a few times that one of the ways to help stop honeybee declines is if we had more beekeepers keeping bees. And indeed, there have been more and more people taking up the hobby in the last few years. But one of the trends I've noticed (and it was noted in a fairly recent issue of the BBKA's newsletter) is that many of those who have taken up the hobby have left it within a year or two - a much higher level of attrition of low-experience (0-2 years) than in the past. So I wanted to cover a few points of advice before people start.

  1. What's your ultimate motivation for starting? Take a serious thought about this one; is your motivation a genuine interest in bees and/or the craft of beekeeping, or is it ultimately down to what you've seen in the media about pollinator declines? There's nothing wrong with feeling a little inspired by that - but unless it's paired with a genuine and prior interest in bees, you're unlikely to continue the hobby long-term.
  2. Find your local association, go to a meeting or two, ask a more experienced beekeeper to show you around their hives and show you what an inspection is like. Importantly, absolutely do go through an inspection with a beekeeper so that you have both a rough idea of what's involved in day to day beekeeping, and so you can gauge your reaction to the reality of having thousands of stinging insects flying around you (which, by the way, can and do sting through a bee suit).
  3. Allow yourself to be stung at least twice, a couple of weeks apart, by honeybees, before you get your own. You will be able to gauge your body's reaction to the sting and whether you're potentially allergic to the stings. You don't have to have anaphylactic shock to be allergic, but milder allergies can still have unpleasant reactions. You'll also be able to gauge your psychological reaction to the prospect of being stung. If you feel you're likely to be walking on egg shells while inspecting your hives, then it's probably not for you. You must be able to handle bees confidently and able to concentrate on the task at hand rather than the prospect of being stung. Critically, you should also be able to continue a hive manipulation after being stung and scraping it out - you should not have an adverse behavioural reaction to a sting.
  4. Read, read read. Get books about beekeeping. Read things on the internet (though take it with a pinch of salt unless it's from a reputable source). Learn about what's actually involved. Beekeeping is more than keeping bees in a box. Make sure you know what's actually involved, as well as your responsibilities (see below).
  5. Consider the commitment and time involvement - from April to late July, you'll need to spend at least 30-60 minutes per week inspecting each hive you own. For various reasons, you'll want at least two colonies. Additionally, it's reckless to make the commitment to a colony of bees unless you're sure you'll be able to make this time commitment, and won't bail after getting stung a few times, and neglect the colony. In addition to the problems your own colony can encounter due to neglect (including the death of the colony), you can spread disease and parasites to other peoples' colonies, and you have a legal responsibility to notify DEFRA on suspicion of notifiable parasites and diseases. Not suspecting them because of wilful negligence or ignorance isn't a defence. Neighbours tend not to like uncontrolled and repeated swarming onto their property, too, and neglect to prevent swarming as far as is possible jeopardises the reputation of beekeepers, reinforces fears about bees, and makes it harder for other beekeepers to reassure people of the safety of bees.
  6. Consider the costs. It can cost upwards of £500 to get started with one colony, and you will almost certainly need to buy additional equipment down the line. Once you're established, you can offset some of these costs with honey sales, but don't depend on being able to pay off the credit card you bought your equipment and bees with from honey sales in your first year or two.
I don't intend to put people off of becoming beekeepers, but for the good of your own colonies, and for the good of other people's, please take into serious consideration whether this is something you can commit to long-term before you start.

No comments:

Post a Comment