Backyard Beekeeping for Beginners

Discover the basics of what you need to begin backyard beekeeping, from buying honeybees and constructing the hive to preventing bee swarming and harvesting honey.

| March/April 1974

It's early spring! Smell the sweet aroma corning from those fruit blooms and that other quickening vegetation? Then you should seriously consider getting yourself a colony or three of honeybees! You can succeed with these creatures even in the arid Southwest and north into Canada, almost everywhere in the world except the polar regions, where it's hard to raise anything successfully.

Don't let fear of the little critters put you off this easy, interesting and profitable project. Yup, the modern bees that beekeepers keep sure do sting, but very rarely, and only when you have made a wrong move (never because they're nasty and don't like you).

Generally, the bees don't even know you're there, because this is one creature man has never succeeded in domesticating. That colony back in the garden is just as untamed as the swarm in a rotten log lying deep in the Alaskan forests. The difference comes from your attitude (and a few necessary pieces of equipment). With only a bee veil, smoker and, if you want, bee gloves, you can turn that seemingly unruly mass of pulsating life into submissive little people who are easily handled.

In return for your care, the little golden folk will yield many pounds of nature's purest sweet for sale, gifts or use at home. The excess beeswax, too, will come in mighty handy when you want some really fine candles with a dazzling flame and a sweet, natural perfume. After a while, if you end up with enough colonies, you can even sell the wax (which will then be recycled back to the little honey-makers in the form of foundation for comb-building).

Yes, you can still get your adventure with bees together this spring and end up with more honey than you can use by summer's end, but you have to get started now. Why? Because come the first honey flow around June, you want a really healthy colony, one that has many babies (brood) and still more adult bees (about 45,000) ready to begin foraging for nectar and pollen. A community that starts out weak in early summer will be able to store only a little excess honey, and you'll probably have to save all of it to feed the little creatures during the coming winter. Act fast, then, if you want any of the harvest for yourself.

Buying Bees

The American Golden Italian Honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) is probably your wisest investment for a homestead apiary. They're great honey producers with gentle dispositions, have a strong resistance to disease and natural enemies and are well able to withstand wintering-over in colder climates. They also seem less inclined to swarm than other strains.

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