The first step in beekeeping is to understand what the activity will entail. Beekeeping is fun, rewarding, and produces one of the most sought after commodities in the world: honey. On the down side, it requires a time commitment and some knowledge. The tradeoffs are good, though, and many people enjoy this exciting hobby.
Keeping bees begins with knowing what the benefits will be and what you’re going to be expected to do to take care of your bees. If you’re a gardener, then you’ll love having your own crew of pollinators on hand to keep your garden thriving. If you enjoy honey and products derived from it and have friends or family (or you yourself) enjoy beeswax items, then having your own hives is a no-brainer.
To get started, before you order your first hive (or hives), you’ll need to select a site for the hive and some equipment.
Selecting a Site for Raising Bees
Selecting a site is easy: pick an area that has south-facing or east-facing sunlight (the sun triggers daytime activity in the hive, so it’s important), but that is shaded in the afternoon so the hive doesn’t overheat. It will need to be accessible and sheltered from winds. Obviously, it should be close to food and water sources – preferably some that you control, as water contamination is a fast way to lose an entire hive.
Equipment Needed for Honeybees
Many beekeeping clubs and extensions recommend that you begin with two hives. This can get pricey if you purchase traditional beekeeping equipment. If you’re using the traditional American method, you’ll need a set of hive boxes (also called frames). This is where most of your expense will go. You can expect to spend $300 or more for these, but they will last as long as you take care of them and will keep hive after hive of bees happy through the years.
You will also need beekeeping gear such as a hood, sting-proof jacket, etc. A hive tool for scraping and prying open hives is important and a smoker is a good option for calming the bees while you work with them. Some beekeepers wear no protective clothing, relying on their familiarity with the bees to keep them from being stung. You can’t count on this, however.
The next thing you’ll need to do, once you have the equipment, is to order a hive. You can often buy them locally from beekeepers who have new swarms (meaning hives that have split with two queens) or from pest control people who capture hives when a swarm settles in where someone doesn’t want it. Your cost will depend on the type you’re getting, but the more local the bees are, the better their survival and adaption rate will be. There is literally no difference between wild swarm hives and those from a beekeeper.
Setting Up a Bee Hive
Set up all of your equipment prior to the bees arriving. Make sure everything is in place and operational. When the bees arrive, the queen will usually be separated from the others and they’ll all be contained in a wooden box called a bee house. This keeps them safe during transit. Some bees will die during shipping or travel, but you should have a decent hive of 500-1,000 bees plus the queen.
Water the bees before you open the container by spraying one or two sides with a mist bottle. Let them get comfortable in the new climate for an hour or two while you prepare the hive boxes. Open up the center box, then open the bee house. Carefully remove the queen’s little container and set it inside the hive box. Open it carefully and let her crawl out onto one of the center racks.
By this time, most of the hive should have followed her into the hive automatically and many will begin setting up shop as you close things up. Once in a while bees will venture out, usually to scout the area and check its suitability for the hive. If food, water, and the shelter are all in order, the hive will stay and begin building. If you’ve done the basics outlined above, you are on your way to raising honeybees.