If you have been considering getting bees, now is a good time to do some prep work. I’ve written in the past about reasons to keep bees. As a short recap, honey bees make honey and pollinate crops. Is it the easiest thing to do, no, it does take work. It isn’t exactly hard or challenging. You will need to lift some boxes, some that are full of honey can be rather heavy, but there are ways to work with smaller boxes that will be less weight per box.
Before you get much further let’s go over a few topics that will no doubt come up. I know you are asking “Will I get stung keeping bees?” Yes, you will. But here is the thing, honey bees can only sting mammals once. When they do their venom sac is ripped out of their body since the stinger has a barb that gets lodged into mammal’s skin. This will kill the bee. They really only want to sting to defend their hive, so don’t think that if you are just walking through your lawn and see a bee visiting a clover that the bee will see you and zip over to attack. Most “bee stings” that happen in this country are actually from hornets or wasps.
Also bees have different temperaments. When I was living in New Mexico one building where I worked had Africanized Honey Bees (sometimes called killer bees by those who don’t know better). I was stung and they swarmed after me and a couple coworkers, we had to run into the next building over. Over the past year I’ve been keeping 2 hives of Italian honey bees. We joke that one hive is my laid back hive. I’ve gotten comfortable enough that I will pop the covers off to take a look or give them some patties with no jacket or gloves on. The other hive is at a different location and they are a touch less friendly. Even if I smoke them before I open the hive to inspect a couple of bees fly up to get in my face and at least 1 will sting my gloves.
Once people accept that by keeping a few thousand barely domesticated flying stinging insects they are bound to get stung eventually they wonder about honey. If you are planning on getting bees just because you are wanting honey, there are better ways to go about this. For starters, your first year when you shell out the money for hives and bees and gear, the bees are mostly going to be moving in and setting up shop. Your goal for that first year is getting the bees through that first winter. I have done what I can to make sure that my bees make it, I’ll keep watching them, but there isn’t a lot more that can be done for my bees between now and the spring. Sure, I can do some emergency feeding, and I will if needed. But back on topic, you will be getting honey the second year at the earliest.
What to do with the winter?
If you are planning on getting bees you should start by spending your winter reading. I would recommend Beekeeping For Dummies. There are a whole stack of other books and I have a few and am working on reading more, but this is one that I keep going back to to reference. While I read most books on a tablet now, this is one that I’d say go ahead and get the physical book. It is great to pull out and flip around to the specific part you want to reread.
Also use this time to find a local beekeeping organization. Mine doesn’t have any meetings in either December or January, since there isn’t much to do. However if you can at least find their websites, they tend to have beekeeping courses for beginners. They can fill up so the earlier that you can try to get into one the better.
Lastly you should look at getting supplies ready and ordering bees. If you have a local beekeeping supply store, I would put in a recommendation for going to visit them. Since they are local they can help you with determining when to do things in your area and what sort of plants work well and the like. They also tend to be willing to spend time talking with new beekeepers making sure that they have the gear that you need. A very good shop will also stop you from buying gear that you don’t need just yet.
If you can’t find a local shop, there are any number of online shops that all carry beginner set ups. They may just be the hive bodies or they might even have a smoker, feeder and the like. In the future I’ll draft up a checklist of what gear that I would recommend that the first year beekeeper has.
Don’t forget to order bees. Sometimes you can wait until the spring, other times by that time they are all spoken for. You will have the choice of ordering bees in a package, where you will be shipped a certain number of pounds of bees. The other option is a nuc or nucleus hive. The upside of the package is that the bees tend to come earlier. While the nuc comes later it isn’t just bees, but it is a little hive, with frames ready to be dropped into your hive.
What to do next?
Well, that is just opening the door. Bees are great to have, but they are work. There are plenty of reasons to keep them, but you might have your own reasons not to. If you do, it can open doors to an amazing communities of beekeepers to help you along and share their knowledge. I’d love to hear if you are interested, or if you have some questions or thoughts on keeping honeybees.