The Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping
Beekeeping at home is an increasingly popular hobby for many nature enthusiasts who especially enjoy raw, unfiltered honey. Now, one might ask—how the heck do you learn how to start beekeeping?? At least, that’s the question I found myself asking recently. While starting any new project can be a whirlwind of information overload, like anything in life, once you begin to seek out the information that you need, the task becomes less overwhelming. I chatted with Adam Hickman, beekeeper and owner of Foxhound Bee Company, located in Birmingham, Alabama to get a glimpse into the life of a professional beekeeper and obtain advice from a pro on how beginners can break into beekeeping at home.
Where To Start
You have to do your research. This may seem like a boring point to make, but before you add any beekeeping material to your online shopping cart, be sure to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible about your new-bee (pun intended) interest. This includes reading books on the subject (you may even hit up your local library!) and gathering as much bee care-related content online. Hickman recommends that you find a local beekeeping club where you can meet other beekeepers and learn the jargon. Hickman says, “It’s best to actually get into a hive and see what people are doing.” When you meet other keepers, it’s okay to ask if you can shadow them on their next visit to or harvest of their boxes.
If you are looking to get into beekeeping as a hobby, chances are that you want to house the bees in your backyard. Before you do that, make sure that your backyard has an adequate amount of space for the bees to fly in and not disturb your home or your neighbors. Hickman advises new enthusiasts to give their neighbors a courtesy call alerting them to their interest in hosting a hive. You want to ensure that no one in a neighbor’s household has bee allergies, and you’ll want to prevent the bees from swarming into your neighbor's space by making sure your property is large enough. There should be at least a 20-foot distance between the hive and your neighbor’s property line. You will also need to check your city’s codes and regulations to verify that beekeeping is allowed, and ensure that you follow the proper protocols.
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Equipment and Tools
When it comes down to the numbers your initial investment into beekeeping can range from $500 to $1,000. This will include the boxes that house the bees, the actual bees, a protective suit with hood and gloves, a smoker, and hive tool. Once you’ve adequately prepared, you can purchase a “nuc,” which is a bee colony that includes the queen bee and worker bees. You’ll want to place your bee order before spring hits, around January, and have them ready to ship/pick-up as soon as the weather warms up. Hickman recommends that you start with two hives as opposed to one. In your first season of keeping bees, your goal is to maintain the bees long enough for them to survive their first winter months in your care. There's a possibility that one hive will die and by having two, you won’t completely lose out on your investment.
When To Start
The spring months are the best time to start your hives. In March, April, or May you should be equipped with a wealth of knowledge, your starter boxes, and your bees. At this point, the bees will have awoken from their winter hibernation and be ready to get moving. Starting in the spring gives the bees enough time to build a strong sustainable hive. The bees will begin to gather nectar in the spring, and that nectar is ultimately processed into honey later in the summer and fall months. Depending on the climate in which you are located, if flowers and plants are late to bloom in the season, you may have to feed your bees a sugar syrup (1:1 sugar water ratio) to sustain them until more flowers and plants come into bloom so that they are able to feed themselves. If you live in warmer climates, this doesn’t tend to be a problem; however, you should keep a watchful eye on the changing temperatures all the same.
Don’t plan on harvesting gallons of golden honey in your first year. Remember, your main goal is to keep the bees alive and come to understand how they operate. The bees will need time to build up enough honey to have excess that can be harvested. You won’t have much control over the flavor profile of your honey because bees would have pulled nectar from a variety of flowers within a 3-mile radius of the hive. Thus, you will begin to develop a palate for the varying flavors of honey that you will potentially produce.
It’s not unheard of to harvest honey on your first attempt at keeping bees, but do not be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Keeping bees is a lot like farming; you have to plant the seed and allow the plant to grow before it bears any fruit or vegetables. Stay dedicated, and you will build increasing momentum with each season. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, when the bees do better, I do better,” says Hickman. By the time next spring rolls around, you should be overflowing with honey to harvest and enjoy.