Beekeeping Basics with Kate

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We are excited to share a guest blog from Busy Bee Kate!  She is a conscious beekeeper, and Naturally Curated fan who loves what we are doing through Bee Inspired and wanted to help!  If you are interested in beekeeping, this is your post!


So you want to become a beekeeper?  The thought of those little bees buzzing by doesn’t scare you, in fact, it fascinates you!  That is how I thought about 10 years ago when I decided to take up beekeeping as a hobby with my father.  He and I had talked about bees in the past and I decided it would be a great thing to learn more about, as well as a way to spend quality time together.  I did some research and before I knew it we were spending every Sunday at a local apiary taking a beekeeping course.  

We learned some really amazing things, like how the bees do a dance, called the waggle dance, to show other bees where the best location to pollinate is; that each bee gets a job and they do that job for their entire life- from feeding the Queen, to cleaning the hive and everything in between; and that all worker bees are women (!)

If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper I talk about the basics below: what equipment you’ll need to get started and how to choose the right bees.  I have listed additional resources to help you get started.  Read on to see if beekeeping is a good fit for you!

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WHY ARE BEES IMPORTANT?

Bees are important for local food systems, local agriculture, and really important for the environment.

Bees help your vegetables, flower and other garden plants thrive and their importance for pollinating fruit and vegetables is crucial for our food supply.  Bees also support a diverse ecosystem of other plants and animals that rely on their busy work.


WHAT DO I NEED TO GET STARTED?

The first thing you’ll want to do is to get some protective gear.   You can opt for a full suit or just a hat and veil.  We always went simple but after being stung a few times (more on that in a bit,) we opted to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and gloves and used tape to prevent the bees from flying up your pant legs or up your arms (and believe me that isn’t fun!) Many beginner beekeepers opt for a full bee suit to start until they feel more comfortable and I do think that is a good investment.  (A full bee suit. gloves and hat and veil will cost you approximately $150.)

Beehives consist of boxes, supers, bottom boards, covers, and frames with patterned wax foundations.  I recommend using preassembled, medium depth, eight frame boxes, and appropriate frames. (Each beehive will cost you approximately $100.) 
 

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A smoker and a hive tool (which is a mini pry bar specifically for beekeeping) are also needed.   (These will cost you approximately $50.)

You’ll also need bees, which I will talk about more in a bit.

WHAT BASIC TIPS DO I NEED TO KNOW?

There are so many important things to learn, here are a few tips to help you as you get started: 

  • The best time to start a beehive is in the spring.  

  • Provide fresh water to make bees lives easier.  You can have a small pond, a bird bath with rocks, or an automatic pet waterer.   

  • Position your hives away from direct afternoon sun and not in full shade ideally.

  • Avoid overpopulation by having no more than a couple of colonies on a lot less than an acre.

ARE THERE ANY LAWS TO PREVENT ME FROM KEEPING BEES?

Beekeeping on residential property is allowed in many places, though often within certain requirements. To determine whether bees are permissible where you live, you must check the local zoning ordinance for your city or county.

Some codes regulate by zoning, distance, and number of hives.  Last year my county moved to a complaint-based model centered on whether people report specific beekeepers as a nuisance.

Also be sure to ask specifically for non-commercial purposes (sometimes there are different laws for commercial and non-commercial purposes, and as you are starting out you’ll fall under the non-commercial laws.) 

WON'T MY NEIGHBORS COMPLAIN?

As with any hobby you start in your hone you want to develop good practices (e.g. If you become a woodworking it is not recommended to use a power sander at midnight in your garage as you’ll wake up the neighbors!) 

Neighborly beekeeping practices can be as simple as keeping adequate water on your property and assuring the flight paths of the bees is addressed (entrance of the hive not pointing directly to your neighbor’s front door for instance.) 

I always recommend inviting them over to taste the fresh honey direct from the hive and once harvested giving them some honey as well!

WHAT ABOUT THE BEES?

Sorry folks, Amazon isn’t the place to order bees (at least not yet!)  The first place to try would be your local beekeepers guild (more info below on how to find one local to you,) or by checking out the ads in a beekeeping journal.  

For a beginner beekeeper you’ll order what is called a “nuc” and is a typical bee package that is around 3 pounds of bees and includes a queen.  There are a few different kinds of bees to choose from and three are among the best choices for those just starting out.  These are Italians, Carniolans, and Russians.  Here’s a bit more about each:

  1. Italian bees have lots of yellow on them and are gentle, very productive, pretty and easy to manage. They are better conditioned to the warmer climates and less able to cope with harder winters. They are the most common bee available.

  2. Carniolian bees are dark bees, very gentle, and a bit more demanding for management.  They do winter better where winters are harsh.

  3. Russian bees are found in different colors are yellow and dark and her gentle and very docile, but somewhat erratic. They are a bit more complicated to manage, but a strong suit is that they are tolerant of, and resistant to varroa mites – a pest that you’ll learn more about as you take on beekeeping.

WILL I GET STUNG?

You may or may not.  Honey bees typically keep to themselves but are often mistaken with aggressive wasps or yellow jackets.  They will sting you if they feel threatened.

If you have a bee allergy or suspect you have one it is best to be seen by an allergist prior to your start of beekeeping.  If you are diagnosed with an allergy to bees it is important to keep emergency medicine, adrenaline, on hand at all times in case of an emergency.  

HOW SOON CAN I HARVEST HONEY?

Honey can usually be harvested after one full season of keeping bees and is typically done in the fall.  After the honey frames have been removed from the supers, you can start the extracting process.  If you have access to an extractor (many local beekeepers guilds will rent them out,) then you can separate out the honey from the wax.  (An at-home extractor can range in cost from $300 to $5,000 and even more.)

You can take honey out at other times just be scooping out some of the honeycomb.  I loved to eat it just out of the hive – so delicious! 

Here’s my Dad proudly showing off a frame of honey from one of our hives:

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WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO ME?

This post just touches on some of the basics and there is so much to learn.  I always recommend starting with a good book on beekeeping.  

Here are some suggestions: The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum or First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant.  

There are also magazines geared towards beekeeping - both The American Bee Journal or Bee Culture are great ones to subscribe too.

Your local beekeeping guild or association are invaluable resources for local information, group orders of bees and equipment, and for borrowing equipment (like an extractor).  You can attend meetings to broaden your exposure, learn about ways to manage pests, and share ideas.  

You can find your local beekeeping organization by searching here: http://www.beeculture.com/directory/

I AM INTERESTED IN HELPING THE BEES, BUT DON'T THINK BEEKEEPING IS FOR ME.  HOW CAN IN HELP?

If beekeeping doesn’t sound like something you want to do you can always help bees in many other ways:

  • Provide water for bees in a birdbath or shallow bowl (add a few rocks so bees can easily climb in and out.)

  • Avoid planting toxic seeds namely those coated with clothianidin and other systemic insecticides.

  • Allow wildflowers to grow in your garden and don’t pick those out in the wild.  Don’t weed your garden.

  • Don’t use pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides treat your garden with any other chemicals.  

  • Plant a diverse selection of flowers and plants.

  • Support your local beekeeper by purchasing raw, local honey.

As I learned more about bees, I became more passionate about them.  I started to attend events and schools to teach others about bees and how we can help them.  Here I am at a local festival where I talked about ways to help save the bees:

 

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Beekeeping can be a fun and rewarding hobby but it may not be for everyone.  The cost involved as well as the time involved makes keeping bees a commitment, which, to me, is similar to owning any sort of pet.  I encourage you to learn more about bees, join your local beekeepers guild, research your local zoning codes, and see if bees are a good fit for you and your family.  

Being a beekeeper is a powerful way to give honey bees a home and help our food supply, agriculture, and environment. Happy beekeeping!

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Kate’s blog, BusyBeeKate, is a blog about family, food, fun, bees and more!  Kate enjoys baking, beekeeping, fitness, thrifting, DIY, sewing, eating healthy, music, the outdoors, and giving back to the community.  Kate is also passionate about supporting other small and women-owned businesses. You can connect with Kate on social media at: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Google + | Instagram
 

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