Zillions of other Beekeepers!

A Honeybee
A Honeybee

Even though I live in a densely populated country, there are plenty of rural places to escape to, and these are the places that I keep my bees. I’m not keen on the idea of having bees in my garden. I don’t happen to have a four-acre garden, sadly. I have neighbours with kids, a nearby school, and a curious beagle who hunts moths at night as they hover around the garden lights. It’s not ideal honeybee terrain.

A nation of hobby beekeepers

My apiaries are registered on Bee Base which is the responsible thing to do. It allows bee inspectors to know where bees are so that they can plan their inspections. Unfortunately, not all beekeepers are registered, making it challenging to obtain accurate numbers. The European Union has some interesting data in this 2019 honey market overview. It reports that the UK has 244,000 colonies and 40, 275 beekeepers. Most of them are small scale, and the UK actually has the lowest number of hives in Europe per beekeeper (6 colonies).

UK: Lowest number of hives per beekeeper
UK: Lowest number of hives per beekeeper

We are a nation of hobby beekeepers. Approximately 400 commercial bee farmers ply their trade here, and they have hundreds or in some cases, thousands of colonies. The majority of beekeepers have a just couple of hives. To me, this is odd because if I find something that I enjoy, I tend to become obsessed with it and get deeply involved. I mean, if you are going to have two hives, why not have ten? And if you’re going to have ten…Perhaps I’m the odd one?

Honey prices too low

Honey yield by Country
Honey yield by Country

Europe is a net importer of honey, much of it from China, which is a shame. Anyone who has tasted imported honey from a supermarket and compared it to pure honey from a beekeeper would be forgiven for thinking they are entirely different products. The availability and price of these bland tasting imports are what keeps the price of good local honey below what it should be. If you pay £5 for a jar of imported stuff, you should really be happy to pay £10 for proper local honey, because it is far superior. Hobby beekeepers often under-charge for their products because they do it for fun, not profit, but that too drags down the market price.

Despite the above, the EU data shows that in the UK, our honey is quite expensive compared to most member states, including bulk honey. I wonder if that has something to do with our often unpredictable weather. Good honey years are not so common in our rainy, windswept land. Ireland is in the same boat, so to speak.

Bulk honey prices
Bulk honey prices

How many?!

Anyway, back to Bee Base. When you enter the location of your apiary into the database, it shows you how many other apiaries there are within a 10Km (6 miles) radius. In my case, it seems that my idyllic rural paradise is awash with zillions of other beekeepers. There are about 200 apiaries within a 10Km radius of all three of mine! It works out at about one apiary per 1.5 square kilometres, so perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Early inspections

A week ago, before the current cold airflows from the North, we had a few warm days (18 deg Celsius). Spring in the UK can be very variable; maybe it’s the same everywhere, I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to start pulling frames out of my hives until we are in a warm patch and bees are flying with enthusiasm. I took the opportunity to mark queens but chickened out of clipping them. There was one yellow dot queen, one red dot, and the rest were green dots from last year. The yellow dot needs to be replaced, but I will wait until I have cells in June. Hopefully, she won’t become a drone layer before then.

Winter losses, mainly nucs

My winter losses were a bit disappointing. The full-sized hives came through reasonably well (8% loss so far), but my nucs did poorly (33% loss). I should have fed them more and had stronger nucs going into winter. They were strong in bees, but perhaps they should have had one more frame of brood in them. Many of the bees at the end of summer die off, and it’s the youngsters who hold the fort over winter. Another in an endless stream of lessons…they mostly starved. I’m not proud of that. Poor little buggers. Some of it could have been robbing from bees or wasps. I have a lot of wasps in the autumn; they are relentless.

Interviews with Beekeepers

In other news, my book has sold quite well through my online store at interviewswithbeekeepers.com. I’m waiting for reviews to come out…if they are positive (who knows, they might be) then presumably other stores will stock it. When a new book is published, the author expects everyone to buy it, but the world is not like that at all. Most books flop, from a sales perspective.

My store is for UK buyers only. I’m hoping for some sales in the USA and New Zealand/Australia, but right now it isn’t yet showing up on amazon.com (it’s on their UK site). Never mind, the fun part was meeting the beekeepers that I interviewed; I have some lovely memories of my travels. It’s like my beekeeping – fun but unprofitable!

Thank You to our health workers

Today at 8pm, we went to our doorstep to join many others in clapping our hands and cheering in support of the Health Service workers. It’s a weekly event. They are under a lot of pressure right now. I sincerely hope that in the post-COVID-19 world there are some changes in our value system. Nurses, teachers and grocery store workers are surely at least as valuable to society as footballers, and that needs to be recognised financially, not just with applause.

6 thoughts on “Zillions of other Beekeepers!

  1. I see the same thing on BeeBase – over 100 apiaries within 5km. I believe I know all the local beeks and, no way. I reckon the number is false because no one is removing definct apiaries from BeeBase, and it has been running a long time.

    Most beeks I know keep a couple of hives in their garden or allotment for fun, curiosity and often a feeling of doing something positive for the environment. I suppose it depends how grumpy your bees are.

    • Hi Paul. I have heard too many horror stories to want to risk keeping bees at home, but I know plenty do it, so good luck to them. I get honeybees visiting my garden so there are hives round here somewhere (in quite an urban area). Always happy to see bees of all types 😀

  2. Beebase significantly underrepresents the numbers of colonies/apiaries … I think by 33-50% if I remember from discussions I’ve had with NBU. Do you believe the 37kg average per colony per year in 2018? BBKA’s figures were 31lb (14kg; https://www.bbka.org.uk/news/2018-honey-harvest-is-third-bigger-than-last-years) so I suspect the figures are commercial yields. This low yield and the low price of honey, significantly influences the economics of beekeeping (https://theapiarist.org/beekeeping-economics/).

    One apiary every 1.5 square kilometres may not be so good if that apiary has 30 colonies in it (those figures aren’t listed publicly by Beebase) when you consider that it’s only 690 metres away 😉

    I’ve done similar calculations for various places I’ve kept bees … the most recent I’m setting up has just one apiary within 10km 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed is that Varroa management is easier where apiary density is lower, presumably due to mites being acquired by robbing or drifting by bees where there are lots of beekeepers.


    • Hi David. I’m not sure what to believe, but I’d rather see a lower number of apiaries in “my” patch. It’s not easy finding new places to keep bees round here. Having said that, the commercial beekeepers ha e been here much longer than me so I’m the intruder. I thought the interesting thing on the honey yield chart was the big variation between 2017 (low) and 2018 (high) for the UK.

  3. Eric Beaumont


    I’m not sure what to believe either! On the face of it the EU figures suggest that an opportunity exists in this country for more beefarmers to produce more honey at better prices. I reckon UK beekeepers can be divided into three groups: the hobby keeper who sells at giveaway prices and drags down the value of honey, the middle-sized commercial who packages a niche product well for top money, and big players who often sell cheaply in bulk at world prices.

    The fact that we import about 88% of honey, and that honey consumption now outstrips that of jam, suggests that there is an opening for younger people willing to embrace hard work outdoors. The BFA apprenticeship scheme is a good start, but in London a not-for profit (trained youth to become beekeepers from hive to market) closed recently because it couldn’t get enough youngsters to brave the occasional sting and the dirty work. Truth is that fear of nature among young people is a national disease.

    Our real and achievable aim is to persuade all beekeepers – especially those with two hives – to value their premium product and price it accordingly. Perhaps hobby keepers under-charge because they don’t recognise their role in the bigger pricing picture; perhaps they use supermarket prices as a guide, or perhaps they fear holding onto unsold stock? BKAs have a job here to inform and persuade us all to reject old ways.

    Never sure about yields; who responds to surveys? Those who like to complete them? I do remember that in 2013 London yield was said to be 8lb/colony; I had no real experience but somehow managed a 55lb average, though never had the desire to fill in a survey.


    • Shame about that place that shut down. I think there is more scope in selling queens and nucs than honey, at least for me. I guess everyone has to figure out what they enjoy and what makes money, and hopefully at some point those things overlap!

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