Got Bees? Become a Beekeeper

Learn how to get started in beekeeping and reap the rewards.
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Checking on a Package

Checking on a Package

Checking in on a newly installed package of bees. Here the bees have begun to build out the frame with wax.

It has been estimated that one in every four bites of food has been made possible by honeybees.  As the honey bee population continues to struggle, many people are beginning to take up beekeeping as a hobby. Of course there are other benefits to keeping bees, including local pollination of your yards and gardens; plus, we can't forget about the delicious honey harvest.

There are a few different ways to add bees to your yard. Perhaps the easiest would be to contact a local beekeeper and offer them space in your yard to place a hive or two. The beekeeper maintains the hives and your gardens reap the benefits. This is an easy way to add bees to your property and a great way to decide if beekeeping is right for you.

Once you are committed to exploring the hobby, investigate if there are any local beekeeper associations providing introductory beekeeping classes in your area. This is one of the best ways to get started. Many of these local organizations are comprised of a myriad of beekeepers with all levels of experience. This is especially good to determine best beekeeping practices for your area. They know what bees need to be successful and thrive in your particular climate. Sometimes you can also purchase equipment and bees at discounted prices through group rates through the clubs. 

The local library is another great place to do beekeeping research too. From books to periodicals, there's plenty of information available on this topic.

Once you have decided on which types of hives you will use, it's time to think about bees.  There are many types of bee breeds available. Popular breeds include Carniolan, Russian, Italian, Buckfast and mixed breeds to name a few. Their temperament, honey production, overwintering and ability to fight off diseases and mites will vary by breed. Bees can be purchased or—if you are lucky—you can try to lure a spring swarm to your hive.
There are two main options for purchasing bees. Bees can be purchased in either packages or nucs (short for nucleus). Whether you choose to use a nuc or a package, it is important to consider the climate where these bees were raised. Some beekeepers believe that it is best to care for bees that were reared in a climate similar to your own. They believe that hives overwinter better this way. It is also important to investigate the reputation and success of the apiary.

Packages include a queen and bees. These bees are ready to be put to work in the hive. They are all shipped in a screened box, with the queen residing in a queen cage. There is a small feeder included and hundreds of bees. Once the package arrives, the bees are shaken into the pre-assembled hive. The queen, still in her queen cage, is placed across the frames in the hive. Over the next few days, as the bees acclimate to their new home, the bees will release the queen from her cage by eating through the sugar plug on the end of the cage. Once free, the queen will descend into the hive and begin laying eggs.

Nucs are considered small hives. Most have already overwintered and come available for sale in the spring. Nucs are small, closed boxes usually comprised of five frames. The queen and her workers are already established. She is laying eggs. There are workers, nurse bees and drones. There is also stored honey and nectar in the nuc as well. Nucs are very easy to install into larger hives. Once you arrive home with the nuc, the main hive is opened. The center five frames of the new hive are replaced with the frames in the nuc. The nuc frames are placed inside the new hive in the exact same order and direction as they were found in the nuc.  Instantly the bees have gained more room—it's as if they have gone from a bee condo to a mansion.

Beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding hobby, and it's no wonder why it continues to pique the interest of many gardeners. I think my neighbor said it best: The year we added bees to our garden, he said he had the best vegetable crop he has had in years.

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