Lately, it seems like everyone I meet wants to get into backyard beekeeping. Maybe it’s the popularity of the Flow Hive that enticed this new wave of would-be beekeepers or maybe it’s the headlines about bee die-offs. If you’ve been thinking about getting bees, but haven’t taken the plunge yet, read on to find out exactly what you’re in for!
1. Beekeeping is more complicated than you think.
Despite what you might have heard, seen or even read, beekeeping is not easy. A lot of potential beekeepers have the notion that setting up a beehive is akin to setting up a birdhouse. I’d say it’s more like having a vegetable garden… a vegetable garden that can attack you when you make it unhappy. It takes a tremendous amount of research to be a successful beekeeper and no matter how many books you read or classes you take, you will probably still fail and make mistakes in your first few years. The problem is losing an entire colony of bees is much more demoralizing than when you lose your tomato crop. Beekeeping takes patience and a thick skin (in more ways than one)!
2. It’s an expensive hobby.
You might be surprised to find out how costly beekeeping is. When you total up all the woodenware, bee suit, tools and bees, you are looking at a big initial investment. Expect to spend over $500 to get started and that’s with just one hive. I recommend you start with two hives! (See number 9 on my list of 10 Mistakes New Beekeepers Make for why.) Not to mention the ongoing costs: you will at some point need more supers, honey harvesting equipment and likely a queen bee here and there. If you want to get into beekeeping to save money on honey, you are in for a rude surprise.
3. It’s not always fun.
I love beekeeping. I get to spend my days in the sun, playing with insects and covered in dirt. When I am working my hives, I often fall into a peaceful trance. I think standing in the center of a swirling swarm is one of my favorite things in life—but I have also lost the use of my hand for three days because of the swelling from a sting. I have angered my hive and legitimately feared for a neighbor’s life. I have cried over dead bees. I have wrestled with guilt and sorrow after accidentally squishing a queen. My point is: beekeeping is full of highs and lows.
4. It’s physically demanding.
There is hard physical labor involved in working your hives. Bees and especially honey are HEAVY. You will be lifting boxes, soaked in sweat and baking in the sun. I have been told, though my youthful ears regret to listen, that back problems are inevitable for life-long beekeepers. Of course, there are some workarounds for this. Using smaller boxes (mediums) or 8-frame boxes or both can help. Top Bar Hives are an even better way to evade heavy lifting, but you will still get sweaty.
5. It will change your perspective.
Beekeeping transformed my world view. I am so much more aware of my environment now. I know what flowers are blooming and when. I pay much more attention to weather patterns. I’m hyper-conscious of what chemicals my neighbors are using. I think more about where my food came from and wonder about the bees that pollinated it. I have learned so much about native bees when before I indifferent to them. I believe beekeeping connects people to the world they live in and inspires them to make positive change to improve that world.