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How to Start Beekeeping in Your Backyard

Updated on March 13, 2012

So you want to start beekeeping!

Welcome to the exciting world of beekeeping. This a hobby that you can learn everything that you need to know very quickly but continue learning over a lifetime. When most folks decide they want to get going in this hobby, they have no idea where to start. Never fear, you are in the right place. I'll tell you what you need to know to get started in the awesome field of beekeeping.

New bees being introduced to a hive
New bees being introduced to a hive

What is your reason for wanting to keep honey bees?

There are many reasons that a person would want to start keeping their own bees. The most common is to be able to make your own local honey. Well keeping your own honey bees is the right way to get all the honey you will ever want. If you take care of your hive, it will give you between 40 and 100 pounds of honey a year. If you are a honey nut and that isn’t enough for you, just set up more hives.

You may be one of the kind hearted folks that want to be able to give away gifts. I can say bottles of honey are a great gift to receive and I am sure your friends will certainly agree. You will be the hit of a party when you bring in a bottle of that liquid gold.

Another common reason that I hear is to help the bees survive colony collapse disorder. There has been a great response in the call to help the bees continue on over the past few years. After all, if the bees are all gone, who will pollinate our food and flower crops?

Perhaps you want to actually make some money off of beekeeping, there are certainly many folks that do that too. If a business is your motivation and you aren’t afraid of some hard work, go for it!

No matter what your reason is for keeping bees, I’m glad you are taking the first step. Once you learn just how easy it is to set up your first hive, you’ll never look back.

What is your motivation?

What made you interested in keeping honey bees?

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What do you need to get started?

Options, options, options

One thing to keep in mind when you first get started is your budget. Beekeeping is one of those hobbies that can bleed you dry in the cash department if you aren't careful. You can go to a website to buy your sparkly new equipment and get dazzled by the price tags you see.

Never fear, you do not need all that stuff you see. There are a few basics that you absolutely must have in order to start, let's take a look at what is required.

  1. Veil - I would highly recommend that one of the first things you get is a veil. The reason for this is you can go to a mentor's bee hives and help them while learning.
  2. Gloves - You don't need to get the expensive kind, I've had people use their garden gloves and one lady actually used rubber dishwashing gloves.
  3. Hive Boxes - Technically speaking, you only need to have one. If you got two at first, the bees will only build in the bottom one at first. As a cost savings tip, build your own.
  4. Frames - The frames are the doodads that hang inside the hive boxes that the bees build comb on. Depending on the size of your box, you will probably need 5, 8, or 10 frames per box.
  5. Honey Bees - Duh. Hives aren't nearly as interesting without the bees. For a beginner, I would strongly recommend starting with Italian bees. They are a bit easier to keep.
  6. When it comes down to it, all the rest are nice to haves. Will a hive tool make your life tons easier, sure, but you can also use a kitchen knife if you have to. Do you have to have a beekeeper's suit, nope, just wear a jacket or long sleeve shirt. The key is to get creative if you are on a shoe string budget.

What to do once you get your stuff

Now what?

Hey, you've gotten your bees, from a bee company in the mail or a local beekeeper, and now you are wondering what to do with this buzzing ball of insects.

The process of getting them into their new hive is so easy and even a tad bit funny. Mix up a solution of 2-to-1 sugar and water and put it into an unused spray bottle. Take your bottle and bees to the location that you have set up your hive.

Once all is set, spray the bees liberally with the sugar water solution until they are soaked. They will begin lapping up the sugar water like they are at a seafood buffet. They will become very lethargic in a very short order.

Once they have gorged themselves on sugar water they will be much more docile which will in turn make them much easier to work with.

Here is the fun part, open the hive up and take out a few frames from the middle of the hive to make a hole in the middle. Open up the box of bees (make sure you have your protective clothing on) and just dump them into the hive.

The first few times you do this it will feel a tad unceremonious but that is really all there is to it. Get them fat, dumb, and happy and then drop 'em into their new home. Pop the top back onto the hive and away you go.

Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a box of bugs!

How to Dump Bees

Never Stop Learning

Read, Read, Read

There is a lifetime of things to learn when it comes to honey bees. There are things from the reproductive lifecycle to hive physics, from honey making microbes to death dealing parasites.

Be careful, when you put your first bees in that wooden box, you are going down an amazing lifelong journey into all that is honey bees. The great thing is there isn’t much to know to get started. One of the next things to do is pick up a good beginner’s book and start reading. There are also great sites to look at that have tons of good information such as justaboxofbugs.com.

You will be amazed at how quickly you pick up all the important parts of beekeeping and you will have all sorts of people coming to you, asking you all the questions you had just a few months earlier. Don’t be afraid to get started, you’ll be happy you did.

Absolutely the Best Book for Beginners - Gotta Read

I have read this book over and over again. Each time I read it, I seem to pick up something new. Now my 10 year old daughter is going through it and loves it too!

Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer have done a great job making this topic very easy to learn. This book should be on every beekeeper's book shelf.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping (Idiot's Guides)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping (Idiot's Guides)

This is by far the best beginner beekeeping book that I have read. Dive in and learn everything you need to know.

 
Bee swarm we caught with our mentor
Bee swarm we caught with our mentor

Join a Local Honey Bee Guild

Get involved and get a mentor

If there is one thing that you can do to make your beekeeping experience the best that it can possibly be, join a local beekeeping guild. There are honey bee guilds everywhere and every guild has people that have been keeping bees for over 40 years.

They have made all the mistakes that you want to avoid and they are happy to share their knowledge with you. Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions that you have, they were once a bee novice too.

If you are one of the lucky ones, the local beekeepers guild will have a mentorship program. Sign up for a mentor as soon as possible. They will have you over to their bee yards and have you get hands on experience right along side them.

The experience you gain from being with a mentor is worth years of self learning. They will hold your hand all the way through the process of your first hive to getting honey. Not to mention you can make life long friends, beekeepers are a pretty tight knit group.

Don't be shy

Mentors have made all the mistakes that you want to avoid and they are happy to share their knowledge with you.

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    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image

      GreenfireWiseWo 6 years ago

      This is something I would like to do. Very informative lens. Thank you.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Great information about getting started as a beekeeper. Featured on my great sunflower project lens.