Simon's beekeeping blog

In June 2017, my friend Rick invited me to go and visit him in Yorkshire to attend an intensive introductory weekend course at Leeds Beekeepers' Association. The next summer, when I had moved to London, I started going along to the nearby Walworth Garden apiary after another course there to learn and volunteer. In those six months, I learned a lot from the apiary manager Tristram Sutton and the other volunteers.

When I moved back to Somerset in January 2019, I became interested in keeping my own bees. I joined the local beekeepers' association and have been going along to their meetings. My nephew Ben, as well as Dave and Dax, an old friend from school and his daughter, and Pinny, a friend from Bristol, are all joining in too. Friends from London Hackspace Beekeepers also help from afar via Freenode IRC in the ##lhs-beekeepers channel – drop by if you can.

Anyway, here I try to document in the form of a blog with photos how we're getting on with setting up our nascent apiary – the successes and the mistakes. This blog is mainly a learning exercise for me, so comments and corrections are welcome.

The most recent updates follow in reverse chronological order. Older updates are archived for the year 2019.

The frames for the brood box and supers were what essentially remained of the hive building by Wednesday of last week. Making these was more fiddly work than the stages before, so I treated myself to a smaller hammer and decided to do it from the comfort of my kitchen. I say that it's fiddly work, but you get used to how to make them easily and after the first few it may as well be automatic. I see myself in a few years spending whole evenings in front of a film or two just knocking up super frames without even thinking about it.

The instruction video demonstrates the fairly simple process. I found I had to trim the wax foundation a bit, particularly for the brood frames. I also ended up putting the two bottom bars on after I had put the foundation into place. With a bit of room for adjustment, this seemed to lead to flatter, tidier frames in the end for me, and fewer trimming mistakes.

All this means I'm now ready to put up the fencing tomorrow, put all the hive parts together and stick it in the field on a stand made of pallets (the proper hive stand is still on order) with a brick or two on top. Finally, I can then go on the swarm list...

I'm a fan of podcasting; I get through at least a few hours of podcasts per day. So I thought I'd note down a few pointers to a few of the beekeeping podcasts that I've stumbled across. I've listened to a couple of episodes of each of these and I'm sure I'll listen to more when I'm making frames or doing other jobs.

Beekeeping - Short and Sweet, by experienced bee farmer Stewart Spinks, claims to be for beekeepers with short attention spans. What this means is that is presented in a way which is information-dense but easy to follow, sometimes in a storytelling style. I really like that. A great seasonal roundup with a mine of useful information for the beginner like me. This is my favourite so far.

The Barefoot Beekeeper podcast by Phil Chandler goes along with the site of the same name. He is an advocate and practitioner of natural beekeeping methods (see also Friends of the Bees), working with top-bar hives. I don't know nearly enough about this side of beekeeping, but I'd say I have a general interest in nature. I think it's worth tuning in for what you might learn, even — and especially — if it's occasionally controversial. Related to this, in the sense that there's a focus on natural beekeepeing, is the long-established The Treatment-Free Beekeeping Podcast, with its associated forum. It is about avoiding treatments and pesticides when keeping bees and related topics. I've heard from a few places that this sort of beekeeping is becoming quite popular in the UK. On the podcast, there's quite a lot more discussion of topics like bee genetics, natural selection for various traits, and the effects of beekeeping practices and philosophy on the these things. I like what it makes me think about, and specifically how I want to approve beekeeping longer term.

Other podcasts take more of a rambling chat format mixing information, news and the experiences of the hosts. Beehive Jive is an occasional podcast produced by Tracey and Paul in South London. That's where I started my beekeeping adventure in earnest, so it's nice to hear from there.

Finally, from much further afield there's another favourite. The Kiwimana Buzz podcast is produced by a beekeeping company in New Zealand. It gives an insight into the running of a larger beekeeping operation in another part of the world. Despite being based in the southern hemisphere, Kiwimana Buzz features regular roundups from beekeepers around the world. It's generally very informative and relaxed and has interviews with interesting and knowledgable people.

There are many more beekeeping podcasts, particularly from the USA. Some recommendations I've not had the time to check out yet include Beekeeping from Five Apple Farm, The Beekeeper's Corner and The Hive Jive. If you know of any more, let me know.

Earlier this week I opened up the box that my first hive came in. The contents turned out to be not only intact but also a really good kit. To experience this unboxing for yourself, watch Gruffydd Rees of Mêl Gwenyn Gruffydd in an unboxing video, one of many he's made.

Anyway, we've had a bit of rain during the last couple of days, so I headed over to my dad's workshop. Yesterday I made the floor and the brood body. Today I made the supers and the roof. You can see the results in the picture. A few nails may not have ended up where they should have, but it's mostly square and solid.

The hive is made of sustainable British cedar, so it should be long-lasting even if it's not treated. It has its own camphor-like oils, apparently, but I think I'll get some wood stain for it. It's a budget hive, so of course there are knots here and there but that doesn't matter at all. The quality is just what I wanted, consistently good enough throughout, including the foundation and extras like glue. The pieces are accurately cut. They fit together nicely and squarely. The wood doesn't split easily. The instruction videos are really straightforward. So far, I agree with Gruff's assessment - the hive is great value for £160.

All these parts stack together on top of a hive stand (yet to come). I now have to make the frames to go in them. These are assembled from a kit, perhaps with a bit more dexterity needed than the stages so far, involving building up the little wooden frames and sliding wired wax foundation into them. Then, the bees can move in.

Someone from Federal Express came this morning to bring my new Thorne budget hive in a battered and torn cardboard box. I asked him to mark the delivery unchecked. 'It's because it contains wood', he opaquely explained. The contents turned out to be fine, but I think next time I'll make the trip to South Moulton to be sure.

The kit came with a nice six-page guide to the hive, where to get a colony, choosing a site, installing the bees, and an overview of the beekeeper's year. The guide had links to PDF assembly instructions and also a YouTube channel with construction videos for the floor, the brood body, the supers, the roof, the brood frames and the super frames. There's also one showing how to put it all together. I'm going to head over to the workshop tomorrow and make a start on all of this.

The other news is that my dad has found two twelve-foot (3.66m) gates which will form the edges of our little apiary. Dave and I will be putting them up next Friday. We'll then have all we need to go on the swarm list, hopefully not too late in the season.

Stapled to the instructions in the hive package was a flyer for the National Honey show in late October in Esher (Surrey). On the Saturday (26 October), there's an emphasis on lectures for people in 'the early years of beekeeping', so I'll try to go along to that.

We've decided on a site for the beehives after a walkabout two weeks ago. There will be two hives there, one looked after by me and my nephew Ben and one looked after by Dave and Dax. After obtaining permission, we need to fence off a small bit of the field and then install the hives there. This also means I've now finally put in an order for a kit to make a hive too.

At the bee association meeting, a list went up for anyone who wanted collected swarms. We are approaching the peak of the swarming season now, so Dave and I will need to get the fence up soon and make the hives so that we're ready to welcome our new colonies.