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 other hive products, make beekeeping an extremely popular pastime these days. Local beekeeping clubs continue to report record interest in classes for beginners, and hives keep popping up in more and more neighborhoods.

Some new beekeepers enjoy just a year or two of learning about bees, seeing a boost to local gardens due to their pollination, and harvesting a bit of honey and wax. This is a fulfilling and fun way to spend time outside and connect with the natural world. For other people, beekeeping is a lifelong endeavor that grows from an interest, to a hobby, to a passion, and sometimes even into a business. 

Beekeeping, like all forms of agriculture, requires knowledge, a willingness to learn from your experiences, and a commitment to beekeeping best practices. Years ago a beekeeper could install bees into a hive and expect to simply collect honey every summer thereafter, whether they learned very much about them or not. Those "good old days" are behind us, and successful beekeepers continue to study bees and learn new beekeeping techniques to help their bees stay healthy and productive despite biological threats like parasites and diseases.

One of the most important practices is to regularly monitor your hives for problems 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 have also potentially reduced the number of pollinators in the world by letting your unmanaged bees infect other neighboring 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 from reputable beekeepers (try your local farmers' market). All of these actions can help support local pollinators, thus ensuring their--and our--survival.

If, however, you are ready to commit to keeping bees, rather than simply having bees and not taking care of them, 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, try taking one of our many online or in-person beekeeping classes. You can also take a look at The Beekeeper's Handbook. This resource is the first 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 should also consider joining a local beekeepers association--these groups can be fantastic resources for beginners and experienced beekeepers alike. Large clubs may offer classes and mentorship programs, but even small clubs will help you find local beekeepers to talk to. Most importantly they can give you region-specific answers to your beekeeping questions.

You have lots of decisions to make about beekeeping equipment, but the very next thing you must do is locate and reserve the bees themselves. Equipment you can get all year round, but bees are usually only available during the spring, and very few suppliers will ship bees. (Betterbee does NOT. So order 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 either 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-sized hive boxes, you will want a package. If you want honey in your first year, you're more likely to get it with 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.

Next, consider your comfort level with stinging insects, and look at the various options for protective clothing. You may feel comfortable with just a veil (with helmet or hat) and a pair of gloves, or you may prefer a head-to-toe suit, along with boots. You will also need a smoker to help control the bees and a hive tool to manipulate the different parts of your hive.  

Once you have your tools and protective gear, you will want to decide 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 your bees to build on. 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. If you haven’t heard this beekeeping truism already: When it comes to equipment, ask 10 beekeepers and you will get 12 different opinions. Certainly talk to any beekeepers you know, but ultimately go with what you think will work best for your needs and circumstances. If we don't think something is the right product for at least some beekeepers, we wouldn't sell it. Again, don't hesitate to give us a call to discuss your options. Betterbee also offers everything you need to get started in our Beginners Kits. 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. Extractingcan be done with as little equipment as a kitchen knife and a bucket, but you may want to graduate up to an extractor, filtering equipment, and a bottling tank. You may also want to consider how to spend your beekeeping "downtime"--winter is the perfect time to try making soap, candles, or other beeswax and honey products, or to try your hand at brewing a batch of mead. Winter is also a great time to take even more classes with us, where we'll teach you how to move beyond the basics and into more advanced beekeeping.

Whether you decide to become a beekeeper or choose to support beekeeping in other ways like planting flower seeds or buying hive crafts, Betterbee has something for everyone. Request a catalog, give us a call -- or better yet, stop by and see us in Greenwich, NY!