Have a question that isn't covered below? Send us a message and we will try and reply within 24 hours. Simply press the Ask Me a Question link at the top of the website, or get in touch via our contact form.
Remember, no question is stupid and is always worth asking! We may even need to add it to the list below to help others!
Ask a Question
There are a lot of beekeeping items out there, but to be honest to get started the basics will do just fine. To get going you will need a minimum of the following:
- Beehive, consisting of an entrance, complete floor, brood-box, crown board, roof and frames with wax foundation (which are all included with our hives)
- Bee suit
- Hive tool
Quite often a beginner will buy a starter pack, to purchase off our website please click here.
Direct bees has been set up to offer bee keepers the best possible products at the best prices. We have a multitude of products available al at low prices. Our hives are produced in the UK by carpentry specialists using sustainable wood from welsh forests.
Not only do we offer you products but also free ongoing help and advice. We are passionate about the future of bees and will go out of our way to support you, if it’s your first day or if you have been keeping bees for ever.
There are several different types of hive out there ranging from; Langstroth, Smith, WBC and Commercial to name a few (the main differences between these hives are the dimensions). The most common in the UK is the national beehive and in our opinion is the way to go, they are readily available and given they are the most commonly used it allows you to interchange when you pick up new parts or even secondhand brood or supers (see explanation for brood and super’s further down).
We would encourage you to have at least two working hives and a third as spare. This is not a given, but our thought process on this is as follows:
- By having two active hives it gives you greater reassurances that if you happen to lose a colony over the winter, this will not be the end of your beekeeping, having the second one to fall back on.
- By having at least one spare hive, this allows you to home a swarm at the drop of a hat. We receive several calls a year about swarms in the area, I would hate to turn one down through not having a spare hive. At the end of the day they are “FREEBEES”.
This is individual preference or pot luck if you are collecting swarms. We personally try and keep local bees, they are adapted to the area and are proven to work, in addition to minimising the risk of introducing disease. Contact your local beekeeping association for further information regarding native bees in your area.
There are a couple of ways to go about this that we would recommend:
- Put the word out locally via social media that you are looking for a swarm, you will be surprised how many come up in the area.
- Contact your local bee association, they are really helpful and may know of someone local who is splitting a hive or giving up beekeeping.
Avoid buying bees online, especially from outside of your catchment area as you may introduce unwanted pests and diseases that may not be present in your area.
There are no regulations in the UK that say you can't. Our only advice is just be mindful of your neighbours. Some folk are afraid of bees, unnecessarily in our opinion, but afraid they are. Try to keep your bees as far from neighbouring gardens as possible, don't open the hive on a warm sunny day when next-door is having a good time in their garden, try to talk and educate them and by far the best way to get round them................give them a free jar of honey.
This is all dependent on the amount and quality of foraging there is for the bees in your area. Believe it or not, they say some of the best honey is produced in London, whereby folk keep hives on the roof tops of flats as the bees have an abundance of window box flowers to go to. Remember bees will travel up to a 2 mile radius, so take a look whats around you. Start with a couple of hives, if the bees are doing well, increase the amount year on year.
This is not mandatory but highly recommended. Being part of your local BKA will provide you with a number of benefits including help and advice, possibly insurance and access to your local bee inspector. Many local Beekeeping associations also run beekeeping courses - which are really informative. Contact your local BKA for further details.
Given the way of the world, this would be highly recommended. It is extremely cheap, our local BKA charges around £20 for 6 hives.
Frames are made up of brood frames and supers. Brood frames are larger and are mainly used for the queen to lay in, whereas supers are shallower and are a more used for where honey is stored. Both products can be viewed by clicking here.
We have done this many times, usually when we pick up a couple of small swarms or if you have a hive that is struggling. First take off the roof of the hive you are going to unite, place a couple of sheets of newspaper over the top, then place a super or brood box on top. Take the other set of bees you will be uniting and shake them in to the super/brood box so they are sitting on top of the news paper. Simply replace the lid and leave well alone. Over the next few days the bees will eat through the newspaper and by the time they have done this the smells and pheromones will have mixed allowing the two colonies to unite. There are two tips you need to follow to ensure the uniting goes as well as possible.
- Unite the bees on a warm evening, when the bees are settling down for the night.
- Make sure there is only one queen. Both colonies will potentially have a queen, you can leave them to fight it out, but you have no guarantees that best queen will win. Choose your queen and remove the other.
- Place a frame feeder in with sugar syrup, this will give the bees something else to concentrate on. Feeders can be purchased from us by clicking here.
We personally don't like clipping the wings of the queen bee. It has some advantages as she will not be able to fly when swarming, meaning you can in general find the swarm sitting outside your hive and it can easily be collected and placed in another hive. By clipping the queen's wings, she may attempt to fly, but fall to the ground - resulting in a lost queen. It just doesn't sit well with us as we like to open our hives and look for queen cells and manage the hive that way.
Marking queens is a great idea as she is very difficult to locate among the thousands of other bees, especially when drones are about. See the chart showing the different characterises honey bees.
You can see the queen is longer, whereas the drone is wider. Try and find the queen during each of your inspections, this will enable you to get your eye used to what she looks like. When you do locate her, place a queen cage over her and using a special marking pen, mark her on her thorax which is located just behind the eyes and parallel with the point where her wings are attached to her body. Queen cages can be purchased from this link here.
There are different colour pens to be used which identify the age of the queen. These colours are international and are shown in the chart below. Once the queen is marked, she will be much easier to locate on future inspections.
This is not always as easy as it sounds as there is a tendency to overload the smoker resulting in the fire being extinguished. We find the best way is to light a small piece of paper first and drop it into the smoker, then add shredded cardboard and place a couple of dry/seasoned pine cones on top - this usually does the trick nicely. Simply puff the smoker to add oxogen until you have a steady steam of smoke coming out of the spout. Smokers can be purchased from us by clicking here.
There are different reasons how and when you may choose to feed them, which could include any of the following options:
- This can be done on a warm day in the Spring to give the bees a boost after a long winter.
- To boost a newly caught swarm.
- Distract bees during uniting i.e joining of colonies (see above).
We use a 50/50 mix. We purchase cheap granulated sugar and use the following method:
Take an empty drinks bottle, 2.5lt is best. Use a funnel and pour the 1kg bag in to the bottle, then measure 1lt of luke warm water and pour this in to the bottle also. Securely screw the lid on the bottle and shake. We leave the sugar to dissolve for about 10 minutes before shaking the bottle again and either use a frame feeder or rapid feeder which is simply placed in the hive. Don't forget to check the syrup, as home made syrup can go mouldy/ferment if left too long. Only mix enough syrup for immediate use. You can also feed the bees fondant - this type of bee food mimics granulated honey. Feeders and fondant can be purchased from our shop here.
There are various pests and diseases that can affect your colonies, some of which bees are able to manage and some they can't. Contact your local Beekeeping Association or bee inspector for further advice and guidance. Some pests and diseases (listed below) need to be reported and are classed as NOTIFIABLE DISEASES - therefore you are under a statutory obligation to report these diseases to a DEFRA Bee Inspector.
- American Foulbrood
- European Foulbrood
ASIAN HORNET - this is a particular threat to honey bees. The Asian hornet is slightly smaller that the European hornet - measuring from 25mm - 30mm. They have a mostly dark brown or black velvety body, except the fourth abdominal segment, which is a conspicuous yellow band near to the rear. Their brown legs have yellow ends, which is why it is often called the yellow legged hornet, while its face is orange with two brownish red compound eyes. These hornets can be seen hovering outside a hive entrance, waiting for returning foragers - 'hawking'. It is essential to report Asian hornet sightings; this can be done via the Asian Hornet Watch app or by an alert email - firstname.lastname@example.org or on the online recording form on the NNSS (Non Native species Secretariat) website www.nonnativespecies.org
SMALL HIVE BEETLE - Adult beetles are oval, 5-7mm long and 3-4.5mm wide, once emerged, they are coloured reddish-brown but turn dark brown or black when fully mature. They are about one-third the size of a worker bee and have a distinctive club shaped antennae. Their bodies are broad and squat, the wingcases are short so that a few segments on the abdomen are visible. Adult beetles lay pearly white eggs in irregular masses within hive crevices or brood comb. They have rows of spines on the back and three paris of legs near the head. After 10 - 14 days, the larvae have completed their growth and measure 10-11mm in length. Infested comb have a slimy appearance. Again, this is a statutory notifiable pest under both EU and UK legislation, details at www.nationalbeeunit.com
This is purely determined on the strength of the colony, the type of bees, the amount of pollen and nectar in the area and the weather. On average you should expect to reach amounts in the 13kg region, per hive.
We tend to take the honey around late July or August. The easiest way is to open the hive, if the frames above the queen excluder have all been capped over then the water content is low enough to take the honey. If you take the honey earlier then the water content will be too high, resulting in the honey fermenting. Some Beekeeping Associtions have Refractometers for loan - this instrument tests the water content of honey.
This is the best time of year for any beekeeper. The method we use is as follows:
Once you have decided the honey is ready for the taking, place a bee escape on the crown board and leave for 72hrs, when you remove the roof of the hive most/all of the bees should have dispersed to the lower sections of the hive. Take the super full of honey in to a secure area/shed where bees cannot access (very important!!!) Take a uncapping knife and cut the wax cappings off, then place these frames into an extractor and let the centrifuge do the work.
Centrifuge extractors can be expensive and bulky to store, have a chat with your local BKA, they usually have extractors for loan, alternatively other beekeepers are always willing to lend one out.
Don’t forget to have settling tanks ready for transferring the honey into as you can’t leave it in the extractor!!! These settling tanks can be purchased from us here.