Interested in beekeeping? Here’s some information on everything you need to know before you start. Beekeeping is not something you can simply decide to do and pick up tomorrow, it’s time-sensitive and requires a lot of planning in advance. As someone who gets ideas and immediately wants to dive in, the wait period for beekeeping was almost too much for me. I have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and one of the things I love to do is dive in fully when I’ve made a decision to do something. I am not patient.
I had to wait to start beekeeping until the time was right. I have not ever liked waiting to start something. I want to be in the midst of it immediately. Beekeeping was like that. I decided I wanted to do it, so I was ready to start tomorrow. However, one of the first blog posts I read about beekeeping advised me to wait until I knew more to start and so I did…reluctantly.
Now that I’m a few years into my beekeeping adventures I want to share some of my beekeeping startup advice with you – including the how and why you need to wait to start and what to do in the meantime!
What Should I Do Before I Get Bees?
The single most important thing you can do before becoming a beekeeper is to learn as much as possible. You will be managing the care of an entire beehive and the interactions you’ll have with the public as you get into beekeeping. These are not small tasks. Bees can’t simply be put in a box and left alone in your backyard. That would be a disservice to these insects and all of the many people and ecosystems they impact. Beekeeping is a true commitment and you don’t want to enter that relationship without knowing as much as possible.
Before you decide to get bees, buy bee supplies or do anything else – it’s time to buckle down and learn about them. If you’re a reader, I highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees. This will give you all the knowledge of the basics about bee biology, history, tools and hive equipment, safety, a bee’s life, and managing a bee colony. A simple blog post or two or three cannot teach you everything you need to know before you become a beekeeper.
I know not everyone likes to read, but if there ever was a time to spend time reading, this is it. If you’re not a reader, take a few online classes or spend an entire beekeeping season mentoring with an experienced beekeeper. If possible, do all three of these things. Due to my remote location, I was unable to have a beekeeping mentor, but luckily I joined a beekeeping association that was two hours away. I went to meetings and met other beekeepers who I found I could call and ask questions to as I went through the journey. I also read as much as I could get my hands on and took classes online. My first year wasn’t the best, but no one’s first year will be. However, I feel I can confidently say that I did everything I could to keep those bees going. Now I’ve learned a few other tricks of the trade as time has gone on and I have a much better understanding of how our exact climate changes my interactions with my bees.
In addition to learning as much as possible about bees before you get them, you need to look into your local laws about beekeeping. It’s integral that you find out if you’re allowed to have them in your backyard and what the rules are surrounding that. How far do they need to be from your property line? How many hives can you have? The laws will be different from one country to the next, from each state to the next (in the US), and from each local municipality to the next (city to outside of city limits even). Do not start beekeeping without knowing the ins and outs of the laws surrounding bees. Some states will require inspections with someone from state management, others won’t. Some local areas may have more incidents with aggressive bees and won’t allow you to keep them in neighborhoods. Others will. The laws vary greatly depending on where you are at. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you can’t keep the bees you already invested in and set up in your yard.
Once you’ve learned your local laws and learned a lot about bees you can start making decisions on where they should be located on your property, how many hives you want, what to buy, and more.
When and How Can I Get Bees?
As I mentioned earlier, bees are time-sensitive. That means that it might be July and you decided you wanted to get bees, but you live in the northern hemisphere with defined seasons….well unfortunately July might be a bad time to start. Where I live, where we have distinct winters and summers, getting bees halfway through the season could be a massive disservice to those bees. Moving an established colony is not an easy process and can greatly disrupt the systems in the hive.
If it’s any time between April and December, my recommendation is to take this time to learn all about the bees first. Often you have to order bees pretty far in advance (December/January/February) in order to receive them by late April/May. That means you need to be educated and financially prepared to invest by the holidays every year.
In my experience, I spent much of the late summer and Fall learning about bees before deciding to get them. I put my orders in during January and spent the next four months buying my equipment and tools so I was ready for them when they arrived. It was almost a year’s investment on my time before I had the bees and was ready to start. Beekeeping is not a decision to make on a whim.
Once I had gone through the process of learning about bees and my local laws I was ready to invest. However, the hard part was figuring out where and how. You can order bees online and have them shipped to you when the time comes, or you can get them from someone through your local beekeeping association. The latter is my recommended method. Shipping bees is risky, but purchasing them through your local association is a way to not only help support the local economy but also take the responsibility of transporting the bees yourself. Many beekeeping associations will have connections to large apiaries and take orders from their members over the winter and then assist in the transport of bees in either packages or nuc forms for you to pick up and install yourself. A package of bees is essentially about three pounds of bees and a queen with no established hive resources (comb, honey, pollen, or brood). A nuc will be an established colony that comes to you with about five frames of bees that have a bit of comb, honey, pollen, or brood). Because they are already an established hive, a nuc can sometimes be easier to start out with. They will already have new bees hatching, making their starting workforce stronger, and will have resources to keep going. A package will have to start from scratch building comb and collecting resources. It may be a few weeks before your new queen starts laying eggs and you have your first baby bees helping out around the hive. Where I live, we have distinct seasons, which means our shorter warm season means starting with a nuc or established colony is always going to be more helpful for the bees. Their goal is to create as much honey as they can to survive the winter and any headstart I can give them with that is going to help immensely.
So…how do I start beekeeping?
Just remember to do three things. One, learn as much as you can about bees. Two, learn your local laws and restrictions about keeping bees. And three, prepare to invest time up front since bees have be a time-sensitive start in many parts of the world.