Wednesday 27 February 2013

Beekeeping for Free?

When people consider keeping bees, their first port of call is usually the local bee keepers association. Listening to the jargon-filled chat among the 'old hands', it turns out that buying one's ticket into this arcane world is not cheap: the glossy catalogues full of shiny equipment are beguiling, but the price lists can come as quite a shock. Many are put off the idea at this point.

The next hurdle is the weights they expect you to lift and carry - at least 25 kilos from ground level - not something to try if you are lightly built and not used to weight-lifting.

Another obstacle that may kill enthusiasm is the need for storage space. Using conventional hives, you cannot fail to accumulate all kinds of 'extras' the 'old hands' forgot to mention at that first meeting.

But it is perfectly possible to become a beekeeper without laying out a lot of cash, without body-building and with no need to fill your garage with yet more 'stuff'. You just have to ignore the glossy catalogues and take up what has come to be called 'natural beekeeping'.

All you need is a simple - probably home-made - hive, a hat and a veil, an old shirt and the agreement of the people who share your living space. It doesn't matter whether you are a town or a country dweller, as long as there are flowering plants nearby from early spring onwards. In fact, bees often do better in gardened, urban areas than in the 'green desert' of modern, industrial farm land.

The essentials are simple: a box with sticks across the top, to which bees attach their comb. There are many variations on this theme and all have the guiding principle of simplicity of construction and management. There is no need for any other equipment or storage space outside the hive. Building a top bar hive is no more difficult than putting up shelves and can be done using hand tools and recycled wood.

Natural beekeeping really is 'beekeeping for everyone' - including people with disabilities - as there is no heavy lifting once your hives are in place. For the bees, they offer weatherproof shelter and minimal disturbance, thanks to a 'leave well alone' style of management.

Whether you approach it from the point of view of conservation, entomology, crop pollination or simply a love of honey, beekeeping is an engaging pursuit and a fascinating window on the natural world.

So, if you want to keep bees, build yourself a hive before the swarm season, and you could be tasting your own honey by the end of the summer!

Free plans for building a top bar hive are available from the author's web site at, where you will also find a busy and friendly support forum.

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