A beginner’s guide to backyard beekeeping

The St Albans & District Beekeepers' Association has been going for over 50 years

The St Albans & District Beekeepers' Association has been going for over 50 years - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ever considered beekeeping? Perhaps you wondered if you would bee any good at it? To bee or not to bee?

There could be 50,000 bees in a hive during peak season

There could be 50,000 bees in a hive during peak season - Credit: Archant

It’s Honey Month (of course honey needs its own designated month) and the point of this article is to get you interested in beekeeping as a pleasurable pursuit, which is stimulating, interesting and helps the environment.

You’d bee making a positive difference, as long as you research it and know what you’re doing. You wouldn’t want to look like a bumbling idiot, so you need to bee clear what you’re getting into. Somebody give us a hive five? (Only pollen your leg.)

Bees can sting through the sturdiest of bee suits

Bees can sting through the sturdiest of bee suits - Credit: Archant

Although no approval is needed, such as planning permission or neighbours’ acceptance, some beekeeping groups suggest positioning hives away from the boundary with your neighbours – so bees are not directly near next door’s garden – and sweetening them by plying them with free honey.

We spoke to expert Luke Adams, 48, from Park Street Lane, St Albans. He has kept bees for 11 years and is a member of St Albans & District Beekeepers’ Association.

What’s special about keeping bees in St Albans?

There is a well-established beekeeping association running for over 50 years. It has the diversity of rural gardens and farmers’ fields for pollination.

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What makes people take it up?

For me, understanding the complexity of how a colony runs and the rewards of knowing you are helping this vital food source thrive. Many think the queen is in control but it is the colony that is in control. If the queen becomes diseased or stops laying eggs, the colony replace her. I now have a better understanding of plants and nature, as I know what the bees will be looking for.

Does anything put people off?

Many are put off by the thought of being stung and the amount of bees flying around them during a bee inspection. During peak time (May to July), there could be 50,000 bees in a hive. The start up cost is fairly high, as you need to buy the equipment without any honey reward in the first year. You are very lucky if you have honey in your first year.

Do you get stung?

Yes, bees can sting through a bee suit but I am used to it. With multiple layered clothes underneath a bee suit the sting is less. But if you have just one layer of protection, a sting to the arm still hurts and swells up over the next few days.

What should people do if they want to take up beekeeping?

Go to the British Beekeepers’ Association website (www.bbka.org.uk) to find a local association and make contact. We often hear stories of people buying a hive, getting bees and not knowing what to do next. Whilst they think they are helping to ‘save the bees’, sadly bee diseases are on the incline and it is experienced beekeepers that can keep this under control. Infected bees leave bee diseases on flowers, which get picked up by other bees that take the disease to another hive and infect it. Most associations have training courses, both theory and practical, and often these have waiting lists.

How much honey do you make?

This depends on the climate and number of hives you have. 2015 was a poor year as we had an early spring but no rain, meaning flowers had little nectar for bees to collect. This year has been good. I have 13 hives and already I collected 320lbs of honey. On average, I would expect one hive to collect 30-90lbs of honey per year.

What’s so great about honey?

Local pure honey never goes off, but legally we have to put a best before date on it. At the tomb of Tutankhamun a pot of honey was found and it was perfectly fine to eat. Supermarket honey is different to local pure honey, as it has been blended to always taste the same. Local honey will always taste different each year because we don’t know what nectar and pollen the bees will collect.

Does eating local honey really help people with pollen allergies?

This has never been proven but people I sell honey to say it helps their hay fever. It doesn’t work straight away. It is a continual protection that helps the immune system. It is recommended to start early in the season. I used to suffer from hay fever myself but I don’t any longer.