Beginner Beekeeping – Getting Started with Bees
An amazing journey into the world of the honey bee, beekeeping for beginners is not always an easy path. Key to success is understanding why you are interest in keeping honey bees . Once your beekeeping goals are clear you are ready to learn all the basic techniques for managing a honey bee colony of your own.
You don’t know-what you don’t know. That sure does apply to beekeeping. This is not a one and done endeavor. It takes time to become a confident beekeeper.
If you are a new beekeeper, I share your excitement. But don’t get in too much of a hurry. Take your time – learn and grow.
Things will not work out perfectly every time. Forgive yourself for mistakes. And don’t worry about asking dumb beekeeping questions. We all began at the beginning.
Is Beekeeping Right for You?
Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that is enjoyed by many people but it is not right for everyone. There is some expense involved in managing hives as well as a time commitment.
During the time before you actually delve into the world of the honey bee, consider your goals. Why do you want to be a beekeeper? Becoming a new beekeeper is a time of great excitement and you will enjoy it more if you have an end goal in mind.
Will beekeeping be a hobby or a business for you? Maybe you want to start a beekeeping business with hopes for profit. If so, you need a good business plan.
Before the bees arrive, or you spend hundreds of dollars on equipment, let’s consider a few things. What exactly does a beekeeper do? Do you have the physical strength to lift boxes of honey? Or maybe you will have a helper for the heavy work?
Basics of Beekeeping
What do you know about beehives? Perhaps you harbor some misconceptions about what a honey bee home truly is. Keeping a hive of bees is much different than having a bird house.
Many bee enthusiasts only want to have a couple of hives. You can start beekeeping in your backyard with a minimum amount of space.
You can enjoy the benefits of bee pollination for your garden and perhaps produce a few jars of honey from your beehives.
New Beekeeper Education
One of the most overlooked aspects of beginner beekeeping is education. Yes, you need actual experience in the hive – but you need to know what you are looking for too!
Many new beekeepers start with a good beekeeping book . There are many great books to choose from. Look for books that are written by beekeepers as these will have the most accurate information.
Most local beekeeping associations give beginner beekeeping classes in late Winter. Check those out.
Some are really great and others not so much but they are a great way to meet local beekeepers.
I taught live local classes with beekeeper associations for years. My online beekeeping class is developed from those actual live classes.
In fact, beekeeping is a continual learning experience. Don’t expect to learn everything you need to know about raising bees in one season.
Choosing Hive Styles and Bee Yard Locations
One of the first steps in beekeeping is ordering bees and equipment. Both of these things are done months before Spring. If you wait until Spring, it may be too late to begin this year.
As discussed fully in my beekeeping equipment and supplies section, order your equipment early. Bee suppliers will sell out and you may be missing hive components that you desperately need.
You have some decisions to make in regards to which types of hives you want to use for your bees and where to put them.
How many hives should a beginner beekeeper start with? 2 or 3 hives is the most popular answer to that question. That does not mean you can’t have more or less.
Where Can I Put My Beehives?
Finding a location for 1 or 2 beehives is not very difficult. However, if you want to develop a larger apiary with many hives, bee yard design becomes a bigger issue.
Consider neighborhood restrictions or zoning ordinances as you plan for your first hives. More than 1 beekeeper has invested in bees only to find that they have to get rid of them.
Beehive placement is an often overlooked aspect of beekeeping. Yes, some beehive locations are better than others.
Find a place well away from human foot traffic, play areas etc for your bees. Don’t put your hive in a location that will only bring you problems a few months down the road.
Buying Honey Bees for Your Hives
You can not be a beekeeper without bees. Consider your options for how to buy honey bees. There are several ways to purchase bees including: package bees, nuc hives and full sized hives.
How do you know which type of bee to buy? There are several races and hybrids of honey bees available for sale. What is the best honey bee for beginners?
While there is some debate on this issue, Italians or Italian Carniolan crosses are the most popular kinds of bees sold in packages.
You may be able to pick up your bees from a local supplier. If there is a bee supply within a couple of hours driving distance, picking up your bee order can be a fun experience.
You can even have packages of bees delivered to your home! Regardless of the purchasing option you choose, do your research. Look for customer reviews of the business.
Installing Bees into Your First Beehive
One of the great things about a colony of honey bees is the ease with which they can be moved from one location to another. Regardless of the method of buying bees you choose – they will arrive in some type of container.
In my article, installing your package of bees, I discuss the importance of taking your bees directly home. You want to keep them in a calm cool place until you are ready to get them into their new hive.
I do like to install packages as soon as I get them home rather than leaving them in the traveling crate for days.
Do you buy a honey bee nucleus colony? Nuc installation is a bit different than package bees. My guide on installing a nuc colony will help you get those bees safely in their new home.
As long as you sit the nuc near the new home box, they can live in the nuc box a few days if necessary. Of course you would need to open their entrance so they can leave and return to the hive.
In most regions, feeding your new colonies will help them be successful. Beginner beekeepers often underestimate the amount of food required by a new colony.
Basic Management of Honey Bee Colonies
Routine Hive Inspections
Managing beehives involves periodic hive inspections. You can not really know what is happening without looking inside.
If the colony has a problem with the queen or is low of food stores, regular inspections will hopefully reveal the issue in time for correction.
Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often but at times bees will leave their hive. This is especially upsetting for the new beekeeper who has just purchased a package of bees.
Control of Hive Pests & Predators
Routine inspections help the beginning beekeeper watch for a variety of hive pests.
From Varroa Mites, to Small Hive Beetles to Wax Moths and more – there are many common beehive pests and predators that you should watch for.
Some are only an inconvenience to the beekeeper but others can be deadly to the colony.
Beginner Beekeeping Mistakes
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby that is rewarding in so many ways. But it is important to understand that their will be failures.
Sometimes hives will die or fail to thrive. All beekeepers make mistakes and you will be no exception.
Surround yourself with like-minded positive bee loving people. This may be locals or in an online group. You can learn a lot from other beekeepers. Don’t beat yourself up when you loose a colony – we all do.
Final Advice About Beekeeping for Beginners
Beginner beekeeping involves a lot more than just getting a hive and plopping it down in the yard.
From understanding what you will need to do, to buying bees and equipment and managing those hives, there is a lot of learn and do.
Your success as a beekeeper, depends a lot of understanding that the world is constantly changing. You can learn some great tips from beekeepers who have had bees for 30 years.
But, a word of caution, beekeepers sometimes fail to update their knowledge on new issues facing honey bees.
As you grow in experience, seek out more beekeeping tips and never stop learning about the changing world our bees must live in.