As we’re a small but very busy team, we often aren’t able to respond to general questions as quickly as we’d like to, so we sat down with Jez and put to him a list of the most commonly asked questions we receive – hopefully you’ll find what you were looking for here!
DO YOU SELL BEEHIVES?
Currently we no longer sell beehives. We are working on a refined beehive based on the National hive design, and components to fit it, as one of my frustrations with the beekeeping world is that there are so many variations, which essentially all achieve the same thing, and that of those variations, many are so poorly made. I can’t recommend or endorse one particular supplier over another but do shop around and in the beekeeping world, it is generally true that you get what you pay for. Nicholas at Peak Hives makes especially good, hand-made hives, however, we have received patchy service.
DO YOU SELL BEES?
We are not bee breeders, as our work is focused on environmental and educational efforts, however, our native British bees have attracted a lot of attention and we do occasionally have nucs for sale. Sign up to the newsletter and follow us on social media as that is where we announce the release of nucs, weather depending, around late May/June and through to August.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY BEES? & WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO START BEEKEEPING?
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to buy queens from any reputable breeder before May and more likely into June, but queen rearing is very weather dependant. For bees, you can buy an established colony any time of the year, potentially, however, I believe it’s best for anyone beginning their beekeeping journey to start with a nuc; a small hive and colony. A standard, fully established bee hive can have as many as 12 frames of bees, where as a nuc will have 5 or 6. You get to see your new colony grow and build your confidence as the colony grow. It’s a lovely experience. Nucs are generally available from June as any good seller of nucs will want to ensure the colony is strong, healthy and disease free before selling. You’ll get a good couple of months of beekeeping that first season until September when the weather cools. I wouldn’t suggest getting bees any later than August unless you know for sure that they are disease free and strong as you’ve got very little time to help them if anything isn’t right. For me, the ideal plan is to attend a workshop later in the year (August/September time) so you’ll get to see bees still active; use the winter time to reflect, digest the information and do some additional reading and learning, and buy your equipment; then get your bees the following Spring.
DO YOU SELL QUEENS?
We don’t sell queens. If you are looking for Buckfast queens, we highly recommend British Honey Producers. For near native bees, our good friend who worked as a bee inspector, Stewart Spinks, of The Norfolk Honey Company is a trusted source who breeds open mated, strong, healthy bees.
DO YOU SELL HONEY?
We no longer sell honey direct to the public, however, have a number of retailers who sell our delicious, 100% British, raw (and award-winning!) honey. We have a small stock of honey available for sale for visitors to the farm on experience days and workshops but the site is not open to the general public. Buy our honey from Swines Meadow Farm Nursery (Market Deeping, Lincolnshire) or The Ned (London).
I AM NEW TO BEEKEEPING, CAN YOU GIVE ME ADVICE?
Drawing from my studies with Cornell on the Master Beekeeper programme, our beekeeping workshops are ideal for complete beginners and those relatively new to beekeeping, or looking to brush up on their knowledge. For those attending, we offer a private group on facebook and I am always happy to help with any challenges or problems you may face, however, very sadly my schedule doesn’t allow for us to provide an open advice service. Our good friend, Stewart Spinks, of The Norfolk Honey Company, has a wonderful online resource on YouTube and Patreon for beekeepers and it’s a gold mine especially for beginner beekeepers. I’d highly recommend signing up to his Patreon site, where he offers commentary, responses to direct questions and a whole host of exclusive content. If you like podcasts, you’ll especially enjoy his Beekeeping Short and Sweet podcast.
CAN YOU RECOMMEND ANY BOOKS ON BEEKEEPING?
Other than humans, more books have been written about honeybees than any other subject. It is a literal minefield of substandard, poor and opinionated writing. There are many, many great books but there are also many terrible ones. Two books particularly stand out and I recommend these on all of my workshops:
Beekeeping A Practical Guide by Roger Patterson: it’s easy to read, immensely practical and written by a very knowledgeable and experienced beekeeper.
Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper: considered the bible of beekeeping, it’s been a best-seller for years. As Ted has passed away, it’s a little outdated but remains one of the most thorough books on almost all aspects of beekeeping.
Honeybee Democracy by Professor Tom Seeley: if you want to learn more about the insects themselves and have your mind blown, anything by Tom Seeley, probably the world’s most eminent mind on honeybees, is a great read.
WHAT SIZE SLAB DO I NEED TO PUT MY BEEHIVE ON?
We don’t actually have our hives on slabs, but they’re great for suppressing weeds and maintaining a level and flat surface. The size of the hive you buy will dictate the size of the slab but I always recommend thinking about the immediate area around the hive as it’ll help you keep a clear, flat area for placing equipment and standing. A couple of metres square is absolutely plenty.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
The exhaustive list would be quite long and ranges from matchsticks to hive tools, uncapping forks and smokers. However, you can start beekeeping with just the essentials:
Healthy, strong honeybees
Hive for them to live
Bee suit (or at least a veil to protect your head, face and neck from potential stings – even the most gentle of honeybees I’ve handled will protect the colony if they feel threatened by a myriad of factors)
However, it’s worth understanding the pros and cons of various pieces of equipment, what they do and the things you might need not immediately but fairly early on. For example, I always recommend you buy an extra crown board for helping to manage honey crops with less stress on the bees, and a cheap feeder like a rapid or bucket feeder will help ensure you can quickly feed your bees if they need support.