Welcome to the world of backyard beekeeping, where the sweet hum of bees and the joy of harvesting your own honey await you. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a gardener, or simply someone seeking a new and rewarding hobby, beekeeping can be a fascinating and fulfilling endeavor. But before you go running off to get your hives, there’s so much to learn about these little ladies. And although the goal isn’t to know everything about beekeeping, there are at least some basics that you should be aware of.
In this guide, we’ll explore the basics of starting your own hive and reaping the benefits of a thriving bee-friendly backyard.
This post is all about how to start beekeeping in your backyard.
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Table of Contents
Getting Started: Before Starting Beekeeping: What is Beekeeping?
At its core, beekeeping is the art and science of maintaining bee colonies in hives, with a primary focus on honeybee species such as Apis mellifera. Humans have been keeping bees for millenia, with some estimates as far back as 9,000 years ago. The importance of beekeeping extends far beyond the delight of harvesting honey. Bees play a pivotal role in pollination, contributing to the success of various crops and the overall health of ecosystems. Without honeybees, or any pollinator for that matter, would result in the failure of many crops.
1. Educate Yourself: Beekeeping Course
No, this is a diss by any means! Before you dive into beekeeping, it’s crucial to educate yourself on the basics, such as the following:
- bee anatomy
- Bee behavior
- The different roles within the hive
- Understanding the life cycle of bees
- What to look for in the hive for diseases and pests, such as wax moths and hive beetles.
Conduct a Google search on beekeeping courses to see what’s available to you either in your area or online. For example, my husband and I took a course through Rutgers University called, “Welcome to Beeginner’s Beekeeping: the Basics of Apiculture”. The course took about 16 to 17 hours to go through and was a self-paced course. In spite of it not being live, there was still a forum to post questions and responses to course work, and the teachers responded back.
Learn about what you’re getting yourself into because honey bees are anything but easy to take care of.
2. Join a Local Beekeeping Association Group
By joining a local beekeeping association, you’ll have access to many resources.
What is available through these associations?
- Mentors – more senior, experienced beekeepers are accessible to you to learn from.
- Meetings – each association is different, but many of them hold frequent meetings throughout the year. Meetings can be in sync with what is occurring throughout the year, such as preparing hives for winter. There are guest speakers and educational discussions.
- Access to equipment – this may vary from association to association, but some have access to equipment such as a honey extractor.
- Ordering hives and equipment – some associations have arrangements for hive and equipment ordering. Orders can be taken and paid for, and delivered at an arranged location.
- Hive Demos – it sounds just like you think. Experienced beekeepers open up hives to show what it all looks like on the inside, what to look for, answer questions, and more.
- Books and education – associations have access to a wealth of information from online resources, books, and other education opportunities.
- Facebook Groups – local beekeeping associations may have their own Facebook groups set up to interact with other beekeepers.
Another perk to joining a local beekeeping association is that there is information shared about your specific area. There is no need to have any guess work involved about what to do in your area at any given point throughout the year.
3. Learn about Local and State Regulations and Ordinances
Check with your local and state authorities about any regulations or guidelines regarding beekeeping. For example, in the state of New Jersey there are limits to the amount of hives a beekeeper can have per acre.
Some areas may have restrictions or require permits, so it’s essential to be aware of and comply with local regulations. Ordinances may include distance away from the property line of the placement of the hive(s). Some municipalities may entirely prohibit beekeeping or make it extremely difficult to have bees.
Always research what is allowable in your area.
[RELATED POST: Beekeeping for Beginners: How Many Bee Hives Per Acre?]
Setting Up a Beehive
4. Choose the Right Location
Selecting the right location for your hive is crucial. Here is a list of things to consider before setting up your hive:
- Bees thrive in sunny spots with some shade during the hottest parts of the day (late afternoon). Heat during the day can put quite a bit of stress on the hive. To cool the hive down and keep the brood at a reasonable temperature, bees must beat their wings to create ventilation, which is a lot of work!
- Just like too much sun puts stress on the hive, too much shade is not good. It can make it susceptible to mold from too much dampness, hive beetles, wax moths, and Varroa mites. Each of these are no fun to deal with.
- Ensure there’s a water source nearby. Like all living creatures, bees need water and they surprisingly use a lot of it.
- Consider placing the hive in an area that won’t disturb neighbors or other animals. Although honey bees are usually docile and don’t go out of their way to bother anyone, it is still good practice not to cause issues. Keep the hive out of high traffic areas, for example. Our hives were in the back of my parents’ backyard and cordoned off to keep the dog from going near it.
- Direction of the hive. A good rule of thumb is to have the hive facing southeast. The idea behind this direction is that it will encourage the bees to get out of the hive early in the day and start foraging. The longer they are out foraging, the better. Pay attention to their flight patterns so you’re not walking directly into it.
5. Acquire Beekeeping Equipment
Invest in the necessary beekeeping equipment, including a hive, protective gear (such as a bee suit and gloves), and essential tools like a smoker and hive tool. Quality equipment will make your beekeeping experience more enjoyable and successful.
Here is a list of equipment you may want to consider purchasing:
- Bee brushes
- Bee suits
- Uncapping forks and knives
- Hive tool
[RELATED POST: How Much Does a Bee Hive Cost?]
Here is a link to the hive we purchased: Hoover Hives 10 Frame Langstroth Beehive Dipped in 100% Beeswax Includes Wooden Frames & Waxed Foundations (2 Deep Boxes, 1 Medium Box)
Caring for Honey Bees
6. Source Healthy Bees
You’ve gotten this far and now it’s time to purchase your NUC (short for nucleus), or package. These are two different ways of purchasing your bees and it’s important to know the difference.
What is a nucleus? And what’s a package?
A NUC is basically like a miniature hive that you purchase. It contains your queen and thousands of worker bees in what looks like a box. These nucs can be made out of wood or cardboard boxes, and contain at least five frames (usually) of brood in various stages and their “food” (honey, bee pollen, bee bread, etc). This is usually how local bees from a local beekeeper are received.
A package is a colony of bees (queen and workers) that is shipped to you in the mail. This can be from a local beekeeper, but a package most of the time comes from a beekeeper that is far away.
Purchase bees from reputable sources to ensure they are healthy and disease-free.
Personally, my husband and I decided to purchase a nuc from a local breeder. Getting a nuc was just easier for us to install and they were already set to go with a few frames. Going with a local breeder was the best option for us as we wanted bees that were already acclimated to our climate. For us it did not make sense to get bees that were not used to our weather. Plus it gave us an opportunity to support a local beekeeper.
The cost of packages and nucs will vary from seller to seller. So don’t be afraid to shop around and ask for prices.
7. Regular Beehive Inspections
Conduct regular hive inspections to check for signs of disease, pests, and the overall well-being of your bees. Monitoring the hive allows you to address issues promptly and ensure a thriving colony.
A hive should be regularly checked a couple of times a week. Regular checks also allow you to become more acquainted with your hives.
Harvesting Honey from Beehives
8. Patience is Key
This is the most frequently asked question from friends and family once you have your own hives. Patience is very key when you first have bees and you may need to wait quite some time before you can actually start harvesting. Responsible, sustainable beekeeping involves allowing the bees to first build their stores up. During the first year, it is critical that each hive becomes sufficiently established for winter. All year round bees are foraging for the winter to make it into the next spring. The honey and bee bread they produce are what they will need for survival. Taking too much of their honey can jeopardize the hive and it may not survive the winter. They will literally starve if there isn’t enough food.
Allow your bees time to establish themselves before harvesting honey. Typically, it takes a year for a colony to build up enough strength for surplus honey production.
9. Harvesting Tips
Harvest honey when the honeycombs are capped, indicating that the honey is ripe. Use a bee brush to gently remove bees from the frames before extraction. Be sure to leave enough honey for the bees to sustain themselves through the winter.
Backyard beekeeping is a rewarding journey that not only provides you with delicious honey but also contributes to the health of the environment. By following these basic guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful and conscientious beekeeper. Happy Beekeeping!
This post was all about how to start beekeeping in your backyard.