Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Bees... The New Chickens?

It seems that even before the true benefits of chicken keeping have been acknowledged we are on to the next step to self-sufficiency. For those, like me, who are still revelling in the dream of owning chickens and desperately measuring the ground and counting the pennies to decide how to make these feathered friends a permanent feature of our self-sufficiency lifestyle, the introduction of a new dream draws our imaginations down a new enchanted path.

Since deciding that chickens were step one on the way to self-sufficiency and reading every magazine on the shelves relating to the subject I begin to notice that Bee Keeping was starting to crop up here and there and soon was commanding it’s own two page spreads in glossy Technicolor. Before I had even chosen a spot for the coop I was already thinking thoughts of home-made honey and my own tribe of pollinators!

So with this in mind, is Bee Keeping really for everyone? Or should it be(e) left to the experts? What is in it for us and is it as difficult as it appears?

Bee Keeping is apparently, once the hive and colony is established, an easy hobby with much sweet reward. A hive requires little space so can be maintained in a small garden or even on a flat roof. So long as the area is sheltered and sunny the world is your oyster. The main question is:

How Do I Learn? (Followed closely by Will I Get Stung? – Sorry, but the answer is Yes!): Join a local bee keeping club, they run courses for beginners, lasting around 12 weeks, and will train you in both theory and practice. After this time you are given a mentor who will help you through your next year with either a club supplied hive in the apiary or your own hive at home. What better way to learn than through practice! This sounds like my kind of learning, being quite impatient I admit I like to get on with things, so the idea of starting straight away in a controlled learning environment really appeals.

What do I need?: Bees! But also, a hive – there are many companies including the chicken keepers favourite Eglu that supply hives - hat, smoker, veil and smock top and hive tool. A rough guide on price is around £400, but this can obviously be more if you go for more elaborate kit or less if you look for second-hand or DIY. If you take second-hand hives lookout for disease as it can remain dormant in some hives for up to 30 years.

So how time consuming is it?: In the height of summer, which is the busiest season the hive requires around 30 minutes a week of time spent maintaining it, this is assuming that all is running smoothly and there are no issues that require to be resolved. Honey is extracted only once or twice a year and during the winter there is no need to do much beyond checking the hive for damage.

Honey: Honey is extracted between July and September and is removed by spinning the frames in an extractor (which can be bought or hired). The honey is left in a vat for 48 hours before it is ready to eat.

Can I Sell The Honey?: Many people on the road to self-sufficiency look for both what they can eat and what they can sell. As with most produce you make, of course you can sell it; however you should make yourself familiar with your country/area’s legislation and labelling laws before hand and should obtain the correct food hygiene certification. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

I really like the idea of keeping bees, and could easily imagine the hive in the orchard with a little cloud of buzzers humming around it. They would make a good source of my own pollinators and I would have my own supply of honey for us, friends and family. So maybe bees will feature on the farm sometime, but until then I have a coop that needs filling. In fact I have a coop that needs buying, then filling. But watch this space…

If you are interested in learning more check online to see if there are any local groups near you or check out some of the links I found on my travels:


Most of these links apply to British groups but are sure to provide great background reading for all, for you local source of information just do a search around your own area.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds great...there used to be hives up on our allotment but the guy who used to keep them has left and the bees have since moved on so the hives are not used. I would love to keep bees but don't have a good location as I only have half an allotment plot so they would get disturbed too often and I know my Hubby WOULD NOT entertain having bees in the garden..lol


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