7 Gifts for Beekeepers
Beekeeping is a popular and rewarding hobby for around 44,000 people in the UK and over 600,000 people across Europe. I mean “rewarding” in a spiritual, feel-good sense, rather than in terms of actual hard profits. Most are amateurs who enjoy keeping a few hives for fun, and it is the friends and families of these intrepid men and women that this article is for. Hobby beekeepers accept that profits are like mythical beasts; elusive, ethereal, and you’re never going to actually see them. In truth, the greatest gift for these folk is for their bees to survive the winter and burst into healthy frenzied activity when the spring warmth arrives.
It is a standing joke amongst beekeepers that they always receive honey as a gift from well-meaning loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, most of us love honey, but we generally think the best honey in the world comes from our own bees, and hopefully we have enough of it to get us through the year to the next harvest. It is a humbling experience to run out and have to actually buy honey. Oh, the shame of it.
What follows is a list of gift ideas for hobby beekeepers, carefully crafted by yours truly, which is, inevitably, based on my personal experience and bias.
But before that, there are many people who love the idea of keeping bees but have yet to take the plunge. For these, the answer is clear: enrol them on a starter course run by the local beekeeping association. This is how I started. It is best to learn about the noble art before actually fully committing. Most starter courses are run over the winter months, perhaps once per week, and then in the Spring there is normally the opportunity to handle somebody’s bees and experience first hand what it is all about. Only then, armed with some knowledge and confident that handling bees is a fun thing to do, should the next step of actually getting bees be taken. A good place to start is the BBKA.
Without further ado, here is my list of gifts for beekeepers:
1. Smoker £60
The best ones are made by Dadant in the USA but they are available in the UK. You want a big one, because they burn longer so you don’t need to re-light it every five minutes, as happens with the smaller ones. The one pictured is 4 x 10 inches (100mm x 250mm) and it has a cage around the firebox with a hook on it. The cage offers protection against burns and the hook is useful for hanging it on the side of a hive.
2. Small Blow Torch £20
The little blow torches used in kitchens to caramelise sugar on creme brûlées are actually really useful for getting the fuel in the smoker lit. It’s a lot quicker than messing about with matches which have a tendency to blow out in the wind.
3. Bee Jacket and Veil £115
Many beekeepers in the UK wear those big “all in one” bee suits, like boiler suits. These are great, and I’m sure any beekeeper would be delighted with a new one of those, but it’s nice to have the option of something a little lighter for the hot summers. I like the “Honey Rustler” jacket and hood by BJ Sherrif. Alternatively you can buy just the veil, so the more confident beekeeper can work the bees in jeans and a tee shirt but their head is protected from stings.
4. Hive Tool
These are essential pieces of kit for any beekeeper and they have a horrible habit of getting lost. It’s always good to have a spare or two.
5. Honey Extractor £200 - £500
If you want to splash out on something amazing, for a beekeeper who does not yet own one, a honey extractor is something they dream of. Stainless steel is better than plastic. Electric motor is better than manual cranking. Radial is better than tangential. If your beekeeper friend does not own one I’m sure they would be delighted with anything, but given the cost it might be worth asking them about it first.
6. Bee Shed £250 - £400
A wooden shed near to the bee hives is a great place to store spare equipment. I don’t know if women feel the same way, but most men I know love sheds.
7. Books £10 - £25
There are many beekeeping books out there and most of them fall into the “how-to” category for beginners, but some stand out above the rest in my opinion:
Honey Farming by R.O.B Manley (Old but wonderful, my personal favourite)
Simple Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten Traynor (Easy to read, lovely photos)
A Practical Manual of Beekeeping by David Cramp (Down to earth, comprehensive)
Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey by Brother Adam (Old but a classic)
Queen Rearing Simplified by Vince Cook (Great introduction to queen rearing)
I hope that helps. Happy Holidays!
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© 2017 Stephen Donohoe