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A Beginner's Guide to Back Garden Beekeeping

Whether you've been stung by one or not, bees are crucial to the world; without them, your favorite veggies and fruits wouldn't grow. Bees do not only produce the luscious honey you sweeten your meals with, they also are in charge of pollination.

Pollination leads to the production of fruits and seeds that will give birth to more plants necessary for life on the planet. Though their level of importance is widely understood, they're still rapidly becoming an endangered species; honeybees are being afflicted by habitat loss and electromagnetic radiation from cell phones that can damage their ability to find their way home.

Back garden beekeeping is not only exciting but significant in creating a healthy honeybee population. The interest has grown exponentially since people are looking for healthier and more sustainable ways of living. Having an apiary at home will make your garden look like an Eden and give you succulent honey that will seem crafted for the gods of Olympus. Quality unlike any other, this golden, raw, unpasteurized honey is far tastier and healthier than shop-bought honey, which is pasteurized - a process that kills many of the beneficial nutrients in honey.

If becoming an amateur apiarist is on your current wish list, and it's something you would like to pursue seriously, this guide will serve as an outline of what's involved in starting a bee colony and how to get the most out of it.

honey bees in hive

Is beekeeping right for you?

Having an at-home bee colony and taking care of those babies is fun, but it's no five-second task. To get started, you'll need a certain amount of knowledge on the subject, and you'll have to invest some time and money to get your colony up and running.

You'll need to select hives and bees, manage the colony, harvest the honey, and keep your bees healthy. Each part of the country has a different prime time for starting a hive, depending on the weather and geography. There's a lot to know beforehand, so look for information from reliable sources. Are there any beekeepers or beekeeping organisations in your community? Reach out and ask for advice. Having experienced apiculturists in your contact list could come in handy.

Before you invest any money, check your local authority's laws on the matter. In the UK, you should familiarise yourself with The Bees Act (1980) which is primarily concerned with prevention of spread of certain pests and diseases and with importation of bees.

Consider your neighbours

Keeping bees might lead to fall-outs with your neighbours that you just don't need. You may even have a neighbour who is allergic to bee stings and therefore, will be understandably concerned. Ask your neighbors if they'd mind, and if they seem a little hesitant, try to win them over with the promise of free organic honey straight from the hive.

jars of honey

If your neighbours are overly-concerned, why not look for an area away from your home where you can keep your bees? You could even try approaching your local comunity garden or allotment.

Find ample space

The kind of hive you wish to create will determine the size of the space you'll need for it. A general rule of thumb is to have from six to eight feet of space around your hive. This gives your bees enough space to fly around the hive without crashing into one another, but if your space doesn't come in with these extra dimensions and is on the smaller side, placing a tall fence facing your hive will encourage the bees to fly upward.

Prepare to spend some time and money

A two-hive setup is ideal for a new beekeeper. Including the hives, bees, protective gear, and supplies, expect to spend more than £750 on your first year as an apiculturist. You'll, most likely, need to spend a weekly hour on tending bees. Keeping bees is an intricate pastime, and many beekeepers confess that the more experienced they become, the deeper they fall down the beekeeping rabbit hole and end up spending an excessive amount of time reading, researching, and taking classes about all aspects of this hobby.

How to build your hive

All bee colonies start with woodenware, which comprises the hive's bottom and body and the top cover. With proper care, these bee boxes should last from one up to two decades.

bees entering a hive

There are two ruling kinds of beehives you'll choose from when starting your colony:

Langstroth hive.
The most common hive and a favorite amongst new beekeepers. The Langstroth is a series of stackable boxes, each with square frames for bees to build a comb.

Top bar hive.
This is the world's oldest hive design. Top bar hives have bars that lay horizontally across the top of a long wooden box, and the bees build their comb downward from the bars.

Where to locate your beehives

Position the hives in your back garden as far away as possible from the patio, play equipment, and other highly utilised spaces. Keep them away from your neighbours if you can. Locate the hives in such a way that the openings will face south, east, or southeast; in the morning, the warm sunshine gets the bees moving, and in the evening, cooler shade brings relief when it's time to rest.

Crucial beekeeping equipment and supplies

Hive tool.
A hive tool is like a crowbar for your beehive. It's used to separate the hive boxes or lids, which get stuck together due to beeswax.

They relax the bees, making it easier for you to get in there to extract honeycomb or do maintenance.

smoking a bee hive

This helps scrapes away the built-up beeswax on your beehive.

Uncapping scratcher.
To release honey, the comb needs to be uncapped using one of these tools.

Honey extractor.
These are used to extract your honey from the comb. They come in various styles, and you can choose from manual or automated extractors.

Beehive haute couture

A veil protects your stunning face and neck from any bratty bees and their painful stingers.
A pair of long gloves staves off stings when you're handling your hive.

beekeeper in bee suit

Bee suit.
The iconic, white one-piece we all associate with beekeepers protects your body from bee stings. A long-sleeved jacket and trousers will also do the trick.

How to choose your bees

All you need are bees! Honeybees fall under the genus Apis, of which there are 44 subspecies. The most commonly kept species in the UK is Apis mellifera mellifera, the Northern European honeybee.

A starter colony, also called a nucleus, is the easiest way to populate your hives. A nucleus colony is a little hive containing various honey and brood frames, plus one queen and enough workers to expand the hive. You can relocate the small frames to your larger hive boxes, and the colony will build up quite swiftly since the eggs, larvae, and honey stores are included.

Honeybees have three social ranks:

Queen bee.
Each hive has one queen who takes care of all the colony's reproduction; laying all of the eggs and choosing when to lay drones and workers.
Worker bees.
The backbone of the hive; they forage, care for the young, produce and store honey, make wax, clean the hive, and defend it against predators.
The only male bees in the colony or drones have one sole purpose for existing: To mate with all of the virgin queens from other colonies to spread their own colony's genes far and wide.

Harvesting and using your honey

After getting everything on the list, you might be wondering when you can commence harvesting. Typically, you ought to wait until around 90 percent of the honeycomb's frame cells are capped. Nowadays beekeepers can use a refractometer to test the moisture content of the honey - harvest it when it reaches 18.6 percent.

You should tirelessly investigate harvesting honey before you extract your first batch. In a nutshell, you'll rock your protective gear, chill out the bees, remove the comb from your hive and take it to your workstation. With the uncapping scratcher, you'll remove the wax cap from the comb, which can be used to make candles or for homemade cosmetics. With your buddy, the honey extractor, you'll gently remove the honey from the comb, leaving the latter pristine and ready to go back to the hive. The liquid honey will settle in a container for a few days; then it's ready to bottle and relish!

honey Benefits of organic honey

The nectar of the gods you now possess, but what to do with it? Honey is flooding with phytonutrients, which boost the immune system and fight against selected diseases. These all-mighty phytonutrients are behind the antioxidant properties of the golden liquid and, as such, assist in protecting your body from cell damage due to free radicals. As a prebiotic, honey promotes good bacteria growth in the gut for better digestive health, and its antifungal and antibacterial qualities make it a superb emergency balsam for wounds.

Home uses for honey

Honey can do more than sweeten your meals:

- Excellent moisturizer for dry skin including your scalp thanks to its ability to retain water.

- Honey's antioxidant and antifungal qualities may aid in treating acne, pimples, and blemishes.

- With a smear of honey, you'll soothe minor burns and promote its healing.

- Classic: Honey in your tea for coughs or throat soreness.

- Beeswax can be utilized to make lip balm, deodorant, or candles; such a lush dream.

Beekeeping embodies what this world is all about; supporting each other. Welcome bees into your back garden, and help magnify a decreasing population while enjoying the delectable result of a bee's hard work.

Rocio is a mum of two, with a keen interest in living a more sustainable life. She writes content on sustainable living for porch.com