We explain how to start beekeeping and how to start a beehive. There’s lots to know before starting this exciting homesteading hobby.
In addition to soil and water, bees are a major part of our global food production. They are essential to farming and backyard gardening. They play a significant part in keeping our food production up and running.
What’s more, they also produce honey, which, for us, is reason enough to learn how to start beekeeping and starting beehives.
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How to Start Beekeeping
More and more people are starting to get into gardening and homesteading activities such as growing their fruits and vegetables. Others are learning to how to store food long term.
If you wish to take it to the next level, beekeeping might just be what you’re looking for. It could be a big boost to your food production too.
1. Research beekeeping
Research before you buy anything. The first step to beginning beekeeping is to research. Check out books from the library. Look up beekeeping online, and watch videos. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with beginning beekeeping before you buy anything. Take advantage of free resources.
Most beekeeping equipment is specific to this hobby, so wait before purchasing. Instead, learn all you can about keeping bees. You can check out national beekeeping associations as well as local ones in your area.
2. Check beekeeping laws in your area
Before keeping bees, it’s important to find out if there are any state, city, county, or community ordinances. Some cities require residents to receive a use permit prior to keeping an apiary. They may set a limit on the number of hives you can have.
Other examples include requiring occupied beehives to be located at least 200 feet from existing dwellings from neighboring properties.
Hives may need to be a minimum of 50 – 100 feet away from property lines, and at least 150 feet away from the street.
You will also want to consider neighbors. Having a good relationship with them means you can educate them about bees. Most important is to inform them that having bees next door will not increase the number of bees on their property. Honey bees travel far to get food. They routinely will travel three miles away from their hive. In addition, they travel high, typically 30 feet and higher.
One yard won’t have enough flowers to sustain bees. Approximately two million flowers are required for bees to make one pound of honey. In good conditions, a colony can make up to 100 pounds of honey.
It’s also important to explain honeybees get their food from plants. They don’t hunt and scavenge like yellow jackets and other insects which are attracted by sugary drinks, etc.
3. Plan to start keeping bees in the spring
In most areas, it’s best to start beehives in the spring. This will give time for the colony to settle and thrive in the warm months. This is also the time they will lay baby bees (brood). Bees also work tirelessly in the summer months to prepare for the winter. Starting in the spring gives them time to do all they instinctively do to prepare.
Use your time the summer, fall, and winter prior to learn how to start beekeeping.
4. Learn about equipment and costs
Start to research beekeeping products and equipment to get an idea about costs. You’ll also want to think about if this is something you can afford. You may need to establish a budget. Below we answer how much does it cost to start beekeeping.
While there is a lot to buy initially when starting a beehive, the good news is that most beekeeping equipment are one-time purchases. Some examples include the smoker as well as the protective gear, gloves, face covering, etc.
5. Connect with a local beekeeper or beekeeping group
Find out if there are apiarists and honey farmers in your area. Connect with them to learn about the seasonality for your area. They will likely have recommendations on where to get bees. You will learn a lot from experienced beekeepers. Also check out local beekeeping programs at a local college or university.
6. Research bees for sale
Beginning beekeepers should plan to purchase bees and not try to catch a swarm of bees.
Bearing in mind what you learned from local apiarists, research buying bees. Ask them where they bought their bees.
You have different options: packages or a nucleus colony. It’s also called nuc or a starter colony. You can order bee packages and nucleus colonies online.
However, it’s best to buy them locally when possible. The advantage to this is you will have bees that will be able to survive in your climate. They will already have adapted to it.
If you can’t find somewhere local to buy bees, then research further, and buy from someone with a climate similar to yours.
Do not just order a queen bee from someone. When starting a beehive and buying bees, your bees will come with a queen. However, in the future, should you need to replace an underperforming queen bee, you can purchase the queen separately.
Here are the differences between bee packages and nuc colonies.
You can order bee packages from breeders. They will arrive in a screened box. There will also be a syrup mixture inside which will sustain the bees while in transit.
Packages of bees sell by the pound. Oftentimes, breeders sell bees in three pound packages. There are approximately 3,500 bees per pound. This means, ordering three pounds of bees means you will get around 10,500 bees.
Packages will also include a queen bee. She will be in a separate boxed cage inside. There will also be a few worker bees inside with her to care for her.
You will be able to put the screened box into your beehive. The bees will work to release the queen once they are inside. There is a sweet matter which seals her cage. The bees will eventually eat through it to release her.
Advantages of bee packages:
- Easier to find
- Typically less expensive than a nucleus hive
- Get to establish a hive from the beginning
- May not be a productive hive which can cost money to replace
A nucleus is a bee colony that has already started developing. It’s also called a starter colony. It typically includes a laying queen with brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae) in different development stages.
With a nucleus colony, oftentimes the drones and worker bees are born from the queen as well. Typically, it will already have some food stores in the form of honey and pollen.
Advantages of a nuc:
- Can install the existing comb into the hive
- Already will have shown success; it’s a working colony
- Costs more than bee packages
7. Start beekeeping with two beehives
When planning your budget to start beekeeping, plan for two beehives. Beginners often start too small or too big. Two hives is ideal.
While starting with one hive will be less expensive, if something happens to disturb or destroy the hive, you won’t have the success (honey and thriving bees) you are hoping for. Depending on where you live, you will likely have to wait until the next spring to start again.
When you start with bees and have three or more hives, that is a lot to take on as a beginner. If there is something you are doing wrong, that could mean all of your hives will be wiped out.
When you want to know how to start beekeeping, the important thing is to start with two hives. You will be able to compare them and learn from each.
You may encounter things which can threaten your colony. This can include wet springs, dry summers, cold winters, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), Varroa mites and more. Starvation is a principal cause of colony losses.
Having two will also increase chances at least one will survive the winter. Learn how long do honey bees live.
8. Decide where to locate the hives
Putting beehives in the proper location on your property is essential. This is generally in a south-facing location on flat ground.
Consider your options. It’s best to put beehives in an area in which they will get early morning sun. This encourages them to forage early in the day. This is important for wherever you live.
In areas with colder climates, they can be in afternoon sun as well. However, in hotter climates, the hives should be shaded from afternoon sun. Bees adapt to their environment but will need a water source. This can be a simple birdbath or a bucket you keep filled.
In areas that get below freezing temperatures, it’s important to consider a wind barrier such as a wall, trees, shrubs, etc. Something to cut down on the wind and to protect the hives. In addition, putting the hives by a wall such as a garage will create what’s known as a flight barrier. This means should the bees become disturbed, they will be forced to fly up and away from people.
Keep the hive entrance opposite from where people might walk past. If you want to start beekeeping with hive in a backyard, keep the entrance opposite how you would face it.
You can keep beehives next to each other. They should be a minimum of two feet apart. You may also want to consider fencing to protect the hives from people coming up to them.
If raccoons, skunks, voles or bears are an issue in your area, keep in mind these are predators to honeybees. Keeping the hives a few feet off the ground will help deter some predators.
One half acre can accommodate up to six hives. Expand slowly. Over time you may want to add one or two hives per year.
Again, research laws in your area to ensure you start your own beehives far enough away from the property lines.
9. Purchase beehives
Be sure to purchase new beehives. Used hives could have had diseases.
You can plan to build your own hive from a kit or make your own DIY beehive. It’s easiest to order one. Should you continue on with beekeeping after your first year, you can decide if you want to build your own.
For beginning beekeepers, choosing a complete beehive kit is the way to go. It will include the frames — usually 8 or 10 — and the beeswax coated foundation sheet.
For reference, 10 drawers can hold up to 60,000 bees.
A complete hive will include brooder boxes, a queen excluder, an entrance reducer, top cover, and inner cover, bottom board.
You will usually need to provide the stand. You can make your own with bricks or concrete blocks.
10. Buy beekeeping supplies
Once you’ve decided you want to start beekeeping, you can order the hives and equipment. In the early spring, order bees. Keep researching and learning.
When learning how to start beekeeping, you will find things will always come up. After initial research and purchasing equipment, you will have new questions when you actually get the bees. Plan to spend 20 – 30 hours per year tending to your hives.
Starting a beehive
Learning the art and science of beekeeping is fascinating. The average person might know that beekeeping entails taking care of bees so that you can use their fresh honey.
There is a lot of time and effort that goes into this activity that people might not know of. So, what is beekeeping? Beekeeping is the act of maintaining and tending to a bee colony.
A beekeeper, known as an apiarist, tends to the bees to ensure that they are growing and producing more bees and creating fresh honey.
Apiarists can do this for several reasons, from wanting to have more bees to produce pollen for growing crops to getting beeswax or honey from the hive.
They also sometimes breed bees for the purpose of selling them to other apiarists.
Beekeeping practice goes back to many years ago, as far back as the prehistoric era. There is also archaeological evidence that people in India, Greece, Egypt, and Spain continued the practice.
This is seen by Mesolithic paintings and illustrations found on rocks of apiarists tending to bees.
How Much Does It Cost To Start Beekeeping?
If you like the idea of getting into beekeeping, then knowing how much does it cost to start beekeeping is the best way to know if you want to move forward with the project.
Learning the costs associated with starting a beehive and the ongoing costs will help you plan and budget.
Here’s the total cost of starting a beehive. Costs will vary, but you will need to budget for a minimum of $600 for two hives. The following year, if you add more hives, you will just need to budget for additional bees and hives.
The biggest chunk of what you will spend your money on is going to be your materials to do the job. There are several important things that you will need to get before you get your bees.
Here are the most important things you’ll need.
Beekeeper Jacket or Suit
One of the first things that you should buy is a beekeeper jacket or suit. Bees can sting you, and you don’t want to have to go through dozens of stings before you decide to spend the money on one anyway.
These are available and can be purchased in-store or online through many retailers. They range from cheap options for around $50 but go to professional-grade for up to $150.
A decent pair of beekeeping gloves will cost between $25 – $30. You will want to specifically buy gloves for beekeeping which will be longer than gardening and other gloves so as to cover the arms.
Before even deciding to learn how to start a beehive, you will first find a place for your bees to live and breed. This means that you will need to purchase a beehive for them.
For an average Langstroth beehive, you will be paying around $130. However, there are other options on the market that you can use. Plan to purchase two hives.
In fact, you could even get in touch with another apiarist to buy a used one if you’re on a budget. Always buy the hives new, not used.
Along with the beehive, you will also need a frame grip. This is a metal tool that allows you to take out each hive one by one when doing your hive inspection.
With a frame grip, you don’t end up with honey all over your beekeeping suit. These are small contraptions that only cost about $10 apiece.
Hive tool and bee brush
Together the hive tool and bee brush should total $20.
When you first get your bees, they might not yet have enough food produced for all of them to survive.
Even though bees travel miles for food, if the plants and flowers around your garden don’t have pollen yet, your bees will have a hard time producing their food. In this case, you’ll want to have bee feeders to ensure that they have enough food.
You can buy bee feeders for $10 to $25. Place them near the beehive so that the syrupy sugar water gets to them.
You will need to purchase bees when starting a beehive. Buy them from other beekeepers in the area who breed them when possible.
You will want to have quite a few to start with so that you can grow your beehive. Of course, you also need your queen bee.
A three-pound package of bees will work nicely, which will cost you about $140. This can vary from breeder to breeder, but most will cost just over $100. Keep in mind, you will need to double this amount for two hives.
If you want a specific type of bee, then you may have to search for a breeder of that type, which will likely cost you a bit more for shipping if it is not in the area.
When thinking about what bees eat, you will likely say pollen and honey. This is true, but when you don’t have pollen in your garden yet, then you will need something else to keep them going.
So, though it might not be much money, you will want to get sugar to make sweet, syrupy sugar water for them until they get enough pollen to make honey and can live off of that.
A bee smoker will be essential for you to collect honey. A smoker will work to help calm the bees defensive response when you open the hive. Bee smokers cost $20.
If you don’t have easy-to-find fuel in your area, such as pine straw, you will need smoker pellets. You put the pellets inside the smoker. These come in packages. You can find 50 smoker pellets for $15.
How to start a beehive
Now that you have all of the necessary materials, you are likely wanting to know more about how to start a beehive. How do you raise honey bees for beginners? Are there steps you need to do to guarantee success?
As a beginner, you will need to start from the bottom and work your way up to having a full beehive that is thriving and producing honey.
So, here is how to start beekeeping in your backyard once you have everything.
Step 1: Get to know your bees
This might sound strange at first, but there are different types of bees within a colony and you want to know them all.
There are three main types that you will want to look for: the drones, the worker bees, and the queen bee. Each one has a unique purpose in the colony, and you will be able to tell their differences from the way they behave.
The queen is the main force that grows the hive, as she is the mother of all or almost all of the bees in the hive.
Her job was selected by the worker bees at birth and she was fed royal jelly so that her body would start to mature.
She is the only female bee in the hive that mates and produces offspring. She will mate with the drone bees and is usually marked when you purchase your bees.
This might sound odd since all bees besides the queen are considered a worker bee. However, the worker bees in this category do the bulk of the work.
They are often seen doing the biggest jobs of feeding the queen, building the honeycomb structure, and getting pollen for the hive to eat.
These bees are the ones that live the shortest lives of all bees. This is because they are solely used to mate with the queen bee.
Their lives consist of traveling between multiple beehives to find and mate with their queen. When they find a queen, they will mate, then die shortly after.
Step 2: Watch their behaviors
When you first start your beekeeping journey, you will want to get used to how the bees behave and how they do things.
Bees have a pretty interesting and well-running system that keeps all of the bees in the hive fed and happy.
Getting used to how they act from day-to-day will help you know what they should look like when they are well-fed and going about their day.
On the other hand, this will also help you to recognize when they are not doing well and need more food or attention to thrive.
In addition, if there are dead or dying bees that need to be removed, you can assist the worker bees by separating them from the hive. This will keep diseases from spreading to the other bees and killing off your entire beehive.
If you see dead bees on the ground, consider predators in your area and ways to create a protective barrier around your hives.
Knowing their schedule of activities each day and understanding how they function as a single unit will make you much more successful at beekeeping overall.
Step 3: Hive Inspections
When you become a beekeeper and refine your beekeeping techniques, you will want to stay doing hive inspections. These are necessary for keeping your bees fully fed and making honey.
A hive inspection will consist of using your frame grip to lift out and inspect every frame one by one. This allows you to see if they are getting pollen, honey, or using the syrupy sugar water you made for them.
If you see that there are little to no dying or dead bees in all the frames, then you will know that the bees are getting enough food and staying healthy.
You should also see all of the worker bees flying around and doing any one of their many jobs in the hive.
Don’t be discouraged if you do start to see some dead bees in the hive. These could be the drone bees who have mated with the queen bee.
However, if you start seeing worker bees dying off, then you will want to do hive inspections more often to help out the hive however you can. Some areas do hive inspections for free.
Beginners often make the mistake of getting a bit intimidated when being around the bees at first. This might make you put off doing your hive inspections or doing anything with the bees at all.
You do not want to do this, though. It will make your beehive start on a bad note, and you will likely see many dead early on.
If diseases start to spread, this could lead to the death of your whole hive. Don’t be intimidated about working around and handling your bees.
First, you will be wearing your bee suit and will be fine. Second, you want your bees to survive, and if you don’t help them out, that won’t happen.
Think about this to help give yourself courage in the early stages.
Step 4: Knowing When to Harvest
After you have been seeing your bees working for a while, you will begin to see the honeycombs forming.
This will look like the honeycomb cells, the indented parts of the honeycomb, completely covered and capped over.
This space is where the babies grow and become adult worker bees, and you will know when to harvest when you see no babies in the honeycomb.
The whole piece of honeycomb will be covered in honey without any more baby bees left. If there are still some bees left, then you may want to wait a little longer.
However, this will take some time because your hive needs time to get established in its new hive and be able to work together well enough to have a thriving hive. You should not harvest any honey within the first year of beekeeping.
This might sound like a long time, but this allows the hive to get acclimated to the area and establish their hive setup and system.
They need this time, and if you harvest too quickly, you won’t get as much honey.
How to start your own beehive
Becoming an apiarist is not something that happens overnight. You must research before taking on this hobby. Even after you have everything and are starting your hives, it will take some getting used to.
Much of the experience comes from doing the work yourself and observing your beehive. Starting your own beehives will enable you to compare between the two hives.
Beginning beekeeping is also a great way to encourage your family to spend time outside, learn a new skill, and help repopulate the declining bee population.
Some say that beekeeping is an art form and is not something that you likely know how to do from the get-go.
When you learn how to start a beehive, you embark on a productive homesteading hobby. In time, you go from a beginner to a skilled beekeeper quickly.
Start with the right materials, equipment and bees, stay consistent with your hive inspections, and observe your hive and you will know how to start beekeeping.