Learn what all beginning beekeepers need to know before they get bees. How to set up the apiary, what beekeeping supplies are needed, and other beekeeping questions are answered in this article.
Keeping bees is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your garden and yet many people are intimidated by the idea. We’ve been keeping bees for about 7 years and I can honestly say bees are probably the easiest livestock to keep. They don’t have a lot of needs and pretty much take care of themselves. However, there are some things that every beginning beekeeper needs to know, I like to call those things Beekeeping 101.
The first thing you should do is check with your local city and county to see if there are any beekeeping ordinances you need to be aware of. Many cities allow bees hives within city limits but they often have specific rules about how many you can have and where you can put them.
Secondly, find a local beekeeper’s group. You can check online or ask your county extension agent. A beekeeping group can help answer any questions you might have, especially questions that are unique to your climate. If your area doesn’t have a group, try to find a local mentor; this can be an active or retired beekeeper.
Like any hobby, beekeeping can be done with a few supplies or with really fancy, expensive supplies. I suggest starting with just the necessities and buying used when appropriate and available.
Bees need a place to live and a wooden hive is that place. There are several different kinds hives with Langstroth being the most popular. Langstroth hives come in 10 and 8 frames per box and they are not interchangeable. Top bar hives are gaining popularity as they’re seen as more natural for the bees. It’s also easier to remove the comb, although it’s harder to extract the honey because you have to crush the comb. A friend built us one with an observation window and it’s really great. You can choose more than one type of hive if you’re going to have multiple hives.
You can’t keep bees if you don’t have any. To get bees you can buy them commercially but you need to order them by early spring. If you have a beekeeping friend who wants to split a large hive, he might be willing to give you the split. Or you can catch a swarm. We’ve done all these things to get bees for our hives.
A beekeeper’s veil is probably the most important piece of equipment the beginning beekeeper will use to keep safe. Even the most gentle bees can, and will, sting at times, unfortunately, you never know when that time will be. Bees are also naturally curious about small openings – like nostrils and ears. Getting stung on the face or scalp is especially painful, so a veil is on the top of the list.
If you can and want to purchase a new beekeeper’s suit, you should probably do that. However, if all you can afford right now is the veil, get the veil and piecemeal the rest. For about a year our son wore a hunting camo jacket that we picked up at the thrift store, long jeans, and work gloves. He wore tube socks and tucked his jeans into the socks and used duct tape to cinch down the jacket at the wrists. Then he put the gloves on and used another layer of duct tape to tape them to the jacket.
Beekeeper gloves are leather and have fabric up to the elbow…yes, the elbows. If you can’t get beekeeper gloves use work glove and duct tape to cinch down the wrists.
The hive shouldn’t be set on the ground, it should have some sort of a stand. When hives are on the ground it’s hard to lift them but more importantly, it’s easier for critters to get into them. To make a hive stand you just need six cinder blocks and a couple of 4X4’s. Make sure the lumber is long enough to put a couple of hives with enough room for another one in between them. This space will come in handy when you are working in your hives. Turn the cinder blocks up on one end and lay them out in two rows. Put the lumber through the top holes to form a shelf.
Smoke is used to calm the bees down so you can get into the hive. The smoke masks the pheromones that they bees give off to communicate with each other. You can use wood chips, small twigs, leaves or pine needles in the smoker.
Bees really like to have a snug home and glue everything together with propolis. A hive tool will help you pry of the top of the hive or loosen the frames. These are really inexpensive and worth purchasing instead of using something around the house. But you could substitute a mini crowbar and a painter’s scraper if you already have those on hand.
When you pull up a frame from the hive, you will most likely need to brush bees off of it. Most will come off if you shake the frame some, but there are always a few that just don’t want to get off. A bee brush has long, firm but not stiff bristles that will gently remove the bees. You can substitute a good quality soft paintbrush that hasn’t been used but that will probably cost as much or more than a bee brush.
This is at the end of the beekeeping supplies list for a reason; a beginning beekeeper doesn’t need it right away. A honey extractor is a great way to get the honey from a Langstroth hive but they can be quite expensive. We were able to get a used honey extractor from a retired beekeeper along with some Langstroth hives. I’m going to encourage you to look for a used extractor or make do with a homemade extractor even if that means you have to use the “crush and drain” method of extracting. After a few harvests, you’ll have a better idea of what you need and make a better decision than you’ll make when you’re just starting out.
Setting Up the Apiary
Bees don’t need a “perfect” situation to survive, however the finding a spot on your property that provides the following will help the colonies be stronger and more productive.
Bees need a water source just like other livestock. A birdbath will do, just put some rocks in it to act as landing pads for the bees.
If you live where it gets above 100°F for regularly, consider finding a spot that gets some dappled shade or afternoon shade.
If you live where it’s windy or strong winter storms come through, consider using a windbreak to protect the hives.
Keep the bees close enough to your home that you’ll check on them regularly.
Bees will forage up to two miles away, however, they’ll be more productive if their food source is close. So, be sure to plant plenty of bee friendly herbs, flowers, and vegetables.
Keeping bees is a great way to improve your fruit and vegetable harvest. It’s also a wonderful way to increase your income by selling the honey and wax.
Do you keep bees? Feel free to leave your tips in the comments so we can learn from each other.
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