To start off, congratulations on deciding to become a beekeeper! From building and maintaining your first hive to collecting your first jar of honey, it’ll be an amazing experience from start to end. All in all, it’s a great decision that will benefit the environment and yourself — and now it’s time to actually get started.
Let’s Get Started!
That said, we know beekeeping, in general, can seem complex and confusing with lots of moving parts, so here’s a beginner’s guide to help you get the ball rolling. Hopefully, you’ll find it much less daunting after this!
1. Buying the Hive
Just as chocolate’s the main ingredient in a chocolate shake, the hive is the crucial piece you need for successful beekeeping fun. We can’t emphasize enough how important the hive is.
Different sellers have different shipping fees, discounts, and hive types, but typically, you should be prepared to part with about $200 for each hive. This initial cost usually includes almost everything you need, including top and inner covers, frames, and a bottom board. Check if it comes with a foundation, as some sellers consider that an optional item.
The size of the hive is also important to consider. For beginners, we highly recommend using medium-sized boxes, as it means you’ll only need medium equipment to handle everything. That’s much easier compared to having a combination of large and small boxes, that might require different equipment to handle.
Lastly, remember to get new housing for your bees! Pre-owned housing previously occupied by colonies might have residues and diseases that you don’t know about. As such, unless you trust the seller, it’s best to get new housing.
2. Preparing the Hive
This usually costs about $20 to $30, depending on how you decide to prepare your hive. Some beekeepers paint the hive, purchase a stand or add elements for bottom ventilation. In addition to this, you might want to covert your area into something more bee-friendly, such as adding bee-friendly plants to your backyard.
3. Buying the Honeybees
Now that you have an empty home, it’s time to buy the new occupants! Honeybees come in two main ways:
First, you can buy them in a package. This is about three pounds worth of bees and a queen that’s kept separately. Once you get these in a screened box, you’ll have to move it into a hive. It’s a joy to watch these bees slowly make the hive their own — and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they do it.
Secondly, you can opt to buy them in a nuc, or a small nucleus colony. These contain bees that are already functioning as a hive, complete with eggs, larva and a freed queen bee. They usually occupy three to seven frames in a small hive box.
It’s also important to remember that you might need to buy more bees as time passes. Beginners rarely make it through the first season without losing some bees, due to viruses, parasites and bad weather conditions. But don’t be disheartened! The end results will be worth every penny and every failure.
4. Buying Equipment
Just like any other investment, say a new fishing boat, you need equipment to pursue this hobby and to succeed in doing it for the long haul. While not every beekeeper might agree on what’s the most important, here are some must-have tools you should keep in mind.
First, you will need a smoker. This is one of the main tools you will need, especially if you need to be physically close to handling the hive directly. The smoke in a way acts as a repellent, so the bees stay away from you, so there’s less chance of you getting stung.
Second, you will need something known as a hive tool. It’s not super expensive, which is great news for all aspiring beekeepers. The tool is used for pulling frames apart — which can get tricky to do with your bare hands once the bees get propolis on them, kind of like a glue that holds the hive together.
Third, you will need a bee suit for sure! Higher quality suits might cost slightly more, but they do offer a little better protection. Ensure that your suit allows for sufficient ventilation as well, so you don’t get all sweaty while tending to the bees. Gloves and shoes are also important and you must get those that are sturdy, so they can resist any stings that come along.
Fourth, you’ll need a feeder tool to help supplement the bees’ diet, especially when flowers aren’t really in the bloom season. You’ll feed the bees a mixture of sugar and water using either an entrance feeder or what’s known as a hive top feeder. These go straight into the hive, so there’s less risk of attracting unwanted guests.
Lastly, it’s important for you to look out for the queen bee. If the queen bee stays in the hive, the entire swarm tends to follow. There are several ways you can keep the queen bee in, such as by purchasing a queen catcher that isolates the queen bee, a queen marker that helps you mark the queen’s hindquarters for easy identification, and last but not least, a queen excluder that blocks the queen from parts of the hive that you don’t want her to go around.
5. Spending Enough Time
As you can probably tell by now, beekeeping isn’t necessarily easy. In fact, you’ll need to put in at least 20 hours a year to tend to a colony of bees, not counting the time it takes to prepare the hive and set up the equipment. However, the more hours you put in, the higher the reward. You can also spend time engaging with other beekeepers to learn how to improve your beekeeping capabilities. It sounds like a commitment — but trust us, once the bees come round, you won’t be able to take your eyes off them and every hour you spend with the bees will be a fruitful one indeed.
To sum up, beekeeping is an exciting hobby to pick up. It has just the right balance of serenity and thrill and helps to benefit the community at large. Get started today with these five simple steps for a beginner beekeeper.