Urban beekeeping is gaining in popularity! Living Circular explains the five steps for setting up your own hives.
First and foremost, make sure you - and the people around you - are not allergic to bees!
Step 1: From theory to practice
Read all you can about bees! In France, the Rustica guide to beekeeping is THE essential reading (in English, we recommend the Ted Hooper Guide). But whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to educational resources – some wonderful films and books describing the behavior of bees have been produced. It doesn’t mean you should necessarily get started on your own. Even very basic training (both theoretical and practical) is highly recommended. It should stop you getting stung or confusing bumblebees with bees! The best thing to do is check with a beekeeper’s organization. You could also take a beekeeping class or find an internship with a beekeeper – the idea being to give you some practical experience and test your motivation. With any luck, you’ll get all the best tips too.
- List of national beekeeping organizations in European Union member countries
- List of some beekeeping organization in the States
- Founded in 1856 by Henri Hamet, the Société Centrale d'Apiculture is the oldest one in France and the second oldest in the world. (French)
Step 2: Getting geared up (almost) like a pro
You will end up with an amazing look - with your suit, veil to protect you from the bees, and of course your smoker! This basic equipment can be bought from specialty stores and agricultural cooperatives. A tip you will often hear - don’t skimp on quality.
- Beekeeping equipment and prices (French)
Step 3: Offer your (future) bees the home they deserve
Take time to think about the kind of hives you want as there are a number of different alternatives, some of which are not suitable for beginners. Opt for a standard model, such as the Dadant hive, which is the most widely used in the world.
Good news! Making a home-made hive is easy and cheap. However, several essential elements must be included and it has to comply with certain rules, particularly in relation to its location. There is no shortage of free plans on the Internet, but be sure to read the comments left by users who have tested the tutorial, and follow the instructions to the letter. You don’t want to improvise when you are building your first hive. Another option would be to buy a beginner's kit at around 250 euros - these usually contain a hive to assemble, protective clothing, basic cleaning products, and even helpful guides.
This is a community project that is studying bees and combating the alarming decline in bee colonies. The team has developed two open source hives, available to order: the Colorado Top Bar and the Barcelona Warré. Equipped with sensors, they allow beekeepers to monitor the colony, share data on the Web and get advice from an international network of scientists and enthusiasts.
Step 4: Welcome your new friends
The price of a swarm of bees (preferably local) varies according to several factors, but will usually be somewhere between 60 and 140 euros. Once purchased, you have to transfer the swarm to your hive (early morning or late evening) and turn it into colony. If you are worried about this fairly complicated step, you could acquire a hive that is already populated with bees. However, if you are very clever, you could catch a wild swarm!
- Buying bees: the options (French)
Step 5: The red tape
When your apiary is in place, you have to declare it (and then declare your hives every year) and take out insurance cover. You will be issued with an identification number (Numagrin) and a beekeeper number.
- Declaring bees and apiaries in France (French)
Bonus: What about adopting some bees?
You really want bees... but you are worried about taking that first step? Hosting one or more hives could be a good solution to learning about the wonderful world of bees. The idea is to rent a piece of your land to a beekeeper for the hives. The bees will be taken care of and the honey will be collected - each visit would be an opportunity to observe the colony and at the same time pick up a few valuable tips.
- Bee Happy is full of advice and offers a matchmaking service for hosts and beekeepers. (French)
- Les Abeilles et la Vie, by Didier Van Cauwelaert. This captivating advocacy for bees won the Environment Book Prize.
Main picture: ©Getty images / OJO Images / Anthony Lee