Friday 15 April 2011


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It is entirely possible to keep bees in your garden without disturbing your enjoyment or that of your neighbours. There are no laws against keeping bees in your garden and you do not need a large garden to keep them in. Bees are fascinating creatures to watch, and the skill behind setting up a hive and introducing a colony is intriguing. Once you have your bee colony set up you will be hooked.

The wildlife around the hive can be very interesting, and bee keeping can help to look after the garden and countryside. The benefits of having bees within your garden is that they are great pollinators, in addition to producing honey and beeswax. On average 20-40 lb of honey can be obtained from the hive in a season. Beeswax can be used for producing candles, soap, furniture polish and cosmetics.  And of course honey can be fermented into mead.

Bees kept by bee keepers are the honey bee species, Apis mellifera. These honeybees turn plant nectar into honey.  They also collect pollen, which they use to feed their larvae, and natural resins (propolis) to waterproof and strengthen the hive. Each colony will sustain 50,00 - 70-,000 bees. The hive will work together as a single unit, with the bees having defined roles within the colony.  Most bees in the colony are female worker bees, but there are several hundred male drone bees whose role it is to mate with young queens. There is only one queen bee, who will lay up to 2000 eggs a day.  The worker bees tend and feed the larvae, construct and clean the wax comb cells, serve as guards at hive entrance and collect pollen and nectar from plants.

To get started you need to select a bee hive. There are many different styles of bee hive but all have movable frames.  Choose a hive that works for you, one that provides ease of access and is suitable for your location.  The bees will not mind which hive you select! Hives can be bought new or second hand, or you may make one from scratch. Ensure second hand hives are sterilised thoroughly as diseases can be spread on old combs and equipment.

You will also require bee-proof clothing - a bee suit or veil, boiler suit, gloves. Tuck your trousers in your socks and  cover your head when near a hive. Smoke the colony prior to disturbing it in any way. However, you should expect to receive some stings as part of the hazard of bee keeping.  In addition, you will require a smoker and a hive tool.

Once set up you need to introduce the bees.  You can purchase bees as a complete colony or part colony, or you may wish to obtain bees from a local bee keeper (check they are free from disease first). You should select bees which produce good yield, are docile and free from disease.

Inspect the hive weekly or fortnightly. Monitor for mites and Varroa, which will be in every colony. You will need to spend a hour a week during the summer maintaining the hive, checking the health of the bees and ensuring the hive is clean.  You should understand the life cycle of the queen bee and look out for signs of a swarming colony. It is advisable to speak to your local Bee Keepers association or enrol on a college course to study bee keeping in more detail. The British Bee Keepers Association website is ideal to get further information on the subject.
For related articles click onto:
Bee facts
Do worms sleep?
Feeding plants
Herbaceous borders
How do I attract bees into my garden?
What is the difference between an insect and a spider?
What is the difference between a wasp and a hornet?

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