Beekeeping Basics: Before You Get Started

After writing last week's post on identifying honeybees, I pitched an idea for an ongoing series on backyard beekeeping and was given the green light. Not only will I give progress reports as my own beekeeping season unfolds, but I will also cover some basic information that will be useful to anyone looking to get started in beekeeping themselves. These posts will appear on the Outdoor channel on a weekly basis, or whenever there is some news to report. A good place to start is what to think about when considering backyard beekeeping.

There are many factors to consider when thinking about becoming a beekeeper, but they can all be basically lumped into three categories: surroundings, site, and self.

Surroundings: Are you in an area where both bees and beekeepers will be embraced? Think of your neighbors first — find out how they feel about bees and if anyone is allergic to bee venom. Make sure there are no laws prohibiting beekeeping at the municipal level, or that it is allowed by the condo association or within your housing complex. If you are renting, check with the landlord. Use common sense and don't try to make it work when it is a bad idea to begin with.

Site: A good site is sunny, with a bit of shade and a source of water nearby. Having the hive opening face south and having some type of windbreak to the north, like a fence or some bushes, is ideal. (I have heard from many old-timers that the north wind has a mysteriously negative effect on bees, enough so that I heed their warnings.) The source of water can be easily supplied by any number of homemade watering systems. A big field full of wildflowers would be nice, but my bees are in the woods and do just fine collecting tree pollen, and there are plenty of urban beekeepers who make do as well. One thing to think about if you are in the woods is bears. Around here, in southwest New Hampshire, an electric fence is mandatory. If you are in an area where bears are prevalent, a source of power for the fence is a nice thing, but if none is readily available there are plenty of other options, such as solar fence chargers and battery-powered fences.

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Self: Ask yourself why you want to become a beekeeper. It is difficult to make your initial investment back in the short-term, especially if you have die-offs due to weather or disease. Money generated from honey sales should not be a main factor, at least not in the first few years when you have just a hive or two. There should be a genuine interest in honeybees as a species because you will be taking a crash course in biology, genetics, behavior, diseases, etc. I am a hobbyist beekeeper, but it is one of the most demanding hobbies I have ever taken up, and one of the most rewarding.

The best thing you can do is visit a beekeeper and see firsthand what it is like to get inside a hive and be surrounded by bees. It's not for everyone. Local beekeeping clubs are a great place to find all types of information on beekeeping in your area. They tend to be full of people who like nothing more than to talk about their bees and would no doubt be glad to give you an up close and personal look.

MORE BEEKEEPING ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
Beekeeping Basics: Brushing Up on Bee ID

(Images: 1. Flickr user gedankensteufe. 2. Flickr user tristanf. Both images licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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