Have you ever considered having a beehive of your very own? If so, you are in luck because this is a great time to do it. You should have no problem learning how to start beekeeping with plenty of advice on setting up your hives. But before you jump in, there are some things to consider to improve your chances of success.
Get Started in Beekeeping
So the idea of having a box with thousands of stinging insects in your backyard appeals to you? You are not alone. The idea of becoming a new beekeeper is intriguing to many.
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Throughout history the lure of the hive has called to people from all walks of life. There are some very famous beekeepers (that were well known for other accomplishments) who have enjoyed beekeeping.
There are many reasons to get involved with honey bees. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to harvest their own honey. And everyone knows that keeping bees is cool – once you get past the stinger part.
Planning is an important part of the journey. But, expect your bees to throw you a few curve balls along the way. Things don’t always go as we plan but it is a good starting point. Here are some things that need to be part of your overall apiary plan.
- starting date for your first hive
- learn some beekeeping basics
- choose the best hive location
- what type of hive will you use
- order your honey bees
- buy tools and protective wear
- set up your hive
- install the bees
- new hive management
- records and local connections
- don’t forget to have fun
When to Start Beekeeping
As you begin this new adventure of getting started with bees, there are several steps to take. Some things need to be in place long before your bees arrive.
Most new hives are started in Spring. This is the easiest time to get a new colony of honey bees 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.
Failure to prepare can result in a waste or your time and money, as well as, bees that needlessly die. Having several months to educate yourself about honey bee management, order equipment and order bees is the best option.
Beekeeping Education: Learn Bee Basics
Raising honey bees is a very rewarding activity. But, healthy productive colonies are the result of beekeeper preparation and proper colony maintenance.
How can you be a good beekeeper if you don’t know what to do? How indeed. Sometimes, we have good luck despite our ignorance-but beekeeper education is important.
You do not have to become a bee scientist but you do need to know some basics about hive life. There are several different ways to learn:
- beekeeping books
- classes from local associations
- online courses
- local mentors
Best Beekeeping Books
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.
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 best Beekeeping Books for Beginners. And, I still look through them periodically.
Several of the books in my library offer advice on how to start your first hive and managing bees through the first few years. Some of my books 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.
Classes are very helpful and since everyone teaches something just a bit different- it’s a good idea to take more than 1. The different ideas learned from multiple classes are very valuable.
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. Also, to understand that as you learn more you may not do everything exactly the same way – that’s okay.
Find the Best Beehive Location
Deciding where to put your beehive is one of the most important things to consider in beekeeping. Unfortunately, it is best to make this decision before bees arrive. This is made more difficult if you have no “in the hive” experience yet.
While it is certainly possible to move a beehive, it is much less work and stress to pick the best place for it in the beginning.
Everyone has to work with the space they have. Having a couple of hives does not required a large tract of land. Even urban beekeepers work out ways to peacefully coexist with non-beekeeper neighbors.
Do your neighbors have a swimming pool that might attract your bees? Let’s take steps to prevent that early on. Make a plan for providing drinking water for your hives.
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).
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. Assuming there are no legalities preventing you from having bees, be thoughtful of your neighbors.
Choose A Beehive Style
There are many different hive designs used by beekeepers around the world. The two most common hives in the US are the Langstroth Hive & the Top Bar Hive.
Langstroth hives are the most common hive style used by beginners. You will need: a bottom board, at least 1 hive (deep) box, a couple of shallow super boxes, an inner cover and a telescoping top. This completes the outside of the hive.
For the inside you will choose the types of frames and foundation needed to give the bees a place to build comb and create their nest. Expect to spend $150-$200 per hive for the equipment. Order your equipment so you can have it assembled and painted weeks before bees arrive.
If you have a desire to build a hive, check out reputable beehive plans before you begin. Measurements matter a lot in hive construction.
You may find some ways to save money on items that you need. But, be careful of buying used equipment. You may save money but it has risks of disease.
Order Your 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.
The most popular method of obtaining bees is to buy honey bees from a bee supplier. Thousands of beekeepers buy honey bees sold in packages each year. Bee packages are ready in the Spring.
Plan to order bees in January or February to ensure availability. Waiting to order may result in you have to wait until next year.
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.
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.
Essential Beekeeping Tools
You will find thousands of gadgets to buy for your beekeeping hobby. Some of them are very helpful and others will just cost you money and take up space in your tool box.
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. Sometimes, they contain a lot of fluff that is not very useful.
Beekeeping Clothing-Protective Wear
Every beekeeper needs some protective 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.
Protective equipment helps you feel confident and soothes those new beekeeping beginners nerves. Beekeeping suits and jackets 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.
Setting Up the Hive
Many new beekeepers (and a lot of us old ones) use Langstroth Hives. At least a week before bees arrive, it is a good idea to have the hive together and set up.
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.
Do you live in an area where Small Hive Beetles are a pest? If so, consider what will be under your hives. 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.
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.
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 a home. 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.
When you first start beekeeping all of the decisions can seem a bit overwhelming. Relax, you don’t have to learn everything in one season. Start with the basics and grow as you learn.
The first year of beekeeping usually represents the largest cash investment. The actual amount of money needed to start a beehive will depend in part on local availability.
Beekeeping Records & Local Connections
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.
Make contact with local beekeeping associations where experienced beekeepers provide helpful information. They know more about keeping honey bees in your climate than anyone else.
Some associations even offer beekeeping mentoring programs. These will also become valuable contacts if you decide to start a bee farm or larger business from your hives.
Enjoy Your Bees
As you read more about how to start beekeeping, you will notice that all beekeepers experience failures. Hives will sometimes fail in spite of our best intentions. In general, colonies are not as robust as they were in years past.
Beekeeping is not a hobby that can be mastered in a few weeks. Your education will continue for years to come.