Apiaries should be sited so that only the beekeeper is ever likely to be stung by the bees. By having high walls or hedges around an apiary, bees can be forced to fly well above close neighbours. If neighbours or pets get stung, public relations can be impaired and the risk of danger to life, though small, cannot be overlooked.
Small numbers of colonies can be kept almost anywhere in the British Isles, even in urban and suburban areas and honey yields can be surprisingly high. The number of colonies kept depends on available forage and limitations of the site. If and when the beekeeper wishes to build up beyond the capacity of their home apiary, they will need to establish out-apiaries, these are apiaries away from home. It is quite feasible to keep bees away from home because, unlike other forms of livestock, bees do not require daily attention. Nevertheless, the colonies must be given attention when they require it.
An out-apiary should be readily accessible by road, throughout the year. It should be sheltered, dry and sunny and frost pockets should be avoided. Some areas, although providing food for a few colonies, are incapable of supporting large numbers throughout a whole season. In some areas it may be advisable to practice migratory beekeeping (shifting colonies to suitable crops when they are in flower). This may be for pollination or for honey.
A bee hive can be described as any cavity which houses a colony of honey bees, e.g. hollow trees, holes in rocks, wooden boxes or in the traditional straw skep. Honey bees should really only be kept in movable frame hives; it makes management much more straightforward and they can be regularly checked for pests and diseases. Bees kept in non-moveable or fixed frame hives will be inspected by NBU Bee Inspectors if deemed at risk. A moveable frame system helps sound colony management and, more importantly, aids in the regular and thorough examination of brood for symptoms of foulbrood disease. Various designs of hives may be obtained from manufacturers and equipment suppliers. The National, Smith, Modified Commercial, Langstroth and Dadant are all single-walled types. Of these, the National and Smith are the most popular in Britain. It is advisable that only one type of hive is used so that the various parts are interchangeable. There is nothing worse than going to an apiary, only to find that you have brought with you the wrong equipment for the wrong type of hive. If second-hand hives are obtained it is essential that they are free from foulbrood infection and sterilised properly. Details of how to do this can be found in the Hive Cleaning and Sterilisation leaflet.
Bees can sting; this is something that you must consider before beginning beekeeping. You must be able to withstand bee stings, since they cannot be avoided altogether. The first sting is unlikely to cause serious disturbance, but there will be pain with some local reddening and swelling round where the sting has penetrated. With subsequent stings, swelling and reddening are likely to be more pronounced, even when the amount of injected venom is minimised by immediate removal of the sting. The swelling may persist for several days and there is likely to be some itching before the symptoms disappear. As more stings are received, immunity to their effects usually develops, although some swelling around the site of a sting is quite common, bee stings are always painful.
Unfortunately, a few people are potentially allergic to bee stings. Such persons, instead of developing immunity, become severely allergic after a few stings. Their symptoms (associated with a serious generalised reaction) include widespread red blotching of the skin, skin irritation, a change in heart rate with a falling blood pressure, difficulty breathing and fainting.
Such symptoms require urgent medical attention. A person who becomes unconscious as the result of a bee sting can die.
Very allergic persons can be successfully desensitised by a doctor using bee venom therapy, so given the correct treatment they can take up beekeeping if they so wish.
When handling bees, protective clothing and equipment is required to minimise the number of stings. This gives a confidence which allows efficient colony management and close observation of bee behaviour. Protective clothing should comprise of:
• A bee suit, or at the very minimum, a veil, that will fully protect the head and face whilst allowing clear vision and free flow of air;
• Suitable beekeeping gloves such as disposable latex gloves which provide protection but also can be either cleaned easily or disposed of. Sheep skinned leather gloves should be avoided because they may harbour disease causing pathogens;
• Wellington boots or, working boots with protective toe caps.
Good apiary hygiene is a very important part of apiary management to prevent the spread of pests and diseases either from apiary to apiary or, colony to colony. Filthy bee suits and poor apiary hygiene such as not cleaning hive tools between each colony or leaving exposed wax, honey or feed will increase these risks.
A well-lit bee smoker should always be on hand to subdue the bees if they get out of control. Another essential part of the beekeepers kit is the hive tool, which is needed for prising frames and various hive components apart, as well as scraping frames and cleaning inside hive surfaces so they are free of beeswax and propolis (a plant resin collected by bees). They come in two forms, a commercial type and J type.
If you produce honey then you will need to purchase a honey extractor and a means of filtering the honey before bottling and labelling it up. More information on where to purchase equipment and clothing can be found on the manufacturers' and suppliers' websites below. Any content on these pages are independent of the National Bee Unit and do not necessarily reflect the NBU’s views. Some suppliers are listed below:
Alternatively, you can visit the Beekeeping Portal to find other stockists.
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