July 15, 2021
Bee-Coming a Beekeeper!
First, you should determine what kind of beekeeper you want to become. Do you want to grow a business, enjoy beekeeping as a fun hobby, or want to develop your skills and expand a career as a beekeeper?
This is a question that you’ll need to answer for yourself.
If you’re looking to take beekeeping to the next level and build a career the best way you can start is by taking professional courses. Taking classes and becoming certified is extremely important to working in the professional industry, and most operations will require some level of certification.
However, if you want to do beekeeping as a hobby, getting certified isn’t a requirement. But we can’t stress enough - do your research! Look before you leap, be prepared and study up. It will be crucial for you to understand the different challenges and situations as they arrive.
Beekeeping can be an incredibly rewarding and beneficial experience. It’s good for the environment, you help bees cultivate the land around you, and you get to eat your own delicious organic honey! The rest of this short guide will help you understand what is necessary to begin beekeeping at the hobbyist’s level.
Starting Out - Get the okay
You will need to check with your local zoning office to see if beekeeping is allowed in your area. Talk with your family, roommates and neighbors to determine if it’s okay with them. Be wary of pets and children that may have access to your hive(s). Take into consideration potential allergies and safety concerns about where you will keep your bees.
Once you get the okay from the city, your family and neighbors, it’s time to find a place to keep your bees.
Finding the Perfect Spot
When it comes to setting up your beehive, you’ll want to make sure it’s in a suitable location. Most beekeepers will recommend that you place your beehive in a more secluded area. This is beneficial because you generally want your bees to avoid unwanted attention from curious kids, animals, and anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered by them.
A good technique would be to camouflage your hive, setting it close to the woods, or building a hedge/barrier around it. Creating a barrier of tall plants, like hedges or sunflowers, around your hive will prompt the bees to fly up and then away from the hive. This helps to prevent the bees from flying at human height.
Building a Bee’s Home
Once you’ve selected the hive’s location, it’s time to start building.
Most novice beekeepers begin with two hives to handle in their first season. This is beneficial as it helps to manage your population throughout the winter. Start small, focus on the quality of these two hives and enjoy yourself too!
When you go to build your hives, start by creating a lift or an elevated platform about 18 inches off the ground. This will help keep out skunks, possums, snakes and other pests. Your hive does not have to be extremely expensive or elaborate. Treated 2x4 lumber, bricks, and cinder blocks make great foundation materials to build with.
Make sure the location you choose has solid ground. If it’s prone to get muddy, consider putting down stones, gravel or mulch for your hives to sit upon.
Once your foundation is set, it’s time to place your beehive! Beehives can be constructed by hand or you can order a pre-built model. The type of hive you choose is up to you. You can easily compare the costs and determine what will work best for you.
Many resources, guides and videos are available for free online to help you understand the materials, labor, techniques and proper construction for your beehive.
(Bees and Trees tip: Tap into your fellow beekeeping community! This can be local or online - ask them for support, tips and methods you should try!)
Keep Yourself Protected
Keeping yourself safe is absolutely essential to beekeeping.
For beginners, it’s recommended that you invest in the full beekeeping suit when you get started. Because you aren’t as accustomed to working with bees, it may be a bit uncomfortable or even frightening when you begin. Being completely protected ensures that you can work effectively without being worried or uncomfortable.
As you continue, you will understand more about your bees and your own processes, you can try to experiment with your gear to find what works best for you.
Be sure to invest in a smoker. A smoker is a small canister that contains burning pine needles, old wood or smoker fuel. Puffing smoke into the hive makes the bees more docile, and allows you to work. Bees communicate through pheromones that circulate around the hive, when you introduce smoke into the hive, it interrupts that communication so the ‘intruder alarm’ won’t ring.
With your protective gear and smoker at the ready you’ll feel much more comfortable working with your bees.
Choosing your Bees
There are many different species of bees to choose from when you start your hive. Many beekeepers will probably recommend the Italian Honey Bee.
Italian Honey Bees (apis mellifera ligustica) are a subspecies of the Western Honey Bee. They are well regarded for their docile/well tempered nature and high-productivity. This makes them easy to manage - the perfect bee for beginners.
(Bees and Trees fact from the hive:Apis Mellifera were actually the first honey bees introduced to New Zealand in 1839 )
Be sure to look into other species to figure out what will work best for you!
Get ready to reap those sweet rewards!
You’ve got your location, hives, protective gear and honey bees ready to go! Soon you will be ready to start collecting delicious honey. Remember to do plenty of research, reach out to fellow beekeepers and to stay motivated and curious. Stay tuned for more info about introducing your hive to their new home, honey harvesting, hive management and more!