Beekeeping is becoming a very popular activity for many Americans. It is fun, relatively inexpensive, and a needed hobby considering the many issues happening with honey bee colonies in the world. One of the positive aspects of a beginner getting these experiences out there now is that they are fresh in a person’s mind.
The first thing a person considering this path need to know is that beekeepers tend to be extremely friendly people. It is unclear why this may be, but I have not encountered a single experience yet with someone who was unfriendly. It seems beekeepers are very excited to have people getting involved in this activity. They are very willing to explain tips and proper start up techniques. Most people have explained things in detail, making it seem feasible to make it work. If there is opportunity to visit an operation, then it is highly recommended. Websites and books are great resources, but things seem to make a lot more sense when you see it in person. Again, I have not met a beekeeper who was less than enthusiastic to show or talk about how they do what they do.
Do plenty of research. This is where websites and books come in handy. There are hundreds of websites for companies that sell equipment and offer information on bees. Dadant and Sons, and Betterbee are reliable companies. Considerations such as space, and location are important to think about before getting to involved. The costs for getting started can run anywhere from 300 – 400 dollar range. This varies but is a good estimate to get going with a two box hive, protective equipment, and bees. Many companies, such as the ones mentioned above offer “beginner kits.” These come in different shapes and sizes.
Start small! It can become easy to get carried away when you start looking at other operations or the offers in the catalogue. Small hives can produce large amounts of honey, and it is much more manageable to get the hang of things with one or two boxes, rather than trying to manage tens of thousands of bees in bigger set ups. In fact, I started with two boxes and when I picked up my bees, the beekeeper suggested starting with one and adding the second one at some point later in the season.
Don’t underestimate the need for protective gear. They sell the head cover, gloves, and other clothes for a reason. Get it. The bees likely won’t be offensive and aggressive, but when you are working the hives, you are obviously in close proximity, and they will be defensive. A beekeeper told me that “they will let you know how close is too close.” So, use judgment when going to check on them.
Bees can be extremely hard to find, so start looking early in the season, like while there is still snow. Most places will add a person to a list and not deliver until the season is good for bees anyway. Options will include, picking up, delivery, or mail order. There are pros and cons to each. If there is a local beekeeper who can have a hive available to you, then that would be the most ideal option. Bees will come either as a “nucleus” aslo known as a “nuc,” or as “packaged bees.” Packaged bees typically come in a wooden box with no frames and a queen in her own screened box. These tend to have more bees than a nuc, but may take longer to establish and strengthen. A nuc consists of bees in a box with honey frames in place. The bees have already established themselves and are building combs on the frames. Those frames are simply transferred from the box to the hive box when they reach their destination.
From early on it is easy to see that beekeeping is lifelong learning process. They are fascinating creatures to learn about, as they have complex social structures, and fascinating capabilities. With proper education and planning, it is a wonderful undertaking for an individual or family. It is also a much-needed activity to help sustain bee populations in the country.