A Beginners Guide to Backyard Beekeeping – When and How to Start
Sue Hubbell, in her A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them, says, “I like pulling on a baggy bee suit, forgetting myself and getting as close to the bees’ lives as they will let me, remembering in the process that there is more to life than the merely human.”
Do you resonate with Ms Hubbell’s feelings here? Well, if you do, then this article will give you the push you need to start backyard beekeeping.
When should you start beekeeping?
First thing first.
There’s an appropriate time to start beekeeping. April is the beginning of spring and it’s also the beginning of honey bee farming. If you begin mid-winters, the bees won’t get any flowers and you won’t get any honey.
Do you know that on average, one bee produces ½ tsp of honey throughout her lifetime? Together they produce a jar full of delicious honey for you to savor.
Well, go on and read some beekeeping books to understand beekeeping techniques or take up a beekeeping course. Or, you can check out Youtube channels for tutorials, read blogs and interact with beekeepers on different online forums.
Where do you want to set up your beehive?
Now that you know where to start from, you can look for the correct location to set up your beehive.
I wouldn’t suggest you set up the beehive anywhere close to your house. Here are some prerequisites to consider before choosing your beehive’s location:
- The location should be facing southeast or east if you stay in the northern hemisphere. It should be northeast or east if you stay in the southern hemisphere.
- Afternoon shade
- Ample water supply
- Perfect flow of wind
- Water drainage facilities nearby
- Enough room to work nearby
- Enough sources of pollen and nectar nearby
How much does it cost to start beekeeping?
No, it’s not a free hobby. In fact, beekeeping can be quite expensive. According to an estimate, you’d have to fork out around $725 in the first year of your beekeeping. This amount will get you the protective gear, different supplies, your first set of bees, one beehive, and other basic tools.
But there are some ways to avoid unnecessary expenses.
- Do not buy bees from an unreliable seller.
- Buy bees in two or three-pound packs.
- Prefer a premade beehive rather than building one. Separate parts cost extra.
- Buy only the first 3 essential tools at the beginning: hive tool, bee smoker, and bee brush
What do you need to start beekeeping?
Theories aside, practically here’s all you need to start beekeeping:
- Protective gear including veil and gloves
- Feeders to hold the sugar syrup that will come with your bees (this is helpful when natural nectar is unavailable for the bees).
- Well-structured frames and foundations with hexagonal cells to hold sheets of beeswax.
How to buy honey bees?
This is probably the most important question.
The simplest answer is to go find a local beekeeper. If you already have a bee supplier in mind, place your order in Dec or Jan. You won’t get bees for spring if you order in Feb or March.
You’ll come across 2 main choices when buying honeybees:
- Bee package or nuc
- Race of the bees
Let’s begin with the first choice. If you go for a bee package, you’d get around 10,000 bees including the Queen bee. You’ll also get a small can of sugar syrup for the bees in case there’s an absence of nectar for them.
A nuc means nucleus colony that comprises a small hive box containing 5 deep frames. The frames come with a brood, drawn comb, pollen and nectar.
If you can budget them in, go for nucs because they are much easier to install than packages.
The second choice is that of race. For a beginner, it’s hard to know which race of bees to buy. There are 4 main common races of bees:
Apart from these, you’ll find some hybrid bees with different traits. It brings us back to our suggestion that you go for a local beekeeper who could provide you with a local bee package. Local bees are well-adapted to the local environment.
What if local bees are not available? The next best choice is Italian bees. They are easy for beekeeping and produce a large amount of honey. Besides, Italian bees are known to create a large colony of bees that would further grow.
Also, you have to ensure that your beehive is kept at the right temperature; neither too cold nor too hot. Know more about the weather conditions you should be maintaining for your bees here.
What beekeeping tools do you need as a beginner?
As a pro, you’d already have your beekeeping toolbox. But as a beginner, you need only 3 main tools:
Hive with the J hook: to lift the frame at its end from the hive body
Hive with the scraper/pry style hook: remove the propolis or take off some part of the hive, perhaps from the top of the frame
Note: Make sure the smoke isn’t too hot by puffing it at the back of your hand first. If it’s okay for you, then it will be okay for your bees too.
After hive inspection, you’re likely to find bees stuck to your clothes or overalls. A bee brush will help you clean off the bees from your protective suit.
Is there a protective gear you need for beekeeping?
You can’t be wearing your shorts and building a beehive!
Here’s what your protective clothing shall include:
- Veil: It protects your face from getting stung. Get the Alexander-type veil or the tulle veil made of lightweight material. Or, you can go for veils that are made of wire mesh, nylon, or cloth.
- Helmet: Adjustable helmets can be sized as per your head. Made of tight-weave mesh, metal or plastic, the helmet will support your veil and keep it away from your face.
- Gloves: Pro beekeepers often avoid wearing gloves. But that’s not advisable for beginners because most stings that you’ll receive will be on your hands. And bees sting through gloves too, even through leather ones! Pick a strong plastic-made pair of gloves.
- Bee Suit: The ideal protective bee suit consists of a light-colored shirt, made of chambray or khaki. Alongside, you can pick faded jeans. Do not pick any animal-made fabric such as wool, feathers, or fur. These fabrics emanate an odor that may infuriate the bees.
- Boots: Buy long boots covering your ankle and half of your calves. Tie a rubber band or tape the bottom of the pants as well as the handcuffs of your shirt so that there’s no possibility of a bee entering your clothes.
How to set up a hive box?
It’s quite easy to set up a hive box once you have all your tools ready. Here’s what you’ll need to start off with:
Build a hive box following these simple steps:
- Pick your lumber, construct an open box keeping the ends and the bottom straight. The two sides should be sloping inward through the bottom end. The body of the hive box is V-shaped so that the bees don’t attach the comb to the hive-body walls. Make sure that the length of the hive box is good enough so that you could accommodate more bars for the combs.
- Next, construct the top bar for the box. It should be a removable top bar.
- The width of the bar should be good enough so that they could fit at the top bar of the hive box. Besides, the bars should be placed at least 1 ⅜ inches apart from each other so that there’s enough space for the bees to make combs.
- At the bottom of the bars, paste a small amount of beeswax (½ inch strip of wax foundation)
And you’re done! Your hive box is ready.
To extract honey, you’ll have to cut off the comb leaving out ½ inch so that the bees can reuse it to restart their new comb.
Bee colonies: How to do regular hive inspections?
Your task doesn’t end with setting up your hive box, buying bees and protective gear. In fact, it begins from this point on. You have to actively manage your bee colonies by conducting regular hive inspections.
Here’s what you’ll be inspecting:
- Food adequacy
- Space requirements and population
- The health of the Queen bee
- The physical condition of the beehive and its components
- Any evidence of illness or pests in the hive box
- Disposition of the bee colony
- Cross combing
- Swarming possibilities
Once your inspection is over, take the necessary steps to combat the problems noted during the inspection. The colony’s population will dictate if you need to remove or add more boxes. And always prepare your backyard beehive for winters.
Finally, be ready to harvest fresh honey! All your efforts that went into backyard beekeeping will now reap benefits.
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