Before you jump right in and start getting set up to keep bees, you need to consider a few things first. You need to ask yourself a few questions to see whether you would actually make a good beekeeper:
Is helping the environment important to me? – Beekeeping is one of the most important things you can do if it is as it is one of the most environmentally friendly activities. Bees are responsible for pollinating the food that we eat as well as the flowers and trees which feed the local wildlife.
Am I a social person? There are lots of beekeepers clubs that you can join, not just for socializing, but also to learn and share your own experiences. These are great places to meet other like-minded people who have been in the business of beekeeping for years and you can learn a great deal from them Do I like to have a sense of accomplishment? Beekeeping can be quite time consuming and it takes a lot of work to get it right. It comes with many unique challenges and isn’t something you can walk away from once you get started.
Do I want to produce my own high-quality honey and beeswax? It really is of the highest quality. Proper beeswax cannot be substituted for by the products that pass as beeswax on the market today, most of which are a petroleum-based wax. Also, bees spend their time collecting the nectar to produce the highest quality and purest wax and honey – this can’t be done mechanically
Am I prepared to carry out scheduled maintenance on the hives? Bee colonies need careful maintenance on a seasonal basis to ensure their health so that production may be kept up
Do I like to be surprised? When it all comes together and you have happy bees, the nectar will flow freely and you will be surprised at all the wonderful things a bee colony can produce.
Do I like having to make decisions? Keeping a colony of bees means that you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment and these are hands-on decisions
Do I want a hobby that is rewarding? Although it is hard work, the rewards flow in abundance at harvest time. It is mentally rewarding as well when you see all your hard work come to fruition.
Things to Consider Before Keeping Bees
If you have managed to answer the above questions positively, it’s time to start thinking a little deeper about keeping bees, about the mechanics of it. The following list are things that you need to look into and think about carefully before you make the jump:
- Can you keep bees in your town? You will need to do some research and make inquiries with your local government. You may need to have a permit, or you may need to register. Some places won’t have any restrictions in place at all and, in others, it may be illegal. Unfortunately, not everywhere is very bee-friendly so do double-check first. If you don’t, you can end up with a heavy fine and it does happen! One woman in Brooklyn received a hefty $2000 fine for having two hives on the roof of her house before it was legal to keep them. If you are living in rented accommodation, you do need to get the permission of your landlord/landlady or agency to keep them.
- Read everything you can about beekeeping. Learn about the bees themselves, not just about the equipment you need. You can’t possibly successfully raise a colony of bees unless you understand what makes them tick, so to speak. You won’t need to spend as much time with your bees as you would a dog, for example, but they still need attention. Learn about basic care – don’t just get them because they are the in-thing at the moment. There are plenty of resources available; clubs, the internet, the local library and plenty of videos on YouTube that will help you.
- Join a beekeepers club. If necessary, take a class in beekeeping. Many clubs offer these classes for beginners and will pair you with mentor to help you
- Ask yourself this – why do you want to keep bees? There are lots of reasons why people keep bees – honey, other products that the bees produce, helping to keep the local area pollinated, even to help out with the current bee crisis that is sweeping the world
- Are you frightened of being stung? Because you will get stung, no matter how much care you take and how good your protective clothing is. Are you okay with that?
- That leads to the next question – are you allergic to bee stings? If so, this may not be the hobby for you. However, you can go to an allergist and get tested to see what your reaction to stings from honeybees is. If you only have a mild reaction, you can still tend bees, provided you carry an Ep-pen and mobile phone on you at all times – just in case. If your reaction is severe, you might want to give this a miss.
- Think about your neighbors – ask them what they think about you keeping bees. Explain to them carefully why you want to keep bees and ask if they mind you having hives in your back yard. Many people tend to associate bees with stings, not for the good they do or the benefits gained from keeping them. You could even offer a deal sweetener, in the form of a jar or two of honey or a candle made from the beeswax. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but you might not think that later on down the line if they choose to complain!
- Where are you going to keep your hives? Is there anywhere that is truly suitable in your yard? The hives must be on level ground, get some of the sun throughout the day and must be sheltered from strong winds. They must also be fully accessible all year round. Honeybees will fly a distance of 5 miles to get the pollen and nectar they want, but its best to provide them an area where they can forage easily. Also, make sure that they are near to a source of water or be somewhere where you can provide them with water.
- Can you lift a weight of at least 25 lbs.? And that is a small weight! Some hives can get extremely heavy when they are full of honey and you will need a certain amount of physical strength. If this is going to be a problem, think about hives that don’t need as much lifting or aren’t quite so heavy. Alternatively, enlist the help of friends when it comes time to empty the hives.
- Are you able to get to the hives and tend them all year round? If you can’t be there all the time, consider hiring another beekeeper to help you out and keep an eye on your hives for you.
- Can you really afford it? It isn’t a cheap hobby to get started with. If you buy a hive, expect to go up to $300 and then another $100 or so for bees in the first year. Two hives are a better idea so you can double that cost as well. Do your sums first and work out if you can really afford the startup cost – maintenance won’t cost too much and once your hives are up and running successfully, the cost won’t be too bad.
- Are you going to do this alone or will you need some help? You might just be surprised at how many offers of help you get when people realize what you are doing so that they can learn too. If you live in an area where beekeeping is encouraged, this is a good thing – the more people who learn about it, the more will be encouraged to set up their own hives. You might even get lucky and find that one of your neighbors wants to help which makes things easier for you and they are less likely to make any complaints. It’s also helpful to have help when it comes time to harvest. If you join a cooperative, you can share equipment, lessening the cost on everyone.
You’ve done your homework, decided that you can afford it and you are prepared for the hard work, it’s time to get ready.
- Get set up before you get your bees. Have your hive in lace and all your equipment to hand, Have an area set aside for extraction. This makes life much easier for when you get your bees, as it will be easier to introduce them to a hive that is already set up.
- Get your bees. Either order them – you will need to order in January or February, as most apiaries tend to sell out early. If you don’t get them early you either won’t get any or they will be delivered too late in the year for a proper harvest. What honey is produced would have to be left in the hives over the winter for the bees to feed on so you will be behind by a year.
- Work out a schedule for caring for your bees – everyone is different with this. You want to decide how often you are going to inspect the hives, check on the bees themselves for health and any signs of disease. Will you be using chemicals medications to care for them or are you going to go natural? Ensure they have access to fresh water when they want it or they will go looking elsewhere – the last thing your neighbor wants is your bee colony hanging around his tap!
- Be prepared for the busy times. There are a few times in the season where you will be inundated with bees – usually swarm season and the honey harvest season. In the first year in a hive, the bees don’t generally tend to swarm but after this, they will. It is usually in the spring and is a natural process. The bees are splitting up because there are too many in the hive and half will go off looking for another hive – make sure you have empty ones spare! You will need to be prepared to deal with the neighbors if they get scared of a low-flying bee swarm – it’s only natural that they will be! Do be prepared with boxes to go and collect the swarms. The next busy time is honey harvest when you can expect to spend several hours collecting and preparing your frames before extracting the honey.
- The most important thing is to enjoy your new hobby, enjoy your bees. They are very clever and fascinating and can teach you a great deal about the care they need through the way they behave. There is an old adage here that is very true: