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How to Start Beekeeping {Beginners Guide}

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. Due to the popularity of honey bees, beekeeping for beginners is a hot topic. 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.

Getting Started in Beekeeping

New beekeeper inspecting bees after starting a new hive image.

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.

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.

When to Start Beekeeping

As you begin this new adventure of getting started with bees, there are several steps to take- 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.

However, many people are surprised to learn that planning for your hives should begin in the prior Fall or Winter season. November or December is not too early. This is not to say that you have to wait until next year if you decide you want a hive in March.

But, having several months to educate yourself about honey bee management, order equipment and order bees is the best option. Failure to prepare can result in a waste or your time and money, as well as, bees that needlessly die.

Beekeeper inspecting new beehive prior to starting bees image.

Beekeeping Education: What You Need to Know

Raising honey bees is a very rewarding activity. 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.

Books for Beekeepers

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.

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Educate yourself by reading beekeeping books (those written by real beekeepers). Videos are great but good beekeeping 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.

Where to Set Up Your Hive?

Deciding where to put your beehive is one of the most important things to consider. 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.

Let me share one word of caution. Avoid placing your hives too close to your house or you may be forces 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.

Langstroth beehive favorite of beginning beekeepers image.

Beekeeping Essentials

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.

Choosing A Hive 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.

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.

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 wear helps you feel confident and soothes those new beekeeper 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.

Hive tool and bee smoker with various beekeeping essential tools image.

Essential Beekeeping Tools Needed

You will find thousands of beekeeping 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.

For the very basics, every new beekeeper should have a hive tool and a good bee smoker. These 2 items along with some good bee smoker fuel should get you through your first months of beekeeping.

Of course, you may consider buying a beekeeping kit. If so, be sure to consider the included items and make sure they are the ones want to start beekeeping.

Buying Honey Bees

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.

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. 

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 of these bees have been ordered months ahead.  Plan to order bees in January or February to ensure availability. Waiting to order may result in you have to wait until next year.

New beekeeper and local mentor inspect a honey bee colony image.

Beekeeping Records & Making Local Connections

When I say you should keep a beekeeping diary, I do not mean a collection of daily bee thoughts – though that may be helpful too.

Keep notes of when colonies were installed, timing of routine inspections, any mite treatments used, how long they were fed, did they produce honey etc.  

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.

The time of honey production and the quantity of honey produced will depend on the your local foraging conditions. Making contact with local beekeeping associations where experienced beekeepers provide valuable information.

Some associations even offer beekeeping mentoring programs. These will also become valuable contacts if you decide to start a bee farm or business from your hives.

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.

Don’t expect a honey harvest from new colonies during their first year. A new colony has a lot of work to do : comb building, raising young and storing food.

Beekeeping is not a hobby that can be mastered in a few weeks.  Your beekeeper education will continue for several years to come.

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  1. Great Introduction. Very clear!!!!! Stimulating.
    Lots of info given. Can’t wait to food the next module.
    Very professionally presented!!!!!!
    Elle Lawrence. ( logged in as John)

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Thank You 🙂

  3. What do you think about the 7x flow gives? My parents had 5 hives when I was a kid, but I live in a coastal town and just want pollinators and some honey on the side.

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    I am not against them. As long as the beekeeper realizes that you will still have to maintain the health of the colony that same as with any other hive type.

  5. Melanie McCabe says:

    How do I get my package of bees in the hive for the first time?

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