Some frequently asked questions
1. How many bees are there in a hive?
One queen, about 50,000 worker bees in mid summer, and a few hundred male drones.
2. How much honey do they make?
A hive consumes about 150 pounds of honey in a full year, plus about 50 pounds of pollen, which the bees feed to the young bees.
3. How much honey does the beekeeper get?
This depends on the weather, the performance of the bees, and the skill of the beekeeper. We usually expect about 30 pounds of honey per hive per year, plus an extra 30 pounds if the bees are moved to the oil seed rape in May or the heather in August.
4. How many beekeepers are there locally?
Conwy BKA has over 160 members (at July 2013) from Anglesey to Chester, and inland to Blaenau Ffestiniog. There are also neighbouring associations in Anglesey, Lleyn & Eifion, South Clwyd and Flintshire. A few beekeepers prefer to keep bees without the support of an Association. Conwy BKA is affiliated to the Welsh Beekeepers Association.
5. What do I need to start beekeeping?
A National beehive, a colony of bees, a smoker, a hive tool and a bee suit and gloves. Total cost approx £350. If you get a second hand hive, but you must blowlamp the old hive clean all over. Burn any old frames, they may contain spores of Foul Brood Disease, which can only be destroyed by fire.
6. Do you often get stung?
Not if we can help it! Some bees sting more than others. Beekeeping is a lot more fun if your bees are gentle. We recommend that you wear an all in one bee suit and gloves, costing about £110 and well worth it. We can lend you a bee suit and gloves for use during our apiary meetings.
If you do get stung, you should scratch the sting out of your skin, to prevent the sting pumping venom. Most beekeepers become immune to stings within their first season with the bees.
7. When is the best time of year to start beekeeping?
We recommend that you get your bees in May or June. Then someone else will have brought them through the winter.
8. Where can I learn how to keep bees?
We run a very popular evening class with National Beekeeping Centre Wales at Henfaes near Llanfairfechan every winter. The class soon fills up.
We hold monthly evening meetings at Craig y Don community centre near Llandudno on the last Monday of the month from September until April.
We meet outdoors with the bees at the Conwy Beekeepers’ Association apiary at Tal y Cafn on weekend afternoons, every four weeks from April to August.
We also hold taster days, with talks in the morning at Rowen Memorial Hall and the afternoon with the bees at Tal y Cafn.
9. Where can I get my first bees?
There are three choices: Wait for a swarm in May or June, buy a nucleus of bees or buy a full hive of bees. We recommend that new beekeepers start with a nucleus.
10. What is a swarm?
Swarming is the bees’ way of increasing the species. When the hive becomes crowded with bees, the colony raises a new queen, by feeding a worker egg with royal jelly. The new queen emerges after 15 days.
The old queen then flies from the hive, with about half of the workers. The swarm settles on a bush, wall or tree, while scout bees fly around looking for a home. At this stage, the swarm can easily be shaken into an empty hive.
The young queen is still in the original hive. She flies out after a few days to mate with several drones, returns to the hive, and then starts laying eggs. Thus, one hive becomes two!
We can usually let you know of local swarms awaiting collection in May or June.
11. What is a nucleus?
A small stock of bees, 5 or 6 combs of bees on frames, a young laying queen and a few drones. Several members of Conwy BKA raise nucs for sale. You collect your nuc hive of bees, transfer it into your own hive, return the empty nuc hive to the supplier, and build the bees up into a full stock during the first summer, adding frames and feeding as required.
12. I’ve heard of an old beekeeper who is packing up. Should I buy his bees?
Yes, but do ask the Seasonal Bee Inspector to inspect the bees for disease before moving the hive home, and ask the inspector to advise on the condition of the hive and combs.
13. Should I buy bees from outside the area?
No. Locally raised bees will usually out-perform bees from away. Bees brought into the area may be carrying diseases.
14. Can I keep bees in my garden?
Some of our members do keep bees in the garden, but it helps if the bees can fly out onto open country. Your neighbours will not enjoy being stung. The hive should face south, to get the early morning sunshine.
15. Why is some honey liquid and some set?
All honey starts out as a clear liquid. Some honey stays liquid, and some granulate very quickly, depending on the types of natural sugars in the honey, eg. Lime honey stays clear for many months and oil seed rape honey granulates very quickly.
16. How do you get the honey out of the comb?
We spin the combs round in an extractor, four or more combs at a time, and the honey flies out by centrifugal force into the extractor tank. We then strain the honey through muslin, let it settle for a day or two, and then bottle it.
17. Do you add anything to the honey?
18. I saw lots of different honey at the Conwy Honey Fair. How do you know which type is which?
Only a handful of different flowers produce large quantities of honey. The first honey of the year is from the sycamore trees in May, then the lime trees in July, and then we move the hives to the heather in August. Sometimes, we also move the hives to fields of oil seed rape in April. Other areas may get honey from clover or borage.
19. You move the bees?
Yes, we close the hives and strap them tight in the evening and then move them in the back of the car.
20. You move the bees in the car? That sounds dangerous!
It can be risky, but with practice the moves are usually fairly trouble-free.
21. Don’t they just fly home?
We move them more than three miles and then they don’t fly home.
22. Don’t people disturb the hives?
Very rarely. We always try to site the hives well away from footpaths.
23. What was this problem with Chinese honey a few years ago?
The EU banned all Chinese honey, because samples were found to be tainted with antibiotics. Antibiotics are not allowed in foodstuffs, because they will lose their effectiveness if they join the food chain, ie. We’ll become immune to their good effects.
24. How did antibiotics find their way into honey? I thought it was a pure product.
Chinese beekeepers had fed antibiotics to their bees to try to treat foul brood. In the UK, foul brood is a notifiable disease and infected hives have to be burned by the Bee Inspector.
25. How many cases of foul brood have been found in the Conwy BKA area in the last 25 years?
Just three. In all cases the bees and combs were burned and Bee Diseases Insurance compensated the beekeepers. Insurance is included in members’ subs.
26. Tell me about this mite affecting the bees.
Varroa mites now affect hives of honeybees throughout the world. The mites are parasites living on the bees and on the developing brood, weakening the colony. Varroa cannot be eradicated, but the mites can be controlled. We place a tray of Apiguard, a thymol gel, in the hives for four weeks in late summer, after the honey crop has been removed.
The medication kills the mites. If a hive is not treated the untreated colony will collapse within a year. Bees from other treated hives will then rob any honey left in the collapsed hive and they will pick up mites, which then re-infest their treated hive. We treat the hives every year to keep re-infestation to a minimum. We vary the treatment from year to year, to prevent the mites becoming resistant. We also use non-chemical methods to keep down the number of mites in the hive, eg ventilated floors, to allow varroa mites to fall out of the hive..
27. Tell me about the problems with Colony Collapse Disorder affecting bees in America.
CCD has received a lot of publicity, but the causes have not yet been determined. Possible causes are stress caused by moving hives from crop to crop, viruses made worse by varroa, excessive use of pesticides, and beekeepers not keeping up to date with changes to varroa treatments.
28. How much time do you spend with the bees?
One hive takes just a few hours work per week from April to September. The regular checks are: Are the bees healthy? Is there enough room for egg laying and honey storage? If not, we add another box of combs. Are they preparing to swarm? Have they got enough food? What flowers are they working?
29. What are the best aspects of beekeeping?
Working outdoors with nature, producing a valuable foodstuff, long local history of beekeeping, sharing experiences with others, visiting beekeepers abroad, studying history of beekeeping, only six months work per year.
30. Is beekeeping addictive?
Yes. We have many local beekeepers with 25 years experience and several with over 50 years. We all look forward to the start of the next beekeeping season.
31. How many members does Conwy BKA have?
More than 120. Our membership has doubled in the last five years.
32. I didn’t know keeping bees was so popular.
33. Where can I buy beekeeping equipment?
Our local stockist is Wynne Jones of Ruthin. He delivers locally. The Association stocks some consumable items.
34. What are the benefits of joining Conwy BKA?
Visit our website and see our list of reasons to join.
35. Thank you. You’ve sold me on the idea! How do I join?
Contact the secretary: Peter McFadden, “Ynys Goch”, Ty’n y Groes, Conwy LL32 8UH. Tel: 01492 650851.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.conwybeekeepers.org.uk
36. Where can I find information on beekeepers’ associations in other parts of Wales?
Visit the Welsh BKA website, which lists all the Associations. www.wbka.com
FAQs provided by Peter McFadden & Ruth Bethell.