Zootrain Beekeeping Courses

Beekeeping and Honey

A very brief history of beekeeping

There are over 20,000 wild bee species, many of which are solitary or live in small groups like bumblebees. Beekeeping, or apiculture, concerns itself with the management of social honey bees, who live in large colonies of up to 100,000 bees. In Europe, this is usually the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), whose sub-species are bred specially for good honey production, mild manners and disease resistance.

People have harvested honey from wild bees throughout the ages, as shown by rock paintings as early as since the 13,000 BC. The Egyptians kept bees in primitive hives, as did Aristotle (possibly the first celebrity beekeeper). Throughout the middle ages, abbeys and monasteries kept bees to produce not only honey but also wax for candles and alcoholic mead.

In the 19th century beekeeping really took off with the invention of movable comb hives, which meant that the colony no longer had to be destroyed when the honey was harvested. The first design by a Yorkshireman who emigrated to the United States, Lorenzo Langstroth, was quickly copied back in Europe, and laid the foundation for commercial beekeeping and honey production on a large scale. 

Modern beekeeping & the plight of the honey bee

Modern beekeepers keep bees in hives which are typically rectangular wooden or plastic boxes filled with moveable wood or plastic frames. The bottom box, or brood chamber, contains the queen and most of the bees; the upper boxes, or supers, contain just honey. Each frame holds a sheet of wax foundation which the bees draw out to create honeycombs to store the honey in and for the queen to lay eggs in. Because the frames are individual, the beekeeper can remove them from the hive to extract the honey, which is replaced by sugar so the colony can survive the winter.

Bee populations across the world have been declining rapidly, we lost 30% of bees in Britain in 2008. This is caused by diseases, mites and fungal infections. It is a huge issue because bees pollinate many plant species, so they are crucial to the survival of commercial crops such as fruit.

Urban beekeeping - the new buzz

To reverse the trend of declining bee populations, people are being encouraged to keep bees in their gardens and on their roofs. It may seem counter-intuitive to keep bees in small urban gardens or on roof tops, but a bee hive does not need much space. Bees roam up to 3 miles around, collecting pollen and nectar from a wide diversity of plants: one of the reasons why urban honey tastes more interesting than honey from country bees who feed on a single plant like heather or rape. It is also pesticide-free since most people don’t spray their gardens with chemicals the way farmers do.

Campaigns by organisations such as the government’s conservation charity Natural England and celebrity enthusiasts such as Vince Cable, Suggs  and Scarlett Johansson have raised the profile of beekeeping, and thousands of people are giving it a go: The British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) saw its membership rocket from 10,000 in 2007 to 14,500.

As a result, the beekeeping courses offered by local beekeeping associations are heavily oversubscribed, with London-based associations getting hundreds of applicants for 20 places. While you don’t have to do a course to learn about beekeeping, it’s highly recommended by the BBKA to learn from an experienced beekeeper how to handle and manage bees (including diseases) before you start out on your own.

We set up Zootrain beekeeping courses in direct response to this. Our mission is to turn more people into confident hobby beekeepers in a safe and fun environment, and thereby help protect the future of the honey bee.


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Zootrain beekeeping courses
are held in Regent's Park
in Central London, NW1

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