Beekeeping & Hive Maintenance

Advice from our Heligan expert

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Becky Alton
Productive Grower at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
14 June 2022

Becky is a gardener at Heligan and has been kind enough to share with us her valuable knowledge about beekeeping.

A journey into keeping bees

As a keen horticulturist I also have a keen interest in beekeeping, and have been looking after two hives for nearly four years now. Unlike some other beekeepers, I don’t harvest the honey as I feel I want to be able to just keep a healthy and happy home for them.

By ensuring they have adequate honey supplies makes me feel that they will be happier and healthier bees.

Doing the research

Before I purchased the hives I first wanted to understand bees, their life cycles and the maintenance needed in keeping bees, so I did a 3 month course which was really beneficial and so interesting.

It actually made me even more curious about the activity within the hives and sparked a passion! If you are interested in beekeeping then I would recommend contacting your local Beekeeping Association for advice and to undergo a similar course before thinking about getting hives.

Keeping a close eye

The start of spring and onset of warmer days is the time when I start to inspect my hives and they provide an endless source of fascination for me. I have recently inspected my two hives and have made notes on what I need to do or what I saw whilst inspecting.

I usually inspect every 7- 10 days, and look out for things such as any disease, swarming intentions, the Queen and brood patterns.

Which hive Is best?

I use a hive called a ‘BS National hive’, which is one of the most popular hives to use due to it being super easy to handle for beginners. At Heligan there are still some Heritage Skeps on display – traditional beehives made from woven straw.

These are no longer in common use in the UK due to being more difficult to manage and inspect than their modern counterparts. A National hive consists of the following parts:

The parts of a national hive

A Brood Box – This is where the eggs are laid and the queen stays, this is located at the bottom of the hive.
A Super Box – The place where all the honey is stored and capped and sits on top of the brood box. I’ve recently bought two more supers for my hives as although it is just a small colony of bees, they are expanding. One of my hives didn’t have a super at all, and the other hive has a super full of honey so will give them another box to fill.
Queen Excluder – Between the brood and the super is the queen excluder, which is essentially a flat piece of mesh made from plastic or metal which stops the queen laying eggs in the super box.
Crown Board – This goes on top of the super box – these can have feeders placed on top during the winter months, so the bees have plenty of food supply and then a lid that goes on top.

Making a start!

Once you have a hive in place and are ready to start beekeeping, you will be ready to purchase some bees. You can either do this online, or through an association.

Bees are sold as a nucleus – which will usually be around five frames which include brood and bees. You can also buy queens separately. I opted for the harder approach as a beginner and caught swarms. Most associations also offer practical days to help with your experience which is always great to go to and experience the real buzzzzzz…