Beekeeping is incredibly satisfying. When you open the hive and you see all those millions of bees in front of you it is truly magical. Not to mention the honey that you will be enjoying as your reward!
We asked experienced beekeepers to give us some tips about how to establish a hive and look after the bees. Jonathan and Anna Beaussire are based in Lot et Garonne and have been keeping bees since 2013. They also have a small herd of goats from which they make cheese, an excellent accompaniment to their honey. This is what they had to say:
First of all, it is really important to understand that having bees is a bit like having a pet. Hived bees are no longer completely wild insects and, to a degree, will have been domesticated. As such, they require some care and attention in order to thrive.
The best time to start your hive is in the spring so that the colony has time to build, increasing in number ready to store honey before the winter arrives.
As a beginner, I would recommend that you start with two hives. If one of them has a problem, the second hive can come to its rescue. Designed to help you maintain the colony and harvest the honey easily, there are a variety of hives to choose from, including the man-made box sets and combination hives which are cylindrical in shape with a domed lid.
In addition, you will need appropriate equipment to keep the bees happy, and you safe, when visiting and caring for the hive itself. Smokers are used to calm the bees when you are working around them. Gloves will help to avoid stings, and a few small tools will help you in handling the honeycomb frames more easily.
It is worth investing in the best quality equipment which will last for years. For instance, a good wooden hive should have a trouble-free 10-year lifespan and cost around €100-150. You will also need the smoking material and smoker at €200 or so, and bees at around €140. It is best to buy bees locally so that they are more familiar with the climate and conditions.
Beekeeping is all about knowing how the hive works, how to watch it and what to look for. What stage are the eggs and larva at? Is the Queen Bee well and happy? Do the bees feel stressed? Do they have enough to eat? Do they have a pest or disease issue and, if they do, what do you do about it?
Whilst beekeeping doesn’t require a lot of time, some of the tasks are seasonal. The hive will need to be looked at a few times a year. In spring, when the bees have used up their winter stores or are establishing a new hive, for instance, they may need extra feeding. You will want to ensure a solid brood pattern, harvest the honeycomb, keep an eye on the Queen, and make sure that the number of bees in each hive are pretty equal so as not to overload them.
Whilst there are countless books and websites, nothing beats learning alongside another beekeeper. If you can find one locally, it is well worth finding out how they manage their colonies. Alternatively, we are happy to help with training and hive development.
First published in the March/April issue of The Local Buzz
Images: Shutterstock and Miellerie-Beaussire