The Birds and the Bees

So, as some of you will be aware by now we've had chickens for 18 months. We presently have 6 birds, 1 Black Maran, 1 Speckledy, 1 Whitestar Leghorn, 1 Cambridge Blue and two Light Sussex bantams. They all lay, some of the time. The leghorn used to be daily but recently she is moulting (bad time of year for it if you ask me).

And now for the news, I said Birds & Bees; I’m going to start having Bees. I’ve joined our local Bee club and I’ve bought a couple of hives, one ‘commercial’ (style of hive) from ebay and one ‘deep national’ from a very nice chap on a beekeeping forum. Now I just need tools and protective clothes.

I’ve got 2 mentors of a sort, both ex-BBC, who have very different ideas on Bees, and a whole host of people locally from the Bee club I can talk to for advice, so I’m REALLY not going to go short there. Only problem is where to keep them, allotment people want a certificate of competence, which I won’t be seeing for 2 years or so, and one of the neighbours is a bit notorious at not liking anything we do; They called out the environmental health last Christmas because of the chickens, they arrived and said there was no problem whatsoever and we were doing everything we should have been doing.

So I am going to start in the garden and see how things go, unless I can find another location.

So either way I thought I’d use the body of this post to keep lots of useful info I’ve been discussing with people so I don’t loose it

Craig Knox : I was lucky and started beekeeping when I was 13 in NZ, where there is one hive type, one strain of honeybee, and there didn’t seem to be too much nonsense spread around. In the UK it’s quite different, lots of conflicting information/opinions around, and quite confusing for new hobbyists.

My neighbours are fine with the bees, I have 4 hives right against the shared wall, and about 10 mini nucs (little hives spread around the garden and kitchen roof. If I kept aggressive bees it might be a different story, but I go out of my way to keep bees that are pleasant to work with. It’s a hobby after all :)

I’ve got a couple of photos of bees up here, and you can see we don’t generally need protective gear.

One of the parks is council owned, and were really happy to let us keep bees there. The other is a park managed by TRUE ( and they also were really happy for us to keep bees on their land. With TRUE we sometimes go down weekends and show people through the hives and teach them a little bit about bees - that’s kind of our rent.

The yellow blobs are the pollen loads they’re bringing back to the hive.

One tactic people use with neighbours similar to yours is to place empty hives out where they can see them. Then after they complain they’ve been stung by your bees, you can point out there aren’t any in there. Afterwards when you do get bees and they complain, you can point out they seem to have had the issue before you got bees.

With the bees I keep you don’t generally need a smoker, though there is one on hand in case. That photo with Dami was taken to make a point to some people who keep telling me you can’t have bees that docile. He’s doing a lot of the things that are said to make bees attack, ie wearing dark colours, drinking beer, etc.

Kids over is fine, I’m working at Canary Wharf, so will pop home at lunch and can meet you at Canada Water tube station, Wednesday or Thursday looks good weatherwise. I doubt there’ll be much chance after that till March next year as it’s getting quite a bit colder and my hives are wintering down.

With the queens I can give you advice about who is good, pros and cons, and how much they cost (I’m interested in genetics and breeding bees so have sampled a few suppliers), or if I have some raised (depends on work commitments) I can sell you some.

As to why people keep aggressive bees, there is a variety of reasons. Mostly people just don’t have enough exposure to what to expect. One of the people I’ve helped this year thought it was normal to be chased for quite a while after inspecting the hives.

Another big reason is queens come for free (ie you can easily raise one yourself), so it’s hard for people to work out why would you pay for one.

Then there are other myths such as aggressive bees produce more honey, etc.

One valid argument against buying good queens, is most of the good queen breeders don’t live in the UK. It’s mainly hobbyists over here, so it’s very difficult to a) find decent breeders b) have them supply you. So queens often have to be imported, and importing bees/queens increases the likehood of diseases being brought in.

There is a reasonable queen supplier in Liverpool who sells queens bred in Greece,

The best breeder I have found so far is:, but they do cost more.

If you manage to find a swarm and collect it, it’d be free. The London beekeeper club collects swarms and establishes them and sells them on frames for £100, your local club/s might do something similar. Suppliers tend to sell bees on frames for £150-£200.

It’d probably cost £400-£500 to setup a hive (including bees). Second hand equipment is a little more riskier, but probably fine. You’d want to scorch the hive parts, and use new frames in them. is the biggest supplier in the UK - they do a starter pack which might be good for most of the stuff you need. Big things like an extractor you can just borrow.


Queen bees available in the UK April to September

Auction Site

Hey, have you decided on what type of hive you will have? I don’t use a second brood box as my ones are large enough.

I space my frames by hand. Auto spacing can be good, but then it restricts you moving them around. Which one is best is just a matter of taste or what you’re used to

With swarm cells, I’m quite different it seems to most beekeepers in this country. They don’t seem to expect and don’t try and have better bees, so they would remove all by a couple at cells and let them naturally mate,

That’s a gamble at the best of times.

The queen would be substandard, possibly very defensive, and there is a risk of swarms/casts with leaving more than one cell. Plus, you’re selecting for swarmy bees, which is going to make your life more difficult.

I get rid of all the swarm cells, and try to fix the reason they want to swarm (which is mostly giving them more room)

With swarming, the most important thing is to get a queen from non swarmy stock. That will lower the chance of swarming. If in the case they do try and swarm, I would remove one frame of brood with the queen on it and setup a second hive in the original location, moving the original hive to a different nearby location.

The older flying bees will return to the original location leaving you with the queen in the original location with mainly older bees (just like if they’d swarmed), and you’ll have a new hive. This is better than letting them swarm naturally because you control where and when they do it, and there’s no break in the brood, which is healthier for the colony.

Lots of beginners often end up losing their hive because it swarms multiple times throughout the year, leaving few bees and little stores for the winter. They often find this stressful and disheartening, but when you consider they will often get a swarm and not requeen (so ending up with a queen who has proven to be swarmy), and stick with her offspring, it’s not very surprising.

With the new hive, I’d remove all visible queen cells and introduce a queen of known stock once I was certain there no queen.

With supercedure it tends to happen at the end of the season, I had one this year and just the replacement queen to it. I may requeen that colony at the beginning of the year.

Pauline :

Terry Thrussell and Ted Motton sell bees. Ted doesn’t do as many as Terry.


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