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.

| July 16, 2009

Beekeeping swarm

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


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.

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,

8/10/2013 10:08:35 AM

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.

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.

7/23/2009 7:17:10 AM

The following site was recommended to me: 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.

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: You can find plans for bee hives and equipment via Intenet search engines. Standard equipment (10 frame) plans are found on the beesource site ( 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?

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!