All over the world there are people who practice beekeeping for both pleasure and profit. It is a good thing they do. Honeybees are a fragile species that have struggled quite a bit in recent years. The efforts of professional and amateur beekeepers is one of the things helping them survive while science tries to figure out why they are struggling.
This guide is intended to give you an introduction to beekeeping as a hobbyist. If you are thinking about setting up some hives of your own, make sure to educate yourself first. There is a lot more to beekeeping than simply buying some hives, stocking them with bees, and collecting honey every once in a while.
It is also good idea to take a few beekeeping classes if they are available near where you live. One or two classes could make a real difference in helping you produce thriving hives that turn over year after year. And of course, network with other beekeepers too. There is something to be said about years of experience. It can teach you things you will never learn in a classroom.
1. Your Reasons for Becoming a Beekeeper
The first thing may seem a bit obvious, but it is lost on a lot of new hobbyists. I recommend first sitting down and seriously pondering why it is you want to start keeping bees. While there is no right or wrong motivation here, whatever motivates you will partially determine your course of action.
Assuming you intend beekeeping to be just a hobby for as long as you do it, you do not necessarily have to approach it as a business venture. You are not worried about making money, so you’re also not going to put a lot of time into things like advertising and marketing. As far as spending money goes, you expect your hobbies to cost something. You are not necessarily worried about turning a profit.
On the other hand, your strategies will be different if you are intending to make beekeeping a business in the future. You will have to invest a lot more money at that point. You’ll also have to look into licensing, insurance, and any other things that pertain to running a business where you live.
2. Legal Implications
Beekeeping in most urban and suburban areas is restricted by certain regulations. So the next thing you need to know are the legal implications of your new hobby. There may be very few restrictions where you live. On the other hand, there may be so many restrictions that beekeeping is just not viable for you.
In the U.S., regulations governing beekeeping are issued at the state and local level. Check with your state agriculture department and then whatever department in your county is responsible for business activities. You may need a license depending on where you live.
In Canada and most parts of Europe, your best bet is to start with your local council. Check with whatever agency regulates small business activity. If they cannot help you, they can at least point you to the right agency. Beekeepers in South America, Africa, and Asia should go to their local authorities for information.
3. Startup Costs
There will be certain startup costs associated with your new activity. I provide a more detailed guide elsewhere on my site listing all the things you will need to invest in. For the purposes of this guide though, know that you are going to be spending a good amount of money to get started.
You will be investing in either starter hives or bee kits and empty hives. You will be purchasing a lengthy list of tools of the trade including a bee suit and a hive scraper. Take a couple of hours and figure out exactly what it is going to cost you based on your current plans. If it’s too much, consider scaling back the number of hives you plan to start with. You can also scale up if you can afford more.
Also be aware that your startup costs will be greater if you’re beekeeping is intended to grow into a business. You should plan to be able to fund your enterprise for a minimum of six months, though some experts say you should be prepared with up to two years’ worth of funding. Also understand that you are probably not going to turn a profit for at least a couple of years.
4. Where You Are Going to Locate Your Hives
Beehives need to be located in key spots if they are to thrive. This is something else I have detailed in other guides. Before you purchase anything, figure out where on your property you intend to set things up. Keep in mind water sources, food sources, available sunlight, and so forth.
Also be cognizant of your neighbors – especially if you are in an urban or suburban area. Locating hives too close to neighbor property could lead to disputes you really don’t want to have. Furthermore, you do not want neighbors already uneasy about bees being made even more anxious by your hives. You certainly do not want children playing around the hives either.
Proximity to neighbors will not be a big deal if you live out in the country. But there may be other concerns. Is your chosen location exposed to high winds on a regular basis? Do you also practice any kind of agriculture on your property? Does your property see a lot of foot traffic? These are all things that have to be considered in relation to hive placement.
5. How Much Time You Have to Invest
A lot of people mistakenly think that beekeeping is easy. They assume that because bees thrive by themselves in nature, they do not need a lot of attention in a more controlled setting. That is not true. In fact, ignoring your hives is an open door to collapse as a result of disease, lack of food, and so forth.
You should plan to spend at the very least one hour per week per hive. This is time spent checking on hives, cleaning, harvesting honey, making repairs, keeping records, and so forth. If you are planning on keeping more than just one or two hives, you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time making sure the bees are happy and safe.
Also note that you may not be able to take any time off depending on where you live. If you are in a climate that sees winter temperatures cold enough to send bees into hibernation, you will have the winter season off. But if you live in a warmer climate, beekeeping could be a year-round enterprise. You will need to find someone to look after your hives if you want to take some time away.
6. How Your Family Feels about Bees
This next item is something that a lot of new beekeepers fail to address until problems arise. I encourage you to learn how your family feels about bees before you set up shop. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the last thing you want is a terrified spouse or children who don’t trust your bees no matter how many times you reassure them there’s nothing to worry about.
The second reason to consult with your family is as simple as nature itself: at some point, you are going to get ill enough that you will not be able to tend to the bees. You might also be in an accident someday. You might have to be away for work, a family emergency, or something else that keeps you from tending to your bees for a couple of weeks. That means you will be relying on family members to pick up the slack. It is not going to work if they hate bees.
7. The Difference Between Starter Hives and Kits
There are two ways to get started as a new beekeeper. The first is to buy starter hives. They are more expensive, but you get both the hive and a thriving colony all in one fell swoop. If you buy a bee kit, what you are getting is a queen along with an army of workers or drones. You set up vacant hives before introducing the bees to them.
The differences between the two options can have an effect on your budget. So this goes back to estimating the cost of getting started. It also might influence your decision in another way: you may prefer starter hives if you know nothing about establishing new hives from scratch. At least starter hives are already going when you get them. The hardest part is moving the hives to your location.
8. Common Enemies to Beekeeping
You will probably find yourself fighting some of the common enemies to beekeeping from day one. As such, it is probably best to learn what those enemies are up front. Your hives may be targeted by certain pests, like mites for example. Your hives might be subject to excessive wind if you live in an environment conducive to windy conditions.
Knowing what you will be up against will make it easier for you to develop strategies for protecting your bees. So learn about natural pests, weather-related problems, bee diseases, and so forth. There is plenty of information on my website and online.
9. Basic Bee Behavior
Finally, all potential beekeepers should learn at least the basics of bee behavior before they get started. Honeybees are considered docile insects and not a major threat to human beings. In most cases, honeybees will leave you alone unless they perceive you as a threat to the hive.
Learning basic bee behavior will help you better understand what is going on in your hives. You will learn to identify clues that could indicate when a hive may not be in good health. You will understand spring swarming and what constitutes signs of aggression. All this knowledge will help you be a better beekeeper.
You’ll be happy to know that there is plenty of information about basic bee behavior found online. As you are researching, pay attention to the various species of bees found in the general area where you live. Though honeybees are pretty predictable around the world, there may be some regional variations that apply mainly to the bees you will be keeping.
Beekeeping can be a rewarding experience on many levels. Hopefully this guide hasn’t scared you away from what could be a wonderful hobby or business for you. The point here was just to help you understand some of the things you need to know before you get started. Now that you know, get out there and start educating yourself.