How to Raise Honeybees: A Beginner's Guide

If the draw of fresh honey has given you bees on the brain, you can learn how to raise honeybees that will provide you with excitement and sweetness for years to come.

| March/April 1985

How to Raise Bees as a Beginner

Sheep, chickens, horses, pigs ... if I could have only one kind of homestead livestock, I'd choose honeybees. You never have to muck out stalls of bee manure. You don't need to keep their water trough thawed in subfreezing weather. And — thank God — you don't have to get up in the dark every morning before even a rooster goes off and go out to pull on some bee udders. Members of Apismellifera can clean themselves, fetch their own food and water and store your harvest. They'll even patch their home's leaks!

The fact that honeybees practically take care of themselves is really only a small part of their appeal. Even the golden sweetener they provide (which, like every other homegrown product, is worlds better than its oversanitized store counterpart) isn't what makes them irresistible to me. The plain truth is I can no longer imagine my life without those creatures and the fascination and respect they engender. A honeybee colony is a mysterious and independent creation. Bees haven't been bred and rebred into docile egg machines or walking meat racks. They are as wild today as when they were first imported into this country. As a consequence, working with bees is a challenge (and lesson) in cooperation, not domination ... a rare human-to-nature experience these days.

But enough rhapsodizing. If you now keep bees, you're probably already stricken with the obsession known as bee fever. I'm going to address myself here to those who might be considering beekeeping. If you're like I was a few years ago, the two things holding you back are ignorance and fear (nobody wants to get stung, right?). Well, I'll try my best to help you start dealing with both those factors. The books and the bees will teach you the rest about how to raise honeybees.

The Biology of Bees

Honeybees live in complex communities that may contain as many as 100,000 members. The vast majority of these are the unfertile female bees known as workers. And do they work. They run the hive; feed and clean the queen; gather nectar, pollen, and water (nectar gets converted into carbohydrate-rich honey; pollen is used as is for protein-rich "bee bread"); cool or heat the hive, as needed; feed developing larvae; and make the beeswax they use to build all the hive's cells. During the peak of the season, a worker will live only six weeks before she dies from exhaustion. She'll have gathered enough nectar to make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.

There are only a few hundred male, or drone, bees in a hive. They don't work a lick. They just eat honey, fly around and look for an opportunity to mate. Such unions occur rarely, when a week-old queen goes on her mating flights high up in the air. It's then that the drones' distinctive large eyes and big wings come into play, for only the strongest males get to mate (passing on sperm that the queen can keep alive inside her for years!) and then fall to their — one hopes, blissful — deaths. The unsuccessful suitors meet their doom in autumn: No longer needed, they are forcibly evicted from the hive by — who else? — the workers.

At the heart of the hive is its queen, the sole female bee with fully developed reproductive organs. Indeed, all she is, is a royal egg layer; she has absolutely no decision-making authority. But what a layer! In the height of the season, she can produce 1,500 eggs — more than her own weight — in a single day.

G Elliott
6/21/2018 8:19:19 PM

I just want a bee hive for two reasons: 1) to help maintain/increase their population, and 2) to pollinate my orchard I am handicapped and can't walk much or stand for very long. Can I just put the hive near my orchard and leave it alone or is there something I need to do from time to time to assure a thriving hive. PS: I won't be able to harvest the honey. Thank you, G. Elliott Wheeling, WV

1/17/2018 2:33:01 PM

Anyone living near Breesport NY near Horseheads area I would love to talk about getting started with bees. Please feel free to text me 607 742 5798

1/17/2018 2:32:59 PM

I live in Breesport NY, and I have a small hobby farm. I raise some pigs and cows and chickens. I just bought a sawmill and will be re-doing my barn this Spring time. My wife breeds English Bulldogs down at the house and she loves to have a Hugh garden each year. Our 50 acres is 85 % woods with a lot of apple trees and raspberry bushes everywhere that we harvest. We have a creek along the entire property. Being most of the property is sand from being a sand pit they mined back in the day I have a Hugh problem with ground hornets. Was wondering if I introduce honey bees to my farm land will their be any issues between the hornets and the honey bees? If anyone lives near me I would love to talk or meet up to learn how and where to buy the stuff to start out. 607 742 5798 feel free to text me anytime.

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