Educational Guide

Start Beekeeping

There are several different ways of getting started in beekeeping: buying package bees; purchasing a nucleus (nuc) colony; buying established colonies; collecting swarms; and taking bees out of tree and/or wall cavities. We recommend novices start with either a package(s) or nucleus colony(ies). However, you should be careful when purchasing nucs (and established colonies) because you might be buying other beekeepers’ problems such as disease or non-standard equipment. Collecting swarms and transferring bees is more difficult and not recommended for the beginner without the assistance of a more experienced beekeeper. The best time to start with bees is in the spring or early summer

In order to start beekeeping, you will ideally need the following items.

1. Two complete beehives (at least)

Use the most locally used, modern-style hive. If in doubt use a Langstroth or local equivalent. You will need at least one brood box (deep/full) and two supers (shallows, ¾ sized). Use a queen excluder to start beekeeping and use the frames as advised above. The frames should have standard wax foundation wired into them. You may have to do this. Or, preferably, they should be made of plastic and coated with a light film of beeswax.

2. A hive tool

3. A good-sized smoker

4. A bee suit (Veil)

5. Good gloves

6. Bees

Bees can be obtained in following ways

6.1 Already installed

If you are buying beehives from a local beekeeper, they may come with bees already installed. You wouldn’t buy a car without ensuring value for money and it’s the same with bees; Inspect the bees before purchase. They could come with a disease, without a queen or with numerous other problems you will inherit. This is an easy way to buy bees, but a large colony of bees comes complete with guard bees ready to defend the nest and is always more of trial to a new beekeeper than a small nucleus.

6.2 Hiving a swarm

This is an interesting way to start but it is unlikely that someone who wants to begin beekeeping would do this without help, even though bees are at their most gentle when swarming. You could let beekeepers or the local association know that, if there is a swarm of bees around, you would like them. If you are a beginner, ask a beekeeper to install the bees for you if you go down this route.

6.3 Buying a nucleus of bees

A nucleus (or nuc) is a box with only four or five frames in it, and it will contain a frame of brood (or two), a frame of honey (or two) and a frame of comb or even foundation. Somewhere in the nucleus (usually on the brood frame) will be a laying queen. The frames will, of course, be the same size of frame as those in your hives, so you must let the supplier know what size you want. So if, for example, the nuc is a five-frame one, simply remove five frames from your brood box in the hive and carefully put the nuc frames in.

The advantage of a nucleus is that it has brood ready to emerge and to contribute to the colony’s development, and the queen will have already laid eggs.

6.4 Buying a package of bees

A package of bees weighs about 1 or 1.5 kg (2 or 3 lb), with approximately 8,000 or 12,000 bees, respectively. The package box has four wooden sides and a screen material in the front and back. It is 22 cm (8.5 in) high, 40 cm (16 in) wide and 14 cm (5.5 in) deep. An inverted can filled with sugar syrup and placed inside the box provides feed for the bees during transit.

The package contains a young, laying queen in a small wooden cage with one screened side. The caged queen is well protected during transit and fed through the screen. This contact with the bees improves her acceptance when the package is hived. The main disadvantage of a package is that it will be around three weeks before any brood emerges ready to contribute to the colony’s development.