Have you ever thought about becoming a beekeeper? To be honest, before I became a beekeeper, I never thought about wanting to be one. I’m actually allergic to bees, and the thought of being around them terrified me, but I did want to grow my own food.
After a couple of years of hand-pollinating my vegetables, I decided it was time to face my fear and look into keeping bees.
All I knew about bees was 1. that they made honey, and 2. that I was allergic to them. I realized if I was to push through my fear in order to become a beekeeper, I needed to learn more about them.
Unfortunately, I lived in a tourist town and didn’t know any beekeepers at the time who had colonies of their own.
Where to start with beekeeping
Maybe you’re toying with the idea of beekeeping like I did, or maybe you’re ready to jump in with both feet. Either way, I highly recommend taking a beekeeping course for beginners.
Fortunately, our local Cooperative Extension Service was just getting ready to start a new course. I signed up and gleaned every ounce of information about becoming a beekeeper that I could. The Cooperative Extension Service offices in each state are a valuable resource, and many offer classes on beekeeping.
Another resource you can try is your state’s beekeeping association. Each state in the United States has one. You can also go to the American Beekeeper Federation website to find state and local organizations.
Most, if not all, beekeepers love sharing their knowledge with people who are eager to learn. Beekeepers want to protect bees and help them thrive; more beekeepers mean more bees, and more bees are always a good thing.
Our local beekeeping association ran the classes at the Cooperative Extension Service, so not only was I able to participate in a beginners course, but I was also able to order my bees at a discount through the group.
After you’ve taken a beekeeping course or have been mentored by an experienced beekeeper, you need to decide or find out:
- What race of bees you want,
- Where to order your bees and supplies,
- What kind of hive you want,
- How to prepare your home for your bees.
In the classification of bees, “race” is an informal term used by beekeepers to describe a rank below subspecies.
Luckily for us, we only have six or so honey bee races available for us to choose from in the U.S. However, each bee race has specific characteristics that may make one more desirable to you than another.
For instance, do you live in a cold climate?
Do you want a heavy honey producer, or do you desire a more docile bee?
The top three races of honey bees are Italian, Carniolan, and Russian, and here are their main attributes:
Some bees do better in colder climates, such as the Russian, while others are more docile like the Carniolan.
Researching the different bee races available to you will help you decide which will be the best for your homestead.
Supplies and equipment
Once you’ve decided on the right bees for you, find out where to get them. My first suggestion would be your local beekeepers association or Cooperative Extension Service office.
Many times they order in bulk and offer their members discounts. Spring is when most associations get their orders in, but you can find them available throughout the year.
Other places you may find bees are from other local beekeepers in your area, social media, and online beekeeping supply stores.
When shopping for supplies, your local beekeepers association should offer beekeeping supply catalogs. They may even have members who build and sell their own hives. Beekeeping has become so popular in recent years that more local hardware and feed stores are starting to carry beekeeping supplies.
You may even find cheap used equipment online, but make sure to wash and sanitize everything. Disease can spread, and the last thing you need is to get your new bees sick from infected supplies. You can spend thousands on supplies or keep it simple. I personally like to keep it simple.
I suggest investing in this list:
- Beehive: A home for your bees.
- Hat and veil: Protection for your face and head.
- Gloves: Protection for your hands.
- Hive tool: Pry bar to open and inspect your hive.
- Bee feeder: A feeder to supplement your bees’ food.
- Bird bath or small water dish: A way to offer bees water to drink.
- Smoker: To calm bees when doing inspections and pulling frames, so they are less prone to attack.
- Bee brush: To brush bees from the hive when performing inspections.
For keepers of honey bees, these three types of hives are available: Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre.
The Langstroth hive is the most popular beehive and probably the one you are most familiar with. It is comprised of square boxes that are stacked on top of each other with a top and a bottom. This is the hive most commercial beekeepers prefer to use. Supplies for it are relatively easy to find, and there are many DIY instructions on the web if you want to make one yourself.
Although I’ve never owned a Top Bar hive, this is the hive I have wanted from the beginning of my beekeeping journey. The Top Bar hives are great for people who can’t lift heavy things as they are waist high and you don’t stack them.
The bees are encouraged to build their comb vertically as they would do in nature. Like the Langstroth hive, you can easily find DIY instructions to build your own.
Warre Hives are considered a “natural beehive.” As in the Top Bar hive, the design encourages bees to build their combs vertically. The Warre hive also has fixed frames, so they are not legal in some states due to their design, which makes it difficult to inspect what’s going on inside.
The top of the hive houses a quilt box that absorbs moisture in the winter and is perfect for bees in colder climates. If you want a Warre hive, please check your state laws first.
Here are the pros and cons, and the estimated cost for each hive
Pros – Easy to find supplies. Easy to transport. Easy to inspect and extract honey. Most popular hive, so finding a mentor with Langstroth experience is easier
Cons – Design is not as natural for the bees as the other two hives. When filled, the boxes are heavy to lift.
Cost – $100 to $350.
Best for – Backyard beekeeper. Commercial beekeeper.
Pros – Easy to operate and handle. Easy to access honey and bees. More natural for the bees. Easy to build yourself. Happier bees.
Cons – Not the best hive for really cold climates. It may be difficult to find locally.
Cost – $250 to $500.
Best for – Backyard beekeeper. Environmentalist beekeeper.
Pros – Natural way of beekeeping because the bees draw out their comb-like they would in the wild. Less maintenance and fewer inspections.
Cons – Fixed comb hives are illegal in some states and countries. Hard to build yourself.
Cost – $150 to $350.
Best for – Backyard beekeeper. Environmentalist beekeeper.
Prepare your home for bees
Some things to consider when setting up your hive to welcome your new bees are location and shelter, proximity to neighbors, and line of traffic.
Place your hive where it won’t be in full sun or full shade. Bees like to be in foraging when the sun comes up and go back home around sunset. Try to place their hive where the entrance will face the southeast. Make sure the hive won’t be right under roof runoff where rain will pour on it but still has protection from prevailing winds.
Be mindful of your neighbors when deciding on your hive’s location. Bees like to fly in a straight line when leaving a hive, so if you have neighbors close by, make sure your bees won’t fly into their yards when leaving their home.
Line of Traffic
In addition to their normal travel flight patterns, new bees also like to perform orientation flights to get to know their surroundings. Keep this in mind, and locate your hive away from front doors, playgrounds, patios, etc.
Water source and Pools
Everyone knows that dogs, cats, and other livestock need water, but few think of water when it comes to bees. They drink a lot of water and need a source of fresh water near their hive.
Another little tidbit about bees and water is that they love pools. If you or a neighbor has a pool, I can guarantee that your bees will be using it all the time.
We decided if you can’t beet them, join ’em, and placed a rope with a life raft at the far end of our pool so they can climb down to the water and get out without drowning.
A last word
Now that you have a better understanding about the types of honeybees, hives, supplies, and setting up a home for them, you can begin your beekeeping journey and do your part to keep these valuable insects healthy and productive.
This article was submitted by Amanda Peters.
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