Top Tips for setting up a Community Beekeeping Group

Initial Plan:

Decide what your group is going to aim for first, things to consider include practical beekeeping, honey as a product, ‘support’ activites such as planting at your apiaries and educational and peripheral awareness raising activities.

It is probably easier to tackle the practical beekeeping side first, especially if there is no funding in place. Initial costs can be easily identified and numbers of hives easily modified according to membership numbers. Using a local Transition Town Initiative / Community Supported Agriculture Initiative or similar as a launch pad can be very useful, both in terms of funding and member recruitment. However, if that is not a viable option putting some awareness raising material together first may help with recruiting members, the difficulty being with cost / funding.

Practical Beekeeping:

Training: Having 2 beekeepers in the group is a good starting point, facilitating support and ‘cover’ should anyone need a holiday or be incapacitated for any reason in the summer season.

I would recommend all new beekeepers take a beginners course, either one hosted by a local BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) or by another agency such as the Natural Beekeeping Trust. BBKA ones are usually held over either 2 days or a series of evenings. Costs vary, currently there are courses running from as little as £30 to as much as £200.

The Natural Beekeeping Trust also run training courses, focusing less on a conventional, commercial style of beekeeping but on a more sustainable one. Although it would be perfectly feasible to bypass the BBKA training in favour of this one I personally believe that exploring both methods will provide the most support for new beekeepers and promote dialogue between the two camps. Again, it comes down to the aims and requirements of the group.

Insurance: Joining the BBKA via your local association affords a great deal of support from experienced beekeepers, in addition to providing basic Public Liabilty insurance and Bee Disease Insurance for up to 3 hives. This should cost approximately £25-£30 each member each year.

BeeBase: Registering with this free service helps all beekeepers, as notification of disease in your area will be sent to you. You are also entitled to a free bee inspection.

Hives: In the UK the most commonly used hive is the British National (BN). It consists of a series of stacking boxes that house frames of pre-printed wax foundation for the bees to draw their comb out on. This is the type of hive a BBKA course would train you to use, it is readily available both new and secondhand.

However, there is an emerging trend for Top Bar Hives (TBH’s) which come in two main styles, stacking boxes (Warre) or horizontal (hTBH, also some times known as Tanzanian or Kenyan). The major difference with these being that the bees build their own comb from scratch to their own specifications and the Queen is allowed to roam freely throughout the hive. There may be less honey produced but the bees should be functioning more sustainably and in as natural a way possible within the constraints of responsible modern beekeeping. hTBH’s are easily made and free plans are easily downloaded from the internet.

Clothing:Protective clothing is a must and varies from full length suits to jackets or even just veils. Budget is likely to determine your choice. We have found that 8 people around a hive is our maximum at any one time. Don’t forget gloves!

Basic Equipment:Each beekeeper should have a smoker and smoker fuel (lots of choice, we have been using woodshavings recently), a hive tool (J-shaped are best) and a brush / goose feather as a minimum. There are also several good basic beekeeping books around.

Honey:Decide whether honey is a product to be shared between members or a product to be sold, or a combination of the two. You will need some jars and lidded storage containers. Most local BBKA groups have equipment that can be borrowed for extracting honey (i.e. centrifugal or tangenital extraction machine and strainer buckets). Our basic extraction kit is costing us approximately £500 to buy this year.

A possible order of events:

* Calculate the costs of training, insuring and equipping 2 beekeepers in your area.
* Calculate the costs of buying 2 hives, many suppliers offer beginners packages.
* Calculate the costs of buying 2 nucleus’ of bees (probably £100 – £200 each) and make friends with local beekeepers that may provide you with a swarm instead.
* Decide on a reasonable membership subscription rate and divide the above by it to see how many members you need to have – not forgetting to allow a contingency for consumables such as sugar, oxalic acid, smoker fuel, thymol, honey jars and unknowns such as nosema treatment.
* Set up a website with a membership form advertising your group and blogging your activities.
* Write a press release / posters / leaflets etc.
* Get busy replying to your new members, building a database (of names, payments, contact details, personal interests – such as beekeeping/plants/education/hive visits/no contact), getting beekeepers trained and ordering your equipment!
* Organise a meeting and sample the group for ideas about direction.
* Plan your other activities and apply for funding as appropriate.
* Get beekeeping!

Bungay Community Bees offers short training courses on setting up a Community Supported Apiculture Scheme, whereby we cover these topics but also offer advice on some of our other projects and share our experiences and links with others. We ask for travel expenses and a donation towards our educational work. If you are interested you can contact us:
* via this website
* by telephoning 01986 948154 / 07791 495 012
* by emailing bees@sustainablebungay.com

If you’d like to join us for the 2012 beekeeping season please click the button below and fill in the form:

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