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As a crafty creative type, I’ve tried a lot of hobbies. Knitting? Check (just don’t look in my closet at my three unfinished scarves). Cooking? Oh yeah. I can sauté, braise, truss and season with the best of them, thanks to the Internet’s great abundance of recipe comment sections and how-to YouTube videos.
I’m constantly on the lookout for fun DIY projects, and I don’t even beat myself up if they become instant fodder for “Nailed It” memes. It’s all in good fun.
But somehow, becoming a beekeeper seems a little scarier than my latest wine-cork coaster project. First, there’s the planning and preparation that goes into setting up a successful hive. It’s not quite as easy as chatting with your local craft store salesperson and filling up your cart with hot glue and knitting needles. Plus, it’s intimidating to have little bee lives in my (entirely inexperienced) hands. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that bees are amazing creatures, deserving of our thanks, appreciation, and tender loving care. What if I somehow hurt them or fail miserably trying to care for them?
Just ask my latest houseplant about my caregiving abilities.
In spite of all of my doubts, I can’t help but be entranced by the idea of a working, living ecosystem in my very own backyard. The science is fascinating, and the rewards enticing (sweet, delicious, honey!). Like How-To cooking videos, there’s an abundance of resources on the Internet, and even apps to help you connect with your local beekeeping community if you have questions. It seems (dare I say) imaginable, even reasonable to care of a hoard of buzzing, potentially welt-producing creatures in my backyard.
For those like me who are secretly thinking to themselves, “Can I really be a beekeeper?” while they consider all the rewards of beekeeping, here are five questions to consider.
Beekeeping is not for those afraid of a few bee bites. Of course, you can take precautions and invest all the proper equipment, but my guess is that a sting once in awhile is part of the equation (call it a rite of passage). The thicker your skin, the better: total fear isn’t something that you want to experience during your fun new hobby. And bee allergies aren’t anything to scoff at: swelling, itchiness, dizziness, and in some cases even life-threatening symptoms can seriously detract from the love of your hobby. If you’ve never been stung, it may be worthwhile to be tested for bee allergies before investing in a hive.
Raspberry muffins, homemade granola, or coupons for free babysitting: think about what may sweeten the deal for the neighbors who have a front row seat to your new hobby. If you are living in close quarters, it’s only fair to include your neighbors and family members in your beekeeping conversations. After all, you need a place to put your bees, and beehives can be intimidating for the uninitiated.
The good news is you don’t need a ton of space to have a productive, honey-producing hive, so it’s possible that your neighbors won’t experience much bee-related activity. Plus, hedges and fences can provide an “out of sight, out of mind” feel. Still, a few jars of honey never hurt as a thank-you. Don’t forget to check your local zoning laws, too: the last thing you want to find out as you are installing your bees is that you can’t keep them where you had planned.
There’s definitely a scientific aspect to beekeeping that the happiest beekeepers seem to embrace (and even obsess over). Studying every scientific detail of your mini-ecosystem will make you a better beekeeper and help you to better enjoy your new hobby. It’s likely that you will run into a few issues during your beekeeping journey that will need to be investigated. If trudging to the library and scouring the beekeeping section for advice and answers sounds less like a chore and more like your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon, beekeeping might be the perfect hobby for you. As an enduring library-dweller and student at heart, I think I can answer an emphatic “yes” to this one.
While you wouldn’t necessarily think of beekeeping as a group activity, for the beginning beekeeper, seasoned beekeeping advice is critical for success. Does your town have a local beekeeping association? How do you feel about creating fast friendships with some bee mentors? For me, this part sounds fun. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a social rut, frequenting the same places with the same people. Beekeeping would be a fun excuse to join a new network of like-minded, most likely very cool people who are interested in many of the same things that I am. Sharing the highs and lows of my beekeeping operation over a cup of coffee would be part of the fun for me, and it would be great to hear the perspective of someone who has been there.
While my previous hobbies have been known to rack up quite the bill at my local craft store, beginning a beekeeping operation definitely requires a significant investment. PerfectBee’s Beehive And Equipment Choices In-Depth articles puts the initial start-up costs at $700-1,000: an amount that will likely be noticed by my significant other from our checking account. Here too, there’s good news: after the initial purchase, a well-maintained hive can last a very long time (even up to thirty years!), meaning that the costs to keep your beehive operational will be far less after the first year. I think I would buy a few pieces of equipment at a time (or set aside the money in a separate account), so that the bill doesn’t hit me all at once. When you think about it, $700 over 12 months is only about $60 each month: manageable!
So, how did your answers stack up to these questions? What do you think about becoming a beekeeper? What makes you nervous about your foray into beekeeping?