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 a lot more than just setting out a hive. You must also learn tons of new terminology and ideas for managing your colonies. The key to success in keeping honey bees is education and patience.
How to Start Beekeeping
When you first start beekeeping, you might feel overwhelmed by all of the new terminology. That’s normal – you can learn some of it as you go.
However, do your part and learn all the basic terms related to honey bees before your bees arrive. This makes the process much easier and increases your chances of success.
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.
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.
Why do you want to be a beekeeper? Even if you are not going to harvest honey, your colonies will require attention. The old days of just sitting a hive out in the backyard are over.
Keeping Honey Bees Requires
- some expense
- investment of time
- physical work
What is a beekeeper? Do you understand the tasks you will need to do? Managing honey bee colonies requires an investment of money, as well as, a time commitment. In general, monthly hive inspections are the norm.
Expect to devote a couple of hours per week to your bees. If you desire a larger apiary, the time and expenses will be more.
Moving heavy boxes is a common part of managing a beehive. If you wish to do beekeeping as a hobby, there are ways to get around some of the heavy lifting for a couple of hives. Maybe, you will have a helper for the heavy work.
If you have the dream to start a beekeeping business, start small and learn the basics. Then, develop a good business plan, before investing thousands of dollars.
However, even small scale beekeepers can make a little salary or profit from their backyard hives. You must balance your investment, time and expenses.
Beekeeping 101 – Starting a Beehive
- When to start beekeeping
- Learn beekeeping basics
- Choose the best hive location
- Order bees
- Beekeeper tools
- Choosing a hive style
- Setting up the hive
- Installing bees
- Hive management
- Keeping records & local connections
- Have fun
Best Time of Year to Start Beekeeping
Early Spring is the best time of year to begin beekeeping. This is the easiest time to get a new colony off to a good start. Trees and flowers are blooming to provide abundant food for hungry insects.
However, many people are surprised to learn that actual planning for your hives should begin in the prior Fall or Winter season. November or December is not too early to plan for next season.
Are you a beekeeper once you have your first hive of bees in the backyard? Technically, the answer is yes.
However, if you have no idea of how to manage your hives – you are not truly keeping honey bees. You are still a bee-haver not a beekeeper.
One of the most overlooked aspects of beginner beekeeping is education. How can you be a good beekeeper if you don’t know what to do? How indeed.
Yes, you need actual experience in the hive – but you need to know what you are looking for too! There are several different ways to learn:
Educate yourself by reading beekeeping books (those written by real beekeepers). Videos are great but good books will never lose their place in training beginners.
My library consists of over 30 titles and counting. I have carefully chosen what I believe to be the top Beekeeping Books for Beginners. And, I still look through them periodically.
Several books in my library offer advice on how to start your first hive and managing bees through the first few years. Others are more advanced and were put to good use during my journey toward Master Beekeeper.
And yes, I have to recommend my own beekeeping book that was published recently. It is a compilation of my notes from years of teaching local beekeepers.
Take a Beekeeping Class (or 2 or 3)
Beekeeping classes are very valuable because they give you a chance to get different points of view on hive management.
This is something to get used to because beekeeping involves a lot of opinions – you may as well embrace it right now.
Local clubs offer classes during certain times of the year and you can find beekeeping classes online as well. I invite you to check out my Online Beekeeping Class. It teaches everything you need to know to get started in beekeeping.
Local Connections and Mentors
If you are really lucky, you may find an experience beekeeper that is willing to serve as a mentor. This is a valuable asset – be sure to be respectful of their time.
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.
“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.
Find the Best Place for Your Beehives
Deciding where to put your beehive is one of the most important decisions for beginning beekeepers. Before you invest a lot of money, make sure you have a spot that will be good for the bees and you.
Everyone has to work with the space they have. Having a couple of hives does not require a large tract of land. Even those in urban beekeeping settings work out ways to peacefully coexist with non-beekeeper neighbors.
Let me share one word of caution. Avoid placing your hives too close to your house or you may be forced to move them later.
Colony temperament changes throughout the season (for a multitude of reasons). Stinging becomes a bigger problem as the hives grow strong in population.
While it is certainly possible to move a beehive, it is much less work and stress to pick the best place for a beehive in the beginning.
Is it Legal to Keep Bees at Your Home?
Most areas in the United States do allow beekeeping though some municipalities may restrict the number of hives you can keep on a small lot.
Research any legal stumbling blocks to your dream of becoming a beekeeper before investing your money.
Ordering Honey Bees
The early beekeeper gets the worm..or um bees ! Don’t procrastinate ordering bees. Early delivery dates will sell out – sometimes by the end of January.
Plan to order bees in January or February to ensure availability. Waiting to order may result in you have to wait until next year.
The most popular method of obtaining bees is to buy honey bees from a bee supplier. There are several different ways to get bees.
Most beginning beekeepers buy bees sold in packages. Packages are small bee families that are easier to manage and good for those just getting started keeping bees.
Of course this is not the only method for buying bees. Nucleus colonies are also available-but usually in a reduced quantity and they cost a bit more. If you want these, your beekeeping budget should include the price.
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.
Most new beekeepers opt to buy bees to ensure they are able to start their hive this year. However, if you just don’t have the money – perhaps you can catch a swarm later in the season.
Beekeeping Tools & Equipment
Now that your bees are on the way and you have a good spot for your hive – you need a few supplies. Some tools for yourself and protective wear.
- hive tool
- protective wear
Of course, you may consider buying a beekeeping kit with most of the items you need. If so, be sure to consider the included items and make sure they are the ones you need. Sometimes, they contain a lot of fluff that is not very useful.
Beekeeping Clothing – Protective Wear
Every beekeeper needs some protective clothing to wear. Having a beekeeping jacket , full bee suit or hat/veil combo makes beekeeping much safer.
In fact, I believe that a beekeeper’s veil is absolutely necessary and one piece of protective gear that everyone should have.
It is not just about preventing stings. Protective equipment helps you feel confident and soothes those beekeeping beginner’s nerves. You have many choices for beekeeping protective clothing – they come in many different styles.
No harm in saving money but take quality into account as well when you are shopping. The cheapest equipment does not necessarily save money in the long run.
Choosing a beekeeping suit that can be washed is a good investment as it prolongs the life of the garment.
Beekeepers learn how to be frugal. (ok, we can be cheap.) I use disposable nitrile gloves for working my bees on a normal basis. They are inexpensive (if sweaty) and allow greater dexterity while working my my hives.
However, goatskin beekeeper gloves offer some protection and good flexibility so they are not a wasted expense.
What Type of Beehive 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. Those using the same kind of hive will be your mentors.
I do recommend standard Langstroth hives for beginner beekeepers – but that is my opinion. I think it is easier for those first couple of years when you have so much other stuff to learn.
Later you may try another type of hive such as a Top Bar hive, a horizontal hive or even the flow hive. Each type of hive has fans and detractors (see its that opinion thing again).
Keep Colony Numbers Reasonable
How many beehives 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.
The natural behavior of honey bee swarming can result in many more boxes of honey bees that you planned. How will you handle these issues? Prevention of swarms or selling the extras?
Setting Up the Beehive
At least a week before bees arrive, it is a good idea to have the hive together and set up. While assembling the required parts of the hive, it is a good idea to use nails and glue.
A Langstroth hive consists of several boxes with frames inside. On the frames our bees build their honeycomb.
Some folks like to attempt to build their own hive. This is okay but you must follow building plans closely to avoid problems with the bees later on.
Most beekeepers choose to paint the beehives to protect the wood. Do this well ahead of installing bees to give the paint smell time to dissipate.
While not a requirement, it is highly recommended that you use some type of hive stand for your Langstroth hive to sit on.
Your back will thank you in years to come – less bending. And, this also helps protect the hive entrance from predators.
Placing bee colonies in the shade – surrounded by tall wet grass is asking for trouble where beetles are concerned. Dry material is the best choice to deter beetle reproduction.
Installing Bees into Your First Hive
When your bees arrive, it is a good idea to install them in your hive as soon as possible. Being contained in a transport box is stressful for them.
The actual procedure for placing them in the new hive depends on how you purchased them. They are similar but have slight differences between packages and nucs.
Regardless, of the container they arrive in – keep the bees in a calm cool place until you are ready to get them into their new hive.
Package bees should be installed as soon as possible. Nucleus hives are a bit more flexible.
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.
Young colonies are started with one hive body (or deep box). Additional boxes and supers are added as the bee population grows.
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.
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.
New Hive Management
Once the bees are in the hive, it is time to feed them if you choose and let them settle in. Don’t look in the hive every day – though I know you will want to! This is one of the hardest challenges when you start beekeeping.
Give them a week or so to settle down and feel at home. Each worker bee will get to work on establishing their home and finding food.
Then, it will be time for a first hive inspection. Now, you can put into action those hive management tasks that you learned about during your beekeeper education phase.
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.
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.
Keep notes of when colonies were installed, timing of routine inspections, any mite treatments used, etc. A beekeeping diary, of colony conditions, weather or noticed blooming plants is valuable information for next year.
In the field I use my voice recorder and then transcribe my notes to the notebook. My beekeeping journal has hive inspection sheets and monthly “things to do” sheets to keep me on track.
Enjoy Hobby Beekeeping – It is Supposed to Be Fun
Are your interested in beekeeping as a hobby? If so, don’t forget to have fun. As you research how to start beekeeping, you will notice that all beekeepers experience failures.
In general, colonies are not as robust as they were in years past. Not every hive will thrive and become productive.
Mistakes? Have I made beekeeping mistakes? You bet your sweet…. hinny I have. And you will too. This is common for those new to the craft.
Routine inspections are necessary-often on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule. You must monitor your colonies for various parasites and pests especially during the warm season.
This depends on who you ask. Most beekeepers considered hobbyist have less than 10 hives. In the industry, a hobby beekeeper may have up to 25 hives. Those with more than 25 and less than 300 are considers side-liners. Commercial beekeepers have more than 300 hives.
No, there are several times of protective clothing that beekeepers can use. A full bee suit is a benefit for new beekeepers – even if you only have a couple of hives. A hat and veil is the minimum to protect your face.
It is very important for beginning beekeepers to 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. Expect some failures in the first years but that only makes the rewards that much sweeter.