You’ve just found your new passion and are already looking at bee hive kits and the rest of the things you need to do. However, getting started in beekeeping really requires knowledge about a lot of things beforehand, so you might be a little worried.
Fear not, because this is where we come in with this guide that will make you a master beekeeper in no time. Read it, love it, and you and your bees will develop a good relationship and produce a lot of honey and happiness together.
Things to Know Beforehand
Beekeeping can be a very fun and rewarding activity for you and your family. Not only do you get fresh honeycomb from it but your entire garden will benefit due to pollination. The downside is it can take some time to put together an entire bee community but, once you get the process going, the whole thing is relatively easy since bees pretty much are doing their own thing.
Remember that beehives require good management and stewardship in order to be successful, both of which demand both time and knowledge. The general maintenance process requires periodic inspections during the warm months to make sure your queen is laying eggs, your workers are building the honey stores, and that the colony is in an overall good state.
Your management style will have to adapt to your climate, your hive style and, of course, your particular bees since each colony is unique. For example, the foraging season is much longer in the south than it is in the north, so you will have to be patient and learn from your bees.
A successful beekeeper has learned as much as possible about the bees themselves. Since you may see something different every time you get into your hive, you must be able to make appropriate management decisions and figure out why your little friends are behaving in a certain way. Keep in mind that your actions directly impact their lives and well being.
First things first, you have to make some arrangements for your hive. Ensure that you have at least 1/10th of an acre land available for this sole purpose. Consult the documents related to your property to find out the exact size of your land since you don’t want to get in a conflict with your neighbors about it.
One-tenth of an acre is about the required space for a typical city-sized lot and can accommodate one bee colony. Decide how many colonies you can have by measuring your yard and make sure the space has a clear flight path for the bees so you don’t interrupt their activity.
If you can afford it, purchase a top bar hive since these tend to be lightweight at about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and make beekeeping a lot easier for you.
Check Local Laws
Feel free to ask local officials, a beekeeping association or your county extension about ordinances related to bee colonies. Make sure you know all the regulations about things such as your property line, how many hives you can legally have or the minimum amount of space between them to prevent yourself from having to pay fines.
When to start
Beekeeping projects are best started in the autumn since the bees’ behavior is dependent on climate. Use the fall and the winter to consult books on beekeeping, gather up your resources and only introduce your bees to the hive during the spring, as the early flowers appear.
Using the cold months to get a head-start and being fully prepared once the first flowers start showing up ensures your little ones can collect nectar and pollen to get the new hive going in the spring and summer.
Protecting the Hive
Purchase or build a hive stand with concrete blocks to keep it off the ground. Being at least 18 inches away from the ground will protect most hives from critters such as skunks or raccoons. Place your hive in a location that faces the morning sun but is not directly exposed to winds or breezes. Setting it next to a fence or a bush, for example, ensures the bees’ well being.
Since Winnie the Pooh and his friends are not the only animals who like honey, protecting your new friends from predators is vital. You can choose to put up electric barriers or a chicken-wire fence to keep even bigger threats like bears away.
Introducing the Bees to the Hive
Source your bees out early in the year, somewhere from January to February. It would be good if you could keep contact with more than one supplier as this will ensure you can introduce them early in the spring.
Ask your supplier so as to provide you with a “nuc”, as this is the term for a queen bee and a bunch of workers who are ready to go once spring starts. If this is not an option for him or you, buy a confirmed queen bee and about 10,000 individual workers who should also get the job done.
When the time comes, equip your beekeeping gear and gently smoke the bees out of the nuc. Puff it with two or three wafts of cool smoke then gently place the nuc next to or, even better, on top of your hive. This process will ensure the bees are woken up with no stress and can be gently transferred to the hive.
Remove both the outer and the inner cover of your hive body then gently take off the frames from the nuc and center them in the hive. Allow your bees to populate it before doing these steps and check for any would-be deserters left in the nuc.
Feeding the bees
Don’t forget that there may be a slight gap between introducing the bees to their new home and the commencement of nectar production. During these few weeks, you have to feed your bees with a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar. You can punch a few holes into the top of the hive and hang small food jars to ensure your little friends have nutrition and are doing well.
Potential problems and harvesting honey
Be a good beekeeper and monitor the hive at regular intervals. Even though there is no set time limit, it is recommended you avoid checking it during the cold season when precious heat will escape from their home.
During your check-ups, look for signs of illness, parasite infestation or infiltration of other animals. If the colony looks somewhat weakened, with visible hive beetles or wax moths on the comb and even some deformed wings, you may need to do a more thorough analysis.
When harvesting honey during the fall, take out the long, flat hive frames and scoop off the honeycomb and wax into an appropriate container with a hot knife. Allow the honey to gradually sink to the bottom and remove the wax cappings from the surface. Doing this will give you delicious, raw honey and even wax cappings to turn into candles or items such as these.