Starting beekeeping – a practical checklist

Yesterday I went to a Ealing beekeepers association session. We were working through a ‘Starting Beekeeping – Practical Checklist’ produced by the BBKA following requests by beekeepers teaching beginners.

There are eight sections to the checklist: Background, Manipulation, Basic disease, Annual cycle, Basic Queen skills, Extraction, Specific diseases and Basic apiary management. We were going through each section in plenty of detail and a fair bit of laughing, so only fitted two in during two hours, Background and Basic disease.

Some of my notes from the Background section:

Can I control/restart a smoker?

Even some of the most experienced beekeepers admit to having problems keeping their lighters going. Big smokers keep going longer, so buy the biggest you can find. Put in newspaper first, then something like egg boxes or sawdust. Always light the smoker from the bottom – a long gas lighter or cook’s blowtorch is useful for this. Put grass on the top to stop sparks coming out and burning the bees.

Do I have clothing I am confident with and that can be cleaned?

Bee suits can be washed in the washing machine with the veil removed. The veil can be soaked separately in washing soda, which helps remove propolis. Ideally wash your suit after each visit to a hive. New beekeepers are often sold long leather gloves – resist buying these! These are lovely and soft the first time you wear them, but soon get covered in propolis and become hard and stiff. They are also un-hygenic compared to disposable latex gloves, which cost around £4 for packs of a hundred or can even be obtained for free from petrol stations or hospitals! If you want extra protection the latex gloves can be worn over leathers.

Do I have ‘things’ in my pocket? (queen cages, matches etc)

A suggested tool kit for your pocket:

  • Tin of drawing pins for marking frames/attaching mouse-guard in the winter
  • Queen cage and marker pen in this year’s colour
  • Matches or lighter for your smoker
  • Foam rubber – use pieces of foam to seal up any gaps or reduce the entrance
  • Sharp nail scissors if you clip your queen’s wings to stop her swarming. John Chapple told us a story about going beekeeping with the expert beekeeper Clive de Bruyn, who told John that he did this with his teeth! Not something I’ll be trying!
Edit: recommend this blog post – 25 really simple beekeeping tips – for further ‘what to keep in my pockets’ type advice.

Be aware of apiary hygiene

Anything taken or scrapped out of your hive, even a little bit of comb or wax, should be disposed of properly and not flicked onto the apiary floor. Comb left on the floor encourages the wax moth and robbing by other bees. Ideally you should soak your hive tool in washing soda in-between visiting each hive, or use a separate tool for each hive.

I only took notes on the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) from the Basic Disease section:

Be aware of the appearance of SHB larvae and adult

The Small Hive Beetle is a bee pest which is not known to have entered Britain yet, but here in London we are in a high-risk area as lots of places nearby import food. The beetle can survive outside the hive, so could come in on fruit from Africa or the US.

One of our local beekeepers, Andy Pedley, is a ‘Sentinel Apiarist’ working with the government to look out for the beetle. Andy uses little traps in his hive which he checks regularly. If he found a beetle in the trap, he would put it in a plastic bag and alert our local Bee Inspector immediately. He also has to check the roof, crown board and any cracks and crevices in the hive where the beetle might lay its eggs.

Once the eggs hatch the larvae chews up honey comb and turns it into a slimy mess. If a frame with the larvae on is held up the larvae ‘surf the comb’, travelling up and down trying to get away from the light. Once ready to pupate the larvae drop out of the hive and pupate in the ground before emerging as little black beetles. As they are native to Africa, they may or may not survive in the damp of UK soil. In Africa beekeepers can kick their hives and stamp on the beetles as they drop out.

The SHB adult

The SHB larvae

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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