Becoming a Beekeeper
Beekeeping can be a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor--helping to keep you active and fit, and helping to improve pollination in your garden and neighborhood. The prospect of strengthening local pollinator populations, as well as harvesting honey and wax, make beekeeping an extremely popular hobby these days, with local beekeeping clubs reporting record interest in classes for beginners, and hives popping up in more and more neighborhoods.
If a few beekeepers are good, then MORE beekeepers are better, right? Well, maybe. It is true that becoming a beekeeper means you will increase the number of local pollinators in your area, at least in the short term. You may get a season’s worth of honey, and the opportunity to learn a great deal about honey bee behavior. These are all great reasons why you may want to consider becoming a beekeeper.
Beekeeping is not, however, for everyone. Even if it were possible years ago, it is no longer possible to install bees in your hive and expect to collect honey every summer thereafter. Beekeeping, like all forms of agriculture, requires knowledge, a willingness to learn from your experiences, and a commitment to beekeeping best practices.
One of the most important practices is to regularly monitor your hives for problems, pests and diseases, and to treat when necessary. Bees tend to vacate the hive when overridden with disease, and may come into contact with bees from other colonies. You may not wish to treat your hive, but when it fails and the bees depart, you have not only lost your hive, but you have also potentially reduced the number of pollinators in the world by letting your unmanaged bees infect other honey bee colonies. If you are not willing to help your bees manage pests and diseases, perhaps beekeeping is not for you. Instead, you may wish to support pollinator populations in other ways, such as growing pollinator-friendly flowers and plants, encouraging your neighbors to avoid using herbicides on their lawns, mowing your lawn less often, providing habitat for native bees, and purchasing produce and local honey at your farmers’ market. All of these actions can help support local pollinators, thus ensuring their--and our--survival.
If, however, you are committed to truly keeping bees, rather than simply having bees, then Betterbee can help you get started.
First, do your homework. Check with your local authorities to make sure you can keep bees at your chosen site. If there are no restrictions, consider chatting with your neighbors first, to prevent any problems down the road. To understand the basic requirements for your site, and to get a good overview of what you need to know to get started, take a look at The Beekeeper’s Handbook. This resource is the one we recommend for anyone taking our classes. (These other books-Storey’s Guide to Keeping Bees, and Beekeeping for Dummies--are great too.) You may also consider joining a local beekeepers association--these groups can be fantastic resources for beginners and experienced beeks alike.
You have lots of decisions to make as to equipment, but the very next thing you must do is to locate and reserve the bees themselves. Equipment you can get all year round, but the bees are usually only available during the spring, and very few suppliers will ship bees (Betterbee does NOT). So buy your bees early! If you don’t live within driving distance of Betterbee, ask your local beekeeping association if any of their members offer bees for sale. Typically, bee suppliers will sell a “package” of bees, or bees in a nucleus colony, or “nuc.” Both will have advantages and disadvantages, so talk to other beekeepers and consider your own preferences and circumstances before ordering. For example, if you are using a Top Bar hive, or want to use all medium hive boxes, you will want a package. If you want honey in your first year, you will probably want a nuc. Need help making your decision? Give us a call or send us an email, and we’d be happy to walk you through the pros and cons of each.
Then, consider your comfort level with stinging insects, and look at the various options for protective clothing. You may feel comfortable with just a hat, veil, and a pair of gloves, or you may prefer a head-to-toe suit, along with boots. You will also probably need a smoker and hive tool.
Next, you will want to decide on whether you want wooden hives, or a polystyrene hive, such as our Beemax or Lyson hives. You will also want to decide which type of frame and foundation you want for your hive(s). Chances are you will need to feed your bees at first, and so you will need to decide which feeder is right for you. And of course, don’t forget your pest management tools.
There are pros and cons for each product type, and if you haven’t heard this beekeeping truism already, when it comes to equipment, ask 10 beekeepers and you will get 10 different opinions. Definitely talk to people, but ultimately go with what you think will work best for your needs and circumstances. Again, don’t hesitate to give us a call to discuss your options. Betterbee offers everything you need to get started in our Beginners Kits, found here. And if you prefer to let Betterbee make the decisions for you, check out our Preferred Beginner’s Kit--it has what our owners prefer over all the other kit options.
Once you are underway, you will want to plan ahead for extracting and bottling your honey. Extracting calls for as little equipment as a kitchen knife and a bucket, or you may want to use an extractor, filtering equipment, and a bottling tank. You may also want to consider how to spend your beekeeping “down time”--winter is the perfect time to try making soap, candles or other beeswax and honey products, or to try your hand a brewing a batch of mead.