Beekeeping is the growth and maintenance of bee colonies in man-made hives. It can be a fun hobby, an organic way to create your own homemade preserves, medicines and ointments, or a way you would like to give back to mother nature and ensure the survival of these incredible species! Whatever the inspiration, if you have you ever wondered how to become a beekeeper, we have you covered!
Honey and bees form such an intricate and important part of our ecosystem, so we have gathered everything you need to know about beekeeping and our top 5 tips to get you started!
What Is a Beekeeper?
A beekeeper is a person who keeps and looks after honey bees.
Honey bees can produce a wide variety of commodities, such as honey, beeswax, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly, so it is understandable that there is a need to have a keeper to extract all this lovely produce and care for the hive.
In addition to taking care of the bees and harvesting what the hive produces, some beekeepers provide pollination services to fruit and vegetable growers, which can have a profound positive impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Essentially, many people keep bees as a hobby, but there are opportunities for income, or it can be a commercial business and conversation movement. How dedicated you are about keeping bee, will ultimately decide how many hives you have.
Typically, hobby beekeepers only have a few hives and are most interested in ecology and natural science. Honey is a by-product of this curiosity. Establishing a small apiary usually requires a significant investment and dozens of hours working with specific equipment, so this is not a hobby to be taken lightly.
Sideline beekeepers attempt to make a profit off the hives they have, which can number as many as 300 or so colonies of bees. That’s a lot of bees, and they have the capacity to produce anywhere between 10 to 20 metric tons of honey every year.
Now, you might be thinking that keeping bees sounds like a lot of hard work. Is there even a need to do it? In addition to explaining how to become a beekeeper, this article will also establish the significance of bees and how important their role is in sustaining a healthy ecosystem.
Is There a Need for Beekeeping?
As briefly mentioned, bees produce a variety of different commodities that help to improve our everyday quality of life. However, their significance to us and our planet stretches far beyond just providing delicious produce to our society. Bees are essential for human life to exist on this planet, and unfortunately, bee populations across the globe have been decreasing at an alarming rate.
This terrible fact has propelled beekeeping to the upmost of importance in the battle to sustain healthy ecosystems and an overall rich variety of life on our planet.
Before we get into the personal benefits of beekeeping, it’s important to understand how important bees are to our planet. Soil, water and sunshine are not the only elements needed to create flora, since cross-pollination is responsible for maintaining at least 30% of our crops and roughly 90% of all plants on earth.
Cause of Bee Decline
Bees are suffering from habitat loss due to development and abandoned farms, with some colonies collapsing because of the use of pesticides or harmful parasites, such as mites. Honey-producing bees in many countries are being overrun by invasive species of bees that do not produce honey, or of wasps. There is also an element of mystery about it, as we do not fully understand some of the diseases that seem to decimate bee colonies quite suddenly.
Fortunately, there is good news as gardeners and beekeepers can help bees bounce back with the planting of bee-friendly plants in home or commercial gardens. Here are some of the main reasons why bees are necessary for the survival of our environment:
If you love fruits and other delicious vegetables than you should thank the humble honey bee. Many green foods we rely upon to eat require the transfer of pollen from the male part of a flower, known as the anther, to the female part of the flower, known as the stigma. This is what’s known as germination, and this process is responsible for creating over 90% of the crops and plants on our planet.
Bee are integral to this process because, as they move from flower to flower in search of nectar, they bring pollen with them and then leave it behind, allowing flora to grow and produce food. Bees are masters at cross-pollination by helping to germinate billions of plants every year; so much so that it can be said they provide one out of every three bites of food we eat.
Wild Plants and Animals
If bees are responsible for 1/3 of the bites we take to eat, then it stands to reason they are also responsible for much of the wild plant growth in our earth’s forests. These wild plants serve as a crucial food source to wild animals, since they produce many of the seeds, nuts, berries and fruit animals rely upon. Without bees, a lot of other animal across the planet would grow hungry in addition to humans.
Honey is not just used to feed the bee colony during the winter months, or just for our benefit. Honey and bee larva are also vital food sources for many wild creatures, such as birds, racoons, possums, bears, and insects, all of whom often raid beehives for the nutritious produce.
The bees themselves are also an important part of the food chain, as many species of birds, such as humming birds and starlings, and some spiders and insects, such as dragonflies and praying mantises, eat bees to survive.
The elaborate hives of bees also help provide homes for millions of insects and animals. The cross-pollination that bees provide on a mass global scale helps to create the plants and trees which in turn provide the habitats of tropical forests, savannah woodlands, and temperate forests. For example, willow and poplar trees would not be able to grow without pollinators like bees.
Bees are even responsible for many of the plants naturally growing in your home garden, which in turn provides homes to thousands of tiny insects that are vital for a functioning ecosystem.
Bees, in the simple day-to-day routines of their lives, naturally create and support the growth of most things you see in our environment and ecosystem. From cross-pollination to existing as food themselves, bees help create the food and shelter for creatures large and small and significantly contribute to a complex and interconnected ecosystem that houses millions of different species.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of keeping bees alive, let’s get into the personal benefits of beekeeping!
What Good Are Bees and Honey to the Beekeeper?
Natural Remedies for Allergies
Everyone knows how expensive is can be to treat certain allergies, especially if you require consistent treatment. This is where bees can also help because the special sacs on their hind legs contain the nectar they collect to carry from flower to flower. This nectar, or pollen, has been scientifically proven to help cure many allergies that people can suffer from, including hay fever.
Natural Antibacterial Qualities
Bees also have a special substance called propolis with which they fill the gaps within their hives. This exact same substance is used to sanitize the hive and has numerous anti-bacterial properties. Propolis can be harvested and broken down to provide a number of anti-septic and antibacterial remedies.
Take a moment to think about how many everyday products currently available on the market use beeswax. Products such as candles, hair care products, wood polishes and soaps are but a few of the luxuries we afford ourselves thanks to beeswax, and they don’t come cheap.
Beeswax is expensive, and the chances of getting it pure are minimal. A lot of vendors will add impurities and additives in the aim of saving money, but having at least one beehive within your property will provide you with the purest source of beeswax.
Initially, starting your bee colony, whether it be one hive or dozens, will require a decent investment. However, the financial benefits of having your own hive will show themselves as you get further along and add up to some significant savings.
Think about all the times you’ve bought medical remedies for allergies, or all the times you’ve bought candles, soaps or beauty care products, and you’ll begin to realize the amount of money companies generate from the products bees help create. Imagine having your own supply of these elements so you can make these products on your own, to enjoy or even sell. And that’s not even counting enjoying the honey itself!
Whether you choose to make them for personal use or create them for a business, there is money to be saved and money to be had from the keeping of bees in the long run.
5 Tips for How to Become a Beekeeper
If you are excited and ready to become a beekeeper, we suggest meetings with other beekeepers and reading reference books and online forums to expand your education on apiculture. Then follow these 5 simple tips for how to become a beekeeper:
1. Learn Beekeeping Laws/Regulations & Location
Before becoming a beekeeper, you need to work out if you have the right location for it! This is a two-part step: the physical location and the legal location.
The physical location is where you want to conduct the beekeeping.
Bees need hives with plenty of sunlight, but they also require shelter from high winds. If you live anywhere that gets snowfall during the year, position the bees somewhere easily accessible, as you will need to clear away any snow that forms on the hive entrances during the winter months. It is also important to note the proximity of your neighbors. Check with the people in your local neighborhood and make sure your beekeeping will not be a nuisance. Some things to consider and discuss are noise, allergies and young children.
The legalities of the location are the second part of this step. It is important you research the following things:
- Does your location allow for beekeeping?
- Do you require a permit?
- Does your county or city require registration for beehives?
- Are there any land requirements that you have to meet before you can move forward with beekeeping?
Once you know your chosen space will adhere to all local beekeeping laws and regulations, you are one step closer!
2. Collect Your Beekeeping Supplies
With the increased interest in beekeeping, the diversity in supplies and hive-kits on the market has expanded rapidly. You are now free to:
- Purchase pre-built hive kits which include all required hive components
- DIY construct your own hive box from raw materials you’ve collected
- Order the hive parts ready for assembly, so you only require a hammer, nails and exterior latex-based paint
Assuming you have some pre-built hive kits already, you will also need several other basic items:
- Bee swarms
- Bee suit with a veil
- Smoker that calms bees and enables you to get into the hive
- Hive tool to pry off the frames
- Uncapping knife for cutting wax off the frame of honey
- Honey extractor to collect your “liquid gold”
- Bee gloves to protect your hands and the bees
- Brush to swipe the bees off the comb
We also recommend you purchasing a hive stand to keep the bees off the ground and protect them from other insects. The place where you purchase your supplies is also very important, as you want a reputable seller. There are many supply companies to choose from, but we have listed some well-respected ones below:
- Mann Lake
- Bailey Been Supply
- Western Bee Supplies
3. Protect Yourself
Bees can sense your fear and tension and are more likely to sting you if they feel that you pose a threat to them or the hive. A bee sting to the eye can cause vision loss, and a sting to other parts of the face can be excruciating and bring long-term swelling. We recommend taking additional precautionary steps to ensure your safety when beekeeping, beyond just wearing a bee suit. It is highly advisable that you visit your local doctor or physician and invest in an EpiPen.
EpiPens are a great way to protect yourself against possible allergic reactions if a bee stings you. Having one of these in your pocket and keeping your veil down when wearing your bee suit will ensure your safety.
4. Build Your Beehive
If you want to save some money and build your own hive from scratch, we advise that you watch YouTube tutorials and visit your local hardware store for discount quality materials. However, if you are just beginning, we recommend purchasing a pre-built hive kit made from finger-jointed wooden pieces (you can use flat-edged wood) and gathering the following items:
- Non-toxic wood glue
- Exterior paint
Align the pieces of the hive box into a square shape, clamp them in place and seal the edges with glue. If you use wood glue, apply a generous coat before nailing the box. You want to make sure the handle is on the outside and easily accessible. Then you paint the hive with exterior paint to prevent the wood from rotting.
5. Keep Your Bees Healthy
To ensure that your bees continuing producing honey and beeswax, you need to take care of them. We have a few final tips to keep your hive happy, full of honey and buzzing:
- Keep the hives and beekeeping supplies clean and well maintained
- Purchase your bees from reputable suppliers who check for diseases and pests
- Prevent the growth of a fungus by cleaning your equipment regularly
- A young, healthy queen bee means a healthy hive, so change out the queen every couple of years
A beginning beekeeper should start with two to five hives, as the size will be manageable but can still provide enough bees to survive the winter losses. In a few years, you will be in a position to expand, as an established hive can produce between 50 – 100 pounds of excess honey annually. We hope this article has provided you with some much-needed advice on how to become a beekeeper!
Follow these 5 tips and you will be well on your way!