So, you are thinking about keeping Honeybees?
Keeping honeybees is a wonderful hobby / profession.
But it does involve some initial investment so let’s make sure it is the right thing for you before you commit to much. This will be a brief synopsis of what you will need to get started.
The first consideration is your neighbors. If you live in a rural area, this is not often a problem. However, in the urban and suburban area, a neighbor who has a phobia of bees or gets agitated if your bees frequently visit their swimming pool for water, can derail your plans as a backyard beekeeper. While not always possible, it would be a good idea to run your plans past them. Although many cities allow backyard hives, it does not prevent the neighbors from filing complaints and visits from the local police. So, I would recommend talking with them before getting your first hive.
But even before you do that, you need to be educated enough to answer any questions or concerns they may have. The best place for that is your local Beekeeping club or association. There, you will meet many friendly people that started off just like you. Beekeepers love to help new beekeepers and the club is an excellent way to get your questions answered and learn what you need to know to start out. They often offer a new Beekeepers class during the off season.
If you can’t join a club, then the next best option is the internet or YouTube. Just be warned that there is a lot of misinformation out there too. YouTube has a lot of great instructional videos, but again, some posters are uploading videos more for the sake of just being on YouTube. So, you will have to weed through some and find the good ones.
So, let’s say you have addressed the neighbors, they are fine. You have educated yourself and you feel like you are ready to get your bees, now what? Well now you have to get your hive and equipment. Let’s start with your equipment.
Right off the bat, you will at least need a hat and veil. But most people will go for the whole bee suit. And since you are starting out, this is probably the best way to go. A bee suit will offer more complete protection which will decrease the initial anxiety of opening your hives for the first time and having the bees flying around you. A bee suit will allow you to focus on what you are doing and limit any learner mistakes. Notice I said limit….
The newer bee suits are ventilated and much cooler than the old-style suits. They can run $79 and up.
After your bee suit you will need some more tools; gloves, a smoker, hive tool and hive brush are pretty much essential. Traditionally gloves were made of a natural hide such as lamb skin. I have moved away from these and started using Nitril or vinyl gloves that are used in healthcare. They are much thinner and give better tactile sense and control. The bees don’t mind them, and I have not been stung through them.
A good smoker is a must and most of them have bellows made from various plasticized fabrics. I have tried some battery-operated smokers that uses a fan, but they do not seem to last as long so I would recommend the traditional manual bellow smoker. Hive tools come in various shapes or designs, but I would recommend a traditional tool with a curved end and a wedge end.
So now that you are all geared up, you’ll need the hive. If you’re starting off, I would recommend a package that pretty much has everything you need to start off. Standard Langstroth hives (the most popular hive type in the US) are sold with boxes that hold eight internal frames or ten internal frames. The actual difference the number of frames make is minimal. (more honey from a ten frame hive and possibly better over wintering in the smaller 8 frame hive) I have always ran with ten frames. As of writing this, a starter kit on Amazon will run between $119 for a low-end hive to around $159 for a decent starter kit. Shipping could be free with Prime but keep in mind that these will need assembly and a protective coat or paint before setting them outside. Most boxes are made of pine which is fine and will last if protected correctly. Some of the best hive boxes are made from cypress wood and seem to stand up better but they will cost more. So already we are already looking at a possible $350 – $500 investment and we haven’t even purchased any bees yet.
Honeybees typically are purchased in two ways. A bee package which consists of approximately 2000 – 3000 bees and a new queen who is separated in a queen cage for her own good. (More on the reason why later). The bees are trucked in from California or southern states like Georgia during the spring and it is your job to pick them up, get them home and get them into the hive where they will have to make wax comb so after the queen makes a mating flight, she can start to lay her eggs and create brood.
The other way is to buy a small more established hive called a NUC, short for nucleus. Here you will get some frames (usually five) of established brood and worker bees along with an established queen. The advantage to this way is a faster buildup of the hive. Another advantage is that bees in the NUC are already acclimated to the current conditions and more resilient to the weather in the area
But as with honeybees, nothing is certain. In rare cases the bees from that package or NUC may decide that don’t like it in the new hive and leave. Those honeybees weren’t cheap. Nowadays, a package will run $180 and up. A NUC can be around that or more, and you must bring a box for the beekeeper to place the frames in or buy their hive box which will certainly raise the price. if they even agree to sell the box.
There are other miscellaneous costs that haven’t been mentioned but I guess you can get the idea that starting out as a Beekeeper isn’t cheap. But neither is playing golf and the long-term benefits and payback from beekeeping is better in my opinion. Unless you go pro in golf, but good luck with that.
Once you are up and running, the costs dwindle away or reduce, and you find yourself standing next to your hives watching in amazement as the girls do their thing. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are doing your part to save the honeybee population. Keeping honeybees has a great potential to pay you back in many ways. More on that in another post.