Some Things to Consider Before Committing
Although hugely rewarding, keeping bees is a significant commitment.
Running the training course is also a significant commitment for our association and members who voluntarily run the course.
Below is an extract from chapter 1 of our training manual to help bring this home.
So bearing this in mind, we suggest you embark on some background reading before you decide ... and at least read the below! We have to limit the numbers on a course so if you begin a course and decide early on it's not for you you may deprive some else of a place.
From Ch 1 of the Course Notebook
A lot of people think it would be lovely to keep honey bees at the bottom of their garden. A classic WBC hive surrounded by flowers is an image often found in books. The bees would pollinate flowers in their garden, and they would be able to collect some honey for their own personal use.
Beekeeping, however, isn’t quite like that. Successful beekeepers don’t just keep one hive in their garden. A single hive allows no margin for error or loss when problems arise as, sooner or later, they will. A second colony affords a means of recovery.
Spare equipment is always required to manage even a single established colony. So, two hives is an absolute minimum and, as their skills develop, most beekeepers find that the number of colonies they have tends to increase, especially since it is often necessary to split colonies in the course of normal bee management.
In early summer with approximately 60,000 bees in each colony, that is a lot of bees.
Those keen to take up the hobby should be aware that bees can be troublesome at times and in May or early June they are likely to swarm as this is their way of reproducing colonies. Experienced Beekeepers usually manage to control swarming, but beginners can take up to 5 years to work out what they need to do and sometimes they never seem to work it out at all. Therefore, you need to inform your neighbours in advance and hope they will tolerate the shenanigans that will go on as you are learning to become a better beekeeper. Most folks are quite understanding, especially if you enrol them in the idea that bees are wonderful, gentle, and very necessary.
Bees sting. Every beekeeper will get stung during the year. Most people suffer no adverse reaction but there are those that react badly to stings and sometimes very badly. It is unwise for those people who are highly allergic (or have family who are highly allergic) to become beekeepers. Furthermore, if neighbours are highly allergic it is unfair to subject them to several colonies that may object to your inspections and take it out on your neighbours who just happen to be sitting in their garden enjoying the sunshine. This is particularly the case in May when the bees are working hard or wanting to swarm and a placid colony can suddenly become quite agitated and defensive during inspections and completely change personality.
Sometimes people start beekeeping as a hobby because they think it will be relaxing. In the first couple of years there will be times when it isn’t relaxing at all. It is difficult to take time away from the bees for holidays in the month of May when the weather is lovely in Britain, and in September, when colonies have to build up for overwintering. An absence of two weeks at these times could mean a lot of bees will be lost due to swarming, or to the collapse of the whole colony during the winter due to starvation if they have not been fed properly in September. July is important because honey needs to be extracted and August is important as treatments need to be given to combat varroa.
In the active season we look at our colonies, on average, once a week and the best time to do so is at around midday when the sun is shining brightly. If the weekend is the only time you will have to do inspections, then it can sometimes be very difficult to look at your bees at an appropriate time. Missed inspections can lead to swarming and other problems, reducing the likelihood of getting a honey crop. So, before deciding to become a beekeeper, it is important to realise that beekeeping demands considerable commitment in terms of both time and effort.
However, those that persevere and master the craft become extremely passionate about the bees and a whole new world opens up before them. They will become so much more in tune with the natural world that surrounds the place where they keep their bees. It is a magical hobby for those who manage to work out what it is the bees need in order to prosper. Also, with experience, people learn what shortcuts can be taken and how to minimise the amount of time these fascinating wild creatures demand for proper management.
Do bear in mind also that they managed quite well without us for 80 million years or so, and that many of the problems they face today have been very much exacerbated by us.
The HWBKA is a broad church and our members manage their bees in many different ways. But we advocate responsibility towards our bees, towards our neighbours and towards our fellow beekeepers. Join us and learn how you can keep honey bees. Your life will be richer for it.
Would you like to learn how to keep Bees?
We run various training courses which should enable you to keep bees successfully. These are briefly summarized below, and have their own webpages in this training section:
A Day Taster Course
This is a new venture for the High Weald Bee Keepers' Association, comprising in a short day an introduction to bees, their biology and beekeeping, including opening a hive to meet the girls. Lunch is included.
An ideal present for someone you feel may be interested in bees or the man / woman who has everything.
Beginners' Beekeeping Course
The High Weald Beekeepers’ Beginners’ Course is designed in 2 parts. Part 1 provides a 2-session classroom-based introduction and overview to the fascinating world of bees and beekeeping plus one session in the apiary to meet the bees. This course costs £70.00.
Those inspired by Part 1 to go further into beekeeping can then continue into Part 2 which will involve handling and working with bees in the apiary. Following the annual cycle of the beekeeping year this should provide you with all the necessary skills and information to start keeping your own bees. This part of the course costs £150 and includes the A5 courses notes book plus membership of the HWBKA & BBKA and BDI insurance for up to 3 hives for 1 year.
The Course Notebook is new runs to ~ 140 pages mirroring the course exactly throughout the whole of the beekeeping year.
A syllabus can be found here https://hwbka.org.uk/beekeeping-beginners-course-program-2022/
It is necessary to register for these courses on this site (click here for a link).
The courses are very popular and are therefore sometimes over subscribed, so in order to avoid being disappointed book early!
Please email our Training Officer if you have any questions.
New Members are also encouraged to attend our regular monthly Bee Banter meetings where you will also learn a great deal by listening, looking, and asking questions.
For Members who already have bees, we provide ongoing support via various activities such as BeeBanter Meetings, Apiary Meetings and our regular Topical Tips Newsletter.