Beekeeping: Try Before You Buy

Reader Contribution by Gretchen Anderson
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I love to research before I buy. I read the reviews on Amazon. I ask friends for their opinions. I taste the frozen yogurt before I commit. So, when I found out Idaho’s capital city has a active beekeeping club that will mentor and even connect you to beekeepers who will let you “try before you buy,” I was sold!

Bee Benefits

I had wanted bees for many years, for the pollination benefits, the raw honey and the wonderful wax. As a gardener, I knew about the Colony Collapse Disorder that is killing bees at an alarming rate. I figured the more people who can successfully keep bees, the better, for the sake of everyone’s environment. I also knew I needed to school myself before jumping in, feet first. I attended a bee keeping class offered by community education in Boise and I read everything I could find on raising bees.


During the class, the presenters mentioned how some members of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club had an abundant number of hives and some of them (on their own—and not affiliated with the club) had taken to renting out hives during the growing season. This sounded great! Like at the yogurt shop, I could try—before I buy! 

However, I wasn’t certain bees were actually allowed in my neighborhood. So, I researched our restrictive covenants in our subdivision and perused the city code. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything on the books standing in my way.

On the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club website, there’s a map that pinpoints the various beekeepers who rent hives. I found the closest beekeeper and called. For $175 a season, I rented the woodenware (nuc and first box), a queen and 20,000 of her industrious friends. My bee mentor, Mike Morrison, brought the bees over very early one spring day. The bees are docile in the wee hours of the morning, so he was able to easily put them in the back of his hatchback-style car and drive them over to our yard.

Beehive Arrival and Placement

It was early season and still a bit chilly in the mornings. So, we chose a sunny location for the hive that wouldn’t be disturbed by kids, dogs or sprinklers. Once the hive was level and the sun warmed it, the bees immediately went to work on pollinating the yard.

I should add this one caveat…our three teenagers, who still live at home, were NOT thrilled with having a hive in the backyard. Each kid has a varying degree of fear when it comes to bees. So, I had my work cut out for me. There were some discussions on bee behavior, flight pattern and general caution. As the weeks passed, the kids (and dogs) become more and more comfortable with the hive. Our son, Woody, would even sit near the hive and watch the bees bring in different colored pollen. He was fascinated.

Swarming Bees

We had one hiccup mid-summer. I walked out front to get the mail and could hear a loud buzzing. I looked over the fence and saw thousands of bees swarming outside the hive. I quickly called Mike. He told me to not take my eyes off them and to find out where they land. He said the queen would eventually get tired and light on something and the rest of the bees would do the same.

Sure enough, the queen got tired and landed in our neighbor’s backyard. Not wanting to give myself up (so far, none of my neighbors knew I placed a hive in our yard), I called her and told her not to freak out, but that a swarm of bees had just landed in her backyard. She freaked out.

I assured her they were the good bees and would not hurt anyone or anything and that I would call a friend who rescues swarms. Mike was there in a matter of minutes. He and I took a large cardboard box and a bed sheet to her backyard. Mike spread out the sheet near the bees – which were all precariously hanging in a tree, on the end of a small branch. He placed the box, which had holes poked in it for ventilation, under the clump of bees and without hesitation, jerked the tree branch so the all the bees fell into the box. In an instant, he had the box shut and the sheet wrapped around it and tied. He smiled at my sweet neighbor and said, “I’ll be back for the bees this evening—until then, go about your business in your yard.”

We left her, mouth open, looking a bit dazed. Mike took me back to the house and we inspected my backyard hive. Much to my amazement, the bees were still there! The swarming bees didn’t belong to the rented hive. Mike explained that some queens, for various reasons, will leave their hive and look for another home. The swarm had likely smelled the honey and wax in our hive and was looking for a place to call home. Crisis averted—at least from our family’s standpoint. Later that evening, I received a text message from our neighbor. It read: “Mike just came for the box. He put the whole thing in his car—and he’s not even wearing a bee suit! CRAZY.”

The rest of the summer went off without a hitch. Our garden and yard did so well. My Saturn peach tree exploded with fruit! It’s been a busy season of freezing, canning and dehydrating. 

Raw Honey Extracting

Mike called just after Labor Day and suggested we extract the honey. What an experience. Three of us went to Mike’s place as he has a commercial extractor. My husband, our 14-year-old daughter Margaret and I uncapped the honeycomb and helped place the frames in the extractor. All told, we ended up with 2-gallons of dark brown honey. Margaret, Woody and I all have allergies. We’ve been told that just a teaspoon of honey a day will help ease allergy symptoms.

Now, I’m ready to be my own beekeeper. The bonus is that a lot of people, for whatever reason, are getting rid of their hives right now. Maybe they don’t want to over-winter their hives. Or, they don’t know how to treat their hive for mites or provide the supplemental nutrition they’ll need for the winter. All these things you learn when you rent a hive and have a beekeeping mentor. Keeping bees has become one more way we can be more sustainable in our own backyard. 

Is there a honey bee rental program in your community?

1. Do an online search for beekeeping clubs or call your local extension office and ask them for beekeeping information.

2. Research what is and isn’t allowed in your neighborhood, city or county.

3. Do your homework.

4. Don’t get freaked out if your bees swarm.

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