Writing this article was prompted by the number of requests from prospective beekeepers as to how they can get started in the fascinating world of beekeeping.
If you are thinking of keeping bees then now is the time to start thinking more seriously about it. Beekeeping is not something you can learn from books any more than you could learn to be a mechanic or a surgeon from books. What you need is hands on experience.
This is not the time to rush out and buy a hive and a smoker and all the fancy addons that the catalogues would have us believe are so vital. (Anybody want to buy my decapping knife?) Any purchase beyond a bee suit and a box of disposable gloves could be an expensive mistake.
Most bee keepers are really helpful and very free with their advice. One way you could get started now, in the summer, is to get in touch with your local bee keeping association and see if there is someone who is prepared to take you on a hive inspection.
I have had prospective beekeepers with me and suited up they have spent an hour or so looking into the hive. From my experience after that experience most newbies fall into one of two groups. Either they get bored or frightened and say nice things, thank you and disappear, or they are fascinated and cannot wait to go on another inspection.
If you are one of those who wish to go on to become a beekeeper then summer is probably not a good time to rush out and buy a new hive. Better to join your local group and register your interest in doing the beginners' course next year. These courses fill up very quickly and best to get your name in early.
Also see if there is anybody who is prepared to let you shadow them over the rest of the season. Many beekeepers will welcome a willing extra pair of hands even if at the start all you do is keep the smoker smoking.
Spend the winter reading up about bee keeping, watch the YouTube videos and browse through the catalogues. That way you will be ready for next spring and getting your first hive up and running,
But what next?
After a year of beekeeping then you are in a position to take BBKA exams. These are not obligatory and I know many admirable beekeepers who have not taken any of the exams and some who have taken their first exam after many years of bee keeping,
Full details of the BBKA exams can be found here. In summary you can do the Basic Assessment after keeping bees for 12 months. This is a practical exam with oral questions conducted at an apiary near you but not yours.
Once that is out of the way there are several different modules you can take which can lead on to the coveted title of "Master Beekeeper". The flowchart for those who aspire to such an honour can be found here.
As I said exams are not for everybody but they can help focus your learning and give you something to work for whilst your bees are having a winter break.