This is my 3rd year as a hobby beekeeper, I seriously love being a beekeeper and look forward to heading out to the apiary (technical name for where the beehives are) to see the girls buzzing in and out of their hives.
If you look closely at each bee when it returns to the hive you can usually see mounds of pollen clumped to their back legs…sometimes its bright orange or yellow and sometimes its pale almost white.
I chose to start beekeeping mostly to help my garden with pollination. I have many fruit trees and a large area planted and loved the idea of greater pollination rates but also “free” honey!
I read a lot, I put everything into practice, so today I want to pass on my knowledge, tips and tricks that I wish I knew when I was in your shoes with bee smoker in hand!
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about getting started in beekeeping.
Buying the Hive: Your Bees Need a Home
The first item that you need is a hive. The most common hive is the Langstroth hive, developed in 1851 by Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth.
The Langstroth hive consists of hive bodies, frames and honey supers, bottom board and cover. The hive body is a deep hive box that placed on the bottom of the stack of boxes. In each of these deeps are 10 frames.
Usually a wood or plastic rectangle with wax coated plastic foundation or an all wax foundation held in by wires. This is where the brood will be. The Queen bee will normally stay in these 2 or 3 boxes, laying egg after egg in each of the cells on the frames.
On top of the deeps are the honey “supers”, usually with a depth of 6 5/8”. This is where the worker bees create honey. These boxes get added or removed throughout the year in conjunction with the honey flow.
For example, in the spring you add supers and switch them out with empty ones as the bees fill them up. In each of these supers are also frames, same as in the deeps.
Another type of hive used is called a Top Bar Hive. Top Bar Hives consist of a long wooden body with sloped sides and wooden bars along the top. These bars are what the bees attach their comb too, drawing the wax down in the trapezoid shape of the box.
Kenyan top bar hives are usually kept by people interested in more natural beekeeping methods. You can find great info on top bar hives and other natural beekeeping methods at Bush Farms website or at the Bio Bees website.
Another option is to utilize a special hive that allows you to drain the honey from the hive like getting water from a tap. These hives are a patented product called the FlowHive.
Tools of the Trade
While it is a newer product, many experienced beekeepers have been using them with great success. They also happen to be highly attractive and well made, and excellent upgrade for any backyard apiary!
Other equipment you may need is a jacket/veil combo or bee suit, a smoker, a hive tool, a bee brush and gloves. These items are highly recommended, but not necessary in order to keep bees…they just make it easier.
Extra equipment you may also consider is a frame lifting tool, a honey extractor, or a hive carrier. All of these tools are very useful in certain settings and become extremely useful the more hives you have.
But just getting started, you really do need just a minimum of equipment.
Where Do I Get Bees, Anyway?
There are a couple of different sources you can utilize to stock your hive. Probably the easiest way to get bees is to buy a package.
Packages of bees can be purchased from bee supply companies; they usually run $80-180, and will ship direct to you in the spring.
Bee packages sell out quickly so you have to place your order very early, usually late in the previous year. Your package of bees will arrive, with your queen suspended in a cage of her own inside the package.
You hang your queen cage in your hive and then dump your package of bees into the hive. The bees will chew through the plug in the queen cage and eventually release her.
Another source for bees is to catch a swarm.
When a colony of bees grows too large for its hive it will grow a new queen and the old queen with about half of the colony will head out to look for a new home, this is how bees propagate. These swarms are usually very docile and are eager to find a new home.
Give your name and number to local law enforcement and pest control companies and you will most likely get calls for swarms in no time.
Catching the swarm is usually pretty easy, as they usually clump on a tree branch. All that’s needed is a cardboard box and some garden clippers.
You then hold your cardboard box under the swarm, either clip the branch so it falls into the box or give the branch a good downward shake so the bees fall into the box.
If your queen is in the box the bees in the swarm will stay with her, watch the branches around you for small clumps of bees forming to make sure! Close your box up, leaving a small opening for stragglers; give them some time to find their way to their queen. Then, close it up the rest of the way and head home to your hives.
Starting Out, Start Small
When you are first starting out, it is important to start small. It is very easy to get in over your head when you are first starting out, and before you know it you could have ten hives instead of just one! Not only is this a lot of work, but it can also be quite expensive.
Starting with just one or maybe, maybe two hives is a good way to get your feet wet, so to speak. You can slowly add more hives as you gain experience and confidence. This will also give you the opportunity to really get to know your bees and learn their quirks and personalities.
When starting out, it is also a good idea to start with a Langstroth hive.
This type of hive is the most popular and versatile type, and it is relatively easy to use. There are other types of hives available, but they can be more difficult to work with and might not be as suitable for beginners.
Your first year of beekeeping is mainly going to be a year of observation. Hopefully in your reading you have learned that its best to start with only one or 2 hives so you can compare them.
You want to spend the first year looking and identifying. Identify the difference between capped brood and honey.
Harvesting the Honey
For many aspiring beekeepers, the moment that they finally get to harvest some honey is the crowning achievement, the goal that makes all the care, work and study worthwhile!
The bees have been busy, and thanks to your diligent care and assistance they have been making honey by the barrelful. Just one question: how to actually, you know, harvest it? How do you get the honey?
There are a few schools of thought on this matter. For the uninitiated or the desperate, you can simply cut the hive open and take what you need.
This can work, but it also has the potential to damage the hive, anger the bees and even lead to them swarming. Never the choice for a beekeeper!
A better way is to use a device called an extractor. An extractor is a large metal drum with a rotating axle and wire mesh sides.
The frames from the hive are placed in the extractor and the honey is spun out of the wax cells using centrifugal force. The honey flows through the wire mesh and into a collection container below.
One thing to keep in mind when harvesting honey is that different types of honey will have different consistencies. For example, honey that has been made from nectar collected from clover plants will be relatively thin, while honey made from buckwheat flowers will be much thicker.
The type of honeycomb can also affect the consistency, with foundationless comb producing a thinner honey than comb that has been built on wax foundation.
The color of the honey can also vary depending on the type of flowers that the bees were collecting nectar from. For example, honey made from orange blossoms will be a beautiful light amber color, while honey made from sage will be much darker.
The flavor of the honey will also be affected by the type of flower that the bees were collecting nectar from. Honey made from clover will be a mild, sweet flavor, while honey made from buckwheat will be more robust and earthy.
No matter what type of honey you are harvesting, it is important to keep it in a sealed container in a cool, dark place.
Properly stored honey can last for many, many years, basically forever! So the next time you are harvesting honey, take a moment to appreciate all the hard work that your bees have done, and enjoy that sweet, delicious flavor!
The Sharp End: Avoiding Stings
It is kind of funny when you think about it. Who was the first person to ever try honey? Who was the first person that saw a beehive, and said “You know, I bet those things are hiding something really awesome inside.
I can just feel it.” It’s funny because they were right, but like all valuable things, that reward was guarded. By the bees! The bees and their painful stings. I’ll bet that first honey-taster paid mightily for that golden loot!
Chances are you as a new beekeeper are pretty worried about being lit up by the hive of bees you are trying to befriend! If you have ever gotten popped by an errant honeybee you probably did not forget it!
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I was petrified the first time I ever got close to a hive. But, with a little knowledge and some common sense, bee stings don’t have to be a big deal.
The first thing you should know is that bee stings are painful, but over time you’ll develop a resistance to the venom which causes the pain.
For the most part, bee stingers, physically, are just a nuisance if the venom does not work! As long as you remove the stingers quickly and thoroughly, you will be fine.
The best way to avoid being stung in the first place is to learn how to handle the bees calmly and respectfully while doing your chores. Don’t swat at them or scream like a crazy person; that will just make them angry.
“If you freak out, they freak out!” Instead, move slowly and deliberately, and try to avoid disturbing the bees unnecessarily.
If you do accidentally disturb a bee, don’t freak out! Just calmly brush it off of you and apologize. The bee will probably be just as confused as you are, and will likely fly off without incident.
If you are properly suited up in your beekeeping gear, the chances of being stung are reduced by an order of magnitude. Many bee keepers who are comfortable with their bees tend to them using a veil and little else and will rarely be stung.
But starting out, the confidence boost your suit gives is valuable! A good bee suit will cover your entire body, including your head and face. Make sure that there are no gaps or openings in the suit, or the bees will find their way in!
Another good way to avoid being stung is to use a bee smoker when working with the bees. A smoker is a device that produces smoke by burning materials such as wood or paper. The smoke from the smoker calms the bees and makes them less likely to sting.
If you do wind up getting stung, the best thing to do is to remove the stinger immediately. Bee stingers are barbed, so they will remain lodged in your skin complete with venom apparatus if you try to brush them off.
The best way to remove a stinger is to scrape it off with your fingernail or a credit card. Once the stinger is removed, wash the area with soap and water. Unfortunately the bee will die after stinging. The poor thing!
It is important to remember that bee stings can be dangerous, especially if you are allergic to them. If you start to experience any kind of reaction after being stung, seek medical attention right away.
Don’t let the fear of bee stings keep you from getting started in beekeeping! With a little bit of knowledge and common sense, you can bee a safe and responsible beekeeper.
Common Causes of Hive Collapse
So you have a hive, have ordered your bees and placed them in their new home. Their comings and goings seem normal. All is well! Or is it?
Unfortunately your hive might not persist just because the queen is on her throne and her sisters are with her. There are many factors that can lead to the collapse of a hive, some of which we will discuss in this section.
Pests and Diseases
The number one killer of honeybee colonies is pests and diseases. (You didn’t think it was those pesky Varroa mites, did you?) There are many different types of pests and diseases that can affect honeybees, and most hives are susceptible to at least one or two of them.
The most common pests are wax moths and hive beetles. Wax moths are small, white moths that lay their eggs in the beehive. The hatched larvae eat the wax inside the hive, which can destroy the comb and cause the hive to collapse.
Hive beetles are small, black beetles that lay their eggs in the brood cells. The hatched larvae eat the bee larvae and pupae, which can also cause the hive to collapse.
The most common diseases are American foulbrood, European foulbrood, and chalkbrood. American foulbrood is a bacterial disease that affects the bee larvae and pupae.
European foulbrood is a bacterial disease that affects the bee larvae. Chalkbrood is a fungal disease that affects the bee larvae. All of these diseases can cause the hive to collapse if left untreated.
Pests and diseases are serious business, and should not be taken lightly. If you think your hive might be affected by pests or diseases, it is important to take action right away.
There are many different products available to help control pests and diseases, so consult your beekeeping supplier for more information.
A queenless hive will eventually collapse. The bees will sense that the queen is absent and will start to swarm in search of a new queen. If the swarm cannot find a new queen, the hive will die.
Queenlessness can be caused by many different things, including brood disease, pests, and age. If you think your hive might be queenless, it is important to take action right away.
It is possible to raise a new queen and rally the hive to her, so consult your beekeeping group or a skilled supplier for assistance.
Hives that are located near water sources such as ponds, rivers, or lakes are susceptible to drowning. If the hive falls into the water, the bees will drown.
Drowning can be caused by many different things, including a hurricane or tornado, a flash flood, or even a leaky roof. Just like your home, hives need to be located in a safe place where they will not be susceptible to flooding or water intrusion!
If you think your hive might be in danger of drowning, it is important to take action right away. Double check the roof, move the hive to a higher location if possible, or surround the hive with sandbags or other barriers to help protect it from floodwaters.
Don’t Forget to Check Local Rules and Regs
It might seem silly that the government could have a bone to pick with you over involving yourself in a natural and ubiquitous process that goes on around the clock, but such is life.
There is no solution or activity so elegant and innocent that the government cannot mess it up. It is like the opposite of King Midas’ touch! Before you get your own hive rocking and rolling, you should do your homework on local and possibly state regs.
Every area is a little different, and you don’t want to get stung with a hefty fine because you weren’t up to date on the rules. There might be certain areas where hives are not allowed, or you might need a permit. It is always better to err on the side of caution, so check before you start keeping bees!
Another thing to consider for suburban keepers is any HOA rules and regs if applicable. You don’t want to go through all the trouble of getting your hive set up, only to have it shut down by the HOA!
In short, research is key when getting started in beekeeping. There are many different factors to consider, and you want to be sure that you are prepared for everything.
With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can be well on your way to becoming a successful and legal beekeeper!
Get Yourself a Mentor
Everybody started somewhere, and for most of us those first starting steps are always the toughest, full of uncertainty, second-guessing and general disarray.
How are you supposed to take care of these tiny charges? What does that wiggling mean? Why do my bees seem so rowdy and unproductive? Argh!
When you are just starting out as a beekeeper, one of the best things you can do is find yourself a mentor. A mentor is an experienced beekeeper who can help you with all your questions, big or small.
They can provide advice on everything from what type of hive to use, to how to handle a swarm, to how to deal with pests and diseases.
Having a mentor is invaluable when you are first starting out, so try to find someone who is willing to take you under their wing.
If you know anyone who keeps bees, ask them if they would be willing to help you get started. If not, there are often beekeeping clubs or groups in most areas that would be more than happy to help out a new beekeeper. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help!
The Buzz About Beekeeping
The benefits of beekeeping are numerous; honey, wax, increased pollination, income potential and many more! In a SHTF scenario being a beekeeper could be a prime source of goods for barter and use.
Honey obviously, but beeswax is great for weatherproofing, making candles, making beauty products like lip balm and soap and also has many uses in woodworking and machining. You could also raise bees for others to purchase from you.
last updated on 03/22/2022
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3 thoughts on “Getting Started in Beekeeping”
I thought that bee stocks were down by 90% due to bee colony collapse. How can one prevent this problem when starting out on this venture?
Spook89, I taken a bee keeping class and we were told the problem seemed to mainly affect commercial bee keepers, some of the reasons given were stress from being moved from location to location which lowered their immune system. If all goes well this year I will have a bee hive.
Thanks for the info, John! I wish you all the best!