You have probably heard about how fast beekeeping has been rising as a hobby or even as a side-job for a lot of different people all over the country. Of course, beekeeping can also be quite beneficial to the community because of how important bees are to the ecosystem. Maybe all this talk has convinced you to want to try to become a beekeeper. So, how do you become a beekeeper?
You need to study about honey bees, how to take care of them, how to harvest honey, and everything related to honey bees. After that, buy two small colonies as a beginner and then purchase the necessary beekeeping equipment. Continue to learn by asking experts or by observing the honey bees themselves.
Starting out as a beekeeper can be a daunting task. This is especially true if you don’t know how to start out or if you know nothing about beekeeping or even the honey bees themselves. Luckily for you, we are here to help you out so that you will understand more about beekeeping and how you can become a beekeeper.
How do I start beekeeping for beginners?
Beekeeping is probably interesting enough that it has caught your attention and you are now reading this to know more about how to become a beekeeper. And well, you are right when it comes to becoming more interested in beekeeping because beekeeping is indeed quite interesting and even lucrative, to say the least. Of course, you should also know that beekeeping is beneficial to society because of how important bees are.
So, at this point, you are probably already thinking about becoming a beekeeper, but you don’t know where to begin or how to start. That’s why we are here to show you the ropes and to give you a quick guide that will surely help you learn more about how to become a beekeeper. And here is a step-by-step guide that can be quite easy to follow:
Step 1: Know whether you are allowed to become a beekeeper in your area
Believe it or not, there are some cities and towns that do not allow beekeeping for one reason or another. It could be because of an outdated law or maybe perhaps people just generally don’t like the presence of bees in the middle of a populated area. But the fact is that beekeeping may or may not be allowed in certain areas.
For example, in New York, it was only in 2010 when the beekeeping ban was lifted. Prior to that, New Yorkers were not legally allowed to keep bees in their homes in New York. However, since then, their stance on bees has become quite loose as New York has learned how beneficial bees can be to society.
Meanwhile, there are other cities that are actually very friendly to bees to the point that they promote beekeeping there. In 2013, the city of Chicago defeated a local suburban community that actually wanted to ban beekeeping. Chicago has always been friendly towards beekeepers to the point that even their mayor put up a few beehives on the city hall back in 2003.
The point here is that you should know whether or not your city or locality allows beekeeping. You can check online to see if there are ordinances against beekeeping in your location. This step is very important because everything stops here if you are not even allowed to own beehives in your city or locality.
Step 2: Know why you want to become a beekeeper
If you are allowed to become a beekeeper in your location, the next thing you need to do is to ask yourself why you wanted to become a beekeeper in the first place or why beekeeping has sparked an interest in you. This is where things start, as your reasons for beekeeping will become your source of motivation.
You could have a lot of different reasons for wanting to become a beekeeper. It could be because you have some free time on your hands and you wanted to find a hobby that is worth your while and is actually beneficial to society. For some, their reasons are more profit-oriented, which shouldn’t be a bad reason unless they are willing to do bad beekeeping practices just for profit. And for others, they just simply love bees because they know how beneficial they are to the ecosystem.
Whatever your reasons may be, they are entirely unique to you. Know why you want to become a beekeeper so that you can steer your goals towards those reasons. And always come back to your reasons when you are looking for the motivation that will allow you to move forward.
Step 3: Learn more about beekeeping
This is the most important part of the actual process of becoming a beekeeper. While you do get a lot of knowledge when you are actually already a beekeeper because experience will always be the best teacher, it will always be better for you to enter the battlefield armed with the knowledge of beekeeping. Doing so will make things easier on your part because your proverbial guns now have proverbial bullets that you can use.
In that case, the best way to arm yourself with knowledge is by reading. Read as many books about beekeeping as you can because you can never learn enough when it comes to a growing practice such as beekeeping. Try to read books with different perspectives so that you can look at the experiences of each author. Of course, knowing more about honey bees and honey at a scientific level should be a requirement when it comes to learning about the endeavor of beekeeping.
Aside from books, you can go online to read beekeeping blogs and websites that are from some reputable and experienced beekeepers so that you will learn the ins and outs of the endeavor. You can even join a beekeeping forum or a local beekeeping community so that you can talk to the different beekeepers regarding their experiences. This is where you will get to learn some neat tips and tricks that can make your life easier.
If there are online beekeeping courses that you can enroll yourself in, do so as long as you have the time and money for it. You will be hearing some of the best pointers from some of the best lecturers in the field of beekeeping. Of course, they will also help you learn more about the bees themselves and how they make honey so that you will have a better idea regarding the entire process of honey production.
Of course, if you can, it never hurts to find someone experienced enough to act as a mentor for you. Having a mentor will be like having your own Obi-Wan Kenobi because he or she will show you the ropes and give you some quick pointers that will ultimately help you learn more about the art of beekeeping.
Again, arming yourself with knowledge is crucial in the field of beekeeping. You should learn not only about the field of beekeeping but also about the bees themselves and how they make honey. It would even be better if you also get to learn more about honey so that you would know what to do with it.
And learning about bees and beekeeping should not be something that stops because it needs to be continuous as you grow in experience. No matter how successful you already are later on, you should never stop learning because there will always be new developments and discoveries in the field of beekeeping.
For me personally I love watching Jeff Horchoff over on YouTube, someone you can learn a lot from when it comes to beekeeping. So finding and subscribing to several bee related YouTubers could be a good way to learn for those that prefer visual learning 🙂
Step 4: Go and ask the neighbors
Yes, your neighbors matter when it comes to beekeeping. That’s because bees are foragers that will often travel from one garden to another in search of nectar and pollen. While bees are indeed beneficial to the ecosystem and to an entire garden of plants, not everyone will appreciate having bees around their gardens because of the very fact that there is still a chance that they will get stung by your bees.
Because of the very fact that bees will sting people when they have a reason to, your neighbors are also stakeholders that you need to talk to and ask about their opinion regarding your intention to keep bees around your house. This is important when it comes to urban and suburban communities because of how close one house is to another. However, because bees are long-range foragers, it will still matter in rural communities where one house might be further away from the next.
In this case, it is better to talk things over with your neighbors because they should know what to expect. Be ready to sweet talk them or to try to win them over as well because it might take some effort for you to try to convince them to be alright with you keeping bees around. But we recommend the old reliable nectar of friendship called honey, which you can give to them after a good harvest just to win them over to your side.
Step 5: Look for an optimal location in your property
You might not think that location matters when it comes to where you want to keep your beehives, but it actually plays a good role. That’s because most people would tell you to not keep your beehives too close to the house because of how it will make it more difficult for the bees to fly over in the direction of your house whenever they are foraging. This limits the locations they can go to when they are looking for the best spots for nectar or pollen. Of course, you don’t want bees hanging around inside your house.
Be sure to look for sunny areas because bees love it when the day is sunny and warm. But make sure to keep your bees away from windy places because their hives can easily get blown over. Of course, the best location for your hives is where they can see the sunrise because that is what will prompt them to wake up early and forage. Also, be sure to find a location that will keep them away from any sort of predator.
Step 6: Buy your beekeeping equipment and supplies
Similar to when you are about to buy a dog or any other pet, the equipment and the supplies come first before actually bringing the animal home. The same applies to bees because you want to make sure that you already have the necessary tools and equipment you will be needing for your life as a beekeeper.
There are plenty of different pieces of beekeeping equipment that you should have on your list. At the top should be your beekeeping suit, which you can purchase from a beekeeping store or make on your own as long as you also learned how to make your own beekeeping suit. The reason why the bee suit is the most important part of your beekeeping equipment is that it serves as your primary protection against the bees. You can also add the smoker near the top of your list because it is also quite helpful in keeping yourself safe from bee stings.
Some of the other beekeeping supplies that you will be needing include the following:
- Hive tool – great at prying apart bee supers and bee frames.
- Feeders – useful for whenever you want to feed sugar water to your bees instead.
- Hive outer cover – protects the bees from the elements.
- Inner cover – prevents the bees from attaching comb to the outer cover protection while also providing the necessary insulation that the bees need whenever it gets too cold.
- Shallow honey supers – this is where your bees will be storing surplus honey so that you can harvest and collect said honey. As the name suggests, these are the shallow variety. You can ‘go deep’ when you get more experienced.
- Bottom board – the stand that serves as the place where the hive needs to rest on. Always keep the bottom board off the ground by making use of bocks or bricks.
- Hive stand – the one that supports the hive so that it doesn’t rest on the ground and to keep the bottom of the hive insulated and dry during the colder seasons.
- Honey extractor – while not necessary, it allows you to easily extract your honey later on during the harvesting process.
Depending on the beekeeping equipment you will be buying and on where you are planning on getting your equipment from, you can probably incur costs of somewhere over a thousand dollars. However, you can still keep expenses somewhere close to $500 if you only buy the necessary equipment and if you try to go for the most affordable supplies.
Step 7: Buy the bees
Once you already have the necessary beekeeping equipment and supplies, it is now time for you to actually become a beekeeper by buying your bees. And this is where you will notice that you actually have a wide range of options when it comes to getting your first colony.
The easiest way for you to buy your bees is to order them as a packaged deal. This can be quite common in beekeeping communities and beekeeping conventions as they will offer you packages depending on the size of the colony that you would want to start with.
You can also get your bees from someone you know such as an experienced beekeeper who may want to sell you one of his or her colonies. This will make it easier for you to start things off because of how you know that you are working with a healthy and experienced colony.
But, if you do want to save money, you can actually try to capture a wild colony of honeybees that you found somewhere close to your locality. Capturing wild honey bees can be difficult for those who don’t know how to handle the bees yet, but it is possible and very much affordable compared to buying bees.
You may also want to try to buy an empty beehive, which you can use to try to bait nearby bees to form a new colony there. This can be a long process but, as long as you tried to learn how to bait bees into occupying an empty hive, you will be able to get your bees basically for free or for the price of the empty hive, which should be a lot more affordable than an actual colony.
Whatever method you may want to use, the important thing here is that you now have your first bee colony. But we do recommend that you start off with at least two bee colonies. The reason is that beginners are bound to make mistakes and may end up getting frustrated when their one and only colony ends up dying. However, if you have two colonies, your chances of success will increase because the likelihood of both colonies dying will decrease.
Step 8: Watch and inspect your bees
This is where the actual beekeeping job comes in because you are now a beekeeper who is tending and watching your bees. As long as you have studied prior to becoming a beekeeper and as long as you did your homework, you should already know how to properly watch and inspect your bees.
Watching and inspecting bees involves observing what they are doing and how healthy and active they are. Your job here is not to take care of the bees, but to give them the optimal conditions that will allow them to take care of themselves. And as long as you did the necessary preparations, your bees will be just fine as they forage to look for nectar on a daily basis.
Also, part of watching and inspecting bees is observing the queen and how she is doing. If you are already experienced enough, you will be able to quickly pick the queen out and try to inspect her health. Look for the tell-tale signs of a healthy queen whenever you are inspecting the queen.
At this point, it is all about gaining experience as you tend to your bees. Simply observe them and what they are doing and how well they are doing will be more than enough for you as a beekeeper because bees are actually great at taking care of themselves.
Step 9: Prepare for harvesting
It is unlikely that you will get a huge harvest of honey in your first year as a beekeeper, but you should still prepare for it. That’s because you need to earn some experience not only in terms of beekeeping but also when it comes to collecting, extracting, and harvesting your honey. Doing so in your first year will make it easier for you to know how to properly harvest honey when you do manage to get a good flow of nectar from your beehives.
Step 10: Prepare for the winter
If you did your homework, you should know that the winter is when bees tend to “hibernate” by staying dormant inside their hives because the weather is too gloomy and cold for them. So, while your bees will naturally keep themselves inside their hives as winter is approaching, your job here is to prepare them for the winter by providing their hives with enough insulation. Doing so will ensure that you keep casualties at a minimum so that your bee colonies will be healthy and thriving once spring arrives.
What are the requirements of beekeeping?
For those who are looking to start out as beekeepers, what you need to know is that there are no specific requirements that are mandated for you aside from having your own bee colony. The pieces of equipment that we mentioned are simply necessities, which means that they are needed if you want to succeed as a beekeeper. Still, they are technically not requirements because you can still become a beekeeper even if you don’t have any beekeeping equipment.
However, depending on where you live, there might be specific legal requirements that you need to meet first if you want to become a beekeeper. For example, in New York, you need to register your hive first. But that is just a legal requirement since you still are a beekeeper if you have a beehive. Complying with the law is only for legal purposes and will not hinder you from calling yourself a beekeeper.
How much does it cost to get started in beekeeping?
To say that beekeeping can be expensive is an understatement because you won’t be able to start out as a beekeeper without shelling out a good sum of money. After all, beekeeping is just like any endeavor in the sense that it requires an initial investment on your part. However, the initial investment can vary depending on where you get your bees from and on the equipment you got.
For example, the size of the bee colony will determine the cost of your first colony. Depending on where you got your bees and on how you got them, you may end up spending somewhere between $100 and $200. Of course, you can get your bees for free but we do not recommend that you do so.
Next, in terms of the beekeeping equipment that you will be needing, the breakdown is as follows:
Beehive – $120 to $200
Hive tool – $7 to $12
Brush – $6 to $10
Smoker – $30 to $40
Beekeeping suit – $40 to $200
So, depending on the brand and quality and on the different beekeeping equipment that you will buy at the start, you could possibly spend somewhere close to $500. And if you do buy more pieces of equipment such as a honey extractor and all of the other useful supplies for the hive, you may end up spending close to a thousand bucks. However, it still is possible to spend about $200 on your beekeeping equipment as long as you know the most affordable necessities to buy.
Of course, you may need to spend a few bucks on beekeeping resources such as books, classes, and tutorials. But if you want to learn for free, you can watch some videos on YouTube instead. Still, we do recommend that you read books and take some classes if you want to enrich yourself with the best beekeeping knowledge.
So, in total, you could be seeing a total initial investment of at least $400. But that is already somewhere close to the bare minimum. As such, if you are willing to buy the best and most expensive bees and equipment, you could possibly spend well over a thousand dollars or even close to $2,000. It is needless to say that beekeeping can be quite expensive at the start but you will soon find that the expenses won’t pile up later on due to how sustainable beekeeping is.
Is it hard to become a beekeeper?
Now, if you are wondering if it is hard to become a beekeeper, well, the life of a beekeeper certainly isn’t easy because there are a lot of different things you need to consider when you are working with bees.
Physically, you have to be fit, strong, and ready to take on the pains of a life of a beekeeper. That’s because honey supers and certain equipment need you to be strong and healthy enough due to the physical rigors that come with using them. Of course, you will be spending hours inside a hot beekeeping suit under the heat of the sun while you are working with bees. And let’s not forget how painful a bee sting can get.
Then there is the painful process of waiting for the next harvest so that you can get your returns on your initial investment. Don’t expect to earn a profit in the first two years of your life as a beekeeper, and that can be quite difficult because you would want to see some progress as far as your balance sheet is concerned.
In terms of time, a few hives won’t end up eating a ton of your free time but, the more hives you add to your apiary, the more time you need to spend as a beekeeper. And you also have to invest time in learning more about beekeeping.
In short, beekeeping can be hard but it certainly isn’t something you would end up dreading as long as you learn to love it. It’s not an easy endeavor, but it’s something that you will get used to. In that sense, it is quite worth it.
How much land do I need to keep bees?
In terms of the space that your bees need, you will be happy to know that beehives don’t need a ton of space. A single hive should be able to do well with a five-feet radius of vertical and horizontal clearance because your bees need some space to fly and your hive will need some space to grow as well. Meanwhile, it might be good to space your hives a few feet apart from one another if you want to make sure that you have enough space to move around while you are working with your hives.
Moreover, the more hives you have, the larger your land should be. In that case, the land you need for your apiary is totally up to you. If you want a large apiary with at least 20 hives, you should be looking at a pretty large plot of land but not entirely large because it is alright for you to place plenty of hives in a single apiary as long as they don’t exceed 35 hives.
However, backyard beekeepers with about a handful of hives can already do well with their entire backyard space. In that sense, those who are not looking to try to keep dozens of hives don’t need a huge plot of land exclusively for their beehives because your backyard will be more than enough.
But in terms of the actual land that your bees need, just make sure that there are available resources such as flowering plants within a three-mile radius from where their hives are. This allows them to find the optimal spots to collect their nectar from.