Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. A lot can go wrong, and there is a lot of work that you will need to put into it every single day. When you get bees, it is not just a matter of plucking a few off the nearest flower and keeping them in a box.
When it comes to knowing how to start beekeeping, there is a lot that you are going to need to know.
We would be lying if we said being a successful beekeeper was easy. The thing is, a very high percentage of beginner beekeepers actually quit within the first two years.
This is due to a combination of things like high mortality rates, costs, and unrealistic expectations.
Because of this, it’s important for you to know if beekeeping is the right thing for you in the first place.
If you can determine that it is, then feel free to start with the preparations! If you are not sure, take some time to learn the facts, and come to an educated and informed decision about it before jumping in the deep end.
Is Beekeeping Right For You?
It would be foolish to jump into anything without knowing if you could actually enjoy it or not – especially when living things are involved. Take a moment to consider if beekeeping is the right step forward for you by considering the below.
What You Need To Consider Before Starting Beekeeping
Unfortunately, beekeeping will not be suitable for everyone, but reasons might vary. It could be due to where you live, allergies, or physical limitations that you may have.
Don’t assume that things like physical limitations won’t matter in beekeeping! You need to have at least reasonable mobility and function to properly care for your bees.
You also cannot overlook the issue of things like bee stings and various allergies (whether that’s pollen or anything else).
These things are inevitable in beekeeping, and you should only proceed if you are not putting your life at risk.
These are some important things that you should consider before starting beekeeping:
- Limitations of your location
- Limitations in time commitment
- Any physical limitations
- The cost of beekeeping(see also: Starting Costs For Beekeeping)
- Allergies and bee stings
- You don’t like bees and other insects
Why Beekeeping Is Fantastic
With the above being said, there are, of course, many reasons to do beekeeping. There are plenty of benefits to beekeeping that you could experience and enjoy.
As always, this could vary from person to person depending on preferences, but here are some great reasons to start beekeeping:
- You get to enjoy nature
- You get lots of private time to relax
- Experiences can be shared with others
- You get to help the bee population
- Bees help with pollination
- Beekeeping has commercial possibilities
- Beeswax can be collected, too
- Bee pollen can be collected
- Propolis can be collected
- Bees are freaking cool
Again, some of these might not be seen as a benefit of beekeeping for you! Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of beekeeping for yourself and see what you can come up with.
If you feel like pursuing beekeeping is a good option for you, then move onto the next section and find out how to start beekeeping!
How To Start Beekeeping
Now that you have decided whether beekeeping is a good option for you or not, you can learn more about what it involves! Here, we will go through what you need to know about how to start beekeeping.
Everything can be broken down into 10 simple steps:
- Learn the Beekeeping Basics
- Find the Perfect Spot for Your Hive
- Figure Out a Budget
- Choose a Type of Hive and Order it
- Get Your Honey Bees
- Get All the Necessary Beekeeping Equipment
- Order Your Beekeeper’s Protective Clothing
- Set Your Hive Up
- Time to Install the Bees
- Keep Learning
Of course, it doesn’t end there, though! You will need to continuously look after your bees, too, but we will go through that at the end.
Remember – you don’t need to be some kind of bee expert to get started with beekeeping. However, you do need to be aware of what the job will demand from you.
You will also need to consider any timing issues you may experience, and the initial cost of getting everything started.
Now, let’s jump in and see what each step entails.
Step One – Learn The Beekeeping Basics
The first step in beekeeping for beginners is learning all the basics. Since you have decided that beekeeping might be a good fit for you, the real learning is about to start.
We have already established that being a beekeeper has plenty of challenges, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. However, you need to know what actually entails.
Yes – it can be gratifying beyond belief, but reaching that point can take time, and you are likely not going to get any honey for at least two years.
Where You Can Go To Learn About Beekeeping
There is plenty to learn about with the beekeeping basics that we can’t fit into this article. However, there are numerous articles on the topic all over the internet.
There are other options for information that you could turn to, depending on what you prefer and maybe even where you are.
Check out resources like the following:
- YouTube channels
- Online forums
- Blog posts
- Beekeeping associations
- Online beekeeping classes
- Books on beekeeping
If you are lucky, you might live near a beekeepers club or association that have frequent meetups. There, you can get plenty of fantastic hands-on experience and advice from people.
If this is not possible, turning to online options might be a good idea, and you may even meet people in forums or groups!
Step Two – Find the Perfect Spot For Your Hive
Now, you can’t have a beehive and nowhere to put it. Not only that, but you should have a suitable spot for the hive to be, and they should not just be placed anywhere!
The ideal place for your beehive should be in a spot where there is access to food and water for the bees.
However, since honey bees are known to travel impressive distances in search of food and water, the sources of these things do not necessarily need to be on your property.
Of course, the closer, the better, but there are options out there for everyone. You should always aim to provide fresh sources of water near the hive – especially in droughts and warmer climates.
If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the hive should be faced east/southeast.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, aim to face the hive east or northeast. In both cases, the hive should be level, with easy access, and room to work around it.
Ensure that the hive is shielded from strong winds and the elements, and has good water drainage and airflow. These are all crucial things for the survival of the hive.
How Much Space Do You Need for Bees?
This will depend on where you are – there are different rules depending on the country, as well as urban or rural settings. However, it is generally recognized that you do not actually need to have a huge amount of space to keep bees!
Check out the rules and regulations in your local area, and work from there.
Step Three – Figure Out A Budget
This is crucial, and not something you can overlook if you don’t have money to simply throw away. You can expect the first year of beekeeping to cost close to $1,000, especially if you run into issues.
If things run smoothly, you can expect to spend around $700, but it can be much more depending on a variety of factors and the decisions you make.
Make no mistake – starting out with beekeeping is an expensive and off-putting thing. However, the expenses are well-worth the money if everything ends up being successful. In time, you can easily make that money back, and make profits.
You are going to need to purchase the following things, so bear this in mind when working out a budget:
- The basic beekeeping tools
- Protective equipment and clothing
- The beehive
- Your bees
Remember that costs may vary greatly. You might live in a state or country where things are more affordable, or even less affordable.
Not only that, but you may need to purchase extra miscellaneous equipment depending on the climate you are in, or even personal preference.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
It can be easy to just jump in and hope for the best. However, you need to make sure that you have the funds to cover the potential costs of caring for a beehive.
You need to ensure that you have enough money to cover immediate costs, and extra for any challenges you might run into.
Aim to have the maximum budget covered, so that you can be pleasantly surprised when you don’t need to spend it all.
There is nothing worse than things going wrong, and you don’t have the funds to make the appropriate changes or amendments.
Step Four – Choose A Type Of Hive And Order it
Next, you will need to decide what kind of hive you are going to opt for – yes, there are different hives!
There are three primary hive types to choose from, and the one you choose will depend on your objectives and situation.
Here are the hives you may want to consider:
In North America, you will probably see the Langstroth hive any time you see a beekeeper’s hive. These are the most common, and also the easiest to handle – making them a fantastic option for beginners.
Does the Hive Type Matter?
The type of hive doesn’t matter too much, as long as you can work with it. As we mentioned before, we would definitely recommend going for the Langstroth option as it is the easiest to work with.
You shouldn’t run into too many issues.
Step Five – Get Your Honey Bees
The time has come! This is where things might start to really get exciting, even though you will likely need to wait to actually get them.
When ordering honey bees, make sure that you are working with reputable suppliers – whether they are online or local.
Aim for the earliest date that fits in with your plans. Earlier is best, as this will allow the colony to establish themselves properly and build stores for the upcoming winter – you always need to think ahead!
Making sure that your colony survives the winter is the most crucial element of the first year, so do everything you can to improve their chances.
When do You Place Your Orders?
You can usually make orders between December–January to get the bees for the following spring. So, you will have plenty of time to get everything else figured out once you make the order.
Just make sure that you get in early, as suppliers typically have limited supplies, and often operate on specific dates.
Nuc Vs Bee Package And “Race”
When selecting your bees, there are two things to take into consideration: 1) do you want bees in a “bee package” or a “nuc”, and 2) what “race” of bees do you want?
Bees come in two formats – nucs (pronounced newks) and packages. Here’s what you need to know:
- Nucs (more expensive, but easier to install) – a nucleus colony where the queen is already accepted. There are five deep frames within the hive box, and there is probably already pollen, drawn comb, nectar, and brood.
- Bee package (more affordable and more difficult to install) – roughly 10,000 bees in a box with a caged queen and sugar syrup for the bees to consume during their transit.
We know, “race” sounds very odd. However, when referring to the race of bees, we are talking about Carniolan, Italian, Russian, Caucasian etc. – there are also hybrid bees.
The “race” simply refers to their genetic history. We would recommend going local for your first time, as these bees will already be acclimatized and will do better in their environment.
If you can’t get local, Italian is a good choice for North America.
Step Six – Get All The Necessary Beekeeping Equipment
With your bees ordered and arriving in a few weeks (or months), you will need to start getting all your equipment together.
While there is plenty of equipment that you could get, there are three must-haves in any beekeeper’s toolbox:
- A bee brush – a bee brush will just be used to carefully brush bees off frames during inspections. These might not always be necessary, but they are good for beginners until you get more comfortable handling and being around bees. You could also use something like a turkey feather, as it will get the job done, too.
- A hive tool – these handheld implements are used to lift and separate frames and boxes, scrape off wax, and much more. You can’t go without one of these!
- A bee smoker – this is crucial for hive inspections, as it will calm the bees down. This makes them easier to manage and do your job to make sure that everything is in working order.
What Equipment Is Necessary?
Yes! Especially if you are a beginner, or are still a little uneasy around bees. It will make your life a lot easier, and also put you at ease.
Step Seven – Order Your Beekeeper’s Protective Clothing
We hate to break it to you, but bees can sting if you make them angry. Even if you make them uncomfortable or defensive, they will be more than willing to sting you.
Not only is this unpleasant for you (and even potentially dangerous), but it will kill them.
Honey bees are the only bees that will die if they sting you, so for the sake of your bees, you should really take every measure to prevent stinging from happening.
Protective clothing you should get include the following:
- Leather gloves
- A full bee suit (or just a bee jacket if you prefer)
- A veil to protect your face and eyes
You might choose to ditch some elements of the suit as you get more confident with your bees.
However, take every precaution you can, especially in the beginning. Being stung is not pleasant, and it can be deadly if you have an allergy (we wouldn’t recommend beekeeping for anyone with a bee sting allergy).
Is Protective Clothing Necessary?
Yes. To keep yourself safe, you should always have some kind of protective clothing. You might use less as you get more confident, but take it slow.
You need to learn what angers your bees, and how to properly act around them to reduce the risk of being stung.
Step Eight – Set Your Hive Up
You should set your hive up before the bees arrive so that everything is ready to go when they get there. Never leave your colony waiting around for days!
We can’t say too much on how to do this, as how you set your hive up depends on the type of hive you got. Some hives will arrive assembled or partially assembled, others you will need to assemble yourself.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to get everything together before your bees arrive.
Assembled Vs Unassembled Hives
Obviously, unassembled hives are going to take longer to get ready, so make sure you have plenty of time to make sure everything is perfect.
It can be fun to fit everything together, so don’t be put off by the extra work! You might even find that you love the process.
Step Nine – Time To Install The Bees
Spring has come, and your bees have arrived. They are waiting – so it’s time to install them in the hive! If you weren’t excited before, you should be now.
The method for doing this will depend on whether you have a nuc or bee package. Again, a nuc is much easier to install, but it is the more expensive option.
Installing a Bee Package Vs A Nuc
Nucs are easier, but both options aren’t too bad if you read up on it. If you have a bee package, you will need to get the caged queen in the hive to allow the colony to accept her.
Place the queen with the give, then put the rest of the colony in there.
You can learn about all the details here.
Step Ten – Keep Learning
With everything together and the hive in working order, you might think that you can now sit back and relax.
Sorry, you can’t! Now, you are going to need to keep learning about beekeeping and everything else that goes with it.
The Learning Never Ends
You want to be successful, and that means constantly learning. Make sure that you remain up-to-date on all your beekeeping knowledge. Read books, take online classes, and talk to people!
There will always be new things to learn and explore, so make sure that you stay curious.
Managing Your Bees: A Quick Overview
Managing your beehive will be a continuous job, and you will need to do it year-round, no matter the weather.
You will need to regularly inspect the hive to make sure that everything is in good working condition and everything is in order. You will be checking the following things during your routine inspections:
- Enough food stores
- Health and status of the queen bee
- Enough space
- Correct population
- No illness of pests present
- Disposition of colony
- Any indications of swarming
- Condition of hive components
- Cross combing
If you notice any issues with the above, you will need to take steps to remedy the problem. This might include doing any of the following things:
- Any necessary steps to resolve issues mentioned above
- Reducing the impact of robbing on the hives
- Harvesting the various hive products
- Preparing the hives for winter
- Removing or adding boxes or frames based on activity and population
When Should You Start Beekeeping?
It isn’t recommended to just start at any point in the year. Usually, you should aim to start your pursuit no later than fall.
Your bees will take flight when spring starts, but there is plenty of work to be done before then.
The bees themselves will do what they do when the flowers bloom and things get warmer, but you have to order things in advance and start preparations much earlier.
Starting with beekeeping can be a daunting task, especially if you know nothing about it. There is a lot of time, money, and responsibility that goes into being a beekeeper, and you need to make sure that you try your best.
It won’t always be fun, and accidents can happen. Sometimes, things simply don’t work out for whatever reason.
Even if you encounter issues, make sure that you do your best to resolve them and keep your hive safe. You may need to protect the hive against dangers like wasps depending on where you live, so be prepared for that, too!
As long as you can get your colony through its first winter, you should be able to manage it from there on. The first winter is crucial, and you will likely make plenty of mistakes in the meantime.
As long as you learn from the mistakes and are able to move forward, you can be a successful beekeeper.