Getting into Beekeeping
Thinking of becoming a hobby beekeeper? Then these notes are for you. Read on to find the answers to some commonly asked questions and additional information you need to consider before committing your time and money:
Beekeeping as a hobby in the UAE
In the UAE, there are very few hobby beekeepers as most are commercial honey farmers. Nevertheless, do not let this deter you. While we may be few in number, we hobby beekeepers are keen and are happy to welcome other learners. It is a very interesting, relaxing, and rewarding hobby.
You will never stop learning, and providing you grasp the basics, you can become involved as little or as much as you like. Some of the best reasons to take up beekeeping are:
Honey for the family
This is probably the sweetest reason why bees are kept. Although yields are lower here in the UAE you can still reasonably expect 5 kg of honey on average per year. The satisfaction of harvesting your own honey is incomparable, and the smell of honey mixed with that of the the wax is simply intoxicating! Once you have a good supply of honey it is surprising what uses you will find for it. For example a jar of honey is a good thank you gift and makes a great addition to sauces and marinades. Beeswax can be used for making candles, polish, soap, cosmetics, etc. All these things can be made with equipment that is available in most household kitchens. Instructions and recipes are readily available on the internet or in beekeeping forums.
Get close to nature
Living in air conditioning as we do here in Dubai for much of the year, beekeeping is a great excuse to spend time outside in fresh air with your ladies for company. Bees themselves are very interesting, but so is the wildlife in and around the hive. You will soon instinctively start keeping track of blossoming seasons, noticing the different trees and flowers around you and catching yourself thinking "bee food" when you see a blooming acacia.
Enhance your garden
Many beekeepers are keen gardeners and have noticed the decline in pollinating insects, bees in particular. A couple of bee hives in your garden will certainly improve the pollination in your own garden and the surrounding area, resulting in even more beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Meet new people from all over the world
Dubai is a melting pot of nationalities and personalities. Beekeeping can be either a solitary pursuit or you can become actively involved in our fledgling Beekeepers Association and meet new people.
What does it take?
You think you are ready to become a hobby beekeeper? then get in touch with the Beekeepers Association. We have an apiary with several hives and beekeepers who are happy to introduce you to the world of beekeeping.
We recommend that before investing in equipment and supplies, you first attend several practical bee demonstrations organised by the Beekeepers Association to make sure beekeeping is for you.
How do I learn?
The first step to becoming a successful beekeeper is to learn as much as you can about the bees. Even as a seasoned beekeeper, you will keep learning something new everyday.
Here are a few suggestions for you to jump start:
How much time do I need to commit?
There are basically only two seasons in the UAE: Summer and the rest of the year :-)
The amount of time required varies depending on the seasons. During the cooler months (October-May), general maintenance requires periodic inspections of about 30-60mn per hive weekly. These inspections are to ensure your queen is laying eggs, your workers are building up honey stores, your colony has enough space to expand, queen cells are properly managed to avoid swarming and your hive is pest/disease free.
During summertime (June-September), your role is of utmost importance: you need to take your colony through the harsh UAE summer where temperatures can reach 50°C. This consists of (1) finding a cool place for your hive, ideally on a mountain top or simply in a well ventilated spot under a tree shade, and (2) feeding your colony syrup, artificial pollen and of course ample supply of fresh water.
How much does it cost to get started?
A typical starter set consists of 2 hives/colonies, a coverall suit, a pair of beekeeping gloves, a smoker and beekeeping tools. Depending on hive type and overall quality, the cost for such a starter set ranges between AED 1,000 and AED 3,000.
We have a wide range of equipment and invite you to ‘try before you buy' at our Beekeepers Association's open days.
Where do I buy my bees and equipment?
There a few suppliers in the UAE and most of them are located in Al Dhaid, Sharjah. Our current list of suppliers is available here.
Alternatively, the Beekeepers Association offers a hassle free solution. We will advise on a suitable starter set for your needs, deliver the set to your house and assist you with your initial setup for an extra fee of AED 500. This fee will be used for the running costs of our non-profit entity.
Will I get stung?
Hopefully yes! people pay a premium price to get a botox shot or apitherapy treatments :-)
On a serious note, getting stung is part of beekeeping and it will happen even if you are extra careful handling your bees; I was stung a few times through my protective suit! Most stings, however, are due to poor handling of the bees or to naturally aggressive colonies.
Reactions to bee stings range from mild reaction with redness and swelling, to moderate reaction with intense itching, swelling and pain, to severe allergic reaction with anaphylactic shock (difficulty breathing, nausea, swelling of the throat and tongue, loss of consciousness, etc.)
In most cases, bee stings don't require a visit to your doctor. In more-severe cases, you'll need immediate care.
Can I keep bees at my place?
To our knowledge, there is no UAE-wide regulation on backyard beekeeping. We are working on it.
For the time being, our recommendation is to check that there are no restrictions from your community developer.
Any last word of advice?
It is crucial for you to understand that the word 'beekeeper' consists of: Bee and most importantly Keeper. Our duty as responsible beekeepers is to keep our bees alive and help them build a strong colony. If you grasp this principle you will be a great beekeeper and your bees will love you for it.
Educate yourself on bee pathologies and their treatment, predators, swarming seasons, feeding protocols, etc. It is heartbreaking to lose a colony and sadly it will happen to you (it happens to the most seasoned beekeepers!). Your role is to minimize the risk of it happening.
With that said, don't worry too much, enjoy the experience and let the bees transport you to their fascinating world!