You've caught the bug, you know you want to keep bees, but you are not sure how to start beekeeping - where do you begin? To start with, it is all a bit daunting, so here are some things you need to think about before you start your beekeeping adventure.
When you want to know how to start beekeeping, there is a lot to learn. But do not be put off! Bees are fascinating creatures, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. The most important stage is now, before you get your bees. Prepare by learning about bees and beekeeping, & you will find your journey much smoother when you actually start beekeeping.
How To Start Beekeeping
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Is It Legal To Keep Bees Where I Live?
Generally, there are no legal restrictions on keeping bees. But in some places (especially in built up areas) there are local laws restricting or even prohibiting keeping bees. You also may be required to register as a beekeeper with the local bee inspector.
Before you start beekeeping, check with your local department of agriculture official, or contact your local beekeeping association.
In the UK, restrictions are very rare, but just in case it is wise to check with your local council to be sure that there are no ancient bylaws prohibiting the keeping of bees where you live.
What About The Neighbors?
Bees are not aggressive creatures, and only ever sting in self defense. Just remember that your neighbors probably do not know this and may need 'educated.'
You should always let your neighbors know that you are planning to start beekeeping. People can often be suspicious of bees, as there is a common misconception that they are sting-happy and dangerous. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
As soon as you have bees, it will only take a few weeks for everyone to realize that bees have no interest in humans and generally keep themselves to themselves. The promise of well pollinated gardens and a gift of a jar of delicious home produced honey can do wonders to bring wary neighbors on board.
Where Will I Keep My Bees?
The major difference for city beekeepers is scale - city dwellers will often not have room for more than 1 or 2 beehives. Apart from this, the principle for locating all beehives is the same. You want somewhere that is reasonably dry, sheltered, and undisturbed - so that both you and your bees can go about your daily business uninterrupted.
If you can find a spot with a water source nearby, all the better, but if not you can always provide your own water supply. This could be a water feature in your garden, or even just a bucket of water (provided you have something in it for the bees to stand on, like a floating stick - bees cannot swim so can easily drown in deeper water).
What Type Of Hive?
It is probably best to go for a beehive type that is common in your area. If it is common, it obviously suits the conditions. It will also be easier to get help and advice locally from more experienced beekeepers if you have the same type of hive as they do.
Whatever type you go for, be consistent. Even beehives which look similar (for example the Commercial and the Langstroth) are slightly different, so the parts will not be interchangeable. So to make life easier, pick one type and stick with it.
What Other Equipment Will I Need?
There is a whole host of beekeeping equipment available, but to start beekeeping, you really only need 5 things. These are
- a beehive
- protective clothing - preferably a full bee suit & gloves
- a smoker to make the bees easier to handle
- a hive tool - an all purpose tool no beekeeper can be without!
- a bee feeder - to top up your bees' diet, especially over the winter
And of course some bees! Most other things are optional. As you get hooked, you probably will want to buy a few more bits and pieces, but for now stick to these 5.
Where Will I Get Bees?
When you start beekeeping, there are a number of ways to get bees. You can get your bees from commercial bee farmers, usually through mail order. They will be shipped to you in a 'nuc box' - a specially designed box for transporting bees. The cheapest option is to buy packaged bees, which is just a queen with about 10,000 worker bees. These are then installed into your hive.
Alternatively you could buy a nucleus, which has the same number of bees, but they come complete with 5 frames. You then transfer these frames to your hive, and as they already contain brood, honey and pollen, your bees will get off to a much better start.
The other option is to capture a swarm of bees in your area. Contact your local beekeeping association, as they may keep swarm lists. Although usually oversubscribed, they often give preference to newcomers.
Whatever your source, there is only a small window of opportunity to get bees, typically in mid spring to early summer, so be prepared.
Keep On Learning!
Want To Build Your Own Website?
The most comprehensive beekeeping guide available, and the one we recommend, is Beekeeping 101: Beekeeping Made Easy. Written in a really easy to follow style, and filled with great pictures throughout, this is a fantastic reference guide for the beginner beekeeper.
To learn more about this invaluable guide, just click here.
You do not need a lot of space to keep bees. People often associate bees with rural areas and large country gardens, but you can start beekeeping just as easily in a city as in the country.
Hives can be kept in very small backyards, in roof gardens or even on balconies, and the bees will do just as well. Even built up areas have lots of food for bees, from trees, parks, gardens, and other forms of greenery - remember that a bee will happily travel up to 3 miles to collect nectar.
This is a whole subject on it's own (see Beehives and Top Bar Hives), but there are a couple of general points to remember when you start beekeeping.
The type of hive you choose depends on your aims. For example, Top Bar Hives are becoming more popular as they are much less expensive and very simple. But bees in this type of hive will produce less honey than in traditional hives, so if your main priority is honey, then the top bar hive will not be for you.
Image courtesy Jeffrey Allen
Image courtesy LucyLu