How to Raise Honeybees: A Beginner's Guide

If the draw of fresh honey has given you bees on the brain, you can learn how to raise honeybees that will provide you with excitement and sweetness for years to come.


| March/April 1985



honeycomb

When you raise your own bees, you'll be rewarded in fresh honey that puts store-bought honey to shame.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/MARGO555

How to Raise Bees as a Beginner

Sheep, chickens, horses, pigs ... if I could have only one kind of homestead livestock, I'd choose honeybees. You never have to muck out stalls of bee manure. You don't need to keep their water trough thawed in subfreezing weather. And — thank God — you don't have to get up in the dark every morning before even a rooster goes off and go out to pull on some bee udders. Members of Apismellifera can clean themselves, fetch their own food and water and store your harvest. They'll even patch their home's leaks!

The fact that honeybees practically take care of themselves is really only a small part of their appeal. Even the golden sweetener they provide (which, like every other homegrown product, is worlds better than its oversanitized store counterpart) isn't what makes them irresistible to me. The plain truth is I can no longer imagine my life without those creatures and the fascination and respect they engender. A honeybee colony is a mysterious and independent creation. Bees haven't been bred and rebred into docile egg machines or walking meat racks. They are as wild today as when they were first imported into this country. As a consequence, working with bees is a challenge (and lesson) in cooperation, not domination ... a rare human-to-nature experience these days.

But enough rhapsodizing. If you now keep bees, you're probably already stricken with the obsession known as bee fever. I'm going to address myself here to those who might be considering beekeeping. If you're like I was a few years ago, the two things holding you back are ignorance and fear (nobody wants to get stung, right?). Well, I'll try my best to help you start dealing with both those factors. The books and the bees will teach you the rest about how to raise honeybees.

The Biology of Bees

Honeybees live in complex communities that may contain as many as 100,000 members. The vast majority of these are the unfertile female bees known as workers. And do they work. They run the hive; feed and clean the queen; gather nectar, pollen, and water (nectar gets converted into carbohydrate-rich honey; pollen is used as is for protein-rich "bee bread"); cool or heat the hive, as needed; feed developing larvae; and make the beeswax they use to build all the hive's cells. During the peak of the season, a worker will live only six weeks before she dies from exhaustion. She'll have gathered enough nectar to make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.

There are only a few hundred male, or drone, bees in a hive. They don't work a lick. They just eat honey, fly around and look for an opportunity to mate. Such unions occur rarely, when a week-old queen goes on her mating flights high up in the air. It's then that the drones' distinctive large eyes and big wings come into play, for only the strongest males get to mate (passing on sperm that the queen can keep alive inside her for years!) and then fall to their — one hopes, blissful — deaths. The unsuccessful suitors meet their doom in autumn: No longer needed, they are forcibly evicted from the hive by — who else? — the workers.

At the heart of the hive is its queen, the sole female bee with fully developed reproductive organs. Indeed, all she is, is a royal egg layer; she has absolutely no decision-making authority. But what a layer! In the height of the season, she can produce 1,500 eggs — more than her own weight — in a single day.

traci
1/6/2016 8:41:58 PM

I never knew honey bees were so interesting till my husband wanted to start farming. I'm more excited then him...


traci
1/6/2016 8:38:32 PM

I never knew honey bees were so interesting till my husband wanted to start farming. I'm more excited then him...


joy
12/31/2015 9:25:01 PM

I have just got another hive this year. Each one is different. I am growing my beekeeping journey at http://www.beeswarm.net.au/


ali
6/28/2015 7:41:24 PM

hi thanks for the info... I am from Solomon Islands in the pacific ocean. I have been fascinated by the stories of Bees and honey.. I wanted to start a small initiative for my family in the islands soon.


nithin
5/20/2014 10:06:00 AM

Nice article to little entomologists


cosmobot
5/2/2014 7:55:58 AM

Thanks for the info. All I really want bees for though is too pollenate my tomatillos. I live in Japan, (no tomatillos for sale here) and two years ago we had loads of pollenating insects. Last year we had zero. No bees, butterflies, nothing. Not a single flower produced any fruit. We tried to pollenate ourselves with Q-Tips, but no luck. If all I want is for them to pollenate my plants (assuming for a second there are enough plants around for them), can I just let them go without any care on my end? just let them happily buzz about and pollenate? Thanks!


robertsees
9/27/2013 7:04:51 AM

FYI - Honey bees aren't typically considered livestock. I bring this to your attention because referring to them as livestock introduces a potential hurdle to homeowners living in most neighborhood communities where no forms of "livestock" is allowed by covenant or other type of restriction. I ran into this very issue and had to research various department of agriculture references to confirm that, indeed, honey bees are explicitly referred to separately from "livestock." I won't get into my thoughts on the semantics behinds this distinguishing feature; that's a whole other story. It is, for the benefit of people choosing to live in tightly governed neighborhoods and possibly others, that people are aware honey bees ARE NOT typically considered livestock. Maybe you and your readers will find this factoid helpful as they plan their respective bee keeping futures; I certainly hope it's helpful to someone.


riomurphy
8/27/2013 3:37:17 PM

This was a very informative and educational article. Now, if I could only get over the initial fear of being stung a thousand times and attacked by a swarm, I might consider keeping bees. Thanks for posting!


judykrape
1/17/2009 6:41:33 PM

whAT A WONDERFUL AND MOTIVATING ARTICCLE. THANKS






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