Gloucestershire Bee Keepers Association

Cheltenham & Gloucester Branch

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Beekeeping For Beginners

Beekeeping FAQs

What To Do If You Find A Swarm Of Bees

Beekeeping For Beginners

Sylvia and Harriet have completed their first year of the 2 year beekeeping course in the HOTbees scheme and have provided the following advice, observations and information:

The apiary is organised by Mike Hunt. You will be expected to attend there each Friday at 6 p.m. through the spring/summer. If you do not turn up your bees may be ignored and neglected. If it is likely to be difficult, you may have a partner or friend also interested in bee-keeping so you can learn together and share the Fridays and expenses.

For your first few visits you can borrow protective clothing and basic equipment whilst deciding if you want to continue. After about 3 or 4 weeks you should probably purchase these items for yourself. A bee suit is about £80. Gloves can be domestic ‘Marigolds’. Wellington boots complete the outfit. In addition a hive tool and a smoker will together cost around £47, although cheaper smokers are available. PROTECTIVE CLOTHING IS USED ON ALL VISITS TO THE APIARY. If you are unlucky enough to be stung leave the apiary at once and scrape out the sting If you have an allergy to bee stings seek medical advice at once.

Equipment can be purchased through many internet sites including Maisemore Apiaries or by visiting Maisemore Apiaries, Old Road, Maisemore, GL2 8HT Tel: 01452 700289, and purchasing directly. If approaching Maisemore on the A417 near Gloucester, turn right shortly after entering the village, driving past the village hall towards the church. Continue over a cross roads. About one mile from the village, on the right hand side, is the shop (parking space opposite on the left).

At the GBKA-CG Apiary site, Mike will assign you to your first mentor – one of a number of very experienced, voluntary, Cheltenham group members, who will rotate every two weeks, giving you insight into their individual ways of approaching beekeeping. Mike will give you a ‘nuc’ (nucleus) of bees, which is a small group of bees with a queen. The queen is large and slim. She may be marked to aid identification but you should try to recognise her without a mark. The nuc is housed in a small box with a roof on top and a bee entrance below. Bees make a bee-line for the entrance which should be kept clear. Inside the nuc there are about 6 rectangular frames suspended vertically like folders in a filing cabinet with enough space between for the bees to work. Each frame holds a rectangle of foundation wax, formed in a pattern of hundreds of hexagons. The bees add their own beeswax (drawing out the frame) to form hexagonal cylinders called cells. Bees polish the cells with propolis, a glue derived from plant buds and trees.

These cells will subsequently be used for female worker bee development (fertilised egg 3 days -larvae 6 days -pupa 12 days) or for male drone production (unfertilised egg), as well as for the storage of food in the form of nectar, pollen, and honey (concentrated nectar). Bees sometimes make larger cells that hang down on the frames. Eggs in these cells become queens as a result of receiving a specially enriched diet at the early larva stage. A queen, after one mating flight with drones, lives for 2 or 3 years and lays eggs. Drones die after mating or are killed by workers before the winter.

An emerging worker bee starts by cleaning the hive and progresses to feeding larvae, guarding the entrance, mending the hive with beeswax and finally looking for nectar, pollen and propolis in the fields. She lives for 5 to 6 weeks.

queen bee
Drone Bee
worker bee

Queen Bee

Drone Bee

Worker Bee

The weekly visit is based around inspection of the hives. It is necessary to check that:

  1. the bees are not overcrowded
  2. the bees have adequate food supplies (pollen and nectar)
  3. the queen is present and laying eggs
  4. the bees are not going to swarm (Bees make queen cells before swarming)
  5. no pests or diseases are present (wax moth, mouse, woodpecker, varroa etc.)

You will be shown how to open the hive, light and maintain a smoker to calm the bees, and use your hive tool to prise apart frames and boxes that may have been stuck together by propolis. The hive tool remains in the hand at all times to prevent loss.

If all is well your nucleus of bees and food will expand so that additional space will be needed. Then the bees will be transferred to a full-sized brood chamber, which will require more frames (11 in all). These frames are bought from Mike (about £10) who keeps a running total of your expenses. You will learn how to make up new frames with hammer, gimp pins and wax foundation.

With an expanding hive and good weather (there can be as many as 60,000 bees in a hive in the summer), even more space may be required in which to store honey. You will be advised when another box or ‘super’ is to be added on top of the brood chamber. This will entail buying and making up 11 smaller frames. You can borrow a ‘queen excluder’ to prevent the queen from moving into the super to lay eggs. It is the honey that is stored in the super(s) that is taken by the bee-keeper. However during the first year it is unlikely that there will be sufficient for the novice bee-keeper to harvest.

In Sept. Exomite powder is put on a tray in the hive entrance to kill varroa.

In winter the bees (reduced in number) form a cluster to keep warm and need enough honey stores to sustain them. If the hive is not heavy in Sept. the bees will need extra feeding. A half-gallon feeder (about £4) is filled with a saturated sugar solution. This is placed upside down over the hole in the crown board, a lid that is situated just under the roof. An empty super protects the feeder and the roof is placed on top. The feeder and super are removed in a few days. The sugar should be white granulated sugar (4lb or 2kg for half a gallon). The hives are not opened in winter but they may be inspected to make sure there is no damage from wind, mice or woodpeckers and that they are heavy enough. If more feeding is required in Feb/Mar a one pound (454 g) honey jar of sugar syrup with about 12 holes in the lid is used about every 10 days when the weather is warm. Unused sugar syrup should be stored in a freezer. If you visit the apiary on your own, remember to shut the gate.

It is helpful to supplement what is learned at the apiary with a book on the subject, these are both excellent:

Ted Hooper Guide to Bees and Honey £9.95
Clive de Bruyn Practical Beekeeping £24.95

new laid eggs

New laid eggs - small white line on end

Eggs 2-3 days old

Eggs 2-3 days only - small white line flat

white larvae

White larvae

wax capped larvae

Wax-capped larvae - brood brownish/pink

drone cells

Drones cells (dome capped) unfertilised eggs

play cells

Play cells and queen cells (hanging down)


Pollen - a source of protein. Various colours


Nectar (liquid)


Honey - concentrated nectar

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Beekeeping FAQs

This section is currently being worked on by members of GBKA-CG - please check back for updates.

Queen Colour Code
2015 - blue
2016 - White
2017 - Yellow
2018 - Red
2019 - Green

What to do if you find a swarm of bees

Swarming is a natural process by which bees multiply their colonies. Usually, a swarm will form on a branch or bush and the bees will clump together in a shape like a cocoa pod. They will send out a few Search Bees who will look for a new site to build their home. Whilst waiting for the search bees to complete their task, the swarm is normally docile as all the bees have taken on stores of food for the journey and they need to conserve supplies.

If the location of the swarm is accessible it is possible for a beekeeper to collect the swarm and move it to new location/bee hive. We recommend you do not try to move the swarm without an experienced bee keeper. Many swarms will disappear and move on without causing a problem.

What does a collectable swarm look like?

This picture shows a small swarm of honey bees which has gathered on an oak sapling branch. If your swarm looks like this - and is easily accessible then we may be able to deal with it. Typically bees will stay in this swarm cluster for a few hours before moving on (maybe even a couple of days).

IMPORTANT: If the swarm is not out in the open, clustered and accessible we won't be able to collect the swarm. So please do not call us if your bees do not look like the ones in this picture. In this situation please either contact your local council's Pest Control Dept or a private Pest Control Contractor.

If you need assistance with collecting a bee swarm in the Cheltenham, Gloucester or Tewkesbury (only the immediate area please - we only work in this area) area please contact the branch Swarm Co-ordinator for your area: For Cheltenham and Gloucester contact the Swarm Co-ordinator on 01452 478473 and for Tewkesbury contact TBD So please use the BBKA search facility. Alternatively Click here to use the BBKA's new online postcode search facility to find your nearest beekeeper who can help you.

The Swarm Co-ordinators are very busy during the swarming season and are not always able to answer calls immediately. They have no budget for operating this co-ordination service, and are unable to return answer-phone messages. Please call again if you do not get through to them the first time. Please note that many beekeepers also have day jobs and it is likely you will have to wait for a response. Please be patient and understand that we are a group of voluntary, local bee keepers - we are not a commercial operation providing a 24x7 swarm collection service.

The swarm Co-ordinator will provide contact details of a local beekeeper in your area who may be able to collect the swarm - depending on where it's located. The beekeeper may charge expenses for this service. We are only able to deal with honey bees (in accessible locations) NOT WASPS or bumble bees. Our aim is to remove the live swarm not to destroy it. Our bee keepers are all local enthusiasts and not commercial bee keepers or pest control officers, whilst swarm collection is not our responsibility, we are happy to help if we can. Alternatively please contact your local police or local council for assistance with the swarm.

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