Wednesday 20 May 2009


I apologise to anyone who may have attempted to post a comment - it seems that I had the 'allow post comments' function turned off! Please don't shoot me, I am new to this blogging malarkey after all.


Monday 18 May 2009

Documents to download

YABeeP Membership Application Form
In order become a member of YABeeP, attend meetings and workshops and receive corporate communications, everyone is required to complete and sign this membership application form. Pleas download the form, complete, sign and bring to your first meeting or post to the address on the form.
There are 3 categories of membership (see form) which are primarily designed to make our administration simpler. It's up to you to choose which category you think you fall in to.

Download the membership form here. (81KB Adobe PDF file)

YABeeP A4 flyer
55 KB download - Please feel free to download this document, print then display it to encourage more to join this great cause.

Introduction to Sustainable Beekeeping - 2nd edition
203 KB download - A 10 page document introducing and explaining the concepts of Sustainable Beekeeping using Top Bar Hives and providing Internet links to further information.

10 Things You Can Do to Help the Bees
71 KB download - 2 side A4 document outlining 10 things to help save the bees. Original document courtesy of Phill Chandler with YABeeP contact details.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Honeybees – A suitable home

If you decide to keep honeybees then the first thing you need will be a suitable home to keep them in. In the wild honeybees primarily live in hollows in trees but they can and do live in any dry and empty cavity they deem suitable. Because YABeeP is following sustainable bee keeping practices we strongly recommend that members use top bar hives which attempt to replicate hollow trees rather than the highly artificial and expensive modern hives used by conventional bee keepers. A further advantage of top bar hives is their simplicity and cost.

There are many variations of Top Bar Hives but they fall into two basic types. They are the Vertical Top Bar Hive and the Horizontal Top Bar Hive.

Vertical Top Bar Hive
Also known as the Warré hive after it's inventor, a French Abbot Emile Warré (unknown to 1951), this
hive consists of a series of small boxes that the beekeeper stacks vertically on top of each other rather like a conventional hive. This provides an empty cavity as would be found in a standing tree. The boxes are simply empty boxes with just bars on the top with a guide line of bees wax. Vertical hives are expanded by adding extra boxes below those already occupied by the bees, so some lifting is required. They have the general look of a traditional beehive.

For detailed information on the vertical or Warré hive you can download the Warré hive plans here (876 KB pdf download) or see Nick Hampshire's excellent photo guide which starts here. A translation of Emile Warré's book 'Beekeeping for All' into English can also be downloaded from David Heaf's website here (This is a large 8.81 MB pdf download so it may take a while).

If you make a Warré hive I would strongly recommend that you adapt the floor section to incorporate a varroa monitoring tray and bottom feeder - for plans see this post. Varroa were not around in Warré's time but are a major issue today so a varroa inspection floor is important.

Horizontal Top Bar Hive
As its name suggests this hive is a horizontal box which has its top bars in the roof. These hives replicate the cavity bees might find in a fallen tree. Being horizontal it requires no lifting of bee boxes, unlike in vertical hives, and so it is argued that they are particularly suitable to the disabled, elderly and those who are uncomfortable moving heavy objects. Although of a fixed size, the internal cavity in a horizontal hive is kept to a size suitable for the bees by the bee keeper moving a sliding ‘follower board’ as the colony expands and contracts.

My own view is that the horizontal hive is NOT the best beginners or even a good 'natural beekeeping' hive. I started with them but soon discovered their many disadvantages and changed to vertical hives. Unless you are very lucky you will have problems with cross-coming and have to frequently open the hive to 'manage' the bees comb building. Opening the hive is one of the worst things you can do. I keep the two horizontals I started with operating for other members to see the issues with them, but as they die out I will not replace them. 

For detailed information on the horizontal hive you can download the free horizontal hive plans here from the Barefoot Beekeeper website where you can also download a free section of the book 'The Barefoot Beekeeper' to 'try before you buy'. If you do choose to go the horizontal hive route then I would recommend this book. The Barefoot Beekeeper plans show you how to make the basic horizontal hive though I suggest that you make some adaptations to these which YABeeP can guide you through - e.g. viewing window, end entrance, hinged roof, sawdust sump, and more. To see some of these adaptations and further guidance on assembling a horizontal hive see these pages.

Make your mind up
Both are very easy to build yourself from plans freely available on the Internet using basic woodworking skills - after all they are just empty boxes! The timber can either be bought from a yard for around £25 depending on the wood used or they can be easily made at no cost using recycled timber from pallets for example.

The difference between the two types is not just in construction style. They can also reflect different approaches. The vertical hive allows you to go much further along the sustainable route of leaving it to the bees as it is difficult and not necessary to open and inspect when occupied. This is not a bad thing as it means the bees are not disturbed. The horizontal hive on the other hand can be opened for inspection for those who prefer to 'keep an eye on things' and actively manage their bees - a more hands-on method which arguably gives more control for the bee keeper, but this is at the cost of interfering much more - can you see now why I don't recommend them?!

It’s a question of looking at both types of hive, understanding the difference in how they are maintained, deciding how far you want to take sustainability and which hive most suits you best then choosing that route. Basically “you pays your money and takes your choice”. Whilst a vertical hive can be argued to be a little less ‘fun’, in that you don’t get to actually play with (that is disturb) the bees, it is far more bee-friendly and therefore more sustainable. It is also easier for new beekeepers in that you don't have to inspect it on a regular basis. A Warré would certaily make an ideal introduction to keeping bees. However, both types are far more bee-friendly than conventional hives (click here to see why Sustainable Beekeepers don't use conventional hives) so make up your own mind.

It’s hard to choose!
Your choice of hive will also depend on the amount of time you have available as well as how ‘hands-on’ you want to be. If you want to be as involved as possible and relish the thought of handling (disturbing) the bees then a horizontal hive is probably for you. However, if like me you want to leave the bees to take charge of being bees, have little time for inspections or are perhaps wary of handling the bees on a regular basis then the vertical hive will definitely suit you best. You only need to work on your hive twice a year if you run a Warré hive as the good abbot suggests.

If you’re really not sure which hive type to choose then why not start with a couple of the easier to manage Warré? In these worrying times for the honeybee, Sustainable Beekeepers are not immune to having their bees die off. Having two hives doubles your chances plus it will allow you to take less honey from each hive to satisfy your needs leaving more for them. After all, the bees spent many an hour making that honey for their own use, not yours.

We suggest that you attend a YABeeP meeting before finally deciding on your hive type so that you can see both hive types in action before you jump in.

© Robin Morris - YABeeP

Solitary Bees

This section is currently under development:

With over 200 species of native solitary bee in the UK these important yet little known group of bees makes up a vital and abundant source of bees. Several species are easy to house and provide an important group of pollinators in our gardens.

Making a home for solitary bees
Whilst they are solitary in their raising of their young, the female once mated lays and tends her young by herself, they happily coexist in very close proximity so it is easy to house them in large enough groups to easily observe.

Making a home can be as simple as drilling a series of 6, 8 and 10 mm holes in a piece of wood and suspending it above ground in a south facing sunny position.

See the Gardens for Wildlife site for instructions on How to Make a House for Solitary Bees
or download Norms Solitary Bee House Drawings (360 KB) or watch this video clip (skip the first 2 min's adverts):


Parasites, disease and illness

As beekeepers we are solely responsible for ensuring that the bees in our care are healthy and disease free. As sustainable beekeepers we are starting from a good place in that our care and husbandry practices do little to stress the bees. The less stressed they are, the more resilient they are to other health problems.

However, just like us, bees naturally suffer from various maladies. Unfortunately for them, man's past greed in trying to find the best production bee, has added to their natural problems by spreading exotic illnesses and parasites around the globe.

It is therefore incumbent on us as beekeepers to learn how to recognise health problems and seek advice and help whenever problems are suspected; to always err on the side of caution. Though the problems are many the resources available to hep exist.

Whilst it is beyond the scope of this website to provide the necessary, the following does outline some of the challenges and points you in the direction of further help. YABeeP also provides support to members – a first point of contact.

This section is currently under development:

  • Dysentery
  • Starvation
Sources of Help and Advice

Why are bees in such trouble?

There is really only one problem
As you probably already know the honeybee is in serious trouble. In many parts of the world including the UK the wild bee has more or less disappeared. And those kept by beekeepers are suffering. The impact has only really been evident on a global scale and with such catastrophic consequences in the last few years.

Many will argue that it's not a single problem but a cocktail of issues which together have placed too much stress on the bees. They are partly correct in that bees have to contend with many issues. However, from the bees point of view there is only one single problem, one which is responsible for all the issues that give such stress to the bees. And that problem is mankind himself! Bees have evolved and survived over many millions of years, compared to man's few hundred thousand, and it's only since we have been meddling with them and their environment that they have become so vulnerable.

So what problems have we made for the bees?
Whilst some of the reasons for their recent plight are not yet 'scientifically proven' the issues are quite obvious to anyone prepared to look. We have created a combination of factors that have broken the camels, or in this case bees, back:
  • Loss of their natural habitat - we used to be a wild and wooded isle; sadly now all gone
  • Poison build up - the large scale use of 'pesticides', we should really call them insecticides as they are designed to kill insects which bees are, and now GM
  • Pollution
  • Mono culture - large scale single crops, often heavily 'treated'
  • Introduction of parasites and disease - with man's greed for a 'more productive' bee we have indiscriminately moved bees around the globe spreading disease, parasites and weakening local gene pools. Sadly we continue to do this.
  • Modern invasive beekeeping husbandry – designed to make life easier and more productive for the beekeeper, not the bee. A perverse philosophy that without strict management by the beekeeper the bees won't survive.
  • and many more....
As beekeeping has progressed, more problems have presented and man has reacted to these further problems by intervening further, inventing new cures, methods or practices. Yet, as with many things, where man intervenes in nature we mostly seem to come up with short term solutions, often leading to longer term problems.

Mankind’s interest in the bee has primarily been as a resource, to make money out of their pollination, honey or other by-products. Therefore the standard beekeeping methods that have evolved and are now used more or less universally throughout the western world have been to make life easier for the beekeeper, not for the bee.

As a consequence of all these problems many have come to question mankind’s role, challenging our past interventions and are looking for ways to reverse man’s meddling as far as possible. We are seeking to put the bee’s needs, wants and requirements back into beekeeping. Bees have survived many global catastrophes over their millions of years of evolution. They are clearly capable of looking after themselves without our interference, provided we give them the space they need to do this.

It is out of this more environmentally aware thinking that Sustainable Beekeeping has arisen which is why YABeeP uses this methodology.

Clothing & Equipment

Protective Clothing
To complete your beekeeping set up you will probably want to kit yourself out with some form of personal protection. It doesn't have to be expensive as to be truly 'sustainable' you can even make your own.

Bee clothing comes in a range of shapes, sizes, colours and, of course, costs. You will primarily want to protect your face, though as a new beekeeper you may gain more confidence with a suit and gloves.

You'll want to wear this most of the time as a bee in the ear or sting on the face can be quite alarming! If you can use a basic sewing machine to sew straight lines then you can make a simple and effective veil to fit over a brimmed hat with some netting material for under £2. Download instructions here.

If you'd rather buy then there are many places that sell veils or complete bee suits on the Internet. YABeeP would recommend that you use a local (Burnham-on-Sea) supplier and friend Mike Duckett. Mike's range can be viewed on his website here though he kindly offers a discount on these prices to YABeeP members so mention us when you contact him or speak to us first. If buying, for natural beekeeping I'd recommend a smock.


A full suit is not absolutely necessary though those of a more nervous disposition will find more confidence in one. White is definitely the best colour for playing with bees as it not only keeps you cool in the hot weather, but bees are more likely to attack dark colours – something about looking like a bear! The cheapest option is to use a forensic suit as used by the police. These lightweight suits have elasticated cuffs, ankles and hood which keep the bees out and cost about £5, though if you have any contacts in the force they throw them away after only one use! 2010 Update - Use this link for an Ebay company selling them at £1.95 inc. postage!

Whatever kind of clothing you wear remember to keep it clean using washing soda. Not only does this cut down on the possibility of spreading bee diseases from apiary to apiary but when a bee stings, even a suit, it releases a pheromone to tell other bees to come to the party and start stinging. This pheromone stays active for a long time so a beekeeper in a clean whistle & flute will be merrily working away whilst his less laundered neighbour finds he's constantly being attacked.

You can pay pay thorough the nose for specialist gloves which are really not at all necessary as a pair of marigold washing up gloves are all that you need. A determined bee can sting through anything but one of the many advantages of sustainable beekeeping is that you'll be handling your bees very gently and happy bees don't sting. You'll soon have the confidence to forgo your gloves anyway so why waste money – you'll be surprised at how gentle you'll be with you hands exposed and covered in bees!

Again, sustainable beekeeping is the cheaper, less environmentally damaging one. You don't need those catalogues filled with expensive things. Just a few basic items which you'll probably have around the house already:

Traditionally beekeepers suppress their bees using a smoker. However, as we practice bee friendly beekeeping we would suggest that you don't use one. The smoke actually triggers a panic response in the bees. Fearing there may be a fire which could destroy their home they go back into the hive and gorge themselves on honey so they can be prepared to start a new home in case they need to take flight. Not only does this unnecessarily panic the bees but it could take them up to 24 hours for them to off-load the honey and get their constitutions back to normal once the threat has gone – hardly bee friendly!

Instead we recommend that you use a fine mist water spray bottle. Add a teaspoon or two of cider vinegar to the water and it is as effective as a smoker. You can even add a drop or two of certain essential oils to the mix - no more or the mix will become toxic. Peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus are known to be an irritant to the varroa mite which plagues our bees today so you will be killing two birds with one stone.

Long bladed serrated knife

You'll need one of these especially if you have a horizontal hive for releasing the bars which the bees stick down with propolis and for cutting any comb attached to the sides – cut gently upward in a slow sawing motion.

Large clean plastic containers

Always have a couple on hand when you are doing inspections – useful for saving any comb that breaks off.

Whenever visiting other people's bee hives always launder your clothing, wash your gloves and sterilise any equipment you take both before and after to avoid any cross contamination - see parasites, diseases and illness.

YABeeP - Bumble Bees

What is a Bumblebe?
If it's bee-like - round, short, fat and hairy, basically the kind of bee children would draw, then it's a bumble. There are many types though there are 6 particularly common types in this area – see Identification below.

Where do they live?
Most bumbles live in the ground either in holes they make themselves, under sheds, paving stones, etc, or by occupying a discarded mouse hole. Some will use above ground nooks and crannies, an empty bird box being a popular choice.

Are they a problem?
Absolutely not. They do no damage to your garden or property. They can sting but won't unless their nest is attacked. They will happily fly over, under or around you getting on with their business. Whilst some children can be frightened of the bumble (some ignorant adults too!) their fear is unfounded, probably generated by a politically correct culture where they are taught to fear the unknown especially anything that may be thought to be a potential problem. Once taught about them kids often show a keen interest and ask to keep a bumble bee nest box in the garden. They can even help in national research by completing on line surveys.

What should I do if I find a nest?
The best thing to do if you find a nest is absolutely nothing – consider yourself privileged that they have joined you, watch them, learn and enjoy. If you don't disturb them, then they will completely ignore you. They will only be there for their very short season (see below), most have left by late summer, then they will leave you seeking a new nest next year.

Very occasionally they can set up home somewhere inconvenient and you may need to move them. This is a simple operation best done at night when all the bees are home but you need to move it at least 3 miles away or the bees may return to the previous site. If you live in the North Somerset area then call YABeeP and, provided that it is accessible, we will gladly move your nest - see our Bumblebee Rescue Programme page

If you plan on doing it yourself then the Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommends that you use a sturdy shoe box or old drawer lined with grass or dry moss. Make a ¾“ (2cm) entrance hole which you need to temporarily cover whilst you move them. Use a shovel to gently pick up the nest in one piece without tipping it as this would spill their honey which they need. Place the nest in the box which you need to cover with a close fitting lid. You must then move it to your alternative sheltered site. Cover the box with a waterproof cover to keep any rain out then uncover the entrance hole and leave alone to settle.

Bumblebee Identification
Some of the common species of bumblebee are difficult to tell apart. However there are several websites that can help you:

Bumblebee Life cycle
Bumblebees follow an annual life cycle with most species dying off each year with the exception of the queen who overwinters alone. The queen emerges in spring with some species rising as early as January. She finds and kits out a nest site then gathers enough pollen and nectar to start off her first brood of baby worker bees. Once hatched these workers forage so the queen can concentrate on laying. As the colony builds up males are bred. Once it has reached its maximum of around 150 to 200 bees some of the worker larvae develops into new queens. Once mated the workers and males die off and the queens disperse to find a different site to hibernate before the cycle starts all over again. For a more detailed and fascinating explanation of the bumblebees life cycle see these pages on the excellent website.

How do I encourage bumblebees into my garden?
1. By making a bees nest to attract bumbles - You can either make a nest site from simple materials (see this page to make one from a recycled pallet) or buy one ready-made. To make an an even simpler flower pot or paving slab nest see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's nest box page.

Bumbles also love to nest in piles of old wood so leave a stack of rotting wood undisturbed in a sunny corner of your garden. As well as bumbles this will provide an home for many other useful invertebrates.
2. Planting for bumbles - see these pages for information:
3. Refusing to use Insecticides and other toxic chemicals - By not using insecticides, weed killers and other chemicals in your garden. You should also ensure that any seeds you purchase have not been systemically treated and coated by the producer. Not only will this ensure that you keep a healthy environment for bees and other garden wildlife but it will reduce the risk to yourself of poisons build up in both yours and your children's bodies.

Bumblebee Links:
Probably the best bumblebee information on the web can be found here:
Other bumblebee web sites:
Bumblebee Forum - Ask questions and get answers here:
And don't forget to see YABeeP's own Bumblebee Rescue Programme page.

YABeeP - Getting your first bees

Page updated May 2012
Once your hive is made and ready you will be anxious to get it stocked with bees. There are several ways this can be done. However, the recent surge in beekeeping has meant that competition for bees is now fierce so you'll have to put in some real effort or pay the now inflated commercial price. You CAN get bees, but you'll probably have to do quite a bit of work to get them. It's not just a case of making a couple of phone calls and sitting back waiting for them to drop in your lap. For ideas on what to do read on:

1. By collecting a swarm
2. by using bait hives
3. from another beekeeper
4. local Bee Keeping Associations
5. from a commercial supplier.

1. Swarms
This is by far the best way of populating a new hive as you will be using bees that are actually looking for a new home themselves, they come ready to set up. It is also the most natural way to start a hive and really great fun to do. It's fascinating to see a swarm's behaviour when regrouping into their tempoary home - read this amusing yet accurate account of a first timer's experiencees.

In the UK the swarm season starts in May and runs right through to the end of August though swarms obtained at the latter end of the season will be far smaller and stand less chance of surviving to get through the winter.
Swarm in hedge.....
(click to enlarge)
The trick to getting a swarm is to be plugged into the right sources; here's where you have to do a lot of work telling everyone that you are after one.

YABeeP is on the police and Local Authority swarm list and will occasionally distribute some swarms to members but we now get very few - you therefore need to make your own arrangements to source your own bees - it's your responsibility. Bear in mind that with the growing popularity of beekeeping there is considerable competition for swarms. a tree....
You therefore need to put the word about to everyone in your own network of friends, work colleagues, etc. that you want a swarm – the more people that know that you're after one then the more likely you are to hear of one. Collecting a swarm is quite easy but if you need help as a member YABeeP will assist of provide equipment.

You should also try contacting your local conventional beekeeping branches Swarm Liaison Officer (SLO) and ask if you can go on their waiting list:
Avon BKA (click on your nearest branch link),
Somerset BKA . Again contact all that are in the radius you are prepared to travel to collect them - this can be a large area with many SLOs so punch some town names into the BBKA Find a Swarm Collector's list.

....even under a manhole cover!
Be prepared for some persuasion to join their their association which may be worth your while as you can join as an associate member if you don't yet have bees. If you admit to being a natural beekeeper then they will probably quiz you as to why you are not using a conventional (national) hive so be prepared. Some branches will even refuse to supply natural beekeepers though thankfully this is changing in most areas as Associations learn more about the benefits of our craft. Some knowledge of conventional beekeeping and being a little economic with the truth of your intentions may be a tactic to use.

The Weston branch SLO is a professional pest controller who sells the swarms he collects, in 2008 it was £20 a swarm but I expect this has gone up considerably now, so you cold make him an offer - contact Mark Tilley 01934 822210.

2. Bait box
Those of you with empty hives already can put these out as bait boxes rather than have them standing idle - get them ready for swarm scout bees by rubbing some beeswax on the top bars and inside of the hive - see below for details. Don't delay, you need to do this early in the year as bees are scouting potential nest sites well before they swarm.

Flower pot bait box
What is a swarm looking for?
Bees are not particular about the shape so use whatever you have to hand, maybe an old wine box, a packing crate, an old draw which you can add a 5th side to with some scraps of wood, etc.. Use your ingenuity and imagination. You can even use cardboard boxes - see this neat idea for waterproofing them from DaDeeP, a sister site in Derbyshire. Always spread your net as wide as you can, using the gardens of friends and family and not just in your locale, ask family further afield to put something out, as long as they are within travelling distance so you can collect it once you strike lucky. The more you get out the better your chances of getting bees. Put out one box and you just might get lucky - put out twenty and you increase your chances by a factor of 20 - that's far better odds!

You can easily make a bait box or use a large waterproof container with a small entrance and prepare it the same way – you can easily and cheaply make a bait box using a large square flower pot that can hold top bars - see photo. Make sure that the top bars you put in your bait box are the same size as those in the hive type you are using to allow you to easily transfer any bees you catch into your hive without loss of comb. If you have a Warré you can use a smaller container or screw the smaller Warré top bars to the underside of a larger bar. Screw them from above so that you can easily unscrew them when they have bees & comb on them!

For a cheap 'quick & dirty' alternative attach a large biodegradable flower pot to a wooden base and hang it up  - see this video:-

Click here for Part 2 of this video.

Increasing your chances of a 'hit'
It is worth bearing in mind that scout bees from a swarm are looking for their ideal home. Here's a list from  Dr. Thomas D. Seeley who has researched this - I really recommend his book Honeybee Democracy. These inlude:
  • a size of 30-40 litres in volume - 2 Warré boxes is ideal. Their minimum requirement is15 litres so use whatever you have which is over 15 and as close to 30 litres. To calculate volume in litres multiply the length x depth x height in centimetres then divide by 1,000.
  • made from natural timber, preferably rough, not planed - remember their natural home is inside a hollowed tree.
  • a single entrance preferably circular and up to 40mm diameter
  • around 15 feet off the ground
  • don't fall into the trap of placing it where you see loads of bees foraging thinking that is a good spot - remember that scout bees search out new hive sites, not foragers - they can be looking in different places for different things.
  • ideally it would be something that bees have lived in before - they can smell the propolis from former colonies residues in the wood so if it was good enough for them......

Obviously you can't always give them this ideal so you will probably have to make compromises. That said scouting bees cannot always find their ideal so your aim is to make your bait box/hive the next best option around.

As a new beekeeper you probably won't have some of the items from their ideal shopping list such as a previously used box, but there are a couple of tricks you can employ. To make the box smell more like a previously used hive you can rub bees wax or propolis on the inside or even add an old piece of honeycomb if you have some. Source this from a local beekeeper who you trust as you don't want to use wax that has disease spores in it. Do NOT use imported wax, wax you don't know the source of or commercial bees wax polish as this could well have disease spores or other contaminants. This is not an idle warning as wax products are sourced from around the globe and often carry American Foul Brood spores!

Some beekeepers will add a few drops of lemon grass oil or other essential oils inside and at the entrance as this is believed by many to attract bees. If you do be very careful in it's use - remember that essential oils are thousands of times the strength of the natural plant that the bees are attracted to and you risk scaring any scouting bees off. Indeed, one of our members believes that it was the essential oils he used that led to his bees absconding after just a short occupation. If you do use these oils I suggest using it on a piece of wood that you put in the box in a plastic bag so it dies not come into contact with the box itself. That way you can remove it if you choose and you won't have impregnated the whole hive. I personally do not use it for these reasons.

Remember that scout bees start searching for new homes a few weeks before they swarm so the longer you have your bait boxes out the better.

Transferring your bees
You also need to check your boxes for occupants regularly. Ideally they should be walked or shaken into your destination hive within a day or two as they start building comb and expending their on-board honey stores immediately. If they have been in the temporary box for more than a couple of days it's decomes more difficult so YABeeP members contact us for advice before doing this. Remember though, it's far better to have a transfer problem to deal with than have no bees at all.

3. Another beekeeper
If you are also in a local association or other bee club ask around your own network of beekeepers. Beekeepers can split strong hives and often sell them on as nucs, they also get to hear of other beekeepers extra colonies and swarms so are definitely worth making contact with – you never know but a friend of a friend may know someone so get talking!

4. Local Bee Keeping Associations
As well as passing on swarms some local Bee Keeping Associations (BKA) will also sell bees though they naturally give priority to their members. It's always worth asking and trying to develop friendly relationships with them.

You need to bear in mind that most local BKAs have no detailed knowledge of our style of natural beekeeping. Some of their senior members are often hostile to it, though I'm happy to say their rank and file membership are much more open minded and don't normally see our methods as being so alien.

As a natural beekeeper you also need to be wary of any BKAs that impose unreasonable mentoring requirements - some of our local BKAs will only allow newbies to have a colony if kept on their apiary for the first season and they may even require that you do so in a national hive. They impose such restrictions because of their 'one size fits all' methodology. Such restrictions are unreasonable and unnecessary so I would avoid any that ask this. Such associations are often quite dictatorial and will require you to manage and treat bees kept on their apiaries in ways that you would not want.

5. Buying Bees from a commercial supplier
Buying bees is an option for beekeepers. There are currently the two options of buying a nuc or a package of bees though the current high volume of demand is resulting in some bee breeders selling confusing the two. It is very important to understand the options so you can ask the seller the right questions.

The better choice - a 'nucleus', or nuc for short, is a colony of bees housed in a small nucleus hive or breeding box. A proper nuc consists of a laying queen and her natural offspring or siblings - in other words a bee hive/colony in miniature. Nucs are usually sold in boxes with 5 or more standard frames of brood and stores for easy transfer to a conventional hive. This makes them easy for conventional beekeepers to integrate into their hives but more difficult to add to a top bar hive (either horizontal or Warré) as to install them one needs to either chop up the frames whilst still covered in bees or shake the bees into their new hive and sacrifice the brood and food stores - either option not being a good fit with sustainable beekeeping! Luckily there are now a few bee breeders raising nucs for Top Bar Hives but they are few and far between. [Update - in our 2011 hive building workshop we have decided to build Warré hives but adapted to allow nuc frames to be easily transferred.]

The bad option - a 'package' of bees on the other hand is a selection of random adult bees scraped into a box (a package) from a viable hive or hives with a caged queen added from an unrelated colony. She has to be caged for her own protection as, until they have had a few days to get used to her and learn her smell, the worker bees would naturally kill her as an alien. There are many problems introduced by mixing unrelated bees. A package of bees comes as a mass of bees in a box without any comb (frames of brood and stores).

Increasingly, again to satisfy current high demand, queens are often imported from abroad. Not only is this a needlessly cruel practice as many queens die in transit without their sisters keeping them warm, but the importation of foreign queens runs a high risk of importing disease and parasites. YABeeP strongly believes that the importing of any bee should be banned to help protect our local species.

Additionally, it is now believed that each bee colony has its own cocktail of attendant beneficial microbes which are genetically adapted to their family line. By mixing unrelated bees this microbial soup is being weakened and hence leading to far weaker bees.

It is also not uncommon for package bees to abscond (pack up and go) in the first week or two as they have no stores, brood or other good reason to stay put - you are at risk of being left with no bees at all despite paying good money for them if buying a package.

Another bad option - a package dressed up as a nuc - Again, due to commercial pressure and the quick profits to be made, some suppliers are putting package bees into a nucleus box with frames and leaving them for a few weeks to build up. They are still unrelated bees with more than likely an imported queen so have all the disadvantages of a straight package.

Consequently, sustainable beekeepers would far rather use a natural swarm to populate our hives. However, we have to recognise that with conventional beekeepers doing all they can to suppress bee's from swarming and the monopolistic stranglehold they have on swarm collection with many Local Authorities it can be quite difficult to obtain swarms. Consequently many sustainable beekeepers have no alternative other than to buy nucs to get themselves started.

Because of the increased demand from the growing number of beekeepers the going rate for a nuc seems to be around £220 - 2011 prices. YABeeP do not recommend individual sellers. We would strongly recommend that you try and find a local supplier who can supply you a naturally grown nuc of local bees. Whatever you do please check that the nuc you are buying doesn't include bees imported from abroad – this is part of the problem for bees today spreading disease and parasites around the globe and is why we have so many problems with the varroa parasite and diseases today!

Whilst it is more difficult to transfer a nuc with national frames to a top bar hive it is possible - see this video of transferring them to a horizontal hive - you really do need to have two people to do this so membership of a group like YABeeP is useful and make sure you have all your equipment ready beforehand - large wood cutters and wire cutters in case the frames are wired. If you prefer to use a Warré hive we would recommend that you build our adapted Warré hive which is designed to make the transfer of bees form a nuc to you hive easy - see this page for details.

Whatever source you use to get your bees, members can always call on YABeeP for help and advice. That's the advantage of belonging to a friendly group.
© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

Footnote: This post may also be of interests.

YABeeP - Swarms - a free swarm collection service

Help, I've got a swarm of bees in my garden!

Honeybee Swarms
April to summer is the season for bees to swarm so you may find one set up camp in your garden. Although a swarm looks and sounds quite alarming they are not dangerous, the bees are only looking for a new home. If you want proof of how safe they are see the videos on this page.

If you live in the North Somerset and surrounding areas1 and want a swarm removed free of charge contact YABeeP on 01934 876275 and we will happily come along and take them away for you. You can also be assured that these bees will be treated kindly and be given a new home by one of our members to play a part in this Project.

If you choose to use someone else else to remove your bees please check what they charge before committing to using their services. Pest control businesses and even some beekeeping groups often make high charges - some N. Somerset beekeepers charge £70 and professional pest controllers will want more.

Please note: It may not always be possible to safely remove swarms where they are too high to safely reach or have set up in an inaccessible site inside a building - this applies to all non-professional bee associations. Such bees can only be removed by professional (and often expensive) removers. We will however be able to give advice on the most sustainable and cost effective options in such circumstances so please call us first for free advice.

Bumble Bees
We can also move bumble bees nests if they are proving to be a problem because of where they have nested - see our Bumblebee rescue Programme. However, we always try and persuade you to keep these gentle creatures if at all possible.
1 We can often attend the surrounding areas as well - Bristol/Mendip/Sedgemoor. If you live here and have a swarm that needs removing call us first to enquire - it could save you money!

Outside Our Area
We will collect swarms from the North Somerset & surrounding areas. For other areas follow these links:

Meetings 2009

YABeeP is primarily about providing peer support to like minded individuals, families and groups. Consequently we try to meet monthly in the Yatton area during the bee season (April to October). We also have the odd special meeting during the winter months and hold bee home building workshops at various dates throughout the year. In the new year we plan to hold a meeting especially designed for new folk wishing to start helping bees.

2009 Programme
  • 11th May
  • 25th May - meeting and hive building workshop
    23rd May
  • 20th June - meeting and hive building workshop
  • 11th July - Bramley House
  • 15th August - Meeting cancelled (holidays)
  • 12th September - St. Margarets
  • 17th October - St. Margarets
  • 5th December - Cheddar - Bumble/Solitary bee Home Building Workshop
  • 7th December - Drum & Monkey, Kenn - Christmas drink/meal
2010 Programme
Meetings allow us to:

  • Welcome new members to learn about our aims and principles and decide whether they wish join us,
  • Provide a meeting point for those already on board to network with each other to expand their own knowledge, ask questions and share new ideas and thoughts on helping bees,
  • Provide an opportunity to get hands on with bees (dependant on weather of course) and see into a working hive
  • Allow us to meet socially, perhaps have occasional BBQs or picnics, etc., after all life’s not all about bees.
If you wish to join one of these meetings please email to let us know how many to expect and for directions. We hope to hear from you.

In addition to the monthly meetings we will arrange hive building workshops as demand dictates. We have now held two of these which not only allowed members starting from scratch to complete their hives,
but all who took part claimed to have a most enjoyable day!

Introducing YABeeP

Launched in March 2009 YABeeP is a local bee project centred on Yatton, North Somerset with members from across North Somerset and beyond.

Our stated aim is:  to provide peer support to individuals and families who want to encourage both wild and honey bees and maybe keep bees themselves. We advocate using bee-friendly natural beekeeping methods. Where our members keep honeybees they do so primarily for the benefit of the bees themselves, not in order to exploit them for forced honey production or personal profit1.

There are several ways this can be done which range from the very simple end of the scale - being more bee-aware in your garden, maybe planting bee friendly plans, not using poisons and pesticides, etc. - right through to housing and looking after bees yourself. Why not come along and meet us and see what you think?

If you wish to provide a home for bees then this can be done in your own garden by:
  1. Hosting a wild bee box – much like you would put up a bird box. At the simple end this can be a small solitary bee house right through to a larger home for honeybees - you put it up and leave it; you'll attract some bees and can enjoy their comings and goings.
  2. Act as host to a natural beekeeper's hive. Maybe you don't yet feel ready to get 'hands on' yourself but can provide a space for a honeybee hive on your property which someone else will look after for you.
  3. Own and manage your own hive – it's your hive, you are responsible for it and reap all the rewards.
Should you choose to go down the honeybee keeping route then YABeeP encourages the use of bee-friendly natural beekeeping, rather than conventional beekeeping practices. We are interested in putting the needs of the bee first. We don't treat them as a resource to farm, or see them as 'ours' in order to 'extract' a cash crop. Granted, as a Sustainable Beekeeper you may be able take some honey most years in return for providing them with a home and protection, but our philosophy is to only do so minimally and only if we are absolutely certain that they have abundant stores to spare. We see our role in beekeeping as a shepherd, observing and honouring and protecting our flock.

If you are particularly interested in honeybees you may be concerned about costs. F
or honeybees YABeeP promotes the use of bee-friendly hives such as the Warré and skep rather than the expensive, labour intensive and far less bee-friendly National hives.
This photo showing the inspection of a horizontal hive was taken in our early years. As a group we have since have since progressed to using far less intrusive methods. Horizontal top bar hives are no longer recommend by YABeeP.
A natural hive can be built for under £50 if you buy new timber from a sawmill. They can also be easily constructed for practically no cost using recycled timber - I made 3 Warré top bar hives this winter from recycled pallets. Natural hives can be built using basic carpentry tools – saw, tape measure, screwdriver, after all they are primarily empty boxes. YABeeP will provide you with the detailed plans and even practical construction sessions for those with no basic woodworking skills or lacking confidence to build one alone. Compare the costs of a top bar hive to conventional beehives which cost between £2-300 depending whether you buy new, second hand, ready made or for self-assembly.

YABeeP acts as a local, friendly group of like-minded folk who network with each other to learn all about bees and their challenges, expand their own knowledge about these wonderful creatures, ask questions and share new ideas and thoughts on helping bees.

Membership of 
YABeeP is free - there are currently no plans for subscription fees though everyone is required to complete a membership form which you can download here or here (81KB Adobe PDF file).

Geography Whilst the project is centred on Yatton, it can be as wide as folk want to make it, we currently have members from as wide an area as Bristol and the Mendip Hills, South Wales, Gloucester and Devon so if you are from the surrounding area and interested please feel free to get in touch.

Interested? We hope you are. If you would like to join us or simply find to out more please email and come along to our next meeting. If you would like to talk it through first please email your land line phone number and we will be in touch.

© Robin Morris - YABeeP
17 May 2009

1 Our aim was updated in January 2012 to reflect that we also act as a natural beekeeping group. Prior to this our published aim was"to use a sustainable approach to protect and increase the local natural bee population in order to see a marked increase in healthy honey, bumble and solitary bees in the area"