Learn what all beginner beekeepers need to know before getting bees. How to set up the apiary, what beekeeping supplies are needed, and other beekeeping questions are answered in this beekeeping 101 guide.
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 beginner beekeeper needs to know, I like to call those things Beekeeping 101.
The first thing you should do when beginning beekeeping is to 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 when beginning beekeeping to start with just the necessities and buying used when appropriate and available.
Bee Hive Plans
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.
If you want to try your hand at building a Langstroth hive, this article has Langstroth bee hive plans in it.
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. If you want to build your own topbar bee hive, BuzzAboutBees has a great free ebook you can use.
You can choose more than one type of hive if you’re going to have multiple hives.
How to Get Bees
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. I would suggest calling the suppliers in January and get on a waiting list.
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. I think there are some advantages to getting your bees from a local friend or by catching a swarm, not only are they (usually) free but the bees have already proven to be hardy in your climate which can give peace of mind to a beginner beekeeper.
A beekeeper’s veil is probably the most important piece of equipment the 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. It worked great.
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 bee 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 beginner 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. Here is a great tutorial on making an extractor using 5 gallon buckets, pvc pipe, and a drill.
Setting Up the Apiary
When beginning beekeeping, finding a good location for the apiary is important because bees don’t like to be moved. 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.
Are you a beginner beekeeper? Do you have any questions we can answer? If so, feel free leave them in comments.
Sunday 29th of January 2023
How would one capture a swarm? Thanks for the invaluable info.
Monday 6th of February 2023
Swarms are pretty docile since their goal is to protect the queen and will stay huddled around her. Depending on where the swarm is you can bait a hive box and let the swarm find it. You could also try to capture the queen and put her in the box and the other bees will follow. I'm not a swarm catcher expert, I've only seen my son and husband do it. I'm sure there are some videos you can find on the internet.
Sheila E Ayers
Friday 8th of April 2022
Just purchased first beehive. What do I need as far as treatment for mites and/or other pest that may get in the hive.
Sunday 24th of April 2022
A healthy hive will be able to manage pests without much, if any, help. If you think your hive is struggling and has a pest problem you can get traps for hive beetles from a beekeeping supply company. Cinnamon and powdered sugar are also use to deter pests. Here's article that has helpful information for mites.
Monday 24th of May 2021
How close can bees be kept safely to my back door.
Tuesday 25th of May 2021
If you live within the city limits you need to check on the city ordinances and make sure you are complying with them. Bees are going to need a clear flight path to take off and land - giving them at least 6 feet between the front of their hive and a structure such as a building, fence, etc. is a good amount. You need to make sure there isn't a lot of foot traffic near the hives or through the flight path. My best advice is to talk to your local county ag extension office and see if they know a local beekeeper who can come look at your property and help you find the best spot.
Monday 24th of May 2021
I have a source to getting some wild bees. This person has offered to share the bees he will be relocations. But don’t I need a queen?
Tuesday 25th of May 2021
Yes, you need a queen or the hive will die. The only way splitting one hive might work is if you purchase a queen for the half hive without a queen. But that's a long shot. If your friend can get one hive of wild bees, there are probably others that will be found over the summer. So one of you gets the first wild hive and the other gets the second. I suggest both of you reading Beekeeping for Dummies before you get said bees.
Friday 25th of December 2020
We have several wooded acres that we are building our home on. Bees have been on the top of my list along with chickens. As we have been clearing the spot for the house, I've been taking notice of what native creatures might harm my bees. What do I need to do to make sure that I protect my bees from hornets? What other things do I need to protect them from? Great article. Thank you.
Monday 4th of January 2021
There are several things you can do to protect your hive from hornets and other pests. The most important is to reduce the number of openings in the hive - there should only be one. A strong hive will be able to defend itself so make sure you keep the apiary clean, reduce things like hive beetles by using traps, etc.