Square 1

Many people ask me “how did you get involved in beekeeping?” (OK, 3 people have asked)…
So, here’s a quick summary how I got up and running, from square 1.
I hope it helps you with some ideas if you’d like to get started, or learn a little more of this interesting and satisfying hobby.
Your mileage my vary.

Wind back to Christmas 2011, where I was a little overwhelmed by my IT job.
I wanted to explore some other interests, and reconnect with nature a bit.
Having read some interesting things about bees last century during my zoology degree in NZ, I thought ‘I really should look into beekeeping a little closer’.

I’d assumed that I’d never keep bees in the heaving concrete landscape of London, and I’d heard that beekeeping courses were over subscribed with long waiting lists. The possibilities seemed remote.

Always one to question received wisdom (even my own from time to time..), I looked on the internet for some introductory courses.
My assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong, as within six months I had my own beehive – good times!

Introductory theory classes

First, I found a great theoretical course, held over four weekday evenings at Regents Park. A short theory course is a great way to start without shelling out too much cash, and lets you know what you’re in for – how much time it takes, what kinds of things you’ll need to learn, how much it costs, the fact that you will get stung, and so on.

  • Four 2 hour theory sessions, and one visit to the apiary cost £170.

I also took a one day introductory class with Urban Bees at the Camley Street Nature Park at St Pancras. You might want to do a one day class first, (rather than the one above), simply because they are shorter and cost less at £55, including lunch! Focussed on people that wanted to know a little more, and an apiary visit, this one day course is an ideal toe in the water.

  • One six hour informal class on Sunday, $55

Although the two courses explored similar content, I quickly learnt that learning from a range of beekeepers would be invaluable as everyone, has their own way to practice the art, and science of beekeeping.

I would highly recommend a short theory course first. Along with letting you explore your interest further, it will let you know what you are looking at in a hive when you get to the practical stages. Otherwise, you are just opening a box of UBST’s (Unidentified Buzzing Stripy Things).

and now for some practice..

It’s often said that bees don’t read the books we write…
After doing these theory courses and visiting some apiaries, I was hooked. I wanted to know more. How now, do I get my hands in a beehive, and do this for real?

My next step was to look online for a local beekeeping association.
In general, beekeepers are keen to share their fascinating hobby with curious people, and this is the best place to start. Local Beekeeping associations sometimes have an apiary, where you can place your first hive and learn among a community of cooperative and enthusiastic old hands. And they usually provide tea and cake! amongst a range of other benefits.

Beekeeping associations generally run courses, and the Ealing and District BKA run weekly meetings through spring, summer and autumn.
There are beekeeping associations right through the country, and most give you membership to the parent British Beekeeping Association (BBKA).

  •  Annual subscription, £35

Looking for practical courses, I found East Surrey Bees, who run some fantastic practical courses, in particular the Practical Beekeeping for Beginners course. ESB is highly recommended with a great range of courses, and a friendly atmosphere, complete with geese! I booked a ten week evening course (one night per week), with a heavy practical focus. Im planning on taking my BBKA certification with them, as the hosts are regional bee inspectors.

  • Ten 2 hour evening classes 1 per week, £95

A local hive?

Nearing the end of the practical course, I was often asked by my instructor “so when are you going to get your own hive?”. I was surprised by the question as I rightly assumed there was much more I needed to know. However beekeeping is very practically focused, and you learn a lot by doing.

While it is possible to keep a hive in your back yard (even in London), I didnt like the idea of convincing the neighbours or potentially making a mistake in such a public area.  I searched about on the internet, looking for space on a local allotment.

I was fortunate enough to find the Ealing Transition group, who were in the process of setting up a hive in West Ealing, as one of the beneficiaries of the Capital Bee project. It was great timing, as I could immediately put some of the theory to work, and helped them setup the hive and locate the bees. Learning in a group is highly recommended, where you can share your stumbles, and your triumphs. It’s said that beekeepers with 30 years experience will still open a hive and claim “well, I haven’t seen them do that before…”, so being able to share  your experiences in a group is preferable, where possible. They might even help you with the odd piece of equipment from time to time.

  • £5 to be a hive member and weekly hive checks (though this is shared amongst the group)

Home is where the hive is

Although I remain active with the community hive, and have access to the local beekeeping association, I wanted my own hive. I searched the internet for local allotments, and fired off emails to find if anyone was interested.

I received a range of responses, and got a positive response from a local allotment. The Chiswick Horticultural Society had converted an unused part of their allotment into a small nature reserve. After finding some promoters on the committee and sharing with them my dream, the allotment group were keen to explore the idea further, and assigned me a place for my hive.

Allotments are regularly used for beehives, but you are in a public place and there are a few considerations (with some great guidance at the BBKA, here, and here). Allotments provide an excellent symbiotic relationship between the fruit and veg. growers, and the honey producing hive, so its a definite win-win.

This summer I’m even going to run some introductory talks, to share some of the basics with the allotment owners.

Over a span of six months, I was surprised to have my own hive, and enough knowledge and support behind me to confidently manage a colony.

And after looking after this colony for around a year, and looking ahead to my Basic BBKA certification, I feel pretty confident that I’ll bee keeping bees in one form or another, for the rest of my life.