So you’re wanting to start beekeeping? Great, fall and winter is actually the best time to getting started with your research, setup, and laying all the groundwork to have success actually getting started next Spring!
First things first, you’re going to need to do a lot of research. It’s far better to be over-versed in beekeeping lingo prior to actually having a hive, than coming across a hurdle hands on, and not knowing what to do. Regardless, you’re going to have the latter happen, but the more you know going into the unknown, the better!
Amongst beekeepers theres an extremely common saying, that you ask 5 different beekeepers a question and you’ll get 20+ answers. This is true. Even asking 1 beekeeper a question, there very well could be 5 different answers, and so on. For this reason, it’s good to start to decide what kind of beekeeper you’re looking to be. Do you want to produce honey? Do you want to let the bees keep their honey? Do you want to breed bees from your own stock? Do you want to use chemical treatments? What do you want out of the hobby? There are lots of questions to be had, and depending on the answers you very well could approach beekeeping differently, meaning that you have to be wary about where you solicit your answers from, and which advice you follow.
This goes hand in hand with animal husbandry generally, regardless of the species, you don’t necessarily want to blindly follow advice from anyone, instead it’s better to know before hand what you value, find someone who values that and is successful, and then only follow reputable advice that aligns with your values, the less sources, and conflicting information, the better.
So you’ve done a ton of research, you’ve got a good handle on what your values and approach to the hobby are, maybe you’ve even found a mentor or networked with others with similar interests. If not, don’t worry, it will come with time! At this point I think it’d be wise to start plugging into your local beekeeper association(s) – usually each city, county, or region will have a few options. Networking with these groups is invaluable – while you don’t have to walk the same walk as any or everyone in these groups, the knowledge of your locale conditions, flows, native species, and so on is golden and often passed down by generations of beekeepers in your area.
Alright, if you’ve gone through the above you’re off to a really solid start. Depending on the time of year, you’re going to want to spend some time with bees before you actually jump off the deep end and set up your own apiary. Now is a great time to find an experienced beekeeper who is willing to show you around one of their yards, and potentially mentor you while getting started. Finding an experienced beekeeper who’s willing to show you the ropes is so important. Reading, watching, and attending meetings is one thing, but once you’re looking down at a hive with the sun beating down on you in a thick bee suit – often much of that knowledge goes out of the window and you’re relying on muscle memory and instinct, in some ways. Having a mentor to be able to tell you whats normal, whats not, and to guide you through the building up of your technique is so vital.
Once you’ve got some hands on experience and the initial adrenaline rush has subsiding, if you’re not scared away yet, you’re probably ready to start looking at setting up your own yard. Generally the above can all be done though self research and networking i.e. it doesn’t have to cost anything other than travel costs. Now you’re looking at setting up a yard.
As a beginner, it’s best to start with two hives so you can compare and contrast them – no two hives are exactly the same. Two hives can fit in some backyards (be sure to check your local regulations for urban beekeeping and ensure you comply with setup requirements). Otherwise, it’s also possible to network with local landowners who have large rural plots, often they’re more than willing to host bees on their land for little to no cost at all. Your local beekeeping groups or networking with family and friends is a wonderful place to start searching for the perfect spot to put your apiary.
You’ll need a flat space to put a hive stand, this can be anything from a wooden pallet (ideally painted or treated to prevent rot), cinderblocks, wooden structures, metal etc). Generally hive stands are pretty inexpensive and you can get creative and DIY your own for very cheap!
Next, you’ll need to look at getting your hive equipment! I recommend starting with solid bottom boards, x2 deep hive bodies with frames, and telescoping cover w/ inner cover. For your first year this will be virtually everything your bees will need to grow into an adult colony. You’ll also want a beekeeping jacket or suit, maybe an extra veil or two, a hive tool, a smoker, and a butane or propane torch is very handy!
Now you have the know how, you’ve got a network of local beekeepers and a mentor you can query as needed, a bee yard thats setup with all the equipment you need. It’s time to get the bees!
Fall and Winter is a great time to start looking for where to source your first 1-2 colonies. Personally, I highly recommend nucleus colonies because it’s an established colony that already has comb, eggs, brood, and food. You’ll likely have already heard of local sources for nucleus colonies, but if not, check with your mentor and see what bees they recommend in your area. Generally nucleus colonies are more expensive, compared to packaged bees, but they also grow faster and do better. The price in your area can vary anywhere from $140~$300+ each.
Once you’ve placed your order for a Spring nucleus colony you’re basically all set and almost a fully fledged beekeeper! From there you’ll need to make a rough plan of your inspection schedule and start to learn about the patterns in your area, such as when is flow (spring), when does flow end, when is dearth (summer), and when do queens stop becoming available in your area (i.e. when does fall end/winter start). Knowing these patterns and technicalities in your locale will give you a good idea of what you should be doing and when throughout the year.
Beekeeping is definitely approachable for new hobbiest looking to get started, and is a great way to network with your local communities, farmers, beekeepers, and more! While the upfront cost can seem daunting, it’s definitely something that can be done frugally, and once you’re in it and past the upfront, it’s a rewarding and worthwhile hobby regardless of whether you’re looking to turn a profit or not!