Think First. Then Consider Starting Beekeeping
The idea of beekeeping is fascinating to many. The potential for all that glorious honey attracts still others. But at PerfectBee we think it’s important anyone setting out down this wonderful path does so for the right reasons and with a full awareness of what is ahead.
Let’s first look at why NOT to be a beekeeper!
Why NOT To Be a Beekeeper
Don’t Do It For the Honey
Let’s deal with the easy one first.
If you want lots of honey, just swing by your local supermarket and buy some. We will tell you now that’s a lot quicker, a lot less work – and a lot cheaper. Enjoying honey from your own hives is a beautiful benefit to the beekeeper, but if it’s your primary motivation then we’d discourage you.
Don’t Do It Because It’s Easy (It’s Not!)
OK, so you know there is much more to beekeeping but at least it’s pretty simple and hands-off after you learn the ropes, right? Wrong! Beekeeping takes time. It takes effort. It challenges you to keep learning (by the way, this is a major plus to us!). And, no matter your experience, at some point it’s going to frustrate you and upset you.
Fair warning. But don’t be put off yet – read below for the full scoop!
Don’t Do It To Make Money
That honey thing? To make money? Don’t even go there! Let’s just say many have tried…
By the way, while – in the big scheme of things – beekeeping is not the most expensive of hobbies, the costs are not trivial. See below for more on that.
Do It Because It Fascinates You!
Depending on who you consult, something like 70% of new beekeepers don’t get beyond the second year? Don’t be one of those! At PerfectBee, our mission is to encourage you to consider beekeeping as a wonderful hobby – but to do so with a full awareness of what lay ahead.
Be One of The 30%
We hope you will be one of the 30% of new beekeepers who get past that second year, learn beautiful things from their bees and help the environment! Oh – and enjoy some awesome honey!
Read on for the important aspects of beekeeping to consider before you start.
How To Have Bees: What You Need!
Becoming a beekeeper is a great choice of hobby, but a common question is “How do you get into beekeeping in the first place?”. For such an interesting and important hobby, it doesn’t garner much attention from the general public. The ins-and-outs of how to become a beekeeper are not clearly evident to everyone.
If you’re reading this, however, then you’ve already taken a step towards becoming a beekeeper; you’re ready to learn, what’s involved, and how you can plan. So, let’s discuss – is beekeeping right for you?
Unfortunately, as is the case for getting into any hobby or career, keeping bees comes with its financial costs. You need a hive, beekeeper equipment and you need the most important element of all – bees! So how much should you budget on your quest of beekeeping? Thankfully, in the universe of hobbies and other interests, beekeeping need not be at the expensive end of the spectrum.
In terms of equipment, we covered a lot of what a beekeeper might want over at our Beekeeping Equipment article.
For the basics you need:
- A beekeeper suit
- A pair of gloves
- A pair of boots
- A smoker
- An hive tool
- A hive
- ….and bees
Compared to many hobbies with a “technical” side, that’s not a huge list. Some of these items have pretty ambiguous prices at first glance – you can’t visit your local supermarket and pick up a box of honeybees, after all! So, let’s construct a rough estimates for the cost. If you want more specific prices, check out our In Depth article on the topic (coming in Part 2 of our plan – “Your beehive”).
So, very generally….
The bees will cost around $100. The cost of the beehive itself can vary considerably, based on type and options. Depending on whether you choose a jacket or full bee suit, your primary protective clothing will run from around $100 to $200. The gloves will be around $25.
You’ll be able to afford the rest just fine. Smokers are around $35-50, More convenient “push button” smokers can increase the cost but save time and hassle. The fuel should be about $5 (if that – generally you can use materials around the house or garden) and a hive tool comes in at around $10.
Another common approach is to purchase a beekeeper’s starter kit, which bundles together the most common items at a lower price.
As for the boots – there’s no real special ‘beekeeping boots’, so anything that’s sturdy and will stop your feet from being stung is fine.
Punch all those numbers into a calculator and you’ll find a total of approximately $550. Perhaps make it $600 to fit in a nice pair of boots, if you need them.
There are a number of ways to cut the costs (and, of course, to increase costs!). If you’re feeling both knowledgeable and brave, you can attempt to ‘catch a swarm’ in order to start your bee population. These are, essentially, bees patrolling around looking for a new home – just the thing you have! Of course, catching a swarm requires caution and special precautions, and there’s always the chance that you’d end up not catching the kind of bee you need. Frankly, PerfectBee doesn’t recommend this for the beginner beekeeper.
If you’re new to the scene and don’t feel so confident about your ability to scoop up an entire hives-worth of bees by yourself, it’s best to buy a box of them instead – “package of bees” as they are called in the industry. If you want to learn more about swarming and buying bees, check out our article on the very topic at https://www.perfectbee.com/your-beehive/starting-a-beehive/buying-bees.
As for the hive, there is the prospect of buying a second hand hive. Many experienced beekeeper will recommend this for the new beekeeper for many reasons, not least of which is that the potential of losing a single hive can be incredible disheartening. In such situations, a second beehive is both a continuation and a learning opportunity.
Hives will vary considerable in price, depending on if you’re purchasing from a reseller or bidding on eBay. If you’re going down this route, however, be very careful – when you purchase a second hand beehive, there might be dangers lurking within that will kill off your bees, such as chemicals and diseases from prior (maybe even careless!) owners. Another recommendation from PerfectBee – for your first hive(s) just buy new!
If you must purchase second-hand be sure that it’s from a trustworthy source and that you understand and check the parts and elements of the hive. If something goes wrong, you’ll be better equipped to know what part needs replacing – something best learnt before it’s full of bees!
Is it all a one-time payment? Not quite, As the years pass with your hive, you may find it needs repairing or that you may need to replace a colony after it suffers casualties. Be ready to shell out a little bit to help keep your hive ticking over. As well as repairing, certain expenditures will come and go over a typical year. You can find more details about these in our ‘In Depth’ article, in Part 2.
So you’ve bought all your equipment. You have a hive, a smoker, donned the finest of bee equipment. And now you have a slightly angry-sounding box beside you. Now what? Just throw them in the hive and let them sort themselves out, right? Not so fast…
There will be some expenditure throughout the year? This is because bees will require different tasks depending on the time of year. After all, they’re very seasonal creatures – if you plan on taking care of them, you have to act with the seasons as well!
What kind of tasks? Over the winter, you’ll mostly be doing general hive maintenance and safety, but when spring hits you’ll need to be up and ready to take care of the busy hive to keep it operational.
Then comes the wind-down after the honey flow when you collect the honey and get them fed up and ready for winter again. Basically, how much attention the hive needs depends on the season, and you’ll ideally be wisened up to the ebb and flow of the hive and ready to tackle what nature throws at you.
Sounds like busy work doesn’t it? Not really. One source claims the total amount you need to spend with a hive comes in at around 15-30 hours a year. Another says that half an hour a week should be just fine for a beginner.
There’s really no perfect answer – this depends on a number of factors, including your willingness to get out there and do the right thing! There’s some learning involved. Indeed, that learning never stops. But it won’t soak up your time like a buzzing, honey-producing sponge.
If this sounds more exciting than draining, then be sure to study up on your bee facts. One way to approach learning about the ins-and-outs of keeping bees is to seek instruction from someone with solid beekeeping experience. Try asking if you can tag along with someone as they tend to their bees – ideally, you’d want to watch them for a full year, so you can really get the feel of the ups and downs that seasons bring.
If you don’t know anyone who keeps bees, considering studying by yourself and grab a book. Perhaps our favorite recommendations for the beginner are The Beekeeper’s Bible and The Backyard Beekeeper.
You can also subscribe to the American Bee Journal and Bee Culture magazines, as well. . Why not stick around PerfectBee as well, and check out our Essentials and In-Depth content!!
Attention to Safety
So you’ve heard the calling and decided to move towards tending to small, buzzing creatures, each armed with its own biological stabbing weapon. PerfectBee hereby considers you the holder of refined decision-making. Prepared to be amazed throughout your journey.
Now that you have a sense of what it costs, both in terms of time and money, ask yourself – can I keep everyone and everything within my household from being stung?
If you own children or pets, this might be a challenge you need to consider. Children can be taught about beehives but may still get up to mischief. Pets can’t be told anything and may take to your bees like little flying toys. Some pets might ruin a hive while some might be stung and never return. Before installing a hive, be sure to gauge how your pets will probably respond to it and act accordingly.
A very important consideration is allergies. For most of use, our bodies don’t hesitate to let us know when it has been stung, but then put up a very capable and, eventually, winning response! But for someone with a bee sting allergy the result can range from swelling and itching to full-on anaphylactic shock. See http://www.webmd.boots.com/allergies/guide/understanding-bee-sting-allergies-basics. Are your family, your housemates, and – perhaps most importantly – yourself, allergic to bee stings? Can you confirm it? The last thing you’d want from your voyage into the world of keeping honey bees is for someone to be extremely uncomfortable at best, and hospitalized at worst. Check it out and stay safe!
Maintaining Good Relations With Others
Let’s not forget – your own household members aren’t the only ones that will be potentially affected by a beehive appearing within your garden. You may very well be excited to keep bees (and we can’t blame you!) but others may be less than keen about them. Most of the time, this is simply an opportunity to educate.
As well as your own family, you should consider your immediate neighbours and people who might pass close by your hive while walking. It’s a good idea to talk through your beekeeping plans with your neighbours, to make them aware and ask about if any of their family have bee sting allergies. Be prepared for some varied responses. Some people will flat-out believe you’re breeding the next species of killer bee! Be ready for anything – including very negative reactions – and try to ease your neighbours into the idea of having a house for bees being near their own gardens.
Your neighbours, however, aren’t the only people you want to be supportive. Believe it or not, it may actually be illegal for you to own bees in your current area. Be sure to check your local ordinance’s for beekeeping rules. They may specify aspects such as minimum lot size, maximum number of hives you can keep, or if it’s even allowed at all. See http://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/dear-modern-farmer-how-do-i-legally-start-an-urban-bee-hive/).
If you discover your local area has put a foot down on your beekeeping aspirations, don’t despair. You can always find a place for your hive with a friend or a farmer outside of a beehive banning area.
After considering the the cost, learning and legal sides of beekeeping, it may be easy to forget that you are, in essence, obtaining and maintaining a home for bees. The big question is; where are you going to put this home?
Thankfully, as long as the hive is outside and has some room around it so that people can pass by safely (if they need to at all), there are a lot of places a beehive can go. Ideally, your hive should face southeast to catch the morning sun, has a windbreak at the back of the hive (such as plants), and receives the right amount of sun.
Consider, too, your local weather. Depending on how much it rains, you may need to make additional adjustments to your hive to combat this. If you don’t see much rain, the nectar-producing flowers stop producing which could be fatal for your bees.
On the flip-side, if it’s too wet, the bees will call everything off and stay inside, which drains their food supply (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/beekeeping/9252124/Beekeeping-Diary-Rain-and-bees.html). If your locale is very dry or wet, you might need to consider how the weather will affect the bee’s natural ability to leave the hive and hunt for nectar.
Some start-up beekeepers feel nervous at the prospect of starting up a hive within residential and urban areas. Would bees take kindly to a more human-populated area? It’s definitely possible – in fact, there has recently been a wave of people taking up beekeeping in urban areas after the news of their decline. If you don’t have much of a garden to keep a hive, perhaps consider a roof-based one. Be wary of protection against the wind and any possible landlords that might not approve of your hobby.
There’s also the questions of flowers to think about. Will your bees be able to find enough to feed themselves? If you’re living in a particularly dense city, perhaps consider arranging some flowers yourself, so that the bees have something from which to forage. City living also comes with its fair share of pollution, so be sure to keep your hives as far away from roads and car exhausts as possible. See http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/urban-beekeeping.html.
You’ve done all the leg-work. You’ve found a good a hive your bees can call home. You’ve poured over every article, DVD and instruction guide about bee maintenance and health. You bribed your neighbours with chocolate cake, made sure everything is A-OK with the law, and planned out the ideal spot for your hive.
Up until now, we’ve covered how to prepare yourself to keep bees, but the question still remains; why be a beekeeper? With all the time, money and care that beekeeping comes with, what are the benefits of being a beekeeper?
One of the more obvious reasons; keeping bees means that you gain access to the sweet, golden treasures left behind in their day-to-day work. Alright then, let’s assume you want to keep bees because you love delicious, ‘home-made’ honey. How much of the sticky stuff can you expect to get from your hives?
Unfortunately, this is one of those questions that comes with the answer ‘it depends’. There are the obvious factors that will change how much honey is made, such as disease, lack of proper maintenance, or even vandals (who has the guts to knock over a beehive?). Then there are the less obvious factors, such as the weather, temperature, and even competition with other beehives in your area.
The general observed ‘average’ amount of honey that hives make, however, comes in at around 25-30lbs a year. A good harvest will see up to 60-70lbs. See https://brookfieldfarmhoney.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/how-much-honey-per-hive/and http://www.bbka.org.uk/learn/general_information/honey/. That’s not a bad amount of honey at all!
And if you really get into the business of bees and pick up some more hives, why not make a small business out of your honey-producing hobby? If your larders are stuffed with jars and the kids are complaining about honey on toast for the second month in a row, you might consider selling some of the produce.
It can be tough and, for most, PerfectBee doesn’t advise beekeeping as a reason to leave your day job! However, if you’ve got some jars spare from your hobby, what is there to lose?
Even if your first harvest is lacklustre, don’t forget; every pound of honey is more than any cat or dog will give you. All they’ll donate to your cause is fur on your best shirt and hairballs in dark places!
The lesser-known cousin to honey, beeswax, is another product bees produce. It’s often made during the harvest of honey on warmer days, when it can be found coating the bees and the floor of the hive itself. See http://www.beesource.com/resources/elements-of-beekeeping/all-about-beeswax/.
Of course, the uses for honey are very obvious, but what can be done with beeswax? One of the more obvious answers is to make the body of a candle, but there are many others, including wood polish, wax printing and even treating cracked hooves on animals.
We’re not saying that you could get into the candlestick-making industry in order to get the most of your bees, but be aware of what your little buzzing friends are producing. Perhaps a local market or independent seller of wax-based products would be very keen to get their hands on your bee’s produce. See http://www.beekeeping.com/articles/us/small_beekeeping/hive_products.htm.
Are you the curious type? Do you love to pry into nature’s mechanisms and see the inner workings of an ecosystem? What better way to monitor it happening from your own home than a beehive? PerfectBee will say it straight – bees are amazing!
If you’re getting into beekeeping, you’re going to want to learn about how bees work. This includes noting how the queen bee operates, the egg production, the larvae being fed, the search for pollen in the local area, and the production of honey. All this happening in a box just down your garden – if that gets your scientific self giddy, you could see beekeeping as an ant farm for adults. See http://www.friendsofthehoneybee.com/learn-about-bees/life-inside-a-beehive/ )
And even better – if you open up your hive in an area where there aren’t many pollinating insects, you can be helping your local environment, too. Especially in urban areas, an increase in bees can mean more spreading of pollen between plants, and thus more green, natural plants. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/aug/07/urban-beekeeping )
A Sense of Community
You thought you were all alone with your aspirations to keep bees? Of course not! Beekeepers aren’t exactly the most publicly known people, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. People within your local area may very well be keeping bees – from the aspiring start-ups such as yourself, to the sting-covered veterans with more hives than days in a month. When people have a hobby, they have the natural tendency to reach out and look for other people who share their passion. And when that proves to be difficult, they set up ways to make it easier.
How do you find these elusive lovers of bees? You can check out Bee Culture for a directory of beekeepers that live in your state. If you’re more of a digital explorer than a face-to-face person, you can find beekeeping forums where you can ask questions and chat. Such examples are Bee Source, BioBees and Beemaster. Be sure to have a look around before registering and posting – there’s a very good chance that the regulars of your forum of choice have already tackled, explained and detailed out the solution to problems you may have!
Hopefully you now have a good idea of what’s needed of you before you set off on your quest to make some honey, exploring the intriguing world of keeping bees. While it takes some expenditure and learning, the results can definitely pay off.
And what other hobbies result in you making your own food, after all?
Be safe, be wise and stay in touch with PerfectBee as we go through the steps you need to take to maintain a healthy hive.