Beekeeping 101 - Understanding The Basics
First and foremost, realize that beekeeping is a long-term project that requires investment of time and material, not to mention knowledge. But the rewards are many, and have positive impacts well beyond the honey jar in your cabinet. Some of the many benefits of beekeeping are: free fresh honey, boosting your garden's vegetable production, a diverse flora around your home, save you money on beeswax, and simple enjoyment.
What's the Buzz About?
Bees have been in the news lately. Their numbers are decreasing and their health is suffering. This matters because bees not only produce honey, but also pollinate a large percentage of our agriculture. Thus, if bees die off or can't pollinate enough, not only will honey go away (or get very expensive) but crops will suffer and of course cause lots of problems like food shortages.
Although the jury's still out on the exact reason for bee problems and what can be done about it, starting your own bee colony may help increase their numbers and help your local colonies improve their health. Backyard honey plus helping nature? What's not to love!
Beekeeping is quite simple when it comes to materials: a hive, a few simple tools (scraper, brush, smoker), a small bunch of bees, and some protective gear. The harder parts are things like patience, managing the colony as it grows, capturing the honey, and dealing with colony problems. Success is not a sure thing, and it may take a while before you and nature get in sync.
We suggest getting yourself a good beekeeping book and joining a local beekeeping club. There are also lots of online forums for help and support. Spend the fall and winter months researching, planning, and networking with other beekeppers. You'll get support and feel more confident when the weather warms and it's time to get your hands on the hive!
The most commonly kept bee is the European honey bee. There are three main "types" of bees. The queen, worker bees, and drones.
- The queen is truly royalty, and can make or break the hive. There is only one queen and she is responsible for producing new bees. She is constantly looked after and defended at all costs.
- The worker bees are just that - workers. They forage, feed the young, make honey and wax, defend the hive, and generally do the brunt of manual labor.
- The drones are male bees whose single purpose is to mate. Once they do their job they die. Sort of sad but ultimately plays a vital role in colony growth.
The standard hive is a box hive, typically called a Langstroth hive. It's the stereotypical box shape you often see on TV shows and movies, and in books. They're often readily available, even in complete kits, and have a large support base of beekeepers and vendors for accessories and supplies.
We sell the box hives along with ready-to-use frames. They're easy to setup and maintain, and are a great way to get into beekeeping.
Tools and Accessories
In addition to the hive and frames, you'll need a handful of tools and accessories. They include the following:
- Scraper or knife to separate honey from the frames
- Pry tool to open the hive and separate frames
- Smoker to calm the bees
- Protective gear to guard against stings
- Processing and storage equipment for honey
- Starter pollen
- Bee brush
Space and Courtesy
Keep in mind that the hive should not be placed near heavy traffic areas. Backyards and gardens are ok, just be sure there won't be pickup football games nearby to disturb the colony or damage the hive itself. You might find a peaceful colony turns into a very upset stinging fest! Also consider that if you have neighbors nearby that they may be worried, especially if they or their children have allergies to bees. Make sure to speak with them and explain your goals and commitment to operating a safe and successful beehive. There's a reason why natural hives are often hidden from plain view and are in hard to reach places. Keep that in mind when you place your hive.
You should also check with your local ordinances or neighborhood covenants to ensure you're allowed to keep bees. You'd hate to spend money and time only to find out it's against the law or violates a code you never thought would apply to you - or didn't know existed before getting started.
*Note: this is a general overview, please consult beekeeping books and local experts to increase success and reduce losses.