Taking an interest in keeping beehives means you have the opportunity to support your local ecosystem by providing a safe space for our most important pollinators. Honeybees are a vibrant part of nature, and their skilled pollination is only surpassed by the nutritious honey they produce.
Keeping bees requires knowledge, time and effort, and with high-quality resources, you can learn to create a wonderful, productive habitat for bees.
- Develop knowledge. Because you will be caring for living creatures, it’s important to understand how to keep your beehive healthy and thriving. There are many resources for you to use to build your knowledge and make your plans for starting your beekeeping adventure. Books and magazines specific to the hobby or profession of beekeeping will provide you with detailed information and help you to gain resources to move forward with your beehive.
- Find local mentors. If you are lucky enough to have a local beekeeping association in your community, this is an invaluable resource for learning. Not only can you find local beekeeping enthusiasts who are eager to share their knowledge, you can have the opportunity to see beekeeping in action. Seeing different types of hives in use and observing beekeeping tools and methods will help you to more quickly feel ready to start your own beehive.
- Choose your equipment. Local beekeepers can also help you to identify resources for purchasing or borrowing hives, tools and equipment. The type of hive you choose to use is also an important consideration, as each type requires different maintenance methods. Some types of hives may be more readily available in your area, and local beekeepers can help you decide which type of hive will work best for you.
- Most people prefer to buy the hive, but if you want to build it yourself here's a collection of free DIY bee hive plans you might want to look at.
- Review local codes. In some communities, there are ordinances restricting beehives to properties of a certain size. There may also be required guidelines for the distances between your beehive and surrounding homes or property lines. Some cities may not allow beehives at all, so it is important to check with your community to see if there are any restrictions on your plans to start a beehive.
- When to start your beehive. Spring is the best season to set up your beehive; as the weather warms, plants produce pollen and the honeybees become very busy. Your hive should be ready to go when the first warm days begin in the spring so your bees have plenty of time to create a strong hive. As flowers bloom, the bees will be collecting pollen, and they will actively be swarming and searching for a hive in which to make their home.
- Locating your beehive. Your beehive should be located in an open area that allows your bees to have an open flight path to and from the hive. With thousands of bees traveling between pollen sources and the hive, it should be located well away from your home. Tall fencing can help to raise the flight path so it does not impact you or your neighbors. Bees also require access to water, so be sure to provide a birdbath or a small water source of some type.
Beginning Equipment You’ll Need
The basic equipment you’ll need to get started includes:
- Bee suit: Including hood and gloves
- Beehive: In the style of your choice, including boxes, bottom boards, covers and frames
- Smoker: Used to calm the bees when you enter the hive
- Hive tool: Similar to a pry bar
- Honey extractor, buckets, strainers: For your harvest
There are many other tools that may be helpful for your beekeeping needs, and working with local beekeepers will help you to identify what tools are ideal for the type of hive you will be maintaining.
Obtaining Your Bees
If you are lucky, you may be able to find a natural swarm to make a home in your hive. However, when you are starting out, it is easiest to order your bees from a retail supplier. A “nuc” is a nuclear colony, and it includes a queen bee along with worker bees. Placing the nuc in your hive will encourage the bees to get started, and you will instantly become a beekeeper.
Bee Care Basics
Keeping your bees healthy is primarily a matter of being observant so that you can address issues as they occur. Bees may experience different issues based on your climate or geographical location. Bees can also develop diseases or be weakened by parasites, including mites. Your local beekeeper mentors can help you to identify problems that are common in your geographic area.
During a late spring, the bees may require supplemental food. Growing a wide variety of perennial flowers will help to ensure that your bees have easy access to food. You should avoid using any pesticides or herbicides in your garden, as they could cause harm to your bees, and the residue will end up in your honey.
Harvesting honey is typically done in the autumn, although you can harvest honey at other times of the year as well. You can start by removing some of the honeycomb, and using a tool called an extractor to separate the honey from the wax.
When harvesting a large amount of honey, the beehive frames are removed, the beeswax caps are scraped off the frame and the honeycomb is placed in a bucket. The honey sinks to the bottom, and the honeycomb can be melted and used for candles and other items. The extractor removes additional honey from the frames, and the honey is then strained to remove debris. Your raw honey is fully harvested and ready to be used.
The Joy of Beekeeping
By providing a home for bees, you can enhance your local environment, pollinate fruit trees and flowers and provide nutritious honey for yourself and your family. Keeping a beehive is a rewarding adventure that supports honeybees by providing them with optimum circumstances. By learning about the needs of healthy bees, you can support the growth of their population in the face of modern issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Do you have any questions or any additional information to add? Please leave us a comment to let us know what you think about our beekeeping article.
Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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