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So You Decided to Keep Bees – The Keys to Successful Beekeeping

Part II – Buying the Essentials

You found out you can keep bees in your backyard, you joined a club, took some classes, and found a mentor.  You have some experience under your belt and you still want to keep bees.  Congratulations. The next few points are for those that are ready to buy some bees!

  • Decide what type of Beekeeper you will be?

This is the nitty gritty details.  How many hives will you have?  Do you want to grow it into a business or remain a hobbyist?  How are you going to harvest your honey? What storage method are you going to have? Where will you keep the honey?  What jars are you going to use?  Are you going to sell your honey, or give it all away as gifts?  Where are you going to have your hives – all in your backyard, neighbors/family yards or on land farther away?  Be like Santa – make a list and check it twice.  Check it twice more.  If you did your due diligence you will have a general knowledge of what you want to do.  

(For simplicity sake, I’ll talk about keeping bees in your own backyard.  I’ll l write about keeping bees in other peoples yards at a later time.  That is an adventure in and of itself!)

  • Location, Location, Location –
    • Where in the backyard are you going to keep your hives? 
    • What is the landscape?  Sun, wind, trees, housing, food. 
    • Remember the prettiest place many not be the most convenient. 
    • Where are you going to keep your equipment in the off season?
  • Have a budget – If you want to make a small fortune in beekeeping – start with a large one.

Beekeeping can get real expensive really fast.  Don’t forget supplementary items – bottles for honey, labels, sugar, pollen.  It is cheaper to assemble and paint your own equipment, but you also have to have the time, talent, and room to do so.

  • Don’t forget to also budget time – it takes time to build equipment, make syrup, check bees, and harvest honey.

  • You have to plan early

Winter is our off season.  This is the time to plan for the new year.  Since you waited a year to get your bees you can enjoy some savings.  Think of all the equipment and tools you will need.  Make a list.  Most beekeeping companies will have their biggest sales around Thanksgiving.  Your mentor will tell you good places to buy packages from.  Reserve your packages early – think January.

Keep in mind most beekeeping stores aren’t open during the weekend.  Spring is a very busy time for any beekeeping store so plan early. 

Stay tuned for Part 3….

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So You Decided to Keep Bees – The Keys to Successful Beekeeping

Part I – Before You Buy Any Equipment

Beekeeping should not be a compulsive endeavor.  Take the time to research and plan this new endevor.  If you have the patience, I would tell you to wait a year before actually buying bees.  The following posts will help outline a procedure that I have learned in my years of beekeeping that will lead to the most success. 

Beekeeping should be a fun endeavor, not something that is frustrating and a drag.  Remember beekeeping is farming and nothing ever goes the way it should.  Bees, like most animals, do not read the same books that we do.  The more tools in your tool kit the better off you will be when trouble arises.  Do not get bogged down in certain procedures of beekeeping.

  • First thing to do – Look at your Local and State Laws

Like I said, this is farming and honey bees are considered livestock.  Look at your livestock laws. Call the Code Enforcement Office. Keep in mind that some municipalities do not allow honey bees.  Some municipalities only allow a certain number of hives. Some municipalities and/or states require registration and/or fees.  Some may require certain provisions before getting a bee hive – fencing, hives X feet away from buildings/property lines/streets/sidewalks, etc.  Do your research before purchasing anything.  Make sure you are within the confines of the law.

For Illinois – http://beekeepingregulations.com/

  • Read Books, Magazines, Watch YouTube Videos

But keep in mind – Everyone with a camera thinks they are an expert.

Another thing to keep in mind is location.  Are they in a very rural area with no one else around them?  Or are they in an urban setting with several different beekeepers in the area?  Are they in the US?  Are they in the north or south?  Desert, rainy, humid, dry?  Even in Illinois what you do up north is different then what people do in the south in terms of getting ready for Winter.

How long have they been keeping bees? How white is their hives and equipment?   Your equipment and hives do not stay clean for very long.   

How many hives do they take care of?  Are they caring for 2 hives or 100?  Are they migratory pollinators? 

Do they cover mites and diseases? 

You are not going to learn everything that there is to know beekeeping.  The most important thing is to get some basic knowledge.  Hands-on learning is the most valuable knowledge that you will get.

  • Join a Club (Or as one of our landlords called it – A Support Group.)

You ask 10 beekeepers a question and you will get 15 different answers.  That is true for any farming adventure – row cropping, gardening, beef, chickens, etc.  This will help you accumulate more tools for your tool box. 

The club can also help you with Local and State Laws.  They also invite speakers or have an open discussion on beekeeping issues.  Some will host classes or have work days so you can get more practice beekeeping.  You can also find people to partner up with – can split shipping costs or buy a couple bottles off of them, borrow equipment, have help during harvest season, keep an eye on things when you are out of town.

They will help with the best methods for your area – Winter prep, Spring, etc.  Good honey flow days.

 Another big reason to join a group is to find a guy that sells packages.  I highly recommend not buying packages through the mail.   No one at the post office are not beekeepers and will not have the respect for your bees as other beekeepers will.

Find out what equipment is absolutely necessary and what is just for fun.   You can also rent equipment (like an extractor) or have a space in a yard with the club.

Take a Class

The longer the class goes throughout the year the better.  You will have an idea of what needs to be done at different times of the year.  Find one with hands on experience.  The more practice you have the better you will be.  There are plenty of beginner beekeeping classes out there.  Do not be afraid to spend some money to get a good hands-on education.

  • Find a Mentor and Work with Them for a Year

This is a good trial to make sure you really want to do this.  You will have more of a one-on-one learning experience.  You may work at odd times or for a whole day.  Especially if you are lucky to find one with lots of hives and yards.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  They will give you techniques and lots of practice.  Learn what tools and techniques work best for you.  If you can, work with them the whole year – from package installation to honey harvest to winter preparations.  A mentor is someone you can bounce ideas off of throughout your beekeeping experience.

Stay tuned for Part Two……