Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby that is enjoyed by thousands of people across the world. Beekeepers come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Almost anyone can become a beekeeper and you can keep bees almost anywhere.
Are you considering embarking on the road to becoming a beekeeper? If so, you are in for an exciting adventure. But before you rush out to buy your first hive of bees, here are some important things you need to consider.
Examine Your Beekeeping Goals
Beyond the idea of having a box of bees living in your backyard (a rather cool idea in itself), what do you hope to accomplish as a beekeeper?
Do You Want to Produce Honey?
Do you have a desire to produce honey for your family? A couple of healthy hives in a good location will produce enough honey for most family needs. It is difficult to give an estimate of how much excess honey a bee colony will produce in one season.
In honey production there are many variables – the size of the bee colony, the health of the work force, weather conditions (too much rain or wind and bees can’t fly), availability of nectar for the bees to collect, etc.
All of these conditions play a role in how much excess honey one beehive can produce. The length of the growing season in your region is also a major factor in yearly honey production.
Is Bee Pollination Your Goal?
It is no secret that honey bees are good pollinators. The fact that these little fuzzy winged creatures live in large colonies with thousands of workers is what makes them suitable for crop pollination.
Just a couple of beehives will provide enough pollination to increase crop yield in your vegetable garden or small backyard orchard.
A Look Inside the World of the Bee
Maybe you feel as I did and just want to have the experience of keeping bees. Honey bees are the only insect in the world that produces food for human consumption. The bee colony is a social organism with a high degree of job sharing and focus on community goals.
Thousands of female worker bees who will never have babies or their own, work together to care for the young of the hive.
Worker bees, who function as guards for the hive, create an impressive defense at the colony entrance. They do this even though their lives may be lost when protecting the hive.
A honey bee colony has a lot of lessons to share. If you are a lucky beekeeper, you will have the chance to experience several of them in your years with bees.
How Many Beehives Do You Need?
In beekeeping, how many hives we need and how many we want are not always the same number. How many hives does a new beekeeper need? I encourage you to start with two or three hives. This gives you a large enough number of hives to share resources and observe the differences between them.
Doesn’t more hives mean more honey? Yes, sometimes it does. However, four strong healthy hives can produce more excess honey than 10 weak, sickly hives. More is not always better.
Is Beekeeping a Hobby or Business Adventure for You?
Whether you intend to become a hobby beekeeper or develop a beekeeping business, planning is key. The basics of bee care will be rather similar because the basic needs of bees are the same.
However, your approach to beekeeping will be different if you plan to run a business. Hive management techniques are different for a commercial beekeeper with 2,000 hives versus a backyard beekeeper with two hives.
In terms of business documents, a beekeeping business of any size requires a system for keeping track of expenses and paying taxes.
Pay special attention to the laws in your state governing the sale of honey. Some states are very understanding about the desire of small beekeepers wanting to sell a few jars of honey.
Others, take a rather hard-nosed approach to the sale of any food item – even raw honey. Contact your state Department of Agriculture for the latest information.
Learning How to Keep Bees
Beekeeping is not a “one and done” educational event. Yes, you can learn the basic of bee biology in a short amount of time. The simple needs of the honey bee do not change much over time.
However, the world our bees live in does change. A successful beekeeper endeavors to keep up-to- date on any changes that can affect the bees.
Learn everything you can about bees. Join a local beekeeping association and talk with locals. No one else will have better knowledge about the local food plants and weather conditions than they will.
Read several of the most popular beekeeping books. Cover all the basics of beekeeping equipment, hive management, bee swarming etc. Strive to become an expert – even though you will never know it all.
Take a couple of beekeeping courses in person or an online bee class. Beekeepers are full of opinions and that can be frustrating. However, you will learn different things from different people – take advantage of that opportunity.
Successful beekeeping does not just happen on its own. Most of us work very hard to become the best beekeepers possible. And yes, we still have failures. We work with bees; we do not control them.