Although people get into beekeeping for the right reasons, often hobby beekeepers, especially their first and second year, hurt the bee population more than help it. This is because people don't realize how much work it is to keep bees. Because of pests and long winters (not necessarily cold), it is common for a hive to collapse.
How to Get Started Keeping Bees
Step 1 - Know What to Expect
A lot of our beekeeping class students don't end up keeping bees. This is because its a lot more work than they expected. Beekeeping is a great hobby and its tempting to get started assuming you'l make the time for your bees, but its also really easy to forget about them or neglect them in the Summer months when you're busy. They don't require daily walks or to be fed, they're a distance from your home, not living in the house with you. You might see lots of bees flying in and out of the front entrance and everything from the outside looks fine. But inside, there could be an infestation, queen cells because the hive is preparing to swarm or other problems.
How much time to expect to spend keeping bees
A big factor is time. In the late Spring, Summer and early Fall, you should expect to spent about 20-30 minutes inspecting EACH beehive. You should inspect your hives once a week, but you can go 10-14 days if necessary once in awhile. In the early Spring and late Fall (or whenever the temperature is below 65 degrees F in the daytime), you can check your bees every 10-14 days if the hive is healthy at the last inspection.
You should also account for at least one full day where you will be harvesting honey. There will also be problems and you might have to call a beekeeper friend, research online, buy supplies, split a hive or do other things to help your bees and you'll be spending more than 30 minutes per hive that week.
Getting Started Tip!
Keep bees (at least to start) with a friend so that if you are busy one weekend or on vacation, you have someone else who can check the hives for you. Its best if this person is not the person you would be going on vacation with. If you don't have a buddy to care for the bees with, go to your local bee association meetups and meet local beekeepers. Try to find 1-2 people that live nearby who you can call if you need someone to check your hives while you're away and you can do the same for them if they need you to.
How Much Money Does Beekeeping Cost?
Getting started keeping bees is when you'll spend the most money. Start-up costs vary depending on the type of equipment you buy and the quality. I've bought a lot of cheap equipment over the year and they all break/rip within a couple of months. Veils and gloves, especially, I've had rip within weeks of buying them. One thing to look for in a veil is that the screen is not fabric. A mesh that is wire will last considerably longer and so will a good pair of gloves.
Suits vary in cost, but most are at least $100 and require you to pay extra for the helmet. you can save quite a bit by buying a veil wit helmet for usually $30 each or a veil built into a jacket and use your own hat under the veil.
To Start, you'll spend:
• about $200 on equipment per beehive
• $20-150 for veil and gloves or suit and gloves
• $20 smoker
• $100-$200 per package of bees or nuc (varies depending on your location)
• $7 hive tool
Expect to also spend some money on honey harvesting equipment either for an extractor ($200+) or about $50 on kitchen equipment to use the crush and strain method and for containers to store the honey in.
We like to purchase our beekeeping equipment from dadant.com. Everything we have bought there was high quality and lasted a long time. In the past, I've had veils, gloves and helmets break within weeks when I buy from other suppliers.
Step 2 - Make Sure You're Not Allergic to Honeybees
Make sure you're not highly allergic to honeybees before you start keeping bees. You may have been stung by a wasp in the past and not swelled up badly, but make sure you don't react badly to honeybees in particular. Most people have a minor reaction to getting stung - they swell up and the area is itchy for a few days. If you have that kind of reaction, don't worry, you're fine. Sign of a severe allergy are heart palpitations, itchy bottoms of the feet and palms of the hand, throat closing up, difficulty breathing. Talk to your doctor if you're not sure and see if they can conduct an allergy test. It doesn't matter how much protective clothing you wear, you will get stung eventually. Bees can crawl up under your gloves or in little crevices where your pants meet your shoes. A bee could be in your glove and you didn't realize it or maybe one hitched a ride on your back and you accidentally squish her while taking your suit off.
Step 3 - Learn About Honeybees
Learn about bees, how the hive works and the differences between the workers, queen and drones. this will help you for when you get started on the next step.
There are lots of places you can learn about bees. My favorite is with books, but you can also watch documentaries about bees, read about them on blogs, listen to podcasts (we have a separate episode about the queen, the worker and the drone) or go to YouTube. If you do learn through blogs and youTube videos, don't just go to one place for your information unless it is by a reputable source. Just because someone has 10,000 views on their YouTube video, doesn't mean its accurate.
If you're at the beginning stage and just want to learn the basics about bees and beekeeping, try our intro class Is Beekeeping Right for You. It's only $27 and is 2 hours of videos as well as a queen spotting quiz, bee facts, beekeeping quotes and my favorite bee books and documentaries.
You can find our podcast, The Buzz About Bees, on any podcast-listening app or listen from the podcast website.
Step 4 - Try It Out!
Find a local beekeeper to shadow or take an intro to beekeeping class. Get your hands sticky and see if you like it. A lot of people don't realize how hard beekeeping is and how hot you'll get while wearing a suit, gloves and veil.
If you're having trouble finding someone to shadow, contact your local bee association and ask if they can send an email out to their members asking if anyone is willing to let you hang out with them and their bees. If there is a way you can give back, offer that as well. If you're strong, offer to help move bees. Offer to help harvest honey or label jars. If you're a designer, offer to make them a honey label for free. Get creative and think of ways to offer help in tasks that aren't fun to do.
It's better to put the time into finding someone to let you hang out with their bees
If you live in Hawaii, or plan to visit soon, once you complete our online beekeeping class, you are welcome to stop by our farm for free and shadow us.
Tip! Come prepared!
Learn about bees before you go to shadow a beekeeper. The beekeeper should not be answering basics honeybee questions. Learn about bees and come with questions. Know the differences in what the queen, drone and worker bees look like so you can try queen spotting with someone there to help you.
Step 5 - Find a Location
If you don't have a place to put your bees, then all of these other steps don't matter. If you keep bees at your home, make sure everyone that live son your property or who will be affected by the bees is on board and not highly allergic. Talk to any neighbors in the immediate area who might be affected by the bees or who can see the beehives from heir property. If a neighbor nearby has a pool, talk to them about getting bees. Pools often attract bees even if you provide them with a water source on your property.
If you can't keep bees at your home, there are lots of other places to put them. cemeteries, retreat centers, office parks, schools, rooftops and botanical gardens are all great places to contact. Check out our article, 10 Places to Keep Bees Other Than Your Yard for ideas & tips.
Step 6 - Take a Class
This is an absolute must! You have to take a class about beekeeping before getting your bees. This class should explain how to deal with mites, how to split a hive (or prevent swarming) and how to overwinter the bees. If this class does not address these points, find one that does even if it is online. the number one reason beekeepers lose their hives is because of mites or overwintering. It is incredibly important that you learn how to do this. Although books and YouTube videos help, you really need to learn how to do this properly and a 15 minute YouTube video is not enough. There are many Intro classes out there that do not explain these important parts. Make sure whatever class you take teaches you these things.
Our class, Beekeeping Made Simple, is our top pick.
Step 7 - Get Your Equipment Ready
Find a reputable place to order your bees from and get all your equipment ready. Most equipment requires painting and assembling. You'll want to let the boxes air out after painting, especially if you are buying a package of bees (not a nuc) and don't have any honeycomb or beeswax to put into the hive to make it smell like bees. Make sure there is a farm nearby where you can buy your bees from and place your order by January for the Spring time. Do not have bees shipped to you!! I have heard many people complain that the bees arrived dead and they did not receive a refund. Do not purchase bees this way. It is not fair to the bees. Even if they do arrive alive, they will be very stressed out from the commute. It would be better to drive 2 hours to get to a farm that sells bees (maybe car pool with other local beekeepers) than to order bees by mail.
Beekeeper's Tip! If you are starting out with a top bar hive and your hive is brand new (aka bees never lived in it before) get a piece of honeycomb to put inside the hive! My first year keeping bees I start with a top bar and the bees absconded a week later. I later found out that its common for bees to abscond with top bar hives when they are brand new. Even though we let the hive air out for months, its best to put something that smells like bees in the hive.
So you read the steps, but now what? Here's what I recommend:
- Download our guide, The 7 Steps to Getting started Keeping Bees, and print it out! Don't let it be one more thing on your computer that you forget about.
- Attach the pages to a wall or your frig. Take your time and go through each page one-by-one.
- By the last step, you'll have your bees on the way and be a beekeeper that Spring!
Tip for Getting Started Beekeeping
Do things to inspire you to keep going! Follow some beekeeping Instagram pages, watch bee documentaries on Netflix. My favorite is More Than Honey. Tell your friends and family you're going to be keeping bees, because that will make it more real or get into beekeeping with someone.
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