How to Start Keeping Bees
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 in your backyard.
The idea of becoming a beekeeper is intriguing to many. There have been many famous beekeepers over the years. Though they may not be remembered for their beekeeper skills.
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.
Backyard Honey Production
Yes, it is possible to produce your own honey right at your home. However, you have to learn how to manage your colonies for health and production. It requires some training and hard work – that’s a fact.
Many backyard beekeepers have a hive or 2 that produces enough honey to supply family and friends. You could be bottling your own honey sooner than you think.
But beekeeping as hobby should not be undertaken without some planning and preparation.
Back yard honey production requires a good understanding of honey bees and proper hive management.
If you think keeping bees is something you are destined to try, prepare yourself well before bees arrive. Your journey starts right here with a good plan.
Raising Bees for Fun And Pollination
Not everyone who keeps bees is wanting to make a large honey crop. Many beekeepers have bee colonies in order to provide pollination.
A couple of beehives in your neighborhood will benefit area gardens. Vegetable gardens and orchards produce more fruit if bee hives are nearby.
Pollination is the major contribution of honey bees to our culture. Those who become beekeepers for pollination manage bees differently.
It is not necessary to manage the colonies as intensively. Hive strength is not as important. But, you will still need to monitor your colonies for disease or problems.
Beekeeping For Honey Requires Strong Colonies
Okay, lets get back to the purpose of this article. Backyard beekeeping for honey.
If you want to start beekeeping for honey production , it is even more important to learn proper bee management.
Your colonies should be healthy and strong to be able to produce enough honey for themselves and surplus for you.
Learning to manage large honey producing colonies requires some skill. A good beekeeper learns how to recognize problems in the colonies.
Controlling honey bee pests and disease is an big part of being successful with beehives. Sick unhealthy beehives are not going to produce a good honey crop.
Being a good beekeeper means learning what to do for your colonies, when to do and getting it done.
Start Beekeeping with 2 Hives
Getting started in beekeeping is not cheap but it doesn’t have to be unattainable. The number of colonies to start with is up to you.
However, most small scale beekeeper who want to produce honey for the family start with 2 – 4 hives.
Plan a budget based on current prices for basic equipment and bees in your locale. Add a bit just in case prices increase and don’t forget to shop around.
It is wise to check equipment prices from several companies before you purchase but be sure you consider quality too! Sometimes, cheap things are cheap for a reason.
Order early as suppliers will sell out of things during the Spring rush. It is much better to have an extra box than to be short a box.
Grow your bee yard slowly with just a few hives. You can add more each year until you get up to the number of hives that you require.
Growing too big too fast is a good way to experience failure in beekeeping.
Honey Production vs Bee Pollination
Yes, you can do it all – within reason that is. The number of colonies that you ultimately desire and the related costs will depend on what you hope to gain.
A hive management plan for pollination is different and does not require such strong colonies. However the basic needs of the bee colonies is the same.
For massive honey production: The cost of bees, equipment for the bees, boxes to store honey can easily reach into the thousands of dollars.
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.
Beginner Beekeeping Gloves – You Can Go Cheap
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 and allow greater dexterity while working my my hives.
The only down-side is that my hands do sweat inside the gloves during hot weather. That is rather yucky but not as bad as getting stung.
Protective Wear For Beekeepers
It is a good idea to have a beekeeping jacket or hat/veil combo. 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 problem with saving money, but take quality into account as well. The cheapest equipment does not necessarily save money in the long run.
Best Hive to Start Beekeeping
You will have many decisions to make as you prepare to get started with bees. It is important to remember that beekeeping is a field full of opinions.
There are many different ways to do things. You will have to find one that works for you.
Learn from the advice of others, but each location and each hive is different – be willing to adjust.
What Kind of Bee Hive Is Best for Beginners?
There are many different hive designs used by beekeepers around the world. The two most common choices in the US are the Langstroth Hive & the Top Bar Hive.
Both designs are well suited to honey bees. However, honey bee management is different between the two hive types.
Most beekeepers who desire larger honey harvests chose a Langstroth 10 frame hive.
Those keeping bees for the experience and/or pollination often chose a Top Bar Hive. Of course, both hive types can produce honey & provide pollination.
If you have a desire to build a hive, check out reputable beehive plans before you begin.
Getting Ready for Bees
New beekeepers who take the time to study before bees arrive will have the greatest chances of success. When I first started beekeeping I was just a little bit afraid.
Yes I was excited but I had never opened a box with 60,000 stinging insects. With time, my confidence grew and beekeeping became more enjoyable.
Consider your goals as you make plans for your first hive. Arm yourself with knowledge and join a local beekeeping club if you can.
Early Bird Gets the Bees
The early beekeeper gets the worm..or um bees ! Don’t procrastinate ordering bees.
The most popular method of obtaining bees is to buy bees from a supplier. Thousands of beekeepers buy honey bees sold in packages made of wood and screen for transportation.
Each package contains 1 queen and about 10,000 bees. Once the bees arrive, the new beekeeper will move the bees to a permanent hive.
Bee packages are ready in the Spring. However, 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.
Expect to Feed Your Bees
Your bees are ordered and you have your hive ready. Now you are sitting in the house ( in your beekeeping suit) reading your newest beekeeping book – one more think to consider.
How will you feed your bees.? Most new colonies will benefit from feeding. In some regions, failure to feed may result in the new colony not making it through the year.
Do your research about feeding bees, including learning about local conditions from area beekeepers.
Supplemental feeding ( I use pure cane sugar mixed with water) will help give your new bee colony a boost. Sometimes I feed a new colony at the end of the season too to ensure they are ready for Winter.
Invest in A Few Good Beekeeping Books
Continuing education is everything in beekeeping. Beekeepers love books and there are many ones available. My beekeeping library consists of about 30 titles.
Several of my books offer advice on how to start beekeeping 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.
You should have no trouble finding beekeeping books, articles and videos on how to become a beekeeper.
Choose 2 or 3 books for your beginning beekeeper education. Some of my favorites are:
Check out my Online Beekeeping Classes – everything you need to know for your first year with bees.
Classes are very helpful and since everyone teaches something just a bit different- it’s a good idea to take more than 1.
Choose A Good Bee Yard Location
One of the most important decisions in beekeeping is hive placement. Deciding where to put your beehive or beehives requires consideration of several factors.
In addition to forage, water and protection for your beehive. Accessibility in order to harvest your honey need to be considered.
Honey is heavy. You need to be able to get to the bee yard in all kinds of weather.
Start Beekeeping With Realistic Expectations
As you read more about how to start beekeeping, you will notice that all beekeepers experience failures. Hive will sometimes fail in spite of our best intentions.
I tell the beginners in my beekeeping classes that a honey harvest may not happen until the next year.
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.
In a good year, I have harvested honey from new colonies but it is not something to expect.
The amount of honey you can expect to harvest will also vary from location to location and year to year.
Know Your Honey Flow
Which flowers produce nectar and pollen for your bees ? It depends on where you live.
Climate conditions affect the amount of nectar that is produced by flowering plants.
Honey bees gather nectar from the flowers and transform it into honey. However, many variables are involved in honey production.
Proper temperatures and rainfall play an important role in nectar production and honey production. And, the weather has to be fair for the bees to work.
We call the time of year when an abundance of nectar is available the “honey flow”. In my area, the flow is on during April & May.
The time of honey production and the quantity of honey produced will depend on the your local foraging conditions.
Making contact with local experienced beekeepers provides valuable information to the new beekeeper.
Good Beekeeper Records
Keep notes of when colonies were installed, 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.
Beekeeping is not a hobby that can be mastered in a few weeks. Your introduction to beekeeping will last at least through the first year.
If you are lucky, you will continue to learn more and more about beekeeping as time goes by.