About a year and a half ago, bees began to pique my interest. The way they lived, their determination, caring for their queen bee and of course – the honey!
And so my journey began. I started to read and watch documentaries as much as I could about beekeeping for beginners, bee anatomy, organic beekeeping. I attended a few classes watching slides and networking with other seasoned beekeepers. I learned a lot!
After years of building up the courage, I attended a beekeeping class that would allow some hands on experience. I knew that attending would let me know if this new found interest was meant to be. Surely, it was! I felt at home near the hive and with the bees.
I still have a considerable amount to learn about keeping bees, but here are few helpful tips if you are considering this hobby.
Read, read, and read some more!
There is a lot to learn about the busy bee. From their life stages in the hive , their jobs (baby, nurse, worker) and their anatomy. Books such as Beekeeping for Dummies will also explain the different types of hives available. Depending on how you want to keep the bees (domestic or commercially), it is important to understand which type of hive is best for you prior to ordering your bees.
Bees can suffer from various diseases and bug infestation that can destroy a hive. Foul brood disease and varroa mites (to name a few) are serious conditions that a beekeeper must be aware of. Understanding both of these situations is a must!
Did you know that bees can thrive in the city and the country? Beekeeper Andrew Kotes set up his hive of 20,000 bees on top of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City!
Bees can travel the length of 4 football fields to forage for pollen. That being said, your location is a small factor in deciding if you can or can’t keep bees. Others are doing it in very unique places.
Their are ways to be economical when keeping bees. You can catch your own swarm (I would personally wait until I had more experience), you can build your own hive, and you can create your own bee suit. In my opinion, being economical would be more ideal for the seasoned beekeeper.
If you are just starting out I recommend the following:
1) Buy your bees from a reputable, state certified bee farm. It will not guarantee that your bees will be mite free, but a good bee farmer should have less than 3% mites in the packages they give you. A popular trustworthy bee supplier to purchase from is Blue Sky Bee Supply. The two to five pound packages of bees come in the mail and are picked up at your local post office. The cost is about $130 containing around 9,000 bees and one doting queen.
2) The most common type of bee hive – The Langstroth Hive will cost you about $200 including the frames. A more economical approach could be the top bar hives. These hives are more common in tropical areas and their structure is horizontal versus the more common vertical hive. Finally, there are “nuc” or nucleus hives that you can purchase for $160. Nuc hives come with the bees and the queen already introduced to her hive and all stages of bee development inside. That situation could make things a lot easier for a beginner beekeeper.
3) A newbie will definitely want to consider purchasing a full suit and gloves when going out to the hive. Not only does it protect you from a potential sting, but your clothes could get super messy from the propolis resin and honey. Seasoned beekeepers warn of wearing gloves when inspecting the hives because of the potential to kill bees accidentally. Killing a bee releases a pheromone to the bees which can cause them to get defensive. Leather gloves can be bulky and harder during inspection, so eventually as you get more comfortable you can go glove-less or with thinner hand gloves. A bee suit and gloves will cost you up to $200
4) The last few supplies to get started are a smoker and a hive tool. A smoker is helpful in moving the bees around (calming) when inspecting the hive and the hive tool is needed to separate the propolis that can adhere to the sides of the frames. The smoker and hive tool should cost you around $40.
5) Bee food consists of white sugar in water which is treated as carbohydrates for the bees. This gives them the energy needed to work and forage honey. There are also bee protein patties that are typically given to the bees when you first put your hive together. This should cost you about $25 or less.
Join a club
In almost every state there is a Beekeeping Association that you can join for a minimal fee. Being part of a club allows you to learn from seasoned beekeepers and attend bee seminars and classes to help with educating yourself on keeping bees.
Beekeeping is definitely not for everyone, but can be a rewarding experience when you are doing it for the right reasons. Here are some additional facts to consider before deciding to keep bees that I learned at a recent beekeeping class:
Bees need about 50 pounds of honey during the winter to survive
Killing weeds and clover in your yards is not ideal for bees – they need it!
Living near corn and soybean fields in the country is not ideal for bees to consume
Check with your neighbors, zoning requirements, and state certifications prior to setting up your bees
After a few stings your body will set up a resistance to bee venom, but always have an action plan just in case of a bad reaction.
It is ideal to check your hive every 10 days to check for food and room
Drone (male) bees do not sting! They are their simply to mate with the queen
A queen mates ½ mile away from the hive and always returns
There are organic chemicals such as formic acid that can be used to kill mites
I wish you best of luck in your beekeeping future! Bees are important to our food supply and way of life. If you would like to help the bees by planting delicious wild flowers in your yard click here.