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Beekeeping Basics for Beginners
The idea of having your own beehives is a dream shared by many people. But, this journey into the world of the honey bee, is not always an easy path. Beekeeping for beginners involves learning tons of new terminology and ideas for managing beehives. Still, you can do it. The key to success in keeping honey bees is education and patience.
Bees are much different from other types of livestock. Your experience will go much better if you can learn to “think bee”. Honey bees have a reason for their behavior. Our job is to attempt to understand it.
Are you ready to learn all the basic techniques for managing a honeybee 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.
When you enter the world of beekeeping, you might feel overwhelmed by all of the new terminology. That’s a good thing-but it can be too much of a good thing too. Can you have too much beekeeping advice? Yes, you can.
Things will not work out perfectly every time. Forgive yourself for mistakes. And don’t worry about asking too many questions about managing your hives. We all began at the beginning.
Is Beekeeping Right for You?
Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that is enjoyed by many people – including some famous beekeepers you may have heard about. But, it is not right for everyone. There is some expense involved in managing hives as well as a time commitment.
Consider your goals. Why do you want to be a beekeeper? Do you have the time needed to learn what to do and then carry out those tasks.
What do you know about beehives? Perhaps you harbor some misconceptions about what a honey bee nest truly is. Keeping a hive of bees is much different than having a bird house.
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-yes even in the beginning.
Before the bees arrive, and 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?
Top Beginner Beekeeping Tips
- Learn beekeeping basics
- Start with 2-3 hives – start slow
- Select best spot for hives
- Choose a common hive style
- Buy bees – order early
- Practice hive management and pest control
- Connect with local beekeepers
Beekeeper Education is Not Optional
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 of two . There are many great books to choose from. Look for books that are written by beekeepers as these will have the most realistic information.
If you want to learn how to start beekeeping with one 1 or 2 hives, you still need to learn bee basics the same as someone with a larger apiary.
Most local beekeeping associations give beginner beekeeping classes in late Winter. Check those out. 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. Consider taking several classes as they are not all alike.
Beekeeping information is readily available on the internet. You-tube videos are great for general information-but please don’t believe everything you hear and read.
Hive management techniques that work well in North Dakota, may not be a good idea in Florida. Don’t forget to learn about regional beehive issues.
“One example : We have Small Hive Beetles in our area. This pest can destroy a weak colony of bees. Small hive beetles are not present in all states. Management plans have to take local conditions into consideration.
Keep Beehive Numbers Reasonable
Don’t get in over your head at the beginning. Start slow with a few hives. A good rule of thumb is to start with 2 beehives.
Having more than 4 hives is quite a commitment for a new beekeeper. This is especially true if you do not have a helper. There is a risk of having more hives than you can manage. This usually does not end well for bees or beekeeper.
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.
How to Choose Beekeeping Equipment
One of the first things a small scale backyard beekeeper must do is order 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 the beekeeping equipment and supplies section, decide on a hive style and order your equipment early. Bee suppliers will sell out and you may be missing hive components that you desperately need.
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.
Unless your goal is large scale honey production, you may not need a large apiary. The more hives you have the more room you need to store honey supers and other items when not in use. And, the more time is required for hive inspections etc.
Choosing a Hive Style
Beehives are available in many configurations. When choosing among the many types of beehives, consider a hive style that is being using locally.
I do recommend standard Langstroth hives for beginners – but that is my opinion. Local beekeepers using the same type of hive will be your mentors.
Later you may try another type of hive such as a Top Bar hive. Each type of hive has fans and detractors (see its that opinion thing again).
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
Installing Bees into Your First Hive
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.
Did 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
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 bee 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.
A large force of worker bees are required to meet the needs of the colony. If your hive population is low, you must try to find out why!
Control of Hive Pests & Predators
Routine inspections help the beginning beekeeper watch for a variety of hive pests. Some are only an inconvenience to the beekeeper but others can be deadly to the colony.
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.
Connect with Local Beekeepers
Don’t miss an opportunity to connect with local beekeepers. While it is best to join a local beekeeping club – that may not be possible.
At the very least, connect in some way with beekeepers who live in the same climate and foraging conditions as you.
Success is Not Guaranteed in Beekeeping
Be prepared, beekeeping is hard work. A bountiful honey crop does not magically appear in the hive. Here in the South, summer beekeeping involves a lot of dirt and sweat.
Not every hive will thrive and become productive. And, not every season will mean a big honey harvest.
There will be some failures and some beehives will die. Mistakes? Have I made beekeeping mistakes? You bet your sweet…. hinny I have. And you will too.
You do not become a beekeeper just because you have a hive with bees. Beekeeping involves learning how to manage your colonies. Over time, your success should outweigh any failures.
There may be beekeepers out there who say they never have hives die. Maybe, but I don’t believe it.
Prepare for Conflicting Beekeeping Advice
A common complaint is the conflicting ideas of honey bee management in the beekeeping community. While this can be frustrating, learning from different resources has its benefits.
The great variety of conflicting advice will provide you with a lot of ideas and food for thought. You may decide to try some of them someday but don’t jump from one method of hive management to another just because someone says you should..
Beginner Beekeeping Mistakes
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby that is rewarding in so many ways. But, 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 lose 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 tips for beginner beekeepers and never stop learning about the changing world our bees must live in.