Honey bees and beekeeping are becoming another popular hobby, next to keeping chickens. Bees are fun, rather easy to care for, and you get honey. There ARE some things you need to know before you get going as a beekeeper, however. Understanding what you are getting into before you see visions of golden goodness of honey dreams will keep you from getting frustrated.
Here’s some beekeeping for beginners to help you get started.
Plant lots of flowers. Success in beekeeping may depend on it.
The average honey bee can fly up to six miles away from their hive for pollen, and that can get exhausting. If you have lots of flowers and flowering plants, your bees will be able to make quicker work of collecting the pollen and turning it into honey. We love to plant bee balm, buckwheat, and lavender for the bees. Leave some dandelions for them. That is often a first food for the winter weary bees.
Get a package of bees, vs. collecting a wild swarm.
Sure, you can get a wild swarm of bees pretty cheap, but having a package of bees (usually sold in 3 pound packages with a queen) will ensure the novice that they have a good colony to start. Sometimes, a wild swarm may not have a queen, and bees need that queen in order to establish a colony. Without her, they may leave your hive.
Prepare your hive and all essentials BEFORE getting your bees.
At a minimum, for safety and getting your beekeeping off the ground you will want to have: (all available from my affiliate partner)
- hive and frames (this gives them a home)
- pollen patties (to help them get started while establishing their hive)
- frame opening (keep it small until the hive is well established, then enlarge it to allow bees to come and go faster)
- beekeeping veil (protect from bees stinging)
- smoker ( to help calm bees-essential anytime you are checking on them)
- hive tool (helps lift the frames so you can check on bees better)
- honey extractor (to help pull that delicious honey from the frames!)
You don’t want to pick up your bees and discover that you don’t have pollen patties to get them started, or enough frames. Or, your entry blocker is missing (all mistakes we have made.) So, check your list and double check it. Then, check it again the day before you get the bees. Check before you open your package.
You need a netted hat with shoulder length fabric to tuck into your shirt. A smoker will also help to calm the bees. Both can protect you from stings. Once you get stung, it’s natural to begin to swat at them, dance around, or get all excited. That can lead to more stings as the hive goes into protective mode. So, get some gear and protect yourself.
Know where you will put your hives.
Our hives are right in the chicken area, as chickens and bees get along well. It’s got some shade from the trees there, and is out of direct winter wind. It’s also very close to our garden, giving them access to all the flowering plants. You want them far enough away from your family and neighbors for all to be safe, yet easily accessible to check on the bees regularly.
Understand the beekeeping terminology.
Know what a frame is, what a queen is, what the worker bees do, and be able to check for queen cells. Understand what mites are, how to prevent mold in the hives, and how to keep the bees alive during the winter. Here are some great books to read first. Get them from my affiliate partner here, here, and here. Also, check with your local 4H extension office and join a beekeeping club. There will be lots of advice and answers about keeping bees in your area.
Know if anyone is allergic to bee stings.
That won’t necessarily mean that you can’t keep bees, but if someone in your family is allergic to bee stings, you will want to keep them in the house when you are working with the bees. Same goes with close neighbors. If they are allergic, let them know ahead of time you are going to be working with the bees. For example, we don’t mess with the hives when my neighbor’s granddaughter is over for a visit with her. It’s just a safety measure we take to lessen the chance of her getting stung. Of course, there are still going to be bees, whether or not we keep them and she has a chance of getting stung anytime she steps outside, but we err on the side of caution.
You won’t get honey that first year.
Sadly, most of us who are first timers have dreams of flowing honey, but that’s not often the case. Most of the time, the bees will need all that they collect to get them through the winter. But, the second year can yield quite a bit of golden deliciousness!