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Beekeeping for Beginners-Getting Started

The idea of having your own hives 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.

Beginner beekeeper inspecting frames in a beehive image.

Basics of Beekeeping Step by Step

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.

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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. Learn all the basic terms related to honey bees that you possibly 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. The time required to manage a couple of colonies will vary from one area to another. In general, monthly hive inspections are the norm.

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. Even if you are not going to harvest honey, your colonies will require attention.

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?

Diagram top beekeeping tips for new beekeeper list image.

Beekeeping 101

  1. Learn beekeeping basics
  2. Start with 2-3 hives – start slow
  3. Buy bees – order early
  4. Prepare equipment and supplies
  5. Select best spot for hives
  6. Practice hive management and pest control
  7. 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 beeks start with a good beekeeping book of two. There are many great books to choose from and they approach the hobby from different viewpoints.

Look for books that are written by beekeepers as these will have the most realistic information. Pass by those written by publishing houses who authors have no real experience.

Even if you want to plan to start beekeeping with one 1 or 2 hives, you still need to learn bee biology and basics – as someone with a larger apiary.

Most local beekeeping associations give beginner beekeeping courses 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. Can you have too much beekeeping advice? Yes, you can.

Hive management techniques that work well in North Dakota, may not be a good idea in Florida. Don’t forget to learn about regional bee issues.

online beekeeping class image

“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 Colony Numbers Reasonable

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.

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.

Buy Bees for Your Hive

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.

Experienced beekeeper showing a beginner the inside of a beehive image.

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. In addition to hives for the bees, you will need a few simple tools such as: a bee smoker and hive tool to begin.

Don’t forget protective wear for yourself. There are many options to consider but at a minimum a beekeeping suit or beekeeper hat and veil are needed. Some people wear gloves too and that’s fine.

Bee suppliers will sell out and you may be missing hive components that you desperately need. Having a few extra boxes on hand is a good idea.

However, unless your goal is large scale honey production or bee farm, 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.

What Type of Hive to Choose?

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).

Setting Up the Bee Yard

Over time, most new beekeepers end up with more hives than they originally planned. Still, once all your equipment and supplies arrive, you have some thinking to do before the bees get here.

Taking time to consider hive placement can save you aggravation and work later on.

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 one of the most overlooked aspects of beekeeping. Finding the best location that you have can take some thinking.

Also, don’t make the mistake of putting a hive too close to your house. You will likely regret it someday.

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.

Make sure you have all the supplies needed for installation with you before you begin the install. While this process can be rather exciting (especially for a first timer) it is actually quite easy.

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. New beekeepers often underestimate the amount of food required by a new colony.

Feeding bees sugar water in the bee yard image.

Keeping Bees Healthy and Productive

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.

Beekeeper inspecting new hive for health image.

First Year of Beekeeping

The first year of beekeeping is often the most confusing time for beginners. By the second Spring, you should have a better grip on the basics of colony management. But, too many people don’t make it to that second Spring and sometimes it is their lack of preparation that is the cause.

That does not have to be you. Don’t expect a honey crop from new colonies that first season. A honey bee colony has a lot of work to do to build a home and get ready for Winter.

They must store food for Winter and have a large enough colony population to survive. Help them have the resources they need – don’t be impatient.

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.

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.

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 Happen

Mistakes?  Have I made beekeeping mistakes?  You bet your sweet…. hinny I have.  And you will too. 

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.

Keeping honey bees 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.

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12 Comments

  1. I love natural honey, not the commercial ones from the grocery stores. I have always been fascinated by beekeeping and would love to try it… BUT the thought of getting stung keeps me paralyzed. I got stung once and saw stars…literally! LOL. Like the ones on cartoons!

  2. Robert Belcher says:

    Thank you for this timely post! I will be beginning this spring. I have joined the Pickens County beeks, and the sc state beeks. so far I have attended a meeting in pickens, greenville, and dacusville. I am looking forward to the sc/nc conference! I am hoping to find a mentor. I have looked at the master requirements and I am in awe of those who have reached this level! A big congratulations to you!
    I have ordered 2 packages of bees and have purchased two hives, a bee suit, smoker, hive tool, and beekeepers bible! I can’t wait to get started!
    Greg

  3. Robert Belcher says:

    Thanks Charlotte for the encouragement!

  4. Jim Weaver says:

    Thanks Charlotte. 2nd year beekeeper and always looking for more info. Looking forward to your blog.

  5. Kristen S says:

    I’m a newbie in Charleston. I have an established hive (2 brood boxes w honey stores, brood and new larvae and nectar building comb)
    It came w a migratory kid that I replaced w inner cover and outer telescopic cover. Is it too early to put boxes on a screened bottom? And it came w a filled syrup feeder in it- but a quick check shows a bunch of dead bees accumulating in it. I have a better ladder frame feeder w less likely drowning- can I wait to install or should I get the dead ones out? I’m still putting feelers out for a mentor and my first CABA bee meeting hasn’t occurred yet.
    Side note: they’ve been out forging (see pollen on them when they come back) and cleansing flights but lately temp is in 70’s w 47-55 at night.
    Thoughts? Help?

  6. Hi Kristen,
    On a warmish day, you could dump the dead bees out of the feeder and install your new one. In Charleston, a screened bottom should be good all year but no harm in leaving the other on for a while. Seeing them active is a good sign.

  7. Glenn sheffield says:

    Started two bee hives this spring. Top bar type because of my age and lifting ability. Went through bee keeping tips and it looks like I’m on target. Thx for the info.

  8. Hi Charlotte, you taught my bee class in Pickens about 11-12 years ago. It was so exciting and loved learning about the bees and was so fun getting my own hives! I got out of beekeeping for awhile but getting back to it in the spring with a friend that is a new beekeeper and just found your website. What a great resource! Great for review and awesome for new beekeepers!

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