How To: Become a Beekeeper

Our friend Ed is one of those people who does a little bit of everything: cabinet making, organic farming, building his own amps and electronics, and now he's being trained in beekeeping. He sent us these amazing photos of the hive he recently started. When we asked if we could post the photos on AT (perfect for outdoor month), he graciously agreed and gave us a little information on how one gets properly trained in beekeeping and starts their own hive...

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Ed is taking a beekeeping class at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Classes are available in many parts of the country, but permits and licensing for beekeeping vary state by state. Ed started out with a hive and about three or four pounds of bees. Bees generally aren't dangerous, but handling them requires training and stings can be fatal if you are allergic. Anyone who handles bees is stung now and then.

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Here's how he explains the process: "The basic idea is that you take this cage full of bees and you open it up and shake them all into your hive. Then you place the queen inside."

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"The queen's cage has a little candy stopper that the worker bees will eat and eventually free her. You don't just stick her in right away because she might fly away if she doesn't recognize the hive as home."

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"The bees start making honey as soon as the flowers start to bloom, but a new hive has to build up enough for itself before you can start harvesting."

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"The coffee can is full of sugar syrup. It has some holes poked in it and comes with the package. Its what the bees eat while they're in transit."

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"Bottling honey involves a small machine called the extractor. Its basically a centrifuge inside a stainless steel pot. You use a hot knife to melt the wax caps over the comb and then stick the frame into the machine and turn the crank. The frames spin around really fast and the honey is flung out and drips down the sides. There is a spigot at the bottom."

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"At least in New England there are three big honey flows in a season when lots of things are blooming at once. You can take some of their surplus at the end of the last one in your first year and during each honey flow during following years. You want to make sure to leave enough for them to survive the winter and early spring."

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"True honey is raw and unprocessed. I'll bet some of the mega-producers pasturize, but there isn't any need. Honey actually has strong antiseptic and medicinal properties."

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"There is a cool book called Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels that's about folk remedies from all over the world and their scientific basis. One of the things they talk about is using honey on burns. A few major hospitals are starting to use it in place of the chemical that's more commonly used and it produces much better results."

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Thanks for sharing the info and photos, Ed!

In Chicago, the Chicago Honey Coop practices urban beekeeping and provides jobs and training for underemployed men and women.