Beginning Beekeeping

Beekeeping is immensely rewarding.  At times, considerably frustrating.  But in the end it is an amazing learning experience. 

Some people make the decision to become beekeepers for their lifes' work, but even those people started with a few hives and a lot of questions.  As part of the WHPA we think it is important to provide you with some of those answers, point you in directions to find others and become as successful at beekeeping as you want to.

New Beekeepers - EquipmentMy beekeeping experience started more or less by proxy one day when my oldest daughter needed a 4-H project.  I suggested to her maybe to keep bees.  She had been diagnosed with some learning disability, but I said to myself, here is a girl that is smart, and learns very well what she is taught, shown and does.  I am a computer geek by day and fairly adept at research at night.  It seemed like a good team.

Internet Research

The internet is an amazing research tool.  Looking at videos you can see great examples of people hiving bees.  Videos of people examining frames, or finding the queen.  They are all available with just a few clicks.  Some of the things you can learn by watching these videos and seeing this first hand video experience, will be invaluable to you as a beekeeper.   

But, there is one thing you need to be very aware of.  If your questions involve answers that could be regionally effected, you have to find an answer from your same region.  Installing a three pound package of bees works pretty much the same in Georgia as it does here in Wisconsin.  But if on the other hand you want to know about how much stores the bees need left in the hive to survive the winter; Or, maybe when to put on honey supers, or any number of the other questions you are going to have, you need an answer that is closer to home.

Bee Clubs 

That is where your local bee club comes in.  Here on this web site, we have a list of where all the local bee club chapters are.  Find their meetings and attend.  At these meetings you will find out the techniques you need to ensure success.  You will meet people who no matter what problems you are having, no matter how bad you think it looks, they already lived through it.  

Let me take a short side trip here.  There is one thing I have to explain about beekeepers.  They say that if you put ten of them in a room and ask them a question, you will walk away with eleven answers.  This is what bee club is about though.  People share the stories of their success.  They provide answers and as time goes on, you listen to all those answers.  Combine it all together in what seems like a good idea to you for your own hives.  

Even more important than hearing about what worked, you will hear about what didn't.  That is what makes local bee clubs better than the internet.  Its an amazing phenomena that on the net, people are very willing to crow about their new great technique.  …They are a little less likely to take the time to type out the stories of their failures.  At bee clubs it seems like those barriers are down and people are willing to share the stories of what not to do.   To share chuckles over the total disasters,  the time you accidentally dumped a pound of bees down the sleeve of your glove.  It is those times that let you know what you are in for and there is a way through.  

Visiting a local bee club builds a camaraderie you can call on.  Most clubs will have a few member's phone numbers listed as emergency help.  They welcome the chance help someone.  There will be times when you realize you are looking at a problem that won't wait until the next bee club meeting.  Being part of a bee club brings experts to your access at the touch of a finger.

Finally, if you are serious about beekeeping, or serious doing what you can to help the bees, consider attending one of the WHPA annual conventions.  This is like your local bee club just scaled up.  There are technical sessions taught by experts in the beekeeping field from all around the country.  These break out sessions can cover a topic at great depth.  There is plenty of time over the weekend event to meet more with regional beekeepers and compare your experiences with theirs.  If you want to take beekeeping beyond a hobby into a career, you will meet a network of the people who you will need to know to help you on this path.

Some Personal Suggestions

So I have gotten you this far, talking just about how you can do your own research.  Let me add a few points to help you get started.

When you think about starting out, you might think you will start with one hive and grow from there.  And, you can.  If say for instance you live in town and want to keep a hive of bees in your garden.  If you don't care if you get any honey you just want to help the bees and have a healthier garden by having a hive in it.  You can have one hive and be perfectly happy.   If you want to be a beekeeper hobbyist though and get some honey and really learn about bees, I think you need to start with three hives.  With three hives you will be able to spot troubles much quicker because you will easily be able to spot a weak hive.

Check online for beekeeping supply companies and request their catalogs.  You can learn a lot about what fits together and what things are called by pouring over those catalogs.  Buying equipment remember shipping is killer.  If you can find someone who sells locally you will save a lot of money.  Time too, because if you order in the early spring it can take up to a month to get the equipment even shipped to you.  Express shipping is crazy, unjustifiably expensive so you have to plan ahead.

There are lots of ways to get bees.  You can even mail order them.  But I would suggest the best place to buy them can be discovered by attending a bee club meeting.  Sometimes the clubs go all together and buy them as a club in bulk.  Beyond this the clubs will post local price comparisons from bee suppliers.

Bees come in the spring.  Where I live in northern Wisconsin I get them usually right around if not on Easter weekend.  You need to have all your equipment painted, filled with foundation and ready to go when your bees arrive.  I think it is a good idea to have your painting all done a few weeks in advance so the paint will have fully dried and off-gassed. 

You are going to need to have whatever protective gear ready when the bees come in as well.  I wear a full suit when I am helping my daughter care for the hives.  Still I manage to get stung a few times every season.  I am a subscriber to the theory that if you get stung regularly you don't get as large of reaction.

Beyond all this information there is a ton more.  Different types of equipment, different ways to use some of the same equipment.  All of it very interesting stuff.  Learning about bees, their social structure and how they work is fascinating.  Learning how to provide the best home for them and keep them healthy in it can be a life long interest.  And what they produce… It is an amazing experience to eat the honey produced out of your own beehives.  That is a life long experience as well!

Photo Credit: Kent Pegorsch