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How to Learn About Beekeeping

Updated on October 29, 2015

So You Want to Learn How to Keep Bees...

By the time I got my first hive of honey bees, back in 1999, I'd already spent a couple of years learning how to keep bees - the old-fashioned way!

I was lucky enough to learn the basics of beekeeping, hands on, working side by side with a local commercial beekeeper in his apiary. In my opinion, this is the best possible way to learn how to keep bees - to get in there at the bee yard and put in the sweat equity.

Too bad that this "apprenticeship" option is not a practical choice for every beginning beekeeper, but the plain fact is that it is just not possible for everyone. Maybe you don't have the time, with all the other commitments in life; or maybe you just don't have the opportunity, where you live.

No worries, there are other ways you can learn about beekeeping - gain enough knowledge to get started with your own honeybees, with a fair degree of confidence. If you dream of the scent of honey and the soothing hum of a healthy working bee hive in your own backyard, yes, that dream can be within reach. All you have to do... is learn how to keep bees!

Photo: © Honeydoodles, by permission. Apis mellifera are typically not aggressive.

How to Learn Beekeeping - There are many ways to learn backyard beekeeping...

Here's a list with a brief note on each heading. Click on any of these numbered titles to jump right to that section, where we'll talk in more detail, or just carry on reading to get the whole big picture.

  1. Learn beekeeping from books and videos

    Every old beekeeper has a few favorite books on beekeeping they've just about worn out over the years, and you should too. Add to that the visual information you can get from DVDs and online videos, and you've got a solid theoretical foundation.

  2. Take a beekeeping course online

    Most online beekeeping courses are geared towards American beekeepers, but more and more web-based beekeeping courses are offered every day as it's such an efficient method of delivering education.

  3. Talk to your beekeeping equipment supplier

    If you're lucky enough to be able get your beekeeping equipment from a small local business, you'll find the people who run the place can be an invaluable source of advice and practical information, happy to help a new "beek" get started.

  4. Attend a beekeeping workshop

    If you want a quick plunge into the beekeeping experience, sign up for a beekeeping workshop for a weekend (or longer) of theory and hands-on experience, often in a great holiday location!

  5. Go to a beekeeping field day

    Local beekeeping groups - especially urban beekeeping associations and honey co-op groups - quite often will organize a working "field day" to help new beekeepers learn by doing. It's sort of the apiculture equivalent of an old-time barn raising or quilting bee!

  6. Find a beekeeping mentor

    Develop a close relationship with one experienced beekeeper whose opinion you trust, and trade a few hours of your volunteer work in his bee yards for the benefit of his knowledge and advice with your own bees.

  7. Never stop learning!

    Subscribe to magazines on beekeeping, hang out in beekeeping forums, visit the blogs and websites of other beekeepers, and get on a good e-mail list or news alerts for breaking honeybee news.

Learn Beekeeping from Books and Videos

Most of the books on the market are aimed at American beekeepers, so they'll speak in terms of the Langstroth hive (still the most widely used style of equipment in the USA) and any references to seasons or months of the year will need to be adjusted to your own locality.

That said, however, you really can't go wrong with Beekeeping For Dummies as a good basic guide to beekeeping -- it's full of reliable information that even the beginning beekeeper will find easy to understand, and I consider it the one "foundation text" that I'd recommend to beginning beekepers anywhere.

Just bear in mind that there are other good beekeeping books out there, these days, that will be even more relevant for small-scale and hobby beekeepers who are just starting out. Add a couple of location-specific books to your beekeeping library, as well - ask your beekeeping equipment supplier or other members of your association for their recommendations.

Top-Rated Book for New Beekeepers

Beekeeping For Dummies
Beekeeping For Dummies

If you just want to get an overview of the whole hobby (or small business) of keeping honey bees, to see if it might be something for you, it's hard to go wrong with the basic Dummies guide here. Not only does it give a solid introduction to apiculture (aimed at the hobbyist or small beekeeper in the United States, primarily), this book will also serve well as a handy reference guide through your first few years of raising honeybees.

 

Recommended Beekeeping DVDs

I just haven't found a really good DVD for beginning beekeepers yet - at least, not one that I'd feel 100% comfortable to recommend to a new beekeeper. Stay tuned - as soon as I find a top-knotch, well-produced, reliable, up-to-date beekeeping DVD for you, I'll add it in here. :-)

If you know of a DVD on beekeeping you think is worth a second look, please drop a note in the Guestbook below?

Take an Online Course in Beekeeping

Most online beekeeping courses are geared towards American beekeepers, but more and more web-based beekeeping courses are offered every day as it's such an efficient method of delivering education.

One BIG advantage of learning online is that, just like with a book or DVD, you can go back over the course material as many times as you need to - but, unlike a book or DVD, there is usually someone you can get in touch with on the other end to respond to your questions, if something in the course materials is not completely clear to you at first.

There are a number of online courses in beekeeping and beekeeping e-books currently available. This list is automatically generated through the magic of technology, so no endorsement is implied for any of these and caveat emptor applies, as it always should. All are covered by Clickbank's refund policy, however, and some also come with their own money-back guarantee.

Have a look, in particular, for any that offer a free introductory course by email - it's a handy way to get a pretty good sense of the content and approach of the particular course or ebook author, to see if it will suit you.

Talk to Your Beekeeping Equipment Supplier

If you're lucky enough to be able get your beekeeping equipment from a small local business, you'll find the people who run the place can be an invaluable source of advice and practical information, happy to help a new "beek" get started.

Surprised?

Well, if you think about it, no one gets into the beekeeping supply business without some kind of connection to apiculture beforehand - often, they come from a background where honey production or pollination services have been the family business for generations.

They have good solid local knowledge, and beekeeping is so dependent on local conditions of environment, forage, weather, etc., that first-hand knowledge is very useful.

And they're generally more than happy to do what they can to help new beekeepers be successful - well, apart from the whole "brotherhood of beekeepers" thing, this just makes good business sense, developing new customers and helping their existing customers to stay flush in the beekeeping business!

Attend a Beekeeping Workshop

Instead of lolling around the beach with a book on your next vacation, why not book into a beekeeping workshop or field day?

Depending where you live, you may have to travel a bit to get there - but many of us travel on vacation in any case, and to much less purpose or pleasure. Because many beekeeping workshops are held in small university towns, or at an agricultural college close by a rural area, you're likely to find an excellent cottage or bed-and-breakfast nearby to stay in, and it's likely to be a family-friendly venue as well.

The more that the growing interest in beekeeping continues to thrive, the more workshops are being organized-- and I'll list a few of them here, below, to give you a head start on finding one that may suit you.

Attend a Beekeeping Field Day

Field days are usually organized by individual beekeepers' associations, so getting in touch with your local beekeepers' group will be the direct line to tap into this learning opportunity.

The small local beekeeping groups who tend to head up this kind of educational event, like many volunteer-centred organizations, may not have the resources to advertise field days very widely beyond the membership, and as beekeeping is very dependent on the weather, field days are not usually set up very long in advance of the date. It's best if you track them down and ask, rather than just waiting for notice of a field day to come to your attention, if you'd like to attend one.

To find Beekeeping Associations in Canada, the United States, and other English-speaking countries, keep reading!

Great ideas come from working or chatting with other beekeepers

Beekeepers are sort of "MacGyver" types by nature, like farmers, always finding workarounds and inventing their own tools and methods where a job needs to be done. "Necessity is the mother of invention" as the saying goes, and we all learn a lot by brainstorming together.

For example, the inspiration for this handy wooden beekeeping workbench came from a field day, seeing a metal rack that a fellow beekeeper had rough-welded together to serve as an "extra pair of hands" out in the apiary. (Anytime you set down a frame covered with bees, even leaning it carefully on end against the hive or hanging it in a spare box, you are almost certain to squish some bees or damage the honeycomb, not to mention the strain on your back after a few hours of bending and lifting... so that was the challenge to be met.) You can learn more about this in the video below or visit http://stonehavenlife.com/beekeeping-work-bench-woodworking-plans/.

Find a Beekeeping Mentor

As mentioned, handing yourself over as an apprentice to an experienced beekeeper is the old-fashioned way of learning the "art and craft" of keeping bees - but few of us can take a chunk of time away from the day job to take on a full-blown apprenticeship program. Instead, it's common to do a part-time kind of thing, on a casual basis - with a friendly mentor from your local beekeeping group.

Every "newbee"-and-mentor relationship will be different, of course,

but here's how it usually works:

You help out the senior beekeeper now and then, after hours or on a weekend, and in return he shares his wisdom and experience. He's there to talk you down when you panic about your first swarm, looks at the hives you're concerned about to diagnose if you've got reason to worry or not, and generally guides you along as you learn about taking care of your bees. Sometimes all it may be is a quick phone call or email to answer your most pressing questions; sometimes you'll get together for a sunny, companionable, summer afternoon of working the hives together.

I'm hugely in favour of the mentorship route, as you may have gathered.

These days, a teenaged neighbor boy helps me out on Saturdays in my home bee yard. He loves to hang out with the bees - no payment is involved, he volunteers in exchange for the education (and even leaves his beloved video games to do it!). For me, a young strong helper is much appreciated, and I enjoy his company. Above all, however, the chance to pass along what I've learned is one of the great unsung pleasures of beekeeping - almost as sweet as the honey we harvest together at the season's end.

Beekeeping Associations in Canada - National, Provincial, and Local Organizations of Beekeepers

I'll be adding to this list as I track down other beekeeping groups, as time goes by. Still, hopefully this will be a good start in helping you get in touch with other beekeepers in Canada, and perhaps find a mentor to help you learn the tricks of the beekeeping trade.

When in doubt, get in touch with your provincial government's Agriculture department, as they'll usually have a list of resource people in the apiculture industry and may be able to pass along your contact information to a nearby beekeeper.

Beekeeping Associations in the United States - National and State Organizations of Beekeepers

In the United States, in most states, the most effective way to find a local association of beekeepers is usually to get in touch with the state-level association and ask to be put in touch with someone in or near your own community. Ideally, I'd like to make a list here that will help new beekeepers (and those just thinking of starting in beekeeping) to go straight to the local level, so if you know of a beekeeping association that should be on this list, please drop a note in the Guestbook below, and I'll be happy to add it to the list.

There's also an large (and for the most part knowledgeable and supportive) network of Agricultural Extension agents who serve as a liaison between government, researchers, and the apicultural industry (including hobbyists and part-time beekeepers, in most cases -- we're all in this together!) and education is one of their primary areas of interest. It never hurts to get in touch with your Ag department and find out who is available to connect with you there.

Beekeeping Associations in Other Countries - National Organizations of Beekeepers - International / English language

I've limited this list to national-level associations of beekeepers in English-speaking countries, just because otherwise I could go on collecting links (with the aid of Google Translate) til the cows come home, and if you're reading this the odds are statistically in favor of you being in one of these countries if you're not in North America (see above).

If I've missed out an organization you know about that should be on this list, however, please do leave a comment in the Guestbook below and I'll be happy to add it in.

Beekeeping is both an Art and a Science

Keep in mind that beekeeping, as with most types of agriculture, is as much an art as a science. We're talking about a complex system within the bee colony, where, when you change one thing, it can change something else you hadn't thought about. That's why, if you ask 10 beekeepers a question, you'll get 11 different answers!

Never Stop Learning!

Continuing to learn about our hard-working little hive friends is a good part of the fun of keeping bees, whether you're a hobby beekeeper, a part-time honey producer, or a pro in the pollination field.

  • Subscribe to a beekeeping email list.
  • Find and follow some blogs by other beekeepers.
  • Check your local library or newstands for beekeeping magazines
  • Keep an eye on the science news for new developments in honeybee research.
  • Talk with other beekeepers - both in person, at meetings of your local beekeepers' association, and in online forums, to share tips and learn from each other's experiences.

And once you have your own honeybee colonies to care for, pay close attention to your bees, to the sight and sound and scent and behaviour of your hives -- the bees will teach you the real stuff you need to know to be a good beekeeper!

Guestbook - What's the Buzz in your own beeyard?

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    • profile image

      Colin323 3 years ago

      I am very interested in this. The bee population in Britain has taken a big hit in recent years, which has had a knock-on effect in the ecological chain. I will certainly follow this up. Very informative lens, thank you.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
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      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      @Coffee-Break: Bees are a model for us all - not only industrious and organized workers with community goals, but nothing they produce goes to waste. When you look at the products of the hive, it's remarkable how many different uses we can find for them - North America is still way behind the rest of the world in this area, for sure.

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 3 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      I was actually contemplating the idea, back in my native country, bee products are very prized for their curative properties, and royal jelly, propolis, pollen, and obviously honey, are used to maintain people healthy and cure various conditions.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      You are brave! This is something I couldn't do. Wonderful tips to help others.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I'm considering getting started with beekeeping. I'm not sure they will have the right habitat here. Bees are just incredible. I find them so amazing and I'd like to do something to help the bee populations that need to rebound. Sounds like you've had a real bee education. So far, mine has all come from books.

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      Very informative lens; I have never kept bees, but hope to get started within the next couple of years.

    • Natalie W Schorr profile image

      Natalie W Schorr 5 years ago

      My neighbor keeps bees, which is great for his garden as well as mine!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I would love to keep bees, but with a bee-chasing german shepherd, it is not an option. However, we do make sure we have a bee friendly garden, with lots of plants selected especially with bees in mind.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      My father was a beekeeper, and so I have always had a special fondness for this wonderful hobby. He said "the more he learned about bees the more interesting they were."