01 May Quick Guide to Starting Your Own Beehive
Most everyone loves the natural sweetness of honey, whether on fresh-baked biscuits or right from the jar. Pure, 100% honey is simply better tasting and better for you. Not only is harvesting your own honey rewarding, but bees are pollinators and a necessity to many plants. Did you ever wonder what it would take to have your own beehive? With help from BeesBros.com, we’ve put together a quick guide to starting your own beehive. You’ll get your own fresh honey and the joyful hobby of beekeeping.
The first thing to do is self-educate. There’s only so much we can put into a quick guide, so you’ll want to grab a book or magazine (or two) and read up. We suggest the following for beginner beekeepers:
- The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum
- First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant
- The American Bee Journal magazine
- Bee Culture magazine
Another great source for beginners, especially for local information and the ability to place group orders for equipment and bees (or borrowing equipment), is your local Beekeeping Association. Find your local association on Bee Culture’s Beekeeper Directory.
Always check local codes before investing in bees and equipment. Some cities have limits on how many hives you can have or how much space you have to leave between your property line and your hives. Some cities don’t even allow beekeeping! If that’s the case, ask friend or farmers in more rural areas if you can set up your hives there.
You’ve done your homework and are ready to go. What next? Bees typically start becoming active in the spring, so that’s the perfect time to start your hive. Begin as soon as the weather is warm enough to give your bees time to build a thriving hive.
Make sure you give your winged friends an open flight path! Thousands, yes thousands, of bees are going to be flying in and out of the hive. If you’re in the city, we suggest having a high fence as this keeps the flight path above your neighbors (who will appreciate it!). Make sure you place your hives where they’ll receive the morning sun, especially in winter. This warms the hive and increases bee activity.
Set up at least 15 feet of open space around your hives to avoid interfering with the flight path. You should also provide your bees with a water source. All that flying is thirsty work! A birdbath does the job perfectly.
You need to buy some important gear. Don’t skimp here! Trust us you’ll regret cutting corners later. Here’s the basic list:
- Bee suit with hood and gloves. Essential for your safety!
- Beehives: boxes, supers, bottom boards, covers and frames with patterned wax foundations. Typically hives are about $130 – $150.
- Smoker used to lull the bees into a relaxed state when you’re working with the hives.
- Hive tool, a mini pry bar made especially for working with beehives.
- Extractor (optional). This is a spinner used to separate the honey from the comb.
Get Some Bees!
There are several different ways to do this, of course. The most affordable way (free) is catching your own swarm. You should educate yourself on this process before attempting it. Another way is to buy the bees from someone who has already caught a swarm (prices vary). Most beginners buy a new colony, which usually runs about $60 – $95. The most expensive option, coming in at about $100 – $150, is buying a nucleus colony. This is essentially a fully functioning mini-colony. It usually includes about five frames of fully-formed honeycomb filled with eggs, larvae, capped brood, pollen, nectar and honey. It also comes with a fertile “laying” queen and around 10,000 or so of her own offspring, which include drones (her sons) and workers (her daughters).
Some recommend buying a “nuc,” which is basically one queen and a bunch of worker bees. However, this is not the way to start a hive; rather, nucs are used when a queen in the hive has died. The majority of nucs don’t come with fertile queens and the queen needs to be mated with a drone. However, nucs are valuable if you’re trying to strengthen a weak hive that already has combs built and larvae present.
Bees are pretty much self-sufficient at this point. However, depending on your climate, you may need to give them some extra help in staying healthy. If nectar is slow to flow in your area, we suggest feeding your bees. This usually isn’t necessary in warmer climates, but if you need to do it, here is a source of good information on feeding your bees.
One easy way to feed bees is with quart jars full of sugar water. Use a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water and punch some holes in the lids. Put the jars in the hives and you’re good to go!
You may also need to treat your flying friends for mites, parasites and disease. Hopefully not, though. Check on the hives every now and then to make sure all is well.
Now’s the time to harvest all that delicious honey! This is usually done in the fall, but can be done throughout the year. There are a few different ways to do it:
- Take out a chunk of the honeycomb. You can eat the honey and beeswax together or use an extractor to separate them.
- Remove the honeycomb frames and scrape off the wax caps using a hot knife.
- Keep the caps. You can melt them down to make beeswax candles.
- Put the frames in your extractor and spin.
- Honey flows out of the bottom of the extractor into a bucket.
- Put a small metal strainer between the spigot and the bucket to collect any wax or pieces of bees.
The result is delicious, wonderful raw honey! Enjoy!