Starting beekeeping can be a meditative, fun and even lucrative hobby for your homestead.
If you’re looking to get deep into running a full-fledged homestead, consider adding beekeeping as one of your food and revenue sources. Starting a bee farm takes a little bit of knowledge, a small investment, and can be an investment that could pay off for years to come. If you don’t have a homestead or want to live in a more rural location, urban beekeeping might be an option for you.
Once you have a thriving hive (or a few thriving hives), you’ll start making copious amounts of honey and wax every single year. This honey and wax can lead to producing all kinds of items, premium organic honey for restaurants or elegant wax candles just to name a couple of products you can make from our yellow flighted friends.
So what does it take to actually start a bee farm?
Well, it starts as most things do… with education.
How to Become a Beekeeper Using Beekeeping Classes or Videos
As with anything, preparation is the key proponent of succeeding or failing in this endeavor.
If you take the time to learn how to handle bees, how to feed them and nurture them, then you’re gonna have way more success than if you just bought some beekeeping equipment and “winged” it.
The good news is that the learning curve is not at all steep. If you’re sound of mind and able body (able to lift above 25 pounds), then you can become a beekeeper quite easily.
There are a ton of online beekeeping courses, local beekeeping classes and free beekeeping videos you can watch to get started. Once you have a good grasp of knowledge, only then should you start looking at buying equipment, hives and frames for your honey factory.
5 Quick Tips on Starting Beekeeping
There are a few things you should consider BEFORE you start beekeeping.
- Is it legal? You will want to check to make sure that is legal in your city ordinance to raise bees. Usually, there is some kind of licensing required, which is relatively easy to get and helps avoid paying any hefty fines down the road.
- Why are you doing it? Ask yourself the reasons you have for starting a bee farm. Maybe you want to help out the local population of pollinators, help avert the global bee crisis, or maybe you’re looking to create a well-rounded homestead with a variety of food products and revenue sources. Answering this question will help you in deciding how “deep” down the honey-well you want to really go!
- Did you tell your neighbors? If you’re in a rural area, your neighbors are likely not going to notice your bees. However, you should still alert them in case they have any allergies or concerns.
- Do you have a good water source? Bees require a nearby water source and tend to prefer still waters like ponds or slow-moving creeks. If you don’t have one nearby, consider setting up one about twenty feet away from the hive.
- Did you look for any local beekeeping clubs? Local clubs are useful not just for learning about how to become a beekeeper, but can also help you out if you decide to go on vacation or if you want to start selling some of the honey you’re producing.
Granted, these are less of tips and more of considerations, but something any would-be apiarist should consider before they dive deep into the hive life.
Now that you have the general basics out of the way, it is time to start looking at just what kind of investment you’ll need to make turn your homestead into a palace of organic honey
The Cost of Beekeeping & Maintaining Bee Farms
Technically, beekeepers are considered to be in the same agricultural profession as other farmers growing crops. It is just your crops happen to fly, sting, and produce something usually sweeter than broccoli and turnips.
As with any enterprise, there are some outset costs you’ll need to be willing to pay to get started in beekeeping. The great thing is that the apiarist life is not that expensive. For around $400-500 you can have everything you need and be up and running for years to come.
This is because bees are pretty low maintenance critters to maintain unlike other cattle such as… Cattle.
They don’t need a lot of room and they forage on their own once the hive gets going.
Here is the short breakdown of the kind of equipment you’ll need to get started beekeeping:
- Protective equipment (gloves, suits, masks)
- Hives and frames (frames is where your honey will be stored)
- Beehive stands
- Bee feeder (Used for hives just starting out to help them grow strong)
- 3 lbs worth of packaged bees (We recommend the Italian honey bee)
- Queen bee
- Queen excluder (useful when starting out to keep the queen separate from the other bees)
- Bee tool (screwdriver works too, but these are cheap to get to help open up your hive)
- Smoker (used to keep bees docile while checking on the hive’s health)
- Honey extractor
- Mason jars to store the honey
Obviously, there is a lot more you could get but this covers pretty much all the bases from start to finish. Most of this equipment is reusable for the long term as well. You’ll rarely need to replace a bee tool, and you’ll only need another queen excluder if you decide to keep using them once you get skilled enough with your hive and decide to start a new hive.
Almost all of this is one a time upfront cost.
Even getting more bees for new hives is not an added cost, since you can usually separate out a hive into a new hive every year when older hives tend to start swarming. This basically gives you an endless supply of bees if you got the space for it.
Of course, you’ll need to buy more hives and frames to support the new colonies but… everything else you have is plenty good to service a second hive.
Once you get your equipment and bees, you’re ready to get down the bee-ziness! (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Installing Packaged Bees into Your Hive
Your bees should arrive in a wooden crate with a screen mesh. Check the bees to make sure they’re actually alive. Being shipped across the country, or even down a local road if you bought locally, is a stressful event for the bees.
If there is an inch worth of dead bees piled up at the bottom of the crate, you’ll need to call your supplier to let them know about the problem right away. In most cases, the suppliers will send you a new package of bees.
Ideally, you should install the bees into your hive as soon as they arrive.
If for some reason you can’t, you should store the bees in a cool place like your garage as long as temperatures aren’t TOO cold.
Before moving the bees over to the hive, you’ll want to make a bee feed solution. This is as simple as getting a clean spray bottle and fill it up one part sugar and one part water. Mist the solution into the bees case or smear the sugary water across the bee crate. You’ll find that as you begin your journey as a beekeeper that a bee with a full belly is a gentle bee.
Now that they’re properly filled up, it is time to move the bees into the actual hive you have set up.
Step 1 Long Live the Queen
Remove the queen from the package bees. If the bees are clumping up around her too much for you to inspect her, gently brush the bees off using a brush. You will want to inspect the queen closely.
First, make sure she is alive and walking around without any gimps. You will also want to make sure she has all of her legs and there is nothing noticeably wrong.
If you find out your queen is dead, place her back into the bee crate and close the lid. You need to call your bee supplier ASAP for a queen replacement while you keep your current bees in a cool place and keep them well fed.
Once the queen is checked, you can simply place her in the hive and uncork the “candy-side” of the queen cage. The rest of the bees will chow down on the candy to get to the queen once they’re in the hive.
Step 2 Follow the Queen
Once the queen is in the hive, simply shake some of the bees on top of her. Once they get ear her, they’ll stick their butts into the air and pump out pheromones letting the other bees know the queen is down there. This will help the rest of the bees to follow the queen into the new hive.
Make sure you’ve removed a few frames from the hive as you dump the bees in. Try to get as many of them as possible in there, but no worries if you can’t get them all. You don’t need 100% of the bees sitting idly in the hive to install them all.
Any stragglers left behind will simply follow in later.
Step 3 Replace the Frames
Now place the frames you took out of the hive back into the hive. Be very gentle doing this as you don’t want to squish any of the poor bees as you’re setting up the hive. This is a pretty simple process and shouldn’t be too difficult.
Though if you’re just starting out, the prospect of putting your hand into the box of bees might be a bit intimidating at first.
Don’t worry too much about getting stung. If you bought your equipment and you fed the bees, it is unlikely you’ll get stung at all as the bees are still too lazy to do anything.
Step 3 Feed the Bees
Now that you’ve got all the bees settled into their new home, it is time to give them more food.
Since new hives, especially ones built on a foundation, have no honey, wax or bee bread, the bees might starve. Luckily, you bought a bee feeder that is filled with one part water and one part sugar.
Set this bee feeder up next to the hive and let the bees do their magic. They will start producing the waxes they need to fill out the frame and honeycomb the hive. You’ll need to make sure you keep the feeder full for about a week.
If everything goes well during that week, you’ll see bee undertakers.
Step 4 Yes. Bee Undertakers.
The first week of having the hive set up you should not bother the bees at all. The only time you should be near the hive is to refill the bee feeder. During this crucial first week, the bees must learn to accept their new queen. Right now, they’re confused and not really sure what is going on.
You will groups of bees doing scouting flights all around the hive wondering what the hell is going on. This can look super chaotic but have no fear, it’s normal. If you didn’t bother the bees during this acceptance time, they’ve likely not killed the queen and have accepted the queen as their own.
Around this time you might see something very peculiar…
Bees carrying dead bees out of the hive for disposal. These are bees that didn’t make it and the colony is now cleaning the house. This weird scene of bee undertakers is a very healthy sign that the colony is starting to acclimate to its new home.
Outside of the macabre bee undertaker, you’ll also see bees flying back to the hive with pollen on their feet. A bee with pollen covered feet means they’re starting to bring in the resources needed to help your queen start laying eggs in earnest.
In other words, you’ve started a successful bee farm!
What to Do With the Honey?
If you got your bees set up in spring, then by summer’s end you’ll be ready to start harvesting the honey. You will want to open up your hive again and start removing a few frames from the hive. These frames will now be encased with honey capped off by beeswax.
Don’t get greedy now.
Your bees feed off this honey themselves, so you don’t want to take their entire supply. The relationship is supposed to be a symbiotic one if you want your bee farms to scale up to multiple hives.
Once you got the honeycombed frames out, that is when you start working with your shiny new honey extractor. You could also let the honey drip out from the frames into a bucket over several days, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I especially don’t recommend it if you’re looking to create some kind of side hustle with selling the honey or creating bee-related products. The extractor is a much smoother and cleaner experience.
Now, place all that honey into some mason jars!
Congratulations, you’ve started on the road to becoming a successful beekeeper
How does it feel to be the owner of a bee farm?
Is it bee-autiful?
Your new bee farm should have plenty of equipment to help expand you into a second, third or even fourth hive over the coming years using just the bees you have now. During wintertime, you will want to winterize your bees so they survive the colder months.
And of course, make sure you share the honey with them since they’ll need it to survive!