Self Sufficient Living
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Unlike most other aspects of self-sufficiency,
beekeeping is not essential to producing your own food. While honey can
replace sugar in almost any recipe it's entirely unneccessary in a
balanced diet. Despite this, home beekeeping can be an incredible asset
to any smallholder, particularly those with little or no land for
- Little space - nothing can compete with the
amount of yield per square foot that bees can produce as they can
harvest nectar from miles around and always return to their queen.
Keeping bees is possible without any land, as they gather nectar
from other people's land. Even city centres should have enough
flowers locally to produce good amounts of honey. Rooftops are the
best place to keep hives as their flight paths are well above human
- Little effort - bees are not domesticated to
depend on humans, they work continuously for their own colony and
essentially we steal the excess honey they work so hard to produce
- beekeepers with less than 20 hives will generally spend about an
hour a week tending to the hives, mostly just keeping an eye on
them to ensure they have enough to keep going and the colony is not
growing too big for it's hive. Bees are more self-sufficient than
we could ever hope to be.
- High return - Honey is enjoyed by many and (as
the bees do most of the work) producing poor quality is impossible.
Honey is a luxury item which can add enjoyment to your life, as
well as being a good source of income. If you can sell what you
don't need you should cover the cost of equipment in your first
year (if you don't, honey is self preserving, and will keep
forever). Honey is better for you and sweeter than sugar (use two
thirds the amount when replacing sugar with honey in any recipe)
Beeswax is also a highly prized by-product, which can be used to
make high quality soap, candles, lip balm, rust prevention and
lubricant, metal or wood polish, or to condition and waterproof
Bees live in colonies which work like a single organism. There is
only one queen who lays eggs in the brood chamber. She is fertilised
by the drones and the rest are workers who make the cells of the
combs, clean them, fill them with nectar and honey, guard the hive
and forage for nectar. A beekeepers job is to provide the hive for
colonies to live in, make sure they are strong and healthy, prevent
them from becoming overcrowded and swarming. Bees only need to be
looked after in spring and summer, as they hibernate from late autumn
until the end of winter.
You will need:
- A beehive - can be bought second hand at
- A Bee Veil - covers just the face, and gloves
for your hands, or you can buy a full beekeepers suit on eBay for
about the price of a fancy dress costume (another use!)
- A smoker - which calms the bees and makes them
less likely to sting.
- An extractor - can usually be borrowed. One of
many reasons why joining a local group is highly recommended.
Buying an efficient extractor is too expensive unless you use it
regularly with more than a dozen hives.
Most of the bees requirements are built into the hive, although a
feeder filled with sugar water might be needed if you take large A
modern beehive is made up of several sections which help to separate
the bees from their honey:
- Brood chamber - Where the queen lays her
- Deep brood frame - additional space for growing
young, as well as storing nectar and honey, depending on it's
- Queen Excluder - Board with holes through which
the queen is too large to pass, separating her.
- Clearing board - Board through which bees can
only pass in one direction.
- Super - Section which can be harvested for honey
Beekeeping may not take much of your time, but it does require some
time to gain knowledge and experience before you can become a competent
beekeeper. It's best to join a local club to gain experience and
guidance from more experienced hobbyists before purchasing your first
hive. Beekeeping courses are usually quite expensive but there is an online course you can take which is much cheaper
and can be referred back to if any problems arise.
Beekeeping-Basics.pdf - Basic Beekeeping
Small-beekeeping-doc.pdf - 7 thing you should know
before keeping bees.
Glossary of terms:
Brood - The eggs and young grubs of bees
Swarm - A colony of bees
Swarming - when a swarm produces another queen
and splits into 2 in mid to late spring
Skep - Old fashioned beehive less efficient and
unsustainable as bees are often killed when removing honey
Cappings - The beeswax which is removed with a
flat knife when extracting honey