Beekeepers look after apiaries or beehive sites, with the main aim of producing honey. They are also known as apiculturists, bee farmers or apiarists. The hives produce honey, wax, pollen and other products for sale to the public. They also provide pollination services to horticultural and seed crop producers. Bees are an excellent aid in pollination, thus farmers growing fruit, vegetable crops and seeds make use of this service.
Apiarists need to have a thorough knowledge of the yearly cycle and habits of bees, plant types and life cycles, and how plants produce nectar. They need to be able to identify bee disease and know about different methods of disease control and how to introduce a queen bee into a colony.
Beekeepers’ tasks vary depending on the season. In the breeding season (spring) they: check the food supply, health and laying ability of the queen bee and check the hives to prevent swarming. They breed replacement queen bees; shift hives to orchards and collect the hives when the flowering period is over.
During spring they might also provide a pollination service by renting hives to orchards / farms. In summer they visit apiaries and place boxes on hives to prepare for honey production. In autumn (harvest time) they take bees off combs or use a blower and collect the honey. They extract honey from the comb using extractors, containers that rotate quickly separating the comb from the honey at the honey-house and may send the honey away in containers for further processing into retail packs, usually glass jars. They may also collect other bee products, such as pollen and wax, and collect and package bees for export.
Once hives have been prepared, sheets of wax embossed with a honeycomb imprint are inserted. During autumn, they also feed hives to ensure that they have sufficient food until spring.
Throughout the year beekeepers build and repair hives and divide colonies for replacement or to increase bee numbers. They continually inspect hives using hive tools and a smoker and check hives for pests, parasites and diseases, destroying diseased bees and hives where necessary. They may analyse and test micro-organisms themselves or send them away to be analysed.
They need heavy machinery, such as trucks and tractors, driving skills; mechanical skills for repairing equipment are also useful. They should have carpentry skills for building and repairing hive boxes and be familiar with methods of building hives etc.. If involved in production and marketing of other bee products, apiculturists also need to be able to assess the quality of bee products such as wax, royal jelly and propolis, and know how to handle them. They need marketing and business skills, especially if involved in retail or business management.
Anyone can keep a beehive, but each apiary site must be registered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to help monitor diseases that affect bees. Many apiarists struggle to make a living from just selling honey, so they may work as apiary advisors or laboratory diagnosticians.