There is something very alluring about beekeeping. It's a big part of the getting in touch with the natural world and a lot of people dream about the possibility of keeping a beehive but few actually do it. If you ever thought about it but never tried this overview will give you some insight into what it is all about and what is entailed in the hobby of beekeeping.
The first thing we think about when we think beehive is "getting stung" and we really shouldn't think this. There are many remarkable benefits to keeping bees including the simple joy of the hobby, the fascinating life of the bee, the benefit to the world including your garden and of course there is the honey! And, the bee sting is really over touted. Unless you are allergic it really is not that bad and honey bees have been for centuries now to be very docile. They really aren't inclined to sting unless they have to!
A Note from Will: I am a beekeeper, I have two hives and I really enjoy the hobby! It takes some studying and learning to get good at this hobby but it is well worth it. I recommend you do a search for local beekeeping associations. Every state has them and you will learn a lot from experienced beekeepers. The video at the bottom of this page is me and one of my hives.
Fast Tip: There are two things you should start with if you are considering beekeeping as a hobby. Get yourself a book or two and contact your local beekeepers association. This is a great way to start. You are raising living creatures so there are things you will need to learn in order to be successful. I have book recommendations and links that will help.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How much honey can you expect to harvest from a hive? This number can vary quite a bit but it is not unusual to get around 60 pounds of honey from a hive. (about 5 gallons).
- How many bees are in a hive? This number varies by the season and in the summer a single hive can have as many as 80,000 bees.
- Can you make money selling honey? Yes, absolutely! You can do pretty good with the honey sales. It sells really well and every year I have more request for honey than I have honey.
- Is it legal to keep bees? In most places it is legal but some places will have some rules that you have to follow such as only a certain number of hives per acre or they may require your hive to be inspected. You should contact your state bee inspector about any requirements.
What do you do and how do you start?
Here is an overview of some the process. This is a rough timeline to give you a rough idea of what is done. This will vary depending on where you live and what the climate is like.
- You will order your beehive and equipment at any time and put together your hive. This will take a few hours.
- Order your queen bee in January/February
- Start your hive in April/May
- As the Summer develops you will add more levels to your hive making it bigger to hold more honey
- You will periodically check your hive over the summer, inspecting for health, vermin, parasites and other things.
- Harvest your honey in late summer and early autumn
- Before winter starts you will do various things like feeding, treating for parasites and winterizing the hive
This picture shows my two hives. Notice how the hives are each a stack of four boxes. Two large boxes on the bottom and two smaller boxes on the top. The queen is in the lower most box . The two bottom boxes are for the bees and any boxes stacked on top of that will be for you to harvest honey from. As the season develops you will add more boxes to this stack so the bees can make more honey.
Start up costs
Beekeeping is a hobby that can actually make you money by selling the honey so this is something you should consider when thinking about the costs. But typically, starting with nothing it will cost you somewhere around $ 300 dollars for all the basic startup equipment including one hive and then to get your first batch of bees will cost you another $60 to $80 dollars. If you want to get a look at a beginners kit and see what it will cost you this company has a couple of different ones, a basic one and a deluxe one. Here is the basic one There is also the additional expense of an extractor if you want an easy way to get the honey out of the hive. But there are other options for this and you can often just contact a local beekeeping association and ask for help. Often times someone will let you borrow an extractor in exchange for some honey. Amazon.com carries a starter beehive Right here: Beehive Kit - 1 Deep - 1 Medium
Hours of work
It will take a few hours to get going in the hobby. Most of this is putting together and setting up your hive. After that you really don't need to spend a lot of time with the hive. Typically, over the course of a year you might make eight to ten visits to the hive. This is less than once a month. And as you get better at it you will need to make fewer visits.So, this is definitely not a time consuming hobby. But, you are caring for living things and there will be quite a bit to learn so you will probably spend a fair amount of time reading about the hobby and how to do it. Let's say that you can do this hobby with about 40 hours of work a year invested. The bees, after all, really do all the work! There are a couple of times during the year where you will spend the most time. In spring when the hive is starting to come alive and in autumn when you harvest the honey.
Getting the Honey
This is the most work you will have to do when caring for a beehive but it is also the most rewarding. You won't take all the honey from the bees though. You have to leave them enough so they can survive the winter successfully. What you do is remove the frames from the hive, uncap the honeycomb by cutting the top off the frame with a hot knife. Then put the frame into an extractor that spins the honey out.
This is the first step in harvesting the honey. I have removed a frame from the hive and brushed off all the bees. You can see this frame is loaded with honey. Much of the comb is capped off with wax. That honeycomb is loaded with honey and the frame is very heavy.
Next we uncap the honey with a hot knife. You can just heat up a knife with hot water or you can buy a special knife for the job. And remember that all that wax is valuable!
Next you insert the uncapped frames into something called an extractor. You then spin the extractor and the honey will spin out of the honey comb. This extractor will cost you a couple of hundred dollars but there are smaller extractors and other options that you have.
Now you pass your honey through a screen or a filter and it is ready to be bottled! Yay and Yummie!
Here is a quart of honey from my hive!
Books and more
Interested in raising honey bees? This friendly, practical guide presents a step-by-step approach to starting your own beehive, along with expert tips for maintaining a healthy colony. You get the latest on honey bee medication and treatments, harvesting and marketing your honey, and the impact the sudden disappearance of the honey bee has on our environment and economy.
To bee or not to bee? - understand the benefits of beekeeping and whether it's right for you
Build your first hive - gather the right equipment, obtain your bees, and transfer them safely to their new home
Get up-close and personal - see how to open and close the hive, inspect your bees at the right times, and know what to look for
Handle common problems - from swarming to robbing to pesticide poisoning, find simple solutions
Understand Colony Collapse Syndrome - learn what you can do to help save the honey bees
Gear up for the golden harvest - use the tools of the trade to extract honey, store it, and sell it
The Backyard Beekeeper , now revised and expanded, makes the time-honored and complex tradition of beekeeping an enjoyable and accessible backyard pastime that will appeal to gardeners, crafters, and cooks everywhere. This expanded edition gives you even more information on "greening" your beekeeping with sustainable practices, pesticide-resistant bees, and urban and suburban beekeeping. More than a guide to beekeeping, it is a handbook for harvesting the products of a beehive and a honey cookbook--all in one lively, beautifully illustrated reference. This complete honey bee resource contains general information on bees; a how-to guide to the art of bee keeping and how to set up, care for, and harvest honey from your own colonies; as well as tons of bee-related facts and projects. You'll learn the best place to locate your new bee colonies for their safety and yours, and you'll study the best organic and nontoxic ways to care for your bees, from providing fresh water and protection from the elements to keeping them healthy, happy, and productive. Recipes of delicious treats, and instructions on how to use honey and beeswax to make candles and beauty treatments are also included.
This book is the complete "honey bee" resource with general information on bees, a how-to guide to the art of bee keeping and how to set up, care for and harvest your own hives, as well as tons of fun facts and projects that are bee related. The second half of the book is the complete guide to honey. It reviews the different types of honey, health effects as well as provides 100s of ideas and recipes for using honey in recipes, cosmetically in facemasks and shampoos, and for medicinal uses.
This is a completely assembled and painted hive kit. It includes all the essential items of a hive. Made with finger-jointed white pine supers. Includes a screened bottom board, mite board, feeder, entrance reducer, inner cover and lid. This kit has one "deep" hive body and one "medium" super. These are commercial grade quality hives. This means that there may be some minor knots in the wood, they may have a bit of a rougher cut, or the paint may not complete every nook and cranny. Our goal is to sell a quality structurally sound hive. Hives are painted with a block-out primer and then covered with a 15-year semi-gloss coat. If you need a quick hive for a swarm you've found or are you installing from a purchased bee package? This is the hive you need!
Links and Resources
- StormTheCastle.com Beekeeping and honey
- List of Beekeeping associations arranged by state
- BetterBee.com- Nice beekeepers site with equipment tutorials and more
- Bee-Commerce.com - Nice retail site with lots of bee raising equipment
- Making Mead with your honey? Check out the hobby nerd's page on Mead Making
Beekeeping Videos (I shot these vids with my hives)