Sweet! If you are you thinking of getting started keeping bees, please read on for my advice. There is a lot of equipment to buy and a lot to learn about managing these fascinating social insects. These tips are based on my own experience keeping bees for the past nine years.
Join A club
There are many benefits to joining a local beekeeping club. First of all the excitement about keeping bees is contagious. You may find yourself ordering bees at your first meeting.
Group bee orders are another benefit that some clubs offer to members. This is an easy way to obtain your first package of bees. Another member may even offer to help you install the bees in a hive for the first time. This kind of mentorship is another potential benefit.
Finally many clubs have equipment that can be borrowed or rented. It can be a real convenience and money saver if you are able to use the club’s extractor for your first honey harvest.
The best way to find a local club is to find your state beekeeping association website and then look for a page of local clubs. Here is a link to the Illinois Sate Beekeepers Association.
Eight Frame, Ten Frame And Top Bar Hives
When you start out you will have to decide whether to buy the traditional ten frame Langstroth equipment, eight frame equipment or even top bar equipment. There is no reason you cannot have both Langstroth and top bar hives, but you will probably want to standardize on eight frame or ten frame equipment.
The advantage of ten frame Langstroth equipment is that is more popular and the hive components are readily available from both large and small suppliers. There is plenty of equipment like the all season inner cover that is design to work with ten frame equipment.
If I had it to do over again, I might go with all medium 8 frame equipment. The major advantage is standardization of equipment (all hive bodies are the same size) and everything is lighter.
Full supers of honey are very heavy. They will need to be moved on a sunny day during the late summer when it is very hot outside.
If you like extracted honey you would prefer the Langstroth hives. However, if you prefer comb honey, the top bar hive makes a lot of sense.
If you are trying to decide between to smokers, buy the bigger smoker. It is easier to light and keep lit. After buying a bigger smoker, I never use the small one I bought to start with.
The important thing is to be confident when you are working the hives. Staying calm is important so that you don’t make any sudden movements. This confidence starts with your choice of protective equipment.
As a beekeeper, you are going to get stung occasionally. One place I never want to get stung is in the face. That’s why the absolute minimum protective equipment I recommend is a veil. You may want to purchase an extra veil in case you ever have interested visitors. These veils can work well even when combined with just a baseball hat.
The jacket with integrated veil is a great option. I have seen them in use and people like them.
I would also recommend the gauntlet style gloves. I started beekeeping not wearing gloves after reading some warnings that wearing gloves might make you clumsy. I received several stings on my hands and started wearing gloves. I am happier for it.
The weather can also be an important factor in how much protective equipment you want to wear. In the spring it is easy to put on lots of clothing when visiting the bees. But in the heat of the summer it is nice to just use the veil.
I usually wear a long sleeve white shirt, gloves and jeans when visiting the hives. Although sometimes in the heat of the summer I will just wear a t-shirt and have even worked the hives with in shorts.
Where are you going to locate your bee yard or apiary? There are many considerations for placing the apiary. Here are some things that have worked well.
- Keep your bee hives as close to home as possible. In your backyard is best. If this is just a part time hobby, the farther you have to travel the more of a hassle it will end up being.
- Shelter the apiary from wind if possible. This will help the bees over winter.
- Put some kind of fence about 2-3 feet in front of the hives. I have a chain link fence in front of my hives. The bees will not fly through it. This forces them to fly up and out as they leave the hive. This keeps them up above my head for the most part.
The number one problem I have had was putting my hive in a shaded area. The hives need morning sun. It would be ideal if they had afternoon shade. I only made the shade mistake once and the hive was not very strong and did not produce much honey. When considering the placement of the apiary, you should probably err on the side of full sun over too much shade.
You will want to keep your hives off the ground using some kind of hive stand. I use four concrete cinder blocks. These are inexpensive, durable and multipurpose. I use a shovel to clear the sod before I place a new hive. My goal is to tip the hive slightly forward.
This helps in over wintering because the cluster of bees will produce moisture that condenses on the inner cover of the hive. A slight forward angle keeps the moisture from dripping on the cluster and chilling the bees.
Honey bees need water. If you live in a neighborhood, it is a good idea to provide water for the bees. The key is to attract the honey bees to the water source while not drowning them. You can read more about how to water honey bees.
Which Extractor To Purchase
If you are successful and your bees start producing a honey crop, you will want to buy your own extractor. You should buy a nine frame radial extractor to begin with. I started with a two frame tangential extractor. It was not worth it.
- How to water honey bees.
- Over wintering honey bees.
- Honey harvest step by step.
- How to store honey supers.
- Hive body construction.
One more thing, it is a running joke among beekeepers that if you ask 10 beekeepers how to do something, you will get at least 11 different answers. If you have any advice to share, let me know in the comments below.