Page last updated at 13:58 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:58 UK
What's the buzz on beekeeping?
By Rachel Broome
BBC South East Wales

Smoking the bees

The humble bee plays a vital role in our food production as they pollinate around a third of the crops we eat.

However since 2007 there's been a dramatic decline in the bee population due to a variety of factors including disease and bad weather.

The increased interest in the plight of the bee has led to a growth in the number of people taking up beekeeping.

I visited an apiary in Treforest to find out more and get up close and personal with our buzzy friends.

My guide around the apiary was John King, Chairman of Cardiff Vale and Valleys Beekeeping Association.

After ensuring I was properly suited up and having filled and lit our smoker we headed down towards the hives to see the bees.

John owns five national hives, which are the most common type of beehive. Around 40,000 bees live in each established hive and each hive can produce up to 40lbs of honey a year.

Removing the frames from the hive
The bees create honeycombs within the frames of the hive

The honey produced by the bees is placed within the frames of the hives and when it is ready beeswax is placed over the honeycomb a process known as 'capping'. Honey is extracted from the hives in August and early September. However there's always enough honey left in the hive to feed the bees and take them over the winter.

After removing the beeswax cap with a knife, the frames - usually four at a time - are placed into an extractor which is spun around using centrifugal force to discharge the honey. The honey is then filtered and placed in jars.

John advises any would-be beekeepers who want to find out more about what's involved to contact the Welsh Beekeeping Association which has details of all the local associations across Wales.

Many of the local beekeeping associations run courses which are a good starting point. He suggests getting advice from a beekeeping association before purchasing any equipment.

In addition to a hive and frames, a beekeeping suit with gloves, a hive tool and a smoker are all pre-requisites of the beekeepers kit.

Then comes, the small matter of the bees. John's tip is to let an experienced beekeeper get the bees through the winter and buy your bees in the spring.

Bee breeders are currently selling a five frame nuclei of bees for around £125-130 which should set you up as a beekeeper.

The colony should develop over the summer but it'll probably take you around a year to establish a strong colony and get a good yield of honey.

Varroa mite
A powder to get rid of the varroa mite is placed within the hive

Bees are currently in short supply as the varroa mite has affected the bees immune system making them susceptible to disease. Coupled with poor winter weather conditions over the last couple of years, this has wiped out significant numbers of the bee population.

In the winter of 2007 in the UK well over 30% of the bee population died.

However beekeepers are working to reverse this by using varroa treatments in the hive and by employing disease control methods such as using clean gloves to prevent disease spreading between hives and using fresh wax foundations which prevent the build up of disease in the hive.

John admits that the increased publicity about the plight of the bee population in the media has led to a huge surge in interest in beekeeping.

"Four years ago we ran a course and about 12 people were interested in beekeeping. This year I've got about 70 people wanting to take up beekeeping on our course in January."

When I ask John what he enjoys most about beekeeping, he tells me: "It's absolutely peaceful.

"It's just you and the bees, they're giving a buzz, continually moving. There's always something different going on in the hive."

And then of course there's the reward - your own delicious honey.

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