beekeeping 101

  • Are you fascinated by the honeybee?
  • Do you have access to a bit of land? Anything over about 20 feet by 20 feet will do just fine.
  • Are you interested in reaping the benefits of a well-pollinated, seasonally rounded garden?
  • Do you have a spare hour every two weeks or so?
  • Do you have a sweet tooth for honey?

And, last but not least…

  • Can you check off the “no” box on the doctor’s information form that asks “Are you allergic to bees”?

If you can answer yes to these questions – any or all of them – then beekeeping might just “bee” the thing for you.

I first became interested in honeybees while studying anthropology in college a few years ago. The social structure of the honeybee is unlike any other living organism and the level of organization, community and work ethic is second to none. Inside the hive, they are truly remarkable creatures. Outside the hive, they are both critically beneficial and incredibly fascinating to study.

After graduating from college, I enrolled in a six-week course at a honeybee learning centre just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was an intense learning environment and it only fueled my interest and determination to bring honeybees into my life.

That next spring I jumped in headfirst and haven’t turned my back on them since. For the past seven years, I have enjoyed keeping bees at my homestead in northwest Washington. And, through trials and tribulations have managed to keep the honeybee a sacred part of my life and that of my family.

But, back to you and keeping YOUR bees…

1 – First things first – Read up on honeybees. Get familiar with the terms and the level of time involved. Start to understand the basics and what you will be tackling when you make the commitment.

My absolute favorite book on beekeeping goes by a somewhat embarrassing moniker, but it’s loaded with quality information that is presented in an easy-to-follow format – whether you are a complete novice or well-practiced beekeeper.

Beekeeping For Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Kim Flottum

The second and third book worth taking a peek at are Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad & Gary Nabhan and The Backyard Beekeeper – Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden by Kim Flottum.

Still ready to keep going? Good, because you’re gonna have fun!

2 – Find your local beekeeper’s association and check it out. And, if you are lucky enough to find one or get to a meeting and meet one – try, try, try to hook up with a mentor that you can observe in the field and go to with question after concern after inquiry.

3 – Get your ducks, er bees, in a row. Find that plot of land to keep your hives. Order your gear through a local supplier or a number of online retailers including Mann Lake and Glory Bee. Start-up cost for one single hive and all brand-new gear is going to be about $200 to $300. Be on the lookout for used beekeeping gear (hat, suit, smoker, etc…) but, be wary of used equipment (hive boxes, frames, tools). Hive parts can harbor diseases and parasites that may have infected the previous colony and transfer over to your new, healthy bees.

4 – Scout out sources for acquiring your bees. A box of bees is going to run you about $80 and a nucleus colony is around $100.

  • Order them online through a retailer of choice
  • Get in with your local beekeeper’s association and join in on their group order
  • For the brave at heart – capture a swarm (a.k.a. FREE BEES!!)

5 – Enroll in a formal course. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, check out the Honeybee Centre in Surrey, B.C., Canada. Otherwise, you can check out your nearest university and ask to speak with their agriculture department. Most state universities offer extension courses at the very least, but a number of them have an apiculturist on staff, too!

Well, if you know you aren’t planning on keeping honeybees, thank you for sticking with me and reading the past 600 words. The next bit pertains to those interested in welcoming honeybees into the garden and providing a safe haven for an endangered insect.
The past five years have seen an enormous decline in honeybee colonies.

The honeybee population is vanishing at an apocalyptic rate and keepers are opening the hives in spring to find them empty. The fate of the honeybee is particularly worrisome when considering that over one-third of the food on our table is the direct result of honeybee pollination.

So, even if you aren’t interested or can’t keep honeybees, you would doing a world of good to educate yourself on how to help keep them relatively safe and enjoy the benefits of their industrious work ethic.

How can you help?

Keep that garden natural – a bonus for the honeybee, your home, your health and your environment! Avoid pesticides at all costs and work with natural, environmentally friendly products. Or, embrace the weeds.

Try to have a variety of flowers and plants in your yard that are in bloom all year round. Think early spring to harvest time – work with the dandelions in April and finish with some sedum in late fall.

Get those wasps. Wasps are carnivores that feed on honeybees. A hive can be severely incapacitated by a wasp attack and the only evidence for the keeper is the body remnants after wasps have dissected the abdomens of the bees. Wasp queens are all that live over winter and are responsible for starting the entire hive on their own come spring. So, each wasp you kill in late winter or early spring (you know those sneaky slow movers that come out of the wood pile?) is one wasp hive down. An affordable and effective organic bait for wasps is half orange juice/half water in any sort of trap. If you use a sugar bait – you are going to be killing honeybees, too (a big no-no).

Host a hive.  Contact your local beekeeping association and let them know you are interested in hosting a hive.  Your provide the land and an experienced beekeeper provides and cares for the bees and gives you a portion of the honey harvest for your support and participation.  Can you say win-win?!

Keeping bees is a wonderful hobby, but is understandably not for everyone. Even if honeybees are not an integral part of your life, they can find nectar and pollen from organic sources in your yard.

Give beekeeping a whirl – it’s truly a delightful pastime and a special stewardship to the honeybee.

For a guest post I did on beekeeping: Beekeeping 101

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2 Responses to beekeeping 101

  1. jenny who heats with wood says:

    we have a bit of land and i have a bit of a honey habit. it seems like a fit.
    perhaps this year i shall start to figure it out, and i’m a couple of degrees from a few local beekeepers in my corner of WA so i know who to start asking. thanks for the 101 jumpstart, i’ll check out what they have at the library!

  2. Great getting started article. I would also suggest purchasing some honey bottles. We are local, located in Kent and are a manufacturer of plastic honey bottles. (http://www.aaronpackaging.com)

    Have a great day!

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