How to keep bees

Ever fancied keeping bees?  You'll be helping insects that play a vital role pollinating plants and crops.

Getting started

Keeping bees is wonderful, but you need to know the basics before you start.

Go on a course – your local beekeeping association, city farm or beekeeping business may run courses nearby.

Location

When choosing where to put your hive, sheltered is best. Morning sun is also good. Damp is a problem, so raise the hive up on a stand.

Putting the hive entrance by a wall or fence encourages bees to fly out and up.

Equipment

You'll need:

  • A hive – basically a collection of boxes filled with frames of beeswax comb.
  • A smoker to pacify your bees.
  • A hive tool to open the hive.
  • Separate frames.
  • A beesuit.
  • Beekeeping gloves – washing up gloves are excellent.
  • Feet and ankle protection.
  • Equipment to harvest your honey and feed your bees.
  • Treatment against the varroa mite.
  • Budget for about £600 (avoid second-hand equipment).

Buying bees

Honey bee colonies reach about 50,000 in summer, and drop to 10,000 in winter. When you buy them, the colony will be around 10,000 strong in a travelling box with frames of beeswax comb full of eggs, larvae, honey and pollen. This should cost about £200.

Settling them in

Put the box of bees on the stand where the hive will sit. Un-tape the entrance and leave for 24 hours. 

Now you are ready to move the bees to the hive.

First put on your beesuit. Now:

  • Light your smoker, move the box and put the hive in position. 
  • Gently smoke the box entrance, then remove the frames and gently put them into the hive in the same order.
  • Add empty frames of beeswax foundation on either side until the hive’s full.
  • Replace the inner lid of the hive and pop a feeder through its hole with some sugar dissolved in water.
  • Add an empty shallow ‘super box’, then the roof.
  • After a week, do your first hive inspection.

Now you’re a beekeeper.

Beekeeping: a step-by-step guide 

Learn from the experts
Enrol on a beekeeping course, and learn the basics.

Get the kit
Beekeeping equipment for beginners.

Swarming
Get your starter swarm.

Collecting your bees
Bring your swarm home and transfer to their new hive.

Inspecting your beehive
Learn how to regularly check on the health of your bees.

An extension to the beehive
Make room for your bees to store their nectar.

Making honey
Your honey harvest – feeding your bees and you.

Bees and cold weather
Getting your bees through the winter.

Further reading

Find out more in Bees in the City; an urban beekeepers’ handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.