Have you ever dreamed of being a beekeeper? Beekeeping for beginners is a rewarding and fascinating hobby. Bees are some of the most interesting creatures on the planet, and they help the environment. The honey they produce is just the icing on the cake – or the sweetener in your tea or yogurt. By raising bees, you can enjoy the rewards, all while giving back to your community and encouraging nature to do what it does best.
Bees pollinate almonds, apples, blueberries and other crops. Without these buzzing insects, there would be much less food variety. Sadly, honeybee populations around the world have been declining in the recent past, due to parasites, pesticides and colony collapse disorder. Homeowners who build bee colonies in their backyards can help rebuild the bee population, and it is an exciting, rewarding hobby.
Beehives and Backyards
You only need about a quarter of an acre to raise bees. A beehive requires about 10 feet of space on all sides, and it should face the southeast, with plenty of morning sun and afternoon shade. There should be a water source within a quarter of a mile from the hive, as well. A birdbath or shallow pan filled with H2O will suffice.
The hive should be carefully placed so that the bees’ flight path is 15 to 20 yards away from where people congregate. If a neighbor’s yard crosses that path, for instance, you will need to put the hive elsewhere. You can also build a fence or keep the hive near a tall hedge. This way, the bees will fly up and over it, away from people. Bees also like sandy slopes and rocks for relaxing.
Another way to keep the bees in your backyard is to plant a garden. Your own plants will thrive, because bees pollinate so many kinds of plants and flowers. Learn about what other kinds they like, and get to work planting them. Many home gardeners add beehives for this very reason.
Getting the Right Kind of Hive
Choosing the right kind of beehive requires careful consideration, and you can get plenty of opinions by asking other beekeepers. Man made beehives are generally fabricated out of wood, but they can be made from other materials, like polystyrene. The top-bar-style hive has a long box with bars on top, and the bees construct their honeycombs downward from the bars. These hives are relatively lightweight and easy to assemble. They do need to be elevated from the ground.
The second type of beehive is the Warré, also based on a top-bar layout. This one is more vertical, though, and there are no foundation sheets or frames. Some beekeepers feel that these hives resemble nature beehives more closely.
Langstroth hives are the most common kind of beehive, and they consist of various stacking boxes and frames. The parts are removable, and beekeepers can move them easily. The lowest box is where the queen lays her eggs.
What Else Do Beekeepers Need?
Beekeeping is not an expensive hobby when compared to other pastimes like bicycling or collecting antiques. The hive shouldn’t cost a tremendous amount, but you may want to start out with two hives, rather than one, which will add to your costs. Other necessary beekeeping equipment includes a hive tool, which looks like a miniature crowbar. This is used to pull out the frames and scrape off wax.
You will also need a veil and gloves. Look for veils that have the most mesh for improved ventilation, and the gloves should stretch up past your elbows to keep them protected. Buy extras for family members and friends. A smoker is another important tool. It is used to burn things like pine needles and direct the smoke toward the bees. This actually calms them down.
As for the bees, you can get about three pounds (10,000 live bees) for $120. You can order them from beekeepers, and the bees can live for up to seven days while in transit. Certain species are not recommended for beginners, so read the descriptions carefully and ask around before placing your order. Also, do not buy used equipment as a cost-saving mechanism, because it can have diseases or bacteria.
Be Considerate of Your Neighbors
Happy beekeepers often want to expand their colonies, but the size of the backyard and other factors will determine whether this is possible. As a rule, there should be no more than three colonies on a quarter-acre property. So if you have one acre, you could theoretically have 12 beehives. Do not do this all at once – the expansion has to be more gradual.
If your neighbors do not seem thrilled with your bee colonies, try winning them over with some jars of honey. Some people may seem standoffish, but they might actually just be afraid. Be open about the beekeeping, and offer to answer their questions with patience and a smile.