When I was a small child, I know I was a bit odd. I loved bees. I played with bees and tried to get them to crawl on my hands. I caught them, put them in a jar, and wanted to keep them as pets. I wanted my own beehives, so I could harvest my own honey. I told you, I was odd. Yes, I was occasionally stung, but my love for bees did not waiver. I never got over the desire to have bees.
My husband and I have three grown children, and our third grandchild is due this year. We occasionally have extra time on our hands and a little extra income, now that the kids are all out of the house. So, I am experiencing my mid-life crisis. I didn’t get a sports car; I got bees! My husband calls it a middle-aged person’s adrenaline rush. He may be right.
- This article will give you some basic beekeeping information.
- It will help you to decide if beekeeping is something you wish to pursue as part of your TEOTWAWKI preparations.
- It will give you lists of basic equipment needed for beekeeping.
- It will give you some basic information you will need to begin beekeeping.
- It will give you information on harvesting honey.
- It will not tell you what kind of hive to get or the type of frames to use. This is completely up to your personal preferences. Research it for yourself, and choose what you think fits your needs.
- It will not give you information about all of the problems you may incur while beekeeping. It is impossible to cover that in one article.
- It will not give you information about winterizing your beehives. This varies among climates, and I would advise getting information from other local beekeepers regarding this.
Should you get bees? They are not for everyone, but I think it is worth considering.
- Are you or a family member allergic to bee stings? How severe is the reaction? If anaphylactic shock is possible, maybe you should not pursue beekeeping. Regardless of the precautions you take, you will eventually get stung.
- Can you afford the start-up costs? Although bees aren’t the most expensive homesteading endeavor or hobby out there, they aren’t cheap. The equipment needed, which I’ll talk about later, varies in price and is an investment, but it’s one that I feel is worth it. I believe you should buy new hive boxes. Used ones may contain harmful chemicals or disease-causing organisms.
- Do you have the time to care for bees? Getting started will take more of your time than after your hives are established and you are more experienced.
- Will you have the help you need? Do you have someone to give you guidance and advice? Will there be someone to help when you need it? Not everyone likes bees as much as I do. That makes it difficult to leave at certain stages of your hive’s development. I was recently out of town for a mission trip and had to find someone to feed my newly-established hive. Getting people to care for the animals we have is relatively easy. Finding someone who is not afraid of bees is somewhat of a problem. Fortunately, I have a friend who has always wanted bees. Taking care of mine gave him the opportunity to give beekeeping a try. I think he’s been bitten (or stung, as the case may be) by the beekeeping bug. He’s now looking into getting his own beehive.
- Are there zoning issues that prevent you from having a beehive on your property? I live in a rural area, as many of you do, and am not bound by zoning regulations that prevent me from beekeeping. Check to see if you are restricted from having bees.
- Will bees survive in your environment? Do they have adequate habitat? Will your neighbors cause problems for your bees? The latter has been my greatest challenge. We live in mining and farming country. The chemicals from our farming neighbors could kill our bees. One of our neighbors is supportive of our endeavor, while the other is less than enthusiastic. We will continue to work with the uncooperative farmer and hope he is more careful with chemicals in the future.
As the name indicates, bees are social beings and live in groups. The queen, drones, and workers each have specific jobs that keep the colony functioning. Simply put, the queen’s main function is to lay eggs. The drones mate with the queen, and the workers do what their name indicates; they do the work in the hive.
If you decide that beekeeping is for you, gather all of the information you can.
- Talk to any beekeepers you know. If you don’t know any, you can check with local beekeeping clubs or associations. Your state agriculture department or home extension office may also be of assistance. Any of these can get you started and keep you successful with beekeeping. Club members are also good about “splitting their hives” to share with other members who are trying to reestablish hives after having lost bees.
- Read, read, read. There are many books and blogs devoted to beekeeping. I have my favorites, and soon you will too. I would recommend sampling a few books on Amazon and ordering one or two of your favorites. Some beekeeping electronic books are free to download. Check out a few blogs, and bookmark your favorites. Blogs are a good way of asking any questions you may have. Most beekeeping bloggers are eager to help.
- Watch YouTube videos. This will give a close-up view of beekeeping without leaving your home. This is especially helpful for those of you who live in remote areas. One of my favorites is Backwards Beekeepers. He is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense beekeeper who uses simple equipment.
Before you even think about getting equipment or bees, ask yourself if you have a good habitat for them. Honeybees travel as far as four miles to collect nectar and pollen from flowers. If you do not have habitat, establish it. I live in a rural area with clover fields, crops, pastures, and wildflowers. In addition to the clover, honeysuckle, and wildflowers, my bees are currently enjoying the blooms in my garden. It’s no surprise that thanks to the bees’ pollination of my plants, I have such an overabundance of vegetables that I have been sharing with family and friends.
If you need to establish bee habitat, I would suggest planting a few fruit trees and a garden. These will benefit you as well as the bees. I would also advise planting flowers. Native wildflowers are my first choice.
Bees also need water. If you do not have a natural water source, you must create one. I have a pond on my property, and so do all of my neighbors. A birdbath, child’s wading pool, and a small fishpond are good water sources for your bees.
Now that you have habitat, it is time to think about getting your equipment. I would suggest getting good, high quality, hive components. This will save you money in the long run, as you will not have to replace your hive boxes as often. Good boxes just last longer. You can order your equipment online or from a catalog, or possibly shop locally. (Everything is available on Amazon.) I was surprised to find a “mom and pop” bee equipment business only about 45 miles from my home. They were also a great help when I was getting started.
To start out you’ll need the following equipment:
- I Stand
- Bottom board
- Deep super with frames and foundations
- Queen excluder
- Honey supers with frames (and possibly foundations, depending on the type of frame you choose)
- Inner cover
- Outer cover
- Entrance reducer (or you can use old, clean rags to restrict the entrance)
- Feeder and a regular mouth Mason jar
- Plastic spray bottle
- Hive tool
- Bee brush
- Capping scratcher (optional)
- A pith helmet with veil, and a pair of gloves are also suggested
Many companies offer beginner kits and other hive kits that include all or most of the above listed items. Some kits also include a jacket or coveralls. In order to keep costs down, I choose to wear long pants and long sleeves at times that I am working with the bees. Most of the time, I do not wear any protective equipment at all. Contrary to what most people believe, bees are not typically aggressive. They don’t bother you, if you don’t bother them. I just stay calm and move slowly when I work with my bees.
There are a few things you need to do before you get any bees for your hive boxes.
- You will need to paint the wood on the hive boxes. This will protect your equipment and extend the time before you have to replace it.
- For ease of beekeeping and to help with moisture issues, I would advise raising the hive off of the ground. I used a few concrete blocks to achieve this.
- Make sure the ground is relatively flat, with only the slightest degree of slope toward the east. This slope will help with drainage, if you ever have any water issues.
- The hive boxes need to have some protection from the wind, and they should face east. Facing east gives the bees the opportunity to get early morning sunshine. The sun will wake them, and they will start gathering nectar earlier in the day. The more they gather, the more honey they produce.
- Do not put the beehives near where children will be playing or where adults will be congregating. Bees will not attack you for no good reason, but if you intrude on their home they may protect it. The area around the hive boxes is very active when the bees are coming and going to collect nectar.
- Set up your hive box super with the frames inside (and foundations, if you have frames that need them), and place the inner and outer covers on top.
- Mix, by weight, one part sugar to one part water. I mix four pounds of granulated sugar with eight cups of very hot water. Mix well, until the sugar dissolves. This is what you will feed your bees when you get them.
- There may be regulations regarding registering your beehives with your state. Check on your particular state.
- In order to protect my bees from chemicals being used by my neighbors, I have registered my hives with driftwatch.org. I did not give permission for the site to publish my name or the address of my beehives to the general public. Driftwatch is available for anyone who applies chemicals to consult, making them aware of the location of beehives so they may take special care to protect the bees. This is by no means a guarantee that your bees are protected. Consulting the site is strictly voluntary. Also, your bees may be gathering nectar on a plant being sprayed. Bees do gather nectar during the day when spraying is also being done during this time.