Successful Beekeeping with Your Own Honeybees

Beekeeping can be a fun and productive hobby. You’ll have your own fresh honey, and keeping bees is easier than you might think.
By Mary Lou Shaw
July 16, 2009
Add to My MSN

The word “swarm” may cause panic, but the bees are gentle during this time.
MARY LOU SHAW


Content Tools

Related Content

The Hows and Whys of Producing Comb Honey

Jennifer Ford, of Bees of the Woods Apiary, explains how to produce comb honey, and why it is such a...

For the Beekeeping Newbees!

Encouragement for new beekeepers who may be confused and overwhelmed about all the conflicting advic...

Worker B Expands to Beeswax Candle Production

Worker B continues expanding product line with beeswax candles.

Keep Bees With Confidence and Courage

To be a successful beekeeper we must overcome our initial fears.

If you’ve ever thought about beekeeping, I strongly encourage you to jump in and get started. There are continually new things to learn, observe and enjoy. It brings you close to nature, and bees pollinate crops and provide honey.

I enjoy beekeeping now even more than I did in 2005, my first year of keeping bees. That first year, I followed most recommendations from books and classes, even if I was uncomfortable with them. Then in 2007, three-quarters of the honeybees in Ohio died from colony collapse disorder, including one of my two hives, and I became bolder about trusting my own instincts. The result has been that I enjoy beekeeping much more, and the number of beehives I have has increased from two to eight.

I think it’s important to read, meet other beekeepers through your local bee association, listen to their speakers, and even find a mentor for your first year. But I would encourage you to experiment and deviate from conventional wisdom, if you’re so inclined. In my experience, chemicals or artificial food supplements are not necessary. The following strategies have worked for me and will help you enjoy beekeeping right from the start.

Avoid Chemicals

Mite infestations are the primary reason chemicals are routinely used in beehives. I stopped all chemicals after my first year, and now I dust the bees with powdered sugar to help them groom off the mites. The bottoms of my hives are made of screen so that the mites fall through as the bees remove them (and can’t easily get back to the bees). Honeybees continue to live with mites, but gradually build sufficient resistance to stay healthy.

Bees forage over a 2-mile radius, so it’s difficult to protect them from all chemicals. Remind your neighbors that insecticides kill bees, which are necessary for pollination. It may help to bribe neighbors with a jar of honey.

Don’t Be Greedy

It sounds like common sense to allow the bees enough of their own honey and pollen to feed their young and stay healthy. But many people take the honey and honeycomb for profit and expect the bees to live on sugar water. If you want healthy bees, allow them the fruits of their labor. Healthy bees will make enough honey for you, too.

Provide a Varied Diet

Bees are used commercially to pollinate a single crop at a time, such as almonds. But bees need variety to make their own foods from nectar and pollen, and to maintain a strong immune system. City dwellers have the advantage of neighbors with flowers and gardens.

Bees motivate me to keep planting. Our orchard has fruit trees, daffodils, white clover, comfrey and berries. Annual flowers fit in the vegetable garden, and I plant only sunflowers that have pollen (varieties that don’t produce pollen are available). Buckwheat is our autumn cover crop, and its nectar is far superior to sugar water for the bees’ winter food.

Buy New Equipment, But Recycle Bees

Used beehives and frames can easily harbor disease and chemicals. Buy new beekeeping supplies to assure a clean start. Basic beginning bee supplies, including safety gear, start at about $160. A honey extractor costs around $300, but can be shared or rented.

A package of bees with a queen bee costs about $80. I suggest buying new equipment and asking another beekeeper to help find a swarm. Besides saving money, a swarm consists of local bees that have their own queen and are healthy enough to have already multiplied. (When a colony becomes too large, it produces another queen and the colony divides.)

Enjoy Bee Therapy

I feel good contributing to the honeybees’ health, and living with bees enhances my world. I become calm and centered in the apiary surrounded by the hum of the honeybees. I’m also grateful for their delicious raw honey. Life is definitely better with bees.


For more information, read Keep Bees, Naturally!.

Do you have more suggestions for keeping bees without chemicals? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 

lauren
7/27/2014 2:31:38 PM
Help, I live in Norfolk, Va. I am an organic gardener with a small back yard and garden. My garden did not produce this year because I have no honey bees to pollinate. I have all the right flowers and have plenty of bumble bees, dragonflies and butterflies. The size of my yard won't accomdate a hive. What can I do? Thanks in advance to anyone who can help. Lauren, lwright804@cox.net

mehdi
8/10/2013 10:08:35 AM

Hi
I am Mehdi from IRAN.
I spent 10 years as a professional beekeeper and about 5 years to remove all drugs have to produce Organic honey.
High quality honey from mountain herbs IRAN.
Unfortunately,due to lack of sufficient interest in organic honey, for sale with reasonable price,I am in trouble.
Please guide me.
Can I supply these products (with guaranteed analysis) in your country?


Mary Lou Shaw
8/8/2009 2:52:52 PM
Reply to Catrin and Tuve: Powder Sugar: About 80% of mites are in the cells with the developing brood, so powder sugar helps with only the 20% which are on the bees either because it makes the bees slippery and the mites drop off, or because it makes the bees groom themselves and therefore groom off the mite. Either way, you want a screen bottom on the hive so they can't climb back up to the bees. Weekly dusting would be nice, but pretty bothersome to the bees. I do it every two weeks, but not when the honey supers are on. I don't want powder sugar in the honey, nor the corn starch used in most powder sugar. I use a framed screen over the top deep hive-body, sprinkle one cup of powder sugar per deep hive-body, then brush it through with the hive brush. Also brush it off the tops of the frames. Buckwheat: Used as a cover crop (one month from seed to flowering)I plant it wherever I have room as the vegetable crops come off the garden. The amount I plant has nothing to do with the number of hives, but everything to do with the amound of land. I do know a farmer who planted a couple acres and had wonderful buckwheat honey though! Buckwheat plant freezes easily, and breaks down nicely as green manure. ml

catrin wolf-watz
7/30/2009 3:57:57 AM
Hi! We are beekeepers in southern Sweden and we are also fighting mites. When, how much and how often do you dust sugar on the bees? How much buckwheat per hive? What is a top bar hive? Many questions... Yours sincerely Catrin and Tuve

Sheri G
7/24/2009 8:43:04 PM
Top Bar Bee Hives are alot of fun. We made a Langstroth and a Top Bar, and think the Top Bar Hives are alot more active. Vicki should read a book by P.J. Chandler called the Barefoot Beekeeper, good luck It seems to be fun and knowing we are helping the bee population is nice too. We are mostly using them for pollination, but some honey and wax would be nice if there is enough to share. I'd also like to know more on Bee Stings.

Frank Suber_1
7/23/2009 6:22:08 PM
What a great article! I kept two hives of Italians back in Blaine, MN as a boy. I see that as time progresses I will jump back into it. You really piqued my interest with your article. Kudos to you.

Joyce_22
7/23/2009 4:29:34 PM
My dad and I used to keep bees when I was in high school in Pennsylvania. It was great fun, and I'd love to keep bees again. However, living in central North Dakota, Garrison to be specific, bee-keeping requires that you ship the bees out to a warmer climate in the winter months, which is not good for the bees, or you have a heated apiary for the bees in the winter. (When January temps can get down to -50, a 25-30 degree apiary is a very toasty neccessity for beehives.) This is rather cost-prohibitive for someone who doesn't own land. Can anyone offer suggestions? Industrial bee keeping is quite prevalent here, but they truck out to California to polinate almonds every winter. Like I said before, shipping is not good for the bees.

Valerie Johnson
7/23/2009 9:13:18 AM
We have 2 hives, and will be harvesting our first honey next week. We also have stopped using any chemicals in the hive. We have screened bottom boards, only one cover (since small hive beetles are a big problem here, and don't die out in winter), and dust with powder sugar. We also use the AJ's beetle eater traps, with plain old vegetable oil in them. I hardly ever see a beetle in our hives, and have yet to see any mite damage. We also let our bees re-queen themselves, to get bees that are naturally more mite-resistant.

Laura_1
7/23/2009 7:17:10 AM
The following site was recommended to me: http://www.biobees.com/ I don't have bees yet, but there was a lot of helpful information there about keeping bees without chemicals and building top bar hives. I feel more optimistic about getting bees, knowing that I don't have to spray them with chemicals and buy expensive hives.

Laura _1
7/22/2009 3:49:16 PM
The top bar hives comment is for Vicki - Good luck!

Laura _1
7/22/2009 3:45:32 PM
Sounds like "top bar hives" an African type of hive. I read an article that sounds like it by Robert Gerard called Building a Better Beehive. June 04, ACRES USA. Haven't tried them but they sound good.

DanO
7/22/2009 12:28:14 PM
IMO, the best local resources are experienced beekeepers; many are willing mentors for 'newbees'. To find one, get in touch with a local beekeeping club/association. It is likely that your local extension office, parks and recreation, and even law enforcement can point you to local beekeepers as many are on local swarm removal contact lists. There are regional and state beekeeping associations as well. You can find a list at the Bee Culture magazine (an outstanding publication) Web site: http://www.beeculture.com/content/whoswho/ You can find plans for bee hives and equipment via Intenet search engines. Standard equipment (10 frame) plans are found on the beesource site (http://www.beesource.com/build-it-yourself/). Bee source is also an excellent online reference and support site.

Vicki Patton
7/21/2009 7:58:40 AM
I am in the process of convincing my husband who is deathly scared of bees, to keep at least 2 hives. What is the local resources for us to look for and to help answer our questions? I read a short article on bee keeping from an older couple that built their own hive and frames and built them so they could handle/carry them easier. Unfortunately I cannot remember where I read it at. Did anyone read the same article and can help me out? Or does anyone have any information on building your own hive and frames?








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.