Five Reasons to Become a Beekeeper
- The European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, is not a native species to North America. There are 20,000 species of bees, but the honey bee is unique because colonies can survive from year to year. With the relentless, destructive onslaught of the disease-carrying mite, Varroa destructor, wild honey producing bees don't stand a chance of surviving on their on for more than a season or two. This is why careful beekeepers take steps to prevent swarming and losing bees to the great outdoors.
- Are you a fan of fresh fruits and vegetables? All of our native pollinators are important to the balance of our eco-system, but man domesticated honey bees because it became understood that more bees buzzing around the blossoms of your apple trees meant more apples to harvest come fall. Honey bees are directly responsible for the fruit sets of one out of every three bites of fresh food we eat. This is true around the world, not just in the U.S.
- Are you a fan of natural beauty? Honey bees also pollinate maple trees, linden trees, tulip poplars, producing honey varietals with distinct flavors as pleasing to the sense as a good wine.
- Honey bee society -- the internal functioning inside a hive -- along with the tasks honey bees perform in our world as they humbly go about their business gathering nectar and pollen to feed their small cities of 40-50 thousand inhabitants -- is an inspiring example of cooperation, unity in collective action, and generosity. Honey bees have information about how to live together in harmony; a lesson people have yet to learn. True, honey bees have been evolving for 27 million years so bees have had much more time benefit from nature's wisdom in selection of successful biological species.
- Your own supply of raw honey! If we can't appreciate the importance of these buzzy, fuzzy miracle workers whose presence in our world only makes the world a more enjoyable place for us humans, if we can't consciously choose to protect this unique species of intelligent insects that can count (1) as thanks for feeding us, how are we going to successfully tackle the full array of environmental challenges we've created for ourselves? We all have to take a first step. Remember the time between everything being used many times (before plastic) and when we woke up to the fact that there wasn't enough land to accommodate our human waste stream? Think back -- can you remember a world without blue recycling bins? Well, thirty years ago, recycling bins hadn't been invented yet. Education, advocacy and the need for conservation easily turned me into a faithful recycler. How about you? Now recycling is taken for granted with most folks and all municipalities recycling waste. Recycling is a learned behavior and a big step in becoming conscious stewards of the earth, not a tradition brought to Plymouth Rock with the first European settlers. Beekeeping is a tradition European settlers brought to the New World in North America, honey, chock-full of important health supporting enzymes and micro-nutrients was the only natural sweetener available before industrialized production of cane sugar. Prized by chefs and home cooks alike, honey is a wonderful substitute for sugar adding nuanced flavor to many dishes, sauces and deserts.
Welcome to the Amazing World of Beekeeping!
Find a local beekeeping club in your community. Attend a meeting. Introduce yourself. Be curious, ask questions, make friends with a beekeeper and express your interest in learning more about beekeeping. When you set up your first colony, you are going to want a beekeeping buddy to help you recognize what is happening in your colony.
Take a beekeeping class. Join a beekeeping club and your state's beekeeping association. You will have a universe of information at your fingertips! Make sure you are not allergic to bee stings
Use your local library, Amazon, YouTube and NetFlix to provide historical, cultural, craft, and scientific context to beekeeping. Spend time with a beekeeping buddy who already has more than one hive and has been successfully keeping bees for at least two years.
Decide what kind of hive style best suits your interest in keeping bees. If you're going into beekeeping for honey production rather than for benefit of keeping honey bee populations alive and healthy, you will like choose a stacking box hive style. If you are going to keep bees for sake of the bees, you will likely choose to buy or make a top bar hive. I have invented a hybrid hive combining the best features of both of these styles. I would love you to have a Melissa Hive!
Buy or make your equipment in fall or winter. Go online & do some research. Compare prices. Get some bee supply company catalogs. I do business with Walter. T. Kelly, Brushy Mountain, and have generous male & female friends who will custom make items that I design. I do not recommend purchasing any sort of plastic hive or using plastic molded foundation in your hives. Bees do not like plastic! I told you they are smart. I have used plastic frames. I have bought nucleus hives from beekeepers who use plastic frames. As soon as I can migrate my bees from plastic to wax foundation to comb they build on their own, this is what happens. Paint your hive (s) or add some form of weather proofing to exterior surfaces only. Order your bees, preferably an overwintered nucleus hive which you can purchase from a beekeeper in your area. Be prepared to spend $300 - $500 to have everything you need. Attend a package demonstration through your beekeeping association or have your beekeeping buddy commit to be available when you have your bees and are ready to hive them. Register with your state -- every state's beekeeping regulations are different but beekeepers should know who the state apiarist is in the event they really need help with disease and pest issues.
Supplies & Equipment
- a hive or hives -- two hives starting out is better than one -- you can always combine bees in one hive if start up becomes a challenge
- protective gear, at least a bee veil to start out; gloves and full beekeeping suits are optional and only you can make this judgment call
- smoker, matches or a long neck lighter, fuel for your smoker (pressed cotton, packing newsprint with no ink on it), empty toilet paper & paper towel rolls)
- water mst sprayer, bottle sprayer for sugar solution (calms the bees when you go into their colonies)
- 25 - 50 pounds of granulated sugar; starter pkgs of bees/new colonies need food to generate wax for their brood nest
- Honey B Healthy
- Small Hive Beetle traps that will fit into your chosen beehive
- organic essential oils: thyme, wintergreen, lemon balm, tea tree ( I add 1 drop to every batch of sugar syrup that is fed to my bees)
- hive tool; I recommend ordering two different types to start
- a copy of First Lessons in Beekeeping, Natural Beekeeping, Toward Saving the Honey Bee, Practical Beekeeper, The Honey Bee:Inside Out. There are hundreds of books available, but keeping these on hand will help you over any rough spots
- start recycling glass spaghetti sauce jars or big pickle jars -- these make handy sugar syrup feeders
- a serrated bread knife and a pair of kitchen tongs (cutting away cross comb & reaching into the hive to pick up bits of wax)