Beekeeping is one of the most challenging, yet fulfilling hobbies I’ve ever taken on! Are you thinking about beekeeping this year? As a beekeeper for years now, let’s chat about “Keeping Bees for Beginners”. I’ve got some sage counsel for you, so let’s dig in.
Most of my life, I’ve been dreadfully afraid of bees. Maybe you can relate.
Yet, after moving to our 10-acre homestead, I began to notice an overall lack of bees, butterflies and other insects on our property. Honestly, it was pretty weird.
As a kid, I remember seeing all sorts of butterflies and insects! What happened to all of them? Where did they go?
We live far enough out in the “country”, in my mind, to see plenty of wildlife and wild insects. However, there was a lot I had yet to learn.
Besides the obvious over-use of pesticides, the drastic loss of farmland to building has hurt our pollinators more than you might realize! Wildlife and wild insects have certain needs and requirements in order for them to live on and populate your property.
Our area had been a large farm years before, but as it happens, the farm was sold and builders came in. All of the top soil was stripped as well as many mature trees and woods.
Without trees, woods and top soil, the animals and insects had nothing to feed on or live in!
At that point, it became my mission to not only become a beekeeper, but to do everything in my power to make this property a pollinator’s paradise!
I knew nothing about bees at the time! What steps did I take as a beginner beekeeper? How did I get started?
Beekeeping for Beginners
Beekeeping isn’t something you can just jump into.
It’s not like when you get a new puppy. You already have a pretty good understanding of how a dog functions. Problems are easily identified and solutions are right around the corner at the pet supply store.
Beekeeping isn’t like this at all!
First off, learning beekeeping is like learning Greek.
At least it was for me, at first. The learning curve was steep! It took me until my third year of beekeeping to feel like I “had my arms around this thing”!
This only came after a lot of time spent doing the things I list below BEFORE you bring any bees home. Without a good understanding of what’s happening in your hive, you will only waste your money and frustrate yourself…and also lose your hive.
Beekeeping requires time and energy, I want you to understand that on the front end.
You must have the time, especially in the Spring and Summer to be in your hives! These are the most active times for your hives and believe me, you will have your hands full!
This can be a wonderful thing if you’re prepared and know what’s going on! If not, it will be miserable and you’ll lose time, money and motivation.
Hence, my recommendations for the beginning beekeeper are below.
County Extension Classes
First and foremost, call your county and see what support they have for beekeepers.
You will likely be very surprised! My advice would be to take every class they offer! Most beekeeping classes are taught in the winter, when the bees are not active.
THE Ohio State University works through our county’s extension office, it’s amazing what they are able to offer! Many classes are free or have just a small fee.
I took a “Bat Workshop” at my extension office that was free of charge, plus I got a very nice bat house at a great price!
Join a Bee Club in Your Area
This is so important! Find your local/county bee club and join. Make sure you go to the meetings and meet as many folks as you can!
Our club meets once a month (except for January). Speakers are frequently brought in and I always learn something new, even though I’ve been beekeeping for years now.
Your bee club is the best source for bee information, newsletter, pending legislation, upcoming conferences, local disease issues, etc.
Ask for a Mentor
Your local bee club is the best place to find a mentor. Simply ask for one during your meeting announcements or ask the leadership.
Understand that mentoring a new beekeeper can be very time-consuming, so make sure that your mentor has time for you.
Also, if you plan to be a chemical-free beekeeper (like me), you’ll want to make sure that your mentor is “like-minded”. Your club can help you to find the right mentor.
Shadow Your Mentor for at Least One Bee Season
I would strongly recommend that you shadow your mentor’s beekeeping for at least one season.
This would include assisting your mentor in their bee yard, be available to help them with hive building and maybe even tag along if they catch swarms! Make it worth their while to spend time with you by lessening their workload!
Hands on is the best way to learn about bees!
Read the Right Books
In the beginning, I read every book I could get my hands on about bees and beekeeping. This was a mistake.
Beekeeping philosophies vary widely. Frankly, it can be very confusing.
My second year of beekeeping, I went to hear a geneticist from OSU speak about a new breed of bees.
Afterwards, I spoke with him and asked him a few questions.
Although highly intelligent, this gentleman lacked social skills for sure. He asked me what books I had read about beekeeping. I told him “Everything I can get my hands on”!
“Burn them all in the burn pile!” he said to me.
He went on to ask me how I was doing with my bees. Again, I answered “I’m doing ok…”.
He said “That’s because you’re reading all the wrong books!” Then he gave me a short list of the books I should read, including a text book about bees.
Then, and here’s the wisdom…
The man said “When you understand what the bees are trying to accomplish and why they do what they do, you’ll be a good beekeeper”!
Crusty as this guy was, he spoke the truth. I got those books and ready them cover to cover…I still read them! Best advice I was ever given about beekeeping.
There should be some conferences in your state, just google “bee conferences in *my state*.
Conferences are a blast! There are a ton of vendors with equipment to look at and ask questions about. Usually there are classes offered, take everything you have time for!
You will learn so much by attending a beekeeping conference! Be sure to take the beginner beekeeping classes!
Set Aside Funds for Hives and Equipment
Beekeeping can be expensive. Especially when you’re a beginner beekeeper.
This is why I stress the importance of setting aside some funds for it. You need a lot of things to get started.
Further, used bee equipment is difficult to find, and I’m not sure that I would want it anyway. Usually people who are selling bee equipment have failed at beekeeping. Diseases and parasites can embed themselves inside a hive! I wouldn’t want to risk that for my bees!
One new hive will cost you about $250+. From personal experience, I recommend at least 2 hives to start. This allows you to draw resources from each hive when a queen dies and you need brood, or you need more honey in your other hive. When I started, I insisted on one hive only. My queen died in a few weeks and my beekeeping was over for the season!
I never made that mistake again.
Here are a few essentials…
To conclude, it may sound as though I am trying to talk you out of beekeeping.
I’m not. However, I want you to go into this with your eyes wide open!
Selfishly, I want you to be a beekeeper! It’s incredible on so many levels! But, to be successful at anything, you need to count the cost before getting in.