What do you need to know when thinking about keeping bees in your backyard?
This is a basic overview of things to consider.
- Think about it
- Learn about it
- Invest in equipment
- Install bees
- Nurture bees
- Harvest honey
- Learn more!
Step 1: Think About It - Things to Consider
Why keep honeybees?
My reasons for beekeeping are varied..
1. I LOVE honey!
2. Pollination for my fruit trees and other plants
3. Environment - help improve the honeybee population
4. Education - it's amazing how interesting bees are
5. Community - beekeepers are great people and most share their knowledge (and opinions)
Other things to keep in mind
1. Family and neighbors.. do others that live with you and near you support your beekeeping?
2. Ordinances - what are the city and county policies toward beekeeping
3. Health issues - are you or your family allergic to beestings? can you handle the physical aspects of working with heavy beehives.
4. Location - do you have a safe place for beehives
5. Expenses - how and where will you get appropriate beekeeping equipment
6. Support - are there local beekeepers or organizations to teach help you
Step 2: Learn About It - Things to Know
You will get stung.
1. In general, bees protect their hive but do not go out of their way to sting. If they sting, they die.
2. Wear protective clothing to limit exposure
3. Move smoothly, calmly and with purpose
4. If stung
- a. Flick stinger out
- b. Ice and antihistamine
- c. Watch for reactions
- !! if any breathing problems Go to Emergency!
Location of hives
1. Flight path of bees, is it toward your neighbors yard?
2. Accessibility - need to be able to work in back of hives and allow access to utilities
3. Sunlight - as much sunlight as possible facing toward the south or west with entrance exposure to sunlight
4. Drainage - keep the hive off the ground and on stands to limit predators. need water near the hives (I added a small fountain in my garden, a shallow pan with pebbles and water is great too.)
5. Vegetation - keep the grass and weeds cut around your hive, provides good ventilation and helps maintain the proper hive temperature
Take a class - Join a local beekeeping club
Watch and learn! one of the big challenges is understanding the vocabulary and knowing what to do. It can be confusing and intimidating. Check around with local beekeepers.. Beekeeping clubs are a great source of information and support!
Step 3: Equipment and Timing
There are many styles of beekeeping hives, from hollowed out trees to elaborate redwood palaces. Each has their merits, challenges and supporters. This brings up an often quoted saying "ask any three beekeepers a question and you will get at least five answers."
The basic component from top to bottom
1. Hive cover - this may be a single top or a top with an inner cover
2. Honey super - where the bees store the honey in honey frames, they can be the same height boxes as hive bodies or shorter - yum! added to hive as needed
3. Queen excluder - optional, this mesh screen keeps the queen from going into the honey supers and laying eggs
4. Hive bodies - where the queen lays her eggs and the other bees take care of her, raising the young and the multitude of tasks involved in maintaining the colony.
5. Bottom board - base of the hive, with height on the sides an back creating an entrance for the bees. Sometimes a entrance reducer is used to limit the size of opening to the hive.
Look around.. see what other local beekeepers are using. I use Langstroth beehives because of the availability of relatively universally sized equipment from several sources (in the US). Many equipment suppliers have "starter kits" that may be appropriate. Be wary of getting used hives, they may have problems that will infect your bees.
Protective clothing and other gear
Veil, Gloves, Bee suit or white shirt/pants, Socks over pant legs!
Some beekeepers work without protective gear.. not me!
Smoker - when working with bees, helps keep them calm
Hive tool - general tool to pry apart frames in the hive
Frame grip, Feeder... there are lots more but you don't need too much.
Honey bees build up their colonies in the spring. This varies depending on local climate.
Summer and fall are great time to get educated about beekeeping, observing and learning from others.
In winter, gather and assemble your gear.
In spring, get bees!...
Step 4: Where to Get Bees?
My preferred method of getting bees is capturing a local swarm. In my area south of San Francisco there are a number of wild hives in trees that swarm annually. Our local bee clubs have lists of club members who respond to calls of residents about swarms. Ask to work with one of them to learn about capturing your own swarm.
Beware if you live in areas that have Africanized honey bees. These bees are more aggressive and there may be laws prohibiting the capture of swarms.
Another option is to purchase a package of bees. My local bee club orders packages every spring.
This is a great instructable on how to Install a Colony from a Package.
You also may be able to purchase a "split" from a local beekeeper.
Check out How to Make a Nucleus Honeybee Colony
Step 5: Now What? Nurture Your Bees and Learn From Them.
This instructable is more of an overview of backyard beekeeping. For now, my best advice is to spend time learning from other beekeepers, helping them, attending club meetings and taking an intro class.
Some Basic Beekeeping Activities
- Prepare setting, hive boxes and frames
- Install Bees
- Feed sugar water
- Safe location; water
- Inspect hive, add hive bodies or supers
- Observe and learn about honeybees and activities
- Help hive remain clean and healthy
Pests and Problems - There are numerous challenges you and your honeybees face and there are many ways to address them. Some beekeepers treat with chemicals, others do not. (I don't). Each beekeeper needs to learn what works best for them.
- Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
- Bacterial Diseases
- Viral Diseases
- Pests and Parasites, wax moth, hive beetles, chalk brood are all things I have dealt with.
- Squirrels, Raccoons, Ants, Skunks
- Robbing - from other honey bees and humans!
Step 6: Honey!
Joy.. nothing is better that the sweetness of honey.
Your first year of establishing a colony of bees will yield little to no honey. The bees need the food to establish themselves. But when they do store excess honey, what a gift from nature.
I've written an instructable describing the process I use when extracting honey.
Step 7: Other Resources
As mentioned early, my best resource is fellow beekeepers.
Other places I learn from include:
1. The American Bee Journal
2. First Lessons in Beekeeping
3. Beekeeping equipment suppliers have lots of good info
- Mann Lake
4. Check out state and regional agricultural colleges - their websites have lots of good info.
- UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility
If you decide keeping a hive is not for you, support your local beekeepers by buying local honey and other products that honeybees help us create.
I'm sure beekeepers out there have many ideas and opinions to offer. Fantastic.
After seven years of beekeeping, I'm still learning..
Stay sweet, bee happy.