Beekeeping is a noble activity that can bring you extra revenues if you’re willing to put in the effort and dedication. However, beekeeping supplies won’t come cheap, especially in the first year, so you need to be prepared for your initial investments. You can get your first family or colony of bees from beekeeping suppliers or, if you’re brave enough and have the knowledge, you can try and catch swarms.
If you’re looking to get into the beekeeping industry, you’ll need to make sure you have what it takes, and that includes time, dedication, and a budget of at least $500 to start with. Apart from the necessary protection equipment and the actual hives, you’ll have to also consider buying the bees.
Although most beginners start with just one hive, we suggest you buy at least two, and two different bee colonies. This way, you can compare the evolution of each hive, and make real-time adjustments to help them thrive and survive the winter. But, before getting there, let’s start with the basics.
Where do you buy the bees?
There are a few ways to start a bee colony but not all methods will provide instant results.
Therefore, the easiest way is to buy a small nuc (nucleus) hive from a professional beekeeper supplier. Usually, a nuc consists of 4-5 frames of brood and honey, a honey bee queen, and a few thousand bees. This is all it takes to get started with beekeeping, assuming you already have acquired the protective gear and enough food supplies to feed them.
Another way to start your bee colony is to look for bee packages. A package consists of thousands of working bees and a queen but doesn’t come with the additional frames. In most countries, you will have to pick up the bees directly from the supplier and transport them on your own back to your hives.
There is also the option of catching a swarm but we don’t recommend that to beginners as swarms are hard and tricky to handle, even by experienced beekeepers. If your local beekeeper association is into catching swarms, you can ask them to give you one but you will still need the hives and the frames to keep the colony in one place.
Understanding the colony
To help your bee colony thrive, you need to learn more about social casts and the role of each type of bee. A bee colony consists of the worker bees, the queen, and drones.
Each hive will have one queen bee that is the only reproductive individual. Similar to ant colonies, the only time the queen will leave the colony is during the mating season. The queen bee will locate a drone congregation area to mate with up to 80 males before returning to the hive. She will then store all the semen for the rest of her life, which is usually 4-5 years.
The queen will then lay all of the eggs, deciding when to lay workers (fertilized eggs) or drones (unfertilized eggs).
The majority of the colony is made by worker bees that are sterile females. They are the ones that handle the hive by producing honey and wax, cleaning, feeding the young, foraging, and defending the hive from predators. Each worker bee will perform a variety of jobs during her lifetime.
The drones are the only males in the colony, and their sole purpose is to mate with virgin queen bees from other colonies. Those that mate will die soon after, while those that are unsuccessful return to the hive to feed on the pollen and honey. However, after the swarm season is over, they are kicked out of the colony by workers and cannot return.
When is the right time to buy the bees?
No matter if you’re a beginner or an experienced beekeeper, the perfect season to start buying new bees is winter. You should place your order in January or early February so you’ll have your bees ready by the beginning of spring.
As we previously mentioned, it’s always better to start with two hives instead of one because you can make the necessary adjustments easier. Handling two hives at once is also a good opportunity to learn more about the insects, and everything they require to make it through the winter season and start producing that delicious golden nectar.
When is the right time to start beekeeping?
Although you should start preparations in the wintertime, the actual beekeeping season doesn’t start until late spring in most locations. Based on which part of the country you want to place your hives in, you should have everything ready by late March or the beginning of April.
Keep in mind that spring is the busiest time of the year for both bees and beekeepers, so you need to make sure you have the hives and the bees ready. After placing your bees into the hives, you might need to feed them for about two more weeks before the pollination season begins and they can start procuring food on their own.
The easiest way to ensure your bees thrive and provide a satisfying supply of honey is to place hives near a green area, with plenty of flowers, plants, and trees.
If you want your bees to grow strong, fight parasites and make it through the winter, you have to provide them with various types of plants instead of monocrops. Monocrops don’t offer all necessary vitamins and nutrients to keep your bees strong, meaning they will be susceptible to diseases, pests, and environmental changes.
How to look after the bees
Apart from giving them food in the wintertime and early spring, as well as plenty of different plants to pollinate in high season, bees should also be handled carefully. They are quite sensitive creatures and their honey production depends on a variety of factors.
Whenever possible, allow them to feed on organic crops and keep them in clean, unpolluted environments. You should also make sure they have a close-by source of freshwater during the summertime, especially when temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
We also suggest sticking to stationary beekeeping instead of migratory beekeeping to avoid stressing the bees and exposing them to diseases, harmful pesticides, and sudden climate changes that can disrupt their natural cycles.
You should also pay close attention to the way you transport your bees and hives once you purchase them. Make sure the bees are warm enough but they also benefit from good ventilation to prevent them from overheating. Don’t forget to also offer them constant supplies of quality food and water to last them through the ride.
Whenever possible, avoid noisy highways that can stress the bees even more. Bear in mind that bees prefer quiet and peaceful environments, without loud noises or pollution.
How to pick the right honeybees
There are over 20,000 known species of bees in the world, with North America being the home to 4,400 species, including the famous social bumblebees, and tunnel nesting bees. However, out of all the species, only a few are known to produce honey, and they are commonly known as “honeybees”.
Apis mellifera or the European honeybee is one of the most common species of honeybees and the only one kept in the United States. Therefore, if you plan on producing honey locally, you won’t have too much trouble finding the right species.
Nevertheless, you can choose from six subspecies of the Apis Mellifera – Buckfast, Carniolan, Caucasian, German, Italian, and Russian.
The Italian honey bee has the highest production of honey, while the Russian and German subspecies are more resilient to low temperatures, meaning they will survive in places with colder climates. If you’re into migratory beekeeping and you’re only looking for pollination honey bees, the best ones are the Caucasian and Carniolan subspecies.
However, people outside the United States must check on various species of honeybees before deciding on the right one to buy, based on where they want to place the hives.
Keep in mind that honeybees are delicate and sensitive creatures and not all of them will find a suitable home in places with high temperatures or cold winters. Some species are stronger than others, so make sure you know everything about them before deciding on the right one for your beekeeping hobby.