So you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about keeping bees, huh?
Honeybees are fascinating creatures. Watching them work and how they react to changing seasons is full of surprises and joy.
This hobby doesn’t require a lot of space and isn’t labor intensive. Honeybees mostly look after themselves…
And then, of course, there’s the added bonus of honey!
Even a novice beekeeper can produce superior quality honey to what you can buy from the local grocery store!
So it’s no wonder that an increasing number of people want to know how to start beekeeping.
Becoming a beekeeper can be an incredibly rewarding hobby. Still, it requires a good understanding of bee behavior to be successful.
Unfortunately, a beehive won’t just take care of itself, and you need to be ready to take on the responsibility.
So if you’re contemplating getting into beekeeping, this article will cover all the essential steps you need to consider to get you off to a “buzzing” start!
Step 1: Learn the Fundamentals to Start Beekeeping
The best way to start beekeeping is through good preparation, which means learning all you can about bee management before you actually install your first colony of bees.
Learning everything you can about bees beforehand is also an excellent way to validate your desire to become a beekeeper. If this is really for you, the more you learn, the more fascinated you’ll become 🙂
Dealing with things like climate change, honey bee pests, and diseases requires education and preparation.
So to get familiar with the wonderful world of bees, you have a few options:
- Online courses
- Join a beekeeping association
- Sign up for a beekeeping magazine
Let’s take a look at each of these options:
What is the best beekeeping book for beginners?
I know… Sounds pretty obvious. But choosing the right book can be pretty confusing. The number of options is vast! So how do you find a book that’s reliable, easy to understand, and covers all the basics?
Below are three highly recommended books for beginners:
“The Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottam – I’ve had this book by my side for several years (it’s a bit tatty by now!). It’s been updated many times. Kim is also the editor of “Bee Culture Magazine,” He helps host the “beekeeping today podcast“. An excellent everyday reference.
“Guide to Bees and Honey” by Ted Hooper – This book is an all-time bee literature classic. The cover even touts it as “The world’s best-selling guide to beekeeping .”What more do you need? Easy to read and understand…
“Honeybee Democracy” – The author Thomas Seeley is renowned in beekeeping circles for his studies about bee behavior. Some of his experiments have even changed how beekeeping equipment is designed. This is a fascinating read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of these fantastic creatures.
(Includes links to Amazon)
Online Beekeeping Courses
If you’d prefer a more structured way to learn about beekeeping, online courses are a very approachable and affordable way to get started. In addition, most of them include video, which is probably the next best thing to actually being there!
Here are a couple of popular suggestions:
- “Beekeeping for Beginners” is a popular course on Udemy and includes 8 hours of video training. It covers “Everything You Need to Know to Become a Successful Beekeeper .”The course consists of videos, practical exercises, and downloadable resources.
- “Two Hives Honey” offers an online “intro to beekeeping” course with a wealth of information to get started as a successful beekeeper. This course is my personal favorite and includes four beautiful videos and a 40-page guidebook covering topics such as honey bee biology, setting up your apiary, selecting the right hive, purchasing equipment, budgeting, and more. The course aims to make beekeeping fun and joyful! Just as it should be 🙂
Online beekeeping courses are a terrific way to learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your armchair! And it’s true, they’re a more affordable option than attending in-person classes.
Online learning is perhaps the ideal way to get a taste of what’s involved with beekeeping before committing.
Find and join a beekeeping association.
Now you’re really ready to get involved!
One of the best ways to get to know the basics of beekeeping is to spend time with an experienced beekeeper. Contact your local beekeeping association to find out if you can meet up.
Joining one of these associations is a great way to connect with other “Beeks” (beekeeping geeks) and learn from their experiences. Also, associations can provide valuable resources, including mentorship, educational resources, and networking opportunities.
To find a beekeeping association in your area, you can start by doing a simple online search. Many associations have websites. If you’re not sure where to start, try the American Beekeeping Federation here: abfnet.org
The American Beekeeping Journal has a similar resource here: americanbeejournal.com
It’s true most associations ask you to pay a membership fee, but the benefits are well worth the cost.
Overall, joining a beekeeping association is a great way to get started and can provide the support you need to succeed.
Keep up to date with news.
If you want to learn the latest about your new hobby, I would also recommend signing up for a beekeeping magazine like Bee Culture.
Their online publications are also a great source of information…
Step 2: Other key things to consider before getting started
Ok… So now that you’re a bit more knowledgeable about your future buzzy friends, it’s time to get serious. Some of the essential things to consider before you get carried away are as follows:
- Will I get stung?
- Am I permitted to keep bees in my neighborhood
- Is beekeeping difficult or time-consuming?
- How much land do you need to keep bees?
Let’s have a look at each of these in more detail…
Will I get stung if I keep bees?
This is a classic question that all new beekeepers ask.
The truth is, you will likely get stung at some point. But the risk can be minimized with some decent protective gear and acceptable beekeeping practices.
Please keep in mind bees only sting when they feel threatened! Honey bees DO NOT want to sting you 🙂
Calm gestures, approaching the hive in the right way, and an adequately lit bee smoker will definitely help 🙂
Yep… You don’t want it to go out during inspections!
Can I keep bees on my property?
Before you start ordering expensive equipment etc., it’s a good idea to check your local regulations to find out whether there are any restrictions on keeping bees in your area.
You’d be surprised… Some neighborhoods or municipalities have some precise rules about beekeeping.
Do your research beforehand to avoid disappointment.
For more information on this topic, please read my article here…
Does beekeeping take a lot of time?
Keeping a colony of bees isn’t very time-consuming after the initial setup period.
A typical hive inspection will take about an hour, and during the busiest parts of the year in spring and summer, you’ll probably need to visit your hives once or twice a month.
And from fall through to winter, you can get away with no inspections at all (that is, if you can resist the temptation !)
As winter turns to spring, this will probably be when you check your hives the most to verify the health and development of your colonies for the upcoming season (and to prevent swarming).
But a big part of your time investment should be before you even start keeping bees at all!
Beekeeping does require some time and effort, but it’s easier than you might think.
Overall, it’s a low-maintenance hobby.
You’ll find an in-depth discussion on how hard it is to keep bees in this guide…
How much land do you need to have a beehive?
You only need a little land to keep bees. A typical beehive only takes up a few square feet of space. Besides the required footprint for each hive, you should include room to maneuver around the beehive for inspections (a 6-foot radius around the hive is plenty).
The entrance to hives also needs enough clearance to allow a free-flowing flight path for your honey bees!
But this kind of detail is more part of the considerations for “beehive placement.”
So perhaps more important is finding a “good” location for your beehives…
Step 3: Where Should You Place a Beehive?
Choosing the right location to start your apiary includes lots of different variables. To give you an idea, here’s a quick checklist of the primary considerations when choosing beehive placement:
- Sunlight – The sun helps warm the hive and gets bees active, especially in the morning. At the same time, direct sunlight in the summer can be problematic. Morning sunlight and afternoon shade is an ideal compromise.
- Shelter – If your site is exposed to the elements, particularly the wind, some kind of windbreak like a hedge or fence will be necessary (This doesn’t have to be permanent).
- Water – Your bees need it! Most locations won’t have a natural water source, so remember to include access to a hosepipe.
- Accessibility – If you can’t easily reach your hives for maintenance and inspections, your job gets more demanding.
- Distance from neighbors – I recommend placing your hive a safe distance from your neighbors’ property. It’ll help avoid any potential conflicts!
- Forage – Are there sufficient resources for bees to collect food in your area?
Overall, choosing the right location for your beehive is an important step for the success of your colony. However, there are many other factors to consider when setting up hives for the first time on your property. I recommend you read my article about where to place beehives.
How far should a beehive be from a house?
A quick note for backyard beekeepers. The proximity to your own home (and your neighbors) is a common concern. And rightly so. While bees will only sting if provoked, a safe distance from your family, pets (and those neighbors again) is an essential precaution.
The most crucial consideration is allowing sufficient clearance in front of the hive. A general rule of thumb is 25 feet. The entrance to the beehive is a busy place! You don’t want your family or the general public close to the flight path back to the hive.
The distance from your home is more a matter of comfort. Decide what distance is not troubling for you and your family. Just remember to face the entrance away from your house 🙂
Step 4: Beekeeping Costs – Is It Expensive?
Beekeeping isn’t the cheapest hobby around. But the most significant expenses are the initial costs of getting set up. Once you’ve installed your bee colony, the running costs are relatively low.
The biggest expense is the cost of the beehives. Of course, this varies depending on the type of hive and the materials used. For example, pine is relatively cheap but needs protecting, whereas cedar is more expensive and durable. At the time of writing, an 8-frame, two-box Langstroth hive like this costs about $135. But remember, you’ll need more boxes as the colony grows, and most beekeepers start with at least two beehives. (Amazon)
The honey bees themselves will be the next significant expense. Package bees are usually available to order before the season begins. You need to get the timing right, or they can run out! Packages typically cost between $150 – $200.
You’ll also need some protective gear. In other words, a bee suit and gloves. One of the best-selling beekeeping outfits on Amazon goes for around $40
Other essential tools and equipment include…
- a smoker,
- hive tools
- bee brush
You can find beekeeping starter kits with a variety of tools like this for around $45 (Amazon)
Remember… All this is a long-term investment. After you’ve got your first set of equipment, the ongoing costs are relatively low.
And, of course, you’ll have the chance to recover this initial expense by selling your lovely honey and other bee products 🙂
For a more in-depth look into costs, I suggest you read my article:
How many beehives should a beginner start with?
The number of hives you need to buy impacts the setting up costs. So naturally, this is a widespread question for beginners, and the recommended reply is “start with two hives.”
There are a couple of reasons for this …
- Two beehives let you compare the progress of one hive to the other. This can make it easier to identify any problems that crop up.
- Two hives give you a backup. This is essential in case one of your colonies fails.
It can be more difficult to spot problems without a comparison hive when you’re a beginner. Overall, starting with two beehives is a good rule of thumb for newbies.
How much honey does a hive produce?
The promise of all that wonderful honey is one of the fantastic benefits of keeping bees. But remember, if your hive is brand new, it’s advisable to refrain from harvesting any honey in the first year. It’s better to let your colony establish itself beforehand.
Nevertheless, once you get going you can expect an average of 30 to 60 lb (14 to 27 kg) of honey per hive.
In the mid to long term, honey, and other hive products, can help offset the cost of setting up your apiary. Eventually, you can start to turn a profit.
For a more in-depth discussion about how much honey you can get from a hive, read my guide here…
Step 5: Choosing Your Honey Bees & Beehives
Now that the preparation and planning phase is over, it’s time to consider the most crucial parts of your apiary – the beehive and your honey bees!
Not all bees are equal. Behavior differs significantly from one type of honey bee to another (regarding aggressivity, swarming traits, etc.)
And you’d be surprised how many different types of beehives exist.
Here I’ll give you some tips on choosing the right bees and hives to get started…
What is the best beehive for beginners?
If you live in the US, the most commonly used beehive is the Langstroth hive.
When starting out, I recommend you go with the type of hive most likely used by others in your area and at beekeeping associations. It makes comparisons with fellow beekeepers and finding parts so much easier!
Langstroth’s come in two standard sizes
- 8 frame
- 10 frames.
The choice is a matter of the weight you want to handle (a full super of honey is pretty darn heavy) and the size of harvest you want.
A “super” is the box that sits on top of the “brood box .”Generally, the brood box(s) contain the nest, and the supers hold the honey stores.
If the honey size of the harvest is less important to you, and you don’t want to lift heavy weights, go for an 8-frame. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for lots of honey and have a strong back, choose the 10-frame model.
Also, keep in mind that 8-frame boxes will become crowded more quickly, which could imply a bit more management.
What type of bees should you choose?
For beginners, Italian bees are considered a good choice because they are gentle and easy to work with. They’re also reputed to have a high honey production and are pretty resilient regarding diseases and pests.
Carniolan bees are also gentle and quite forgiving 🙂
These are both subspecies of the Western Honey bee. Ask your beekeeping association for advice since particular subspecies have been bred and acclimated to suit different regions of the world.
Remember that your local climate is also a factor that affects your choice. For example, colder climates are not suited to all types of bees.
For a more detailed look at choosing the best honey bee to get started, read my guide here…
Where to buy bees
Once you’ve decided on the type of honey bees you want to keep, the next step is to find a reputable supplier. “Reputable” is the key word!
Here are some tips…
- Try to find bees close to home. Local bees will be the best adapted to your own climate, which will greatly increase their chances of surviving.
- Check online – But do your research and make sure you’re buying from a reputable source. Reviews and ratings from fellow beekeepers will help.
- Attend beekeeping events – This can be an excellent opportunity to meet other beekeepers and learn about good suppliers.
Bees tend to be sold in packages or nucs. Both can be shipped, but ensure the distance is close to avoid opening a box of dead fuzzy bodies!
A package contains worker bees and a queen, whereas a nuc is like a mini hive, usually with 5 frames ready to transfer to an empty hive box. Needless to say, a nuc will give your colony a faster start.
Step 6: What time of year is best to start a beehive?
By now, I know you’re probably raring to go! But depending on when you read this, you’ll probably need to be patient a little longer.
Undoubtedly the best time of year to start your beekeeping hobby is springtime.
At this time of year, the weather is warming up, and more plants are blooming, providing ample forage for your newly installed bees. All this helps increase your success rate.
In most regions, somewhere between March and May is ideal. But you need to take into account your location and climate. For example, with warmer temperatures, you can get away with starting earlier. In contrast, colder climates need to wait till late spring.
There are also risks if you wait too long!
You want your colony to be strong coming out of fall so they have a better chance of surviving the winter.
To dive deeper into when to start a new hive, read my guide here…
Step 7: Setting up your apiary
So, by now, you’ve learned a great deal, got some gear, and sourced the type of bees you want to keep. The next big step is physically setting up your hive in preparation for the arrival of your bees. Then you’ll need to install them properly so they are comfortable in their new home.
Here are a few tips…
Setting up your beehive
It’s a good idea to paint or seal your hives before installing bees. This will make it more waterproof and extend the hive’s lifespan.
Just a reminder to do this before installing the bees! Bees are susceptible to odors. So if you use a sealant to preserve your hive, you must let the fumes off-gas to avoid disturbing the bees when they take residence.
When you set up the hive in your chosen location, I recommend using a hive stand or some kind of platform to elevate the hive. You’ll need to prepare this in advance,
This keeps the hive off the ground to prevent moisture and makes access more difficult for certain pests. Also, your back will thank you for this! Manipulating the hives and lifting boxes will be much easier.
When installing hives for the first time, working with a partner makes the process easier and more enjoyable!
Installing bees in a new hive
As mentioned earlier, when installing bees in a new hive, you have two main options:
- Package bees
- Nucs (nucleus hives)
Package Bees: This is a relatively quick and straightforward process. You simply dump a group of bees into your hive and introduce the queen! However, with this method, it can take some time for the colony to build up and start producing honey.
Read more about installing package bees here…
Nucs: A nucleus hive is a small colony of bees that already have brood, bees, and a queen. This option gives your bees a head start for building up their numbers. Because they’re already established. However, there are some steps you need to follow when transferring them into your beehive.
You can read more about how to move bees from a nuc into a hive here…
Bee Management – Caring for Your Bees
The ongoing management of your bees is where you really learn things first-hand. Every season brings new challenges and curiosities. Honey bees are clever creatures and capable of overcoming many challenges by themselves.
Your job is to lend a helping hand.
You will love talking about your beekeeping experiences, and you’ll undoubtedly have many questions during your first years as a beekeeper. Let others know what you’ve learned, and maybe you’ll encourage them to keep bees too!
- Be patient and observe your bees to learn their behavior and habits. Over time you’ll be able to anticipate problems much better.
- Continue to read up on beekeeping and stay up-to-date on the latest news and best practices. The deeper your understanding, the better you can ensure the health and productivity of your beehives.
- Stay connected with other beekeepers to get advice and support. Your local association is a good starting point, but you’ll also find workshops and conferences online.
Some useful links:
- American Beekeeping Federation – For webinars and virtual conferences: https://www.abfnet.org/page/Webinars
- Bee Culture Magazine – You’ll find a variety of online resources, including virtual events: https://www.beeculture.com/
- The Bee Conservancy – They run events on Bees, gardening & sustainability: https://thebeeconservancy.org/events/
- Beekeeping Today Podcast – Includes a backlog of valuable podcasts: https://www.beekeepingtodaypodcast.com/
Soon, you’ll have the honey harvest to look forward to 🙂