Are you looking for a new outdoor hobby that can put some food on the table and become a small side hustle? Why not try out beekeeping?
Beekeeping allows you to reap the benefits of fresh backyard-to-table honey while you maintain your own colony.
Bees are so essential for the health of our environment.
Join the fight in keeping them healthy!
Here’s everything you need to know about beekeeping.
1. Why are honeybees important?
Honeybee populations have been in decline for decades.
The root cause of this decline is a bit baffling, but there are several factors thought to be the reason.
These factors include pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition, disease, and loss and destruction of habitat.
What remains apparent is that a large number of flowering plants rely on insect pollination, wherein pollen grains are distributed by insects moving from flower to flower.
Bees are amazing pollinators — they are thought to help about a third of America’s crops in some way, shape, or form.
Here are just some of the plants that bee pollination help:
Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and brazil nuts
Seeds like sunflower, sesame, and flax
Fruits such as apples, pears, and apricots
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
Vegetables such as broccoli, broad beans, and brussel sprouts
2. Why is beekeeping necessary?
Aren’t bees able to live in nature on their own? Why is beekeeping necessary?
With the decreased presence of pollinating bees, there’s a real danger to our natural environment and our agricultural system.
We are directly dependent on bees, and thus beekeeping is a way that we can help to save both their populations as well as our own.
When you become a beekeeper — adding a couple of beehives to your garden or backyard — you contribute in a small way to the bee population.
3. What should you know about bees before beekeeping?
Here are some quick facts that can help you better understand bees:
A honeybee colony will have 30,000 to 50,000 bees on average depending on the size
Each community has a queen who lays upwards of 1,500 eggs daily
Worker bees run the hives
Drones are the male bees from other colonies who mate with the queens
If you’re interested in beekeeping, consider taking a beekeeping class from an experienced, respected individual or organization.
These courses help you learn the basics, including proper terminology, equipment use, and how to manage bees from season to season.
4. What equipment do you need before beekeeping?
This is what makes up the beehive itself.
It includes the hive bottom, hive body, and top cover.
It’s recommended to start with two hives/colonies so you can compare them to understand what is working and what isn’t.
While it can be expensive to invest in two initially, beekeepers often won’t understand what the potential problems may be when they only have one hive because they don’t have anything to compare it to.
Protective veil and gloves
If you’re a novice beekeeper, you’ll want to invest in a protective veil and gloves.
This can help you avoid stings that can cause you to get distracted and injure yourself or your bees.
You may also find that you want more protection.
In this case, you can purchase a full bee suit or a bee jacket as well as boots.
A smoker helps to calm and distract the bees while you’re working within the hive.
This tool looks like an elongated paint scraper, and it allows you to easily access the hive as well as move frames around.
Duh! You need to be able to fill your colony.
Make sure you order enough for two colonies.
5. How do you get bees to start beekeeping?
There are a couple of ways you can obtain bees to fill your hives.
The most common route is a package — a small screen box with about 10,000 loose bees.
The queen, who typically bears no relation to the other honeybees, stays separated in a cage.
You can also buy a nuclear colony.
This is essentially a mini colony.
Each of these mini colonies already contains an actively-laying queen and five frames of comb.
Nuclear colonies cost about $50 to $75 more than packages, but developmentally, they’re about six weeks ahead.
6. How much will beekeeping cost?
The price of your beekeeping setup will vary depending on your location in the country.
However, the average price for two hives is generally between $500 to $1,000.
This includes both the equipment and the bees themselves.
Don’t worry, though, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.
The protective gear that you purchase can last for several years.
The hive woodenware can even withstand a decade or two of use if you properly care for it.
The only expendable necessity that you’ll be purchasing is your bees.
7. What’s the time commitment of beekeeping?
Beekeeping is like most other hobbies — you get out of it what you put in.
However, generally speaking, for every two hives, you should allow an average of one hour per week to manage your bees.
Some seasons will be busier than others though, and you may find yourself putting in more time.
In the spring and fall, for example, you’re going to spend a little bit more time with your bees.
In the winter and fall, though, you can dial back that time based on their needs.
8. Where should you set up your hives?
The best placement for your hive is with the opening to either the south, east, or southeast direction.
This way, your bees will soak up the morning sun and then cool down with a bit of shade later in the afternoon.
You should avoid any high-activity spots in your backyard, like the sidewalks or swing set.
However, the hives should still be in a convenient and easily accessible spot for your beekeeping purposes.
9. When should you start beekeeping?
When you should start varies depending on climate and geography.
Most people will make the mistake of waiting too late in the year to get started, so keep that in mind.
The following timeline can help you get your feet wet with the beekeeping scene.
Around November or December: Take a beekeeping class and order your equipment.
April: Have your beers arrive, install your hive, and spend the next 3-4 months feeding them a combination of sugar and water.
The sugar and water will help them build and draw out wax comb so that they can lay the eggs and be more productive.
September or October: Your colony should have grown by now.
If it’s doing well, you may actually be able to harvest honey.
November: Your bees will be “put to bed” and prepped for the colder months ahead.
Close them up, protect them from the wind, and make sure they’re well-ventilated so there are no moisture issues in the colony.
December, January, February: Don’t do a lot with the hive, but check on them to make sure there are enough honey stores inside.
After the winter is over, you can start the process over!
10. What causes bee colonies to die out?
Here’s the hard truth of beekeeping you need to know it if you’re going to attempt it.
Your bees will very likely die the first time (or two) you try.
Beekeeping has a high failure rate because it takes time and dedication.
However, it’s important that you don’t get too discouraged since there are numerous factors that can contribute to death.
Outside of beekeeper error, pests (such as mites) can wreak havoc on your hives.
As you attempt beekeeping, go into it with a learning mindset.
Be ready to learn and be ready to fail.
It’s all about what you learn from the bees that will make you a successful beekeeper — not whether your bees survive or if you make any honey.
11. How do you manage bee colonies?
As a beginner, you probably won’t know exactly what managing a colony looks like.
As noted above, it can be notoriously hard to get your bees through that first year.
Here are some steps that you can use to make sure you’re tending to your bees’ needs.
Regular hive inspections to assess conditions
You’ll need to check your hives often…but what exactly are you checking for?
Here are the factors to keep at the top of your list.
If you notice a problem with any of these, they’ll need to be resolved immediately.
- The status and health of the queen
- Population and space needs
- Adequacy of food stores
- Evidence of pests or illness
- Colony’s disposition
- Indications of swarming
- Cross combing
- Physical conditions of hive components
Resolving problems noted during hive inspections
How to resolve problems with your beehives will depend on what issues you’re actually experiencing.
What’s most important is that you get moving.
Don’t leave issues to fester as this can seriously impact the health of your bees.
1. Adding and removing boxes and frames as dictated by the colony’s population and activities.
Let your bees demonstrate what they need and respond accordingly!
2. Limit the impact of robbing on your hives.
Robbing is the term used to describe honeybees that invade another hive and steal the stored honey.
During this process, the invader bees will fight the resident bees, and many will die.
Robbing commonly occurs during a nectar dearth and can often be prevented by restricting the entrance to the hives.
This works well because the colony has a greater chance of defending a small opening than a large one.
Unfortunately, if you have a weak or small colony, then this may not be enough to prevent robbing.
3. Preparing your hives for winter.
Preparing your hive for winter gives your colonies a better chance of surviving the cold.
Many bees are lost to starvation, chilling, pests, or disease in the winter months.
Here are some things you can do to give your bees a better chance of survival.
- Feed them syrup in the fall
- Wrap your hive
- Ventilate your hive so there isn’t too much moisture
- Use the narrowest opening on the entrance reducer
- Protect the entrance from mice
- Control Varroa mites
- Combine weak hives
4. Harvesting honey and other hive products
Honey, honeycomb, wax, etc. are some of the top reasons people are interested in beekeeping in the first case.
When your hive is ready, you’ll be able to harvest honey and other hive products.
For example, beekeepers will pull a frame from the hive and use a hot knife to cut away the wax to harvest honey.
The wax is often kept to make candles, and in the next step, a honey extractor is used to take the liquid honey out of the honeycomb without destroying the frame.
12. Why should you connect with local beekeeping organizations?
There may be details of beekeeping that are specific to your local area.
You’re likely to be most successful if you embed yourself in the beekeeping community and give yourself local resources to draw on.
As a beginner, you may not know how to find your queen or check on your hive when you start.
However, there are experts around you.
All you have to do is reach out and find your local beekeeping association and go to meetings.
Additionally, some associations will offer you the ability to have a mentor.
This mentor can be an invaluable resource as you learn the art of beekeeping during your first season.
13. Why do people quit beekeeping?
Many beekeepers who take up this hobby lose their colonies and give up because they are discouraged.
The most common reasons that they fail are lack of preparation and lack of management.
Both of these stem from unrealistic expectations about what it involves to start beekeeping.
While beekeeping may take less time than rearing livestock, it requires commitment.
Successful beekeeping is active bee management, which requires initial education and continuing education.
If you failed the first time you tried beekeeping, don’t get discouraged!
Just know that this hobby has a learning curve and more knowledge can help boost your success rate.
Are you ready to try beekeeping?
Beekeeping can be an incredibly rewarding hobby.
Not only are you contributing to the well-being of the environment, but you’re also producing goods (honey, honeycomb, wax, etc.) that you can keep, sell, or give away to friends and family.
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