Beekeeping has been a part of my life for almost nine years and is one of my greatest passions. I particularly enjoy talking about bees, helping others get started with the hobby and spreading awareness about the importance of honeybees. This post will introduce you to beginner beekeeping and how to help the honeybee even if you don’t want to keep them.
I first became interested in honeybees while studying anthropology in college. The social structure of the honeybee is unlike any other living organism, and the level of organization, community and work ethic is second to none. Inside the hive, they are truly remarkable creatures. Outside the hive, they are both critically beneficial and incredibly fascinating to study.
After graduating from college, I enrolled in a six-week course at a honeybee learning center just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was an intense learning environment and it only fueled my interest and determination to bring honeybees into my life.
That next spring I jumped in headfirst and haven’t turned my back on them since. For the past eight years, I have enjoyed keeping bees at my family’s homestead in northwest Washington. And, through trials and tribulations have managed to keep the honeybee a sacred part of my life and that of my family.
If you can answer yes to the following questions – any or all of them – then beekeeping might just “bee” the thing for you. And, if you aren’t interested in keeping bees, fast forward about halfway through this post because there is info for you, too.
- Are you fascinated by the honeybee?
- Do you have access to a bit of land? Anything over about 20 feet by 20 feet will do just fine.
- Are you interested in reaping the benefits of a well-pollinated, seasonally rounded garden?
- Do you have a spare hour every two weeks or so?
- Do you have a sweet tooth for honey?
- Can you check off the “no” box on the doctor’s information form that asks “Are you allergic to bees”?
Now on to the details and where to begin…
1 – First things first – Read up on honeybees. Get familiar with the terms and the level of time involved. Start to understand the basics and what you will be tackling when you make the commitment.
My absolute favorite book on beekeeping goes by a somewhat embarrassing moniker, but it’s loaded with quality information that is presented in an easy-to-follow format – whether you are a complete novice or well-practiced beekeeper.
Beekeeping For Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Kim Flottum
The second and third books worth taking a peek at are:
Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad & Gary Nabhan; and
The Backyard Beekeeper – Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden by Kim Flottum.
2 – Find your local beekeeper’s association and check it out. And, if you are lucky enough to find one or get to a meeting and meet one – try, try, try to hook up with a mentor that you can observe in the field and go to with question after concern after inquiry.
3 – Get your ducks, er bees, in a row. Find that plot of land to keep your hives. Order your gear through a local supplier or a number of online retailers including Mann Lake and Glory Bee. Start-up cost for one single hive and all brand-new gear is going to be about $200 to $300. Be on the lookout for used beekeeping gear (hat, suit, smoker, etc…) but, be wary of used equipment (hive boxes, frames, tools). Hive parts can harbor diseases and parasites that may have infected the previous colony and transfer over to your new, healthy bees.
4 – Scout out sources for acquiring your bees. A box of bees is going to run you about $80 and a nucleus colony is around $100.
- Order them online through a retailer of choice
- Get in with your local beekeeper’s association and join in on their group order
- For the brave at heart – capture a swarm (a.k.a. FREE BEES!!)
5 – Enroll in a formal course. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, check out the Honeybee Centre in Surrey, B.C., Canada. Another option is to check out your nearest university and ask to speak with their agriculture department. Most state universities offer extension courses at the very least, but a number of them have an apiculturist on staff, too!
6 – Try to engage children in the hobby. Getting kids involved with beekeeping is a wonderful way to instill an appreciation for the cyclical nature of our world and it is an amazing learning experience.
I have a just turned three-year old who joins me for hive inspections and keeps a safe distance but constantly peppers me with questions as I go about my business. Family friends who homeschool have used an excursion to the bee field as part of their lesson plans. If being surrounded by thousands of flying insects is too spooky, there is always the honey extraction. Kids (and adults!) love seeing frames dripping wet with fresh honey as the wax coatings are cut with a hot knife, watching the extractor spin and filling up their first jar of the golden nectar. Children can be involved with beekeeping at any age to any level they want depending on safety concerns and their interest.
Well, if you know you aren’t planning on keeping honeybees, thank you for sticking with me and reading the past 900 words. The next bit pertains to those interested in welcoming honeybees into the garden and providing a safe haven for an endangered insect.
Helping without keeping
Five years ago, the term – Colony Collapse Disorder – first hit the presses when beekeepers nationwide were opening up their hives and finding total losses of up to 50%. The honeybee seems to be recovering from whatever the particular ailment was and the numbers are not declining at such a drastic rate. The fate of the honeybee became a hot-topic and particularly worrisome when considering that over one-third of the food on our table is the direct result of honeybee pollination.
So, even if you aren’t interested or can’t keep honeybees, you would be doing a world of good to educate yourself on how to help keep them relatively safe and enjoy the benefits of their industrious work ethic.
Keep that garden natural – a bonus for the honeybee, your home, your health and your environment! Avoid pesticides at all costs and work with natural, environmentally friendly products. Or, embrace the weeds.
Try to have a variety of flowers and plants in your yard that are in bloom all year round. Think early spring to harvest time – work with the dandelions in April and finish with some sedum in late fall.
Get those wasps. Wasps are carnivores that feed on honeybees. A hive can be severely incapacitated by a wasp attack and the only evidence for the keeper is the body remnants after wasps have dissected the abdomens of the bees. Wasp queens are all that live over winter and are responsible for starting the entire hive on their own come spring. So, each wasp you kill in late winter or early spring (you know those sneaky slow movers that come out of the wood pile?) is one wasp hive down. An affordable and effective organic bait for wasps is half orange juice/half water in any sort of trap. If you use a sugar bait – you are going to be killing honeybees, too (a big no-no).
Host a hive. Contact your local beekeeping association and let them know you are interested in hosting a hive. You provide the land and an experienced beekeeper provides and cares for the bees and gives you a portion of the honey harvest for your support and participation. Can you say win-win?!
Keeping bees is a wonderful hobby, but is understandably not for everyone. Even if honeybees are not an integral part of your life, they can find nectar and pollen from organic sources in your yard.
Give beekeeping a whirl – it’s truly a delightful pastime and a special stewardship to the honeybee.
Beekeeping is a passion of Kate’s and she loves to talk about these fascinating creatures. You can find her blogging at www.sacredbee.net . You may also email her with questions, topics, etc… at [email protected]