Beekeeping can be an engrossing craft and can offer multifaceted positive experiences and learning opportunities for groups of all ages.
ADBKA regularly receives enquiries from community groups, schools and companies considering taking up some form of collective beekeeping. One of ADBKA’s charitable purposes is the promotion of beekeeping in the wider community and we are very happy to help wherever possible and to the extent we can. However, the Association is made up of volunteers so we rely on member goodwill to do so.
We can almost always help organisations develop their ideas by offering, free;
- An introductory talk about beekeeping
- An apiary site visit to assess suitability and offer design suggestions
- Advice on how to set up a successful communal beekeeping operation
- Contact with similar groups
- Direction towards additional online/paper resources
- Support with formal risk assessments if required
- Ad-hoc advice on occasional queries as you develop your ideas and plans
We can ask amongst our members to see if anyone is interested in a deeper and longer engagement with an organisation to provide for example mentoring, technical support, training etc., but cannot guarantee that anyone would come forward.
ADBKA currently do not generally offer dedicated training for organisations although it might be possible. We run an ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course in February-March each year, open to the public. The timing leads in to the active beekeeping season. This course gives participants a detailed appreciation of the craft of beekeeping, including the considerations in, and pathway to, getting started. But it does not teach beekeeping skills which are best learned under experienced supervision ‘over the hive’. Membership of ADBKA provides several benefits including being able to participate at our training apiary. There are sometimes practical skills courses held elsewhere in Scotland.
Some initial advice…
Successful modern beekeeping is somewhat more complex and demanding than simply putting some bees in a hive and waiting for the honey. Beekeeping is livestock husbandry, in essence little different from keeping say chickens or sheep; the bee stock must be actively managed, with attention paid to nutrition and health, in an appropriate environment. This takes time and effort. There are regulations in respect of bee health and honey processing and sales. Mistakes can be costly and/or take an entire season to recover from.
Key questions organisations should ask themselves if considering beekeeping…
Who will develop the skills and run the operation? Is it sustainable? Getting an experienced beekeeper(s) involved at the outset obviously helps a great deal until others build up knowledge and skills.
Individual prospective beekeepers are usually advised to join a local beekeeping Association, take a course(s) and find a beekeeping mentor if possible, and the key individuals in organisations should follow the same path. (See our document ‘Starting with beekeeping – hobbyists’ for more initial guidance for the prospective beekeeper.)
It usually takes beginners a couple of seasons/years before they have developed some basic skills and feel reasonably independent.
Obviously the more people in an organisation who commit to becoming competent beekeepers the better. Learning and working together can be fun and may be part of an organisation’s objectives in taking up beekeeping.
Where will you keep the bees? There are many desirable attributes of a good apiary and a site seldom has them all. The bees need a relatively warm, sheltered location with access to forage ideally within a mile or two. The beekeeper needs good access to the site, sufficient space around the hives to work and somewhere to store spare equipment. The location should not create hazards for the public (e.g. bees flying across busy footpaths) and needs to be secure (vandalism and theft are rare but not unknown) or at the very least, low-key.
What scale of operation should you aim for? At least two hives are usually recommended, as this gives a means of self-recovery if problems are encountered in one hive, as well as providing more experience in seeing the variability of colonies and understanding what constitutes ‘normal’ or at least ‘ok’. If you intend to do group work over a hive, e.g. school or club groups, then be aware that about six-eight people around a hive is about a practical maximum to get a really good view and actively participate.
Cost? An initial set up could cost around £1,800 divided roughly equally between two stocked hives, with accessories and ancillary equipment, and say eight beesuits. Annual running costs are roughly £20 per hive for consumables. Basic equipment to extract and process honey from two hives might cost a further £400-500. (All costs for good quality, brand new equipment in 2020).
Timing – Seasonality. There is little to do outside with the bees between October and March beyond occasional external visual checks of the hives. This is usually a period for equipment cleaning and maintenance. April-June and August-September tend to be the busiest months. The bees must be regularly inspected on a seven day cycle in April-June; allow one hour per week. Some activities are better or necessarily done in the evening and some may have to be done at short notice. How does this fit with your organisation’s activities and programmes?