Are you wondering if it is essential to do a beekeeping course before starting beekeeping? Our short answer is – YES. In this post we’re going to explore why it is essential for anyone who wants to go into beekeeping the do a course and then also what to look for in a beekeeping course.
Why Should I Do A Beekeeping Course?
You may think that you are fully invested in taking up beekeeping as a hobby, however until you properly get your hands into a hive you will not know what it is like to have bees. Some of our course attendees even believe that they already understand what it is like to have bees flying around you, crawling on your hands and stinging you, but once they get to the practical session of our course, they just freeze up (or they run away).
Reading all the materials and books that you can on beekeeping can be extremely useful, but you really have to get hands on experience to understand your capabilities, sometimes frames, supers or brood boxes are heavier than you think.
What to Look For in A Beekeeping Course
We’ve personally been running beginner beekeeping courses and tasters for quite a few years. They’ve developed, regressed and changed dramatically because we are always trying to give our customers what they want. We take feedback very seriously and it’s helped us time and time again to try and create a good value and unforgettable experience.
Practical Handling & Group Size
I couldn’t stress enough the importance of the beekeeping course to allow you to handle the bees yourself. Obviously not without the teacher initially, but we all need to build up the confidence to adequately handle bees eventually independent of others. A good course should not have a huge group (depending on how many teachers there are). For example, on our course we have two teachers with a maximum of 5 students in each group for the practical handling session. This allows for each person to have a good amount of time looking through the bees themselves with a chance to discuss with the teacher.
Handling Different Frame Sizes
If a course specifically allows you try out different equipment sizes then that will give you an excellent idea of what will suit you as a beekeeper. You may find that you need the smallest/lightest kit, i.e. the national, obviously this comes with downsides such as less space to lay for the queen and therefore you have to be on your toes to prevent swarming. The commercial and langstroth have shorter lugs which may be more difficult for some people to handle, so it is advantageous to be able to handle them when they have been fully pulled and filled to give you a realistic idea of using them practically in the future.
Handling Different Breeds
It is quite rare to find a course that explicitly states that it attempts to show you different strains of bees. There are a lot of different strains on the market and the information given to you can be a little overwhelming to say the least. Therefore, being able to practically handle different strains will allow you to see subtle differences in temperament and prolificness.
We do our best to keep our colonies showing a different variation of the strains, however colour is not always the best indication of the strain! For example the Buckfast has been crossed with so many different strains that the colour variation is not always predictable. Needless to say that most of the queens that we use are open mated, meaning the queen is free to mate with any drone, this means that there can be a mix of genetic material within each queen’s lifespan.
Some beekeeping courses add a little something special for your day. for example River Cottage and The London Honey Company provide lunch. For us, we always try to make a honey cake to eat during our tea break, a honey tasting and we also give everyone a 12oz jar of honey to take back home with them.
Alternatives to a Beekeeping Course
The only reason to not do a standard one or two day beekeeping course is going through some different avenues. However the principle is the same, that you have some practical experience before getting your own bees.
Go to the Local Association
A lot of beekeeping associations run introductory beekeeping courses throughout the winter, this leads up to a handling session in spring. This can often be very good value of money, bear in mind you will also have to pay the fee to join the association to begin with. This varies greatly between the associations so it is best to contact them directly. Either way, it is a great way to grow as a beekeeper as you have many experienced beekeepers guiding and supporting you on your journey.
Shadowing a Mentor
Does your neighbour have bees? Maybe they’ve had bees for years! Having a mentor is a great way to learn with very little time pressure as well as building a lifelong friendship. One on one training is an incredible opportunity to learn but one thing we may say is that don’t take everything they say as ‘gospel truth’ there are many different approaches to beekeeping and it is always great to incorporate new methods as you learn.
Volunteer at a Beefarm
If you live near a bee farming business maybe they would be willing to take a volunteer. That way you can learn on the job as well as having the added benefit of seeing many different colonies in a short space of time. Actually our very own Sian learnt this way from a bee farmer in London!
It’s clear to see that we are extremely pro-course! Not just because we are selling a beekeeping course ourselves but because we have had a lot of experience giving advice to new, hobbyist beekeepers. We just despair when we get a phone call for advice and they are oblivious to even the basics of beekeeping (like not knowing what eggs look like!) and yet here they are with a struggling colony of bees and it is almost impossible to give accurate advice when the caller cannot even explain what appears to be wrong with the colony.
Beekeeping is a huge responsibility, not just to the health and wellbeing of your bees, but to your fellow neighbours and other beekeepers in your proximity. Beekeeping has a lot to it, and there’s no way that you can learn all of that from a book, likewise you can’t learn everything just by handling bees! It is most certainly a combination of both, but if you’ve had zero experience looking after bees (or getting stung) then it is essential to do a course or gaining some practical experience before investing in this new hobby. Remember, bees are not just for a season, they are hopefully for life!