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Start Your Own Bee Keeping Business

Beekeeping – apiculture – is the ideal way to generate honey for family use, while also providing wax and other bee products to sell or make into other useful items.

You do not need land or wide open spaces to keep bees profitably. Hives can be kept in a small garden or on the roof of a townhouse, even on a balcony or in a tiny back yard.

Bees must be kept in areas rich in nectar-producing plants, like clover and other meadow flowers. The best place is close to where oilseed rape is grown. This is a particular favorite of bees who will travel up to four miles to collect the nectar.

Successful beekeeping means knowing and understanding your bees, what they need, and what interference they will, and will not, tolerate from you.

Keeping bees is much like any other kind of animal husbandry, demanding regular care, maintenance, time, skill and knowledge gained from experience. The one essential difference is that bees are wild creatures, not domesticated animals. Bees work for man, even with man, but they do not need humans and will remain in the hive only while it suits them.

CHOOSING A HIVE

The most common model is the Langstroth hive, named after its inventor. The most important feature is the brood chamber, being a wooden box filled with frames of wax foundation arranged vertically with the familiar honeycomb pattern. This is the nursery where the queen lays her eggs and where the colony stores its food.

Once the chamber is filled, further chambers with 'supers' are added where the surplus food and honey is stored. Between the brood chamber and supers, a queen excluder is added, allowing workers bees to pass through, but not the queen with her trail of eggs and larvae to contaminate the honey.

THE BEEKEEPERS 'ROLE

Keeping means managing the hive in a way that maximises honey production. No-one should start keeping bees before learning the basics first, preferably from experienced beekeepers and books about bees and beekeeping. Local beekeepers' societies are wonderful places to learn the art. Make contact with your local branch a priority.

The beekeeper inspects the hive regularly to make sure all is well, that the queen is laying, and the bees are happily collecting nectar and pollen. He also checks for signs of disease and obvious distress along the bees. An unhappy hive is not a productive hive. Often the mood of the queen dictates that of fellow bees, and it is she who is usually replaced.

From May onwards, the beekeeper checks for new queen cells which are destroyed to prevent a new queen emerging and the old one leaving with followers and as much honey as they can carry. This is called swarming and is often due to overcrowding or the appearance of a new queen.

A minimum of equipment is needed for operating one or two hives. You'll need bees, of course, as well as a hive, a hive tool for opening and inspecting the hive, some form of protective clothing for you, and a smoke box.

Smoke has a calming effect on bees and a light puff of smoke at the entrance hole calms the bees and makes inspecting easier. Most equipment can be purchased inexpensively, even second-hand, through specialist suppliers listed later and via most local beekeeping associations.

STARTING YOUR OWN COLONY OF BEES

Essentially there are three main ways to get your bees, by obtaining a colony in an existing hive; A nucleus; A swarm.

The first is the easiest, if not also the costliest option, and many ready-made colonies are available from established beekeepers and specialist suppliers.

A nucleus enterprises a queen and a few hundred workers from another colony. They can be introduced to your hive and fed with sugar water until they are adequately established to fend for themselves.

You must not add a super to the nucleus brood chamber until all the frames in the chamber are filled with honey.

Hiving a swarm is the cheapest, most difficult, and potentially most dangerous start to keeping bees. First you have to find a swarm, usually a queen and several thousand workers whose habit is to cling together in a huge ball dangling from a tree branch where they remain until scout bees return with news of a suitable home.

The swarm can be gathered by shaking the branch hard or cutting it off, so the whole mass of bees falls into a box. Turn the box upside down with a stick under it to leave a gap through which the scouts can return to the swarm. Then take the box to your empty hive, lay a white sheet on the floor leading up to the hive, and shake the bees on to the sheet. Bees tend to crawl upwards and will usually head straight for the hive.

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