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Beekeeping for Beginners Course 2020.
East Devon Branch of Devon Beekeepers’ Association

Full tuition, practical experience and mentor support to help you get started.

Course Coordinator: Richard Simpson, 07900 492 242, education@edbk.co.uk

In our Absence….

With the suspension of face-to-face meetings the Beginners Course is going to have to change, but we will still be trying to help you develop your knowledge and skills.  Mentors will still be available, if remotely.  Instruction will now take place in smaller groups or person-to-person, or by viewing online material, or looking it up in Haynes Beekeeping Manual.  We are also looking at more interactive online functions.

Colin Osborne, one of our Committee members, has written some Notes for Beginners which you are invited to download HERE.


The meeting planned for Sat/Sun March 21st/22nd was to teach and supervise you in the craft of frame-making for a National hive. Instead, if you need frames quickly you will need to self-instruct.  The kit is shown at:


and the “how to” element can be seen at:


and on the ‘Frame Making’ page

The Hoffman frames for a National are called DN4 or DN5, the difference being the width of the top bar.  The “5” is supposed to be less prone to wild comb being built between adjoining top bars, but will cost you a fair amount more.   The super frames are coded S.  SN1 is a simple super frame that will require an additional method of spacing, such as Ends, a slip on plastic collar.  Hoffmans for supers are coded SN4.

A couple of quick tips: when you insert the side bars into the cut outs in the top bar, make sure the grooves down each side are facing inwards.  In theory, the foundation wax will then simply slip into these grooves.  Often the wax sheet doesn’t fit exactly, being manufactured a little oversize.  Don’t force or bend it; take it out and trim a thin sliver off one side and offer it up again.  If you cut off too much it will gain no guidance from the grooves, so trim lightly.  Also, check the frame for squareness before putting all the nails in.  With wired foundation you don’t need to worry about putting the wax sheet in the right way up; just make sure the three wire loops are on the lower edge as you slide it in.  Bend the loops through 90o so that they lie flat on the cut away section, then trap them with the wedge bar and nail through the loops.  Watch the video and you will see it all coming together.

Getting familiar with the kit

In preparation for getting hands-on with the bees we then planned to let you try on a bee suit, compare types and suppliers and learn how to handle the equipment and light a smoker, prior to handling bees.  There is no substitute for this, but hopefully you have the information on which to take your purchasing decisions.  For anyone who didn’t get to the last session we have discount vouchers in the Shed from BJ Sherriff and from one of the importers, https://www.thebeeshop.co.uk/.

You already have the voucher emailed from BB Wear.  If you would like a voucher let me know and I will get one to you.  On ventilated suits BBWear claim the ultimate and won an award last year; 5mm thickness, triple layer for £350!  Zonda, state 4mm for £125 (Amazon). i.e. adequate for bees (3mm sting), not adequate for Asian hornets.  Generally all bee suits are inadequate for this potential new pest, so don’t be put off.  Sometimes the triple layers are a bit heavy, so you may like to explore before making a major purchase. In general, thickness comes at a weight penalty, as well as being hot, unless ventilated.

Other woodwork will often need assembling and, like the frames, there are videos online showing you how to do it.  https://www.thorne.co.uk/assembly-instructions.  Look for the piece of kit for which you need instructions and click the link.

Acquiring kit

Occasionally kit is offered for private sale.  This will be posted on the club website (For Sale and Wanted) for you to contact the vendor. If the club becomes the principal, i.e. buys a bulk lot for breaking down, we will try to advise you.  Of course, by some means or another, you need to be equipped before bees arrive, so don’t wait until someone offers you a swarm before thinking about getting ready.   A swarm, if one is available, needs to go into its new home in hours not days.

Anyone hoping to attract a passing swarm into their own boxes might be considering the use of a lure and some old comb.  We will email you when we have any available.   Old comb will generally be retired once the active season gets going.  We will have also swarm lure.  The cost for one comb and one vial will be £5.  Success is not guaranteed but the chances are not bad.  You can keep the frame so it will not be a complete loss even if the bees avoid you.

Handling Bees

If you do not plan to get bees until you can gain experience under watchful eyes, then you can wait until we are able to resume meetings.  We will cover the syllabus eventually and a new programme will be published in due course.  However, if you are having to work to the bees’ timetable rather than to the humans,’ for instance if you already have bees, or if you get a swarm, then here are some absolutely vital rules and/or questions:

  1. Do not interfere with your bees until you have a plan: what are my objectives, what tools do I need, am I equipped?
  2. Have I got my smoker reliably alight, together with spare fuel?
  3. Have I done up my zips? Everyone will, on at least one occasion during their beekeeping career, find bees crawling on their face or the inside of their veil.  They can only get there if you left a gap, from a damaged or insecure veil.  Therefore, check and recheck both your chest zip AND your veil zip.  If you do find yourself in this position, kill the bee immediately (finger and thumb) hopefully before it can sting you, and leave the bees for a place of safety while you sort yourself out.   If you have several in the veil and none have stung you yet, then get away from all bees and open the veil in a bee-less place of gloom/dark/shade – whatever is available, allowing the bees to fly away into the light.  Squashing one bee but leaving ten more to continue troubling you is likely to just excite the remaining bees.
  4. Your personal kit should consist of wellies, a suit/protection of some sort, probably gloves (such as Marigolds), making sure that either your wrists are protected by a long cuff to the glove, or that you have separate cuffs.  Some beekeepers also use an elastic band around their wrists to inhibit the sleeves of your suit riding up as you bend your arms.  A light hat is also used by some, particularly if the top of your head is not well padded with hair.
  5. Also take a tub of washing soda in water with a wad of wire wool for cleaning your hive tool, helping to get rid of propolis on tools and gloves, and a second tub for catching any wax scrapings if you find wild comb in inconvenient places.  A 20% solution will work well (100g in 500ml water).  Change it any time it gets dirty, but not for every hive. A cupful of washing soda in your washing machine, alongside your normal detergent will also help clean your suit.  We suggest avoiding highly perfumed detergents.
  6. If possible, try to get someone to help you on your first encounter with live bees.  Contact
    your mentor if they haven’t contacted you.  If stuck, contact Richard (rsimpson48@aol.com), John (johnbadley@hotmail.co.uk), Keith (charandale@gmail.com), or David (davidmshale@mac.com).


The 2020 honey cake competition prizewinners
Thanks to Kath West and Helen Bithrey for judging the record breaking number of entries (23).

A small selection of the 23 entries

Cake Competition prize winners, l to r: 1st David, 2nd Philip (on behalf of Heather), 3rd Marjorie

Richard demonstrating.

Noise level deafening …

…but worth it!

First, light your smoker

Open the brood nest.

Inspect brood for the first time.


Honey Cake Recipe 2020

You may like to try the recipe yourself.


  • 5 oz / 140g butter
  • 6 oz / 170g clear honey
  • 4 oz / 110g soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 7 oz / 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon water or milk


  1. Place butter, sugar, honey and water into a saucepan and heat until the fat has melted, stirring all the time.
  2. Then remove pan from heat and allow contents to cool to blood temperature.
  3. Gradually beat in the eggs.
  4. Add sieved flour and mix until smooth.
  5. Do not over-mix.
  6. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 7″ – 8″ (175 -200mm) round cake tin and bake for about 1 hour until risen and firm to the touch.
  7. As a guide, oven temperature 350°F / Mark 4 / 180°C


Stick to the schedule. Ignore the temptation to spice it up with raisins, icing, ginger or whatever.

Honey browns quicker than sugar. It can quickly appear dark-verging-on-burnt in a cake

Honey contains water, typically c.17-18%, so be cautious about making the mixture too wet.

Honey cooks quite slowly, so try to make sure it is cooked through, but not dry or burnt. The judges will check the inside as well as the outside.

Cracking is not fatal. Taste and aroma will outweigh minor cracks, but a ‘smiling’ cake will lose to a perfect top if other factors are equal.

A honey cake should taste and smell of honey. A stronger flavoured honey (usually that means a darker honey) imparts more ‘kick’ to the cake than a light honey, but some can be a bit too strong when cooked. Heather imparts a good, strong flavour, but is not easy to find outside heather areas and is quite expensive.

You may use any honey and make as many trial cakes as you wish. We are not responsible for your figure!