So you want to become a beekeeper? That’s amazing! I’m always excited to hear about new beekeepers! However, I hate to see excited “newbees” jump in without the knowledge that they need to be successful and raise a healthy hive. That’s why I’m going to talk to you about the things to know as a beginner beekeeper BEFORE you get your first beehive.
10 Things Every Beginner Beekeeper Should Know
1. Why Do You Want to Become a Beekeeper?
Before we even get into the knowledge of how to raise bees, let’s talk about your “why”.
Why do you want to raise bees?
Do you want to be able to eat the most local honey possible?
Are you looking to have pollinators near your garden?
Identify the reason that makes you want to become a beekeeper and then move forward.
2. How to Find Other Local Beekeepers
The #1 piece of advice that I give to amateur beekeepers is to find a local mentor! Having an experienced beekeeper in your corner to help you raise bees can make a huge difference in your success.
You can find a beekeeping mentor at a local beekeeping club. If you don’t have a local beekeeping association/club, search online for the nearest one OR join a Facebook group for local beekeepers.
3. How to Perform a Hive Inspection
Hive inspections are vital to keeping healthy honeybee colonies.
Every so often in the spring and summer months you will need to open your hives to make sure that they are happy & healthy. I highly recommend having an experienced beekeeper walk you through your first hive inspection to show you what to look for.
When conducting a hive inspection there are several important things that you should look for:
Pests, Parasites, and Disease
- Varroa Mites: Look in brood cells and on the bodies of bees for these small reddish-brown mites.
- Small Hive Beetle: These little beetles can make your hive smell like old dirty socks. Look for them in any dark space within your hive. Check brood cells for larvae.
- Wax Moths: If you notice webbing across cells in your honeycomb, then you most likely have a wax moth infestation. The larvae of this moth will eat through the wax that makes up your comb so you need to get rid of them quickly.
- American Foulbrood: This fatal disease can doom your entire apiary. It is caused by spore-forming bacteria. Colonies with American Foulbrood must be destroyed. AFB kills the larvae of the bees so check the brood chamber for patchy, dark, or sunken brood cells with dead larvae inside. There is typically an awful smell in infected hives as well.
The Queen & Healthy Brood
Look for eggs in brood cells. Eggs look like single grains of rice within the cell.
Try to find the queen. You don’t have to work too hard to find her… If you find fresh eggs in the brood cells, then you know she is there and active and you don’t have to keep searching
Check to see how full the honey frames are. If the boxes are getting full, you might need to add a new box (or super) so the honeybees have room to expand. If you don’t give them enough space, then they are likely to swarm.
As you remove frames for inspection, try to replace them in the same order that you removed them. This will keep the brood, honey, and pollen stores in the ideal spots for your bees.
When NOT to Perform a Hive Inspection
Don’t perform a hive inspection when it is very cold out or when nectar is scarce. This can cause your hive to get too cold or to be robbed by nearby hungry hives.
How to Record Honeybee Hive Inspections
I suggest recording the findings from each of your hive inspections so that you can compare your hives’ health & productivity from season to season. To do this, you can simply use a notebook or you can use a spreadsheet like the one found in The Honeybee Record Book.
4. Common Types of Beehives
A Langstroth Hive is your “typical” wooden hive. Some consider it the best hive for a beginner beekeeper.
It is a vertical hive consisting of multiple boxes stacked on top of one another. Each box can have either 8 or 10 movable frames (depending on the size boxes that you purchase).
The con to a Langstroth hive is that you do have to lift boxes for inspections and extractions and these boxes can get heavy when filled with honey.
Top Bar Hives
Top Bar Hives are a sort of mix between the Warre and Horizontal hives. It is hollow on the inside and has a horizontal layout, but instead of a rectangular box, it is shaped more like a triangle.
This style of beehive is great for beekeepers who just want pollinators and not large amounts of honey.
The Warre hive is considered by some beekeepers to be the most natural type of hive. It looks similar to Langstroth, but the inside of the hive is made to mimic a hollowed-out tree trunk with no frames.
In contrast to the Langstroth, honey supers are added to the bottom of a Warre hive instead of the top.
This means that when you need to add a new super, you have to lift the other boxes and they can be quite heavy. Since the bees have the freedom to build comb however they like, they might build a comb that spans across multiple boxes. If this happens, then you can’t inspect or remove honey without tearing the comb apart.
Warre hives also have a quilt box that helps the bees to regulate temperature, ventilation, and humidity.
A horizontal hive has the same frame setup as a Langstroth, but instead of having boxes of frames stacked vertically, they are all in one long horizontal box. This makes inspections and honey extractions much easier.
Some horizontal hives can’t have supers added on when expansion is needed, but there are modified versions that allow for this.
5. How to Identify the Queen Bee
It isn’t necessary to find the queen every time you check on your honeybees, but it is important to know how to find her when the need arises. Finding the queen may be tricky for a beginner beekeeper. Here’s how to spot her:
- Be sure to look in the brood box first especially if you have a queen excluder. The Queen’s job is to lay eggs so this is the most likely place to find her.
- The Queen’s abdomen is noticeably longer than that of the worker bees. Her legs are longer as well.
- Her coloring is different from the worker bees, but the color isn’t always consistent in all queen bees.
- You may be able to spot her moving across a frame. Worker bees will move out of her way as she charges through.
6. Tools & Supplies for a Beginner Beekeeper
Different beekeepers prefer different tools, but there are some basic supplies a beginner beekeeper will find handy to have around.
You will find some beekeepers who routinely work with their bees without protective gear. Even those beekeepers know that there are certain times when beekeeping suits are necessary.
You can use a full bee suit, a bee jacket with a veil and gloves, or just the veil to protect you from bee stings. I definitely recommend using a full bee suit until you learn the temperament of your bees.
A hive tool is a very helpful little tool to keep on hand. It will allow you to pry your hive boxes and frames apart after having been glued together with bee propolis.
A bee brush can be used to gently brush bees off of frames that you are trying to inspect. It can also be used when you are removing frames to extract honey.
A honeybee smoker is another tool that will make inspecting hives and collecting honey much easier. Using the smoker allows you to go into a hive without being attacked by protective bees.
An extractor is used to sling honey out of filled frames. It spins to remove the honey which then drains out of the bottom into a container of your choice.
7. How to Extract Honey
When you are ready to extract honey from your beehives, you will first want to check all of the honey supers to ensure that you leave enough honey for the colony to survive.
You will then remove the honey-filled frames, brush off the bees, remove the cappings, and place the frames into an extractor.
After extraction, you can store honey in sealed glass jars, plastic bottles, or any other airtight container of your choosing.
8. How to Feed Bees in the Winter
Overwintering honeybees can be a little scary in the beginning. In the Spring & Summer, there is plenty of access to all the yummy sweet foods that bees love, but their access to this food is severely limited in the winter.
You can feed your bees to supplement their health
Don’t feed sugar water or sugar syrup during the wintertime. When it is cold out, the bees are not likely to consume the liquid feed and it could cause multiple issues if the temperature is below freezing.
Sugar cakes and candy boards are the best options for winter feeding. These can be fed to your honeybees by placing them on top of the frames.
When feeding sugar cakes or candy boards, be sure that you place them directly above wherever the bees are clustered so they don’t have to travel too far to eat.
It is also a good idea to add protein supplements and/or pollen into the sugar cakes and candy boards as bees can’t live off of sugar alone!
9. Nearby Farm Pesticide Schedule
If there are larger farms nearby, contact the farmer to find out when they spray pesticides on their crops and pastures.
Ask them to give you a call during the week they will be spraying so that you can protect your bees from the chemicals.
10. Where a Beginner Beekeeper Can Get Honey Bees
So where can a new beekeeper get his/her first honeybee colony?
There are several different options to choose from:
Purchase a nucleus colony
Buying a nuc is probably the best way to start out with your own bees. A nuc is basically a box (or a small hive) containing 3-5 frames that the bees have already started to build comb on. Since the bees are already working on this home of theirs, they are likely to stick around when you transfer the frames into the new hive.
Purchase a package of bees
Package bees are bees sold in a box with mesh sides. They are cheaper than purchasing a nucleus colony, but they are also a little riskier. Since there are no frames and no established comb in a package of bees, they may choose to abscond when you introduce them to their new hive.
Reach out to your local group
Your local beekeepers’ association can help to put you in contact with someone who sells state-inspected nucs, packages, or whole hives.
Catch a Wild Swarm
Catching a Wild Honeybee Swarm is a free (and pretty easy) way to get your own bees.
This option, however, should be reserved for beekeepers who have worked with their own hives long enough to understand how to safely catch and keep a new re-homed colony.
Hopefully, you have found these 10 tips helpful to get you started on the exciting journeyas a beginner beekeeper!
Keep reading for even more information that you may find useful as a beginner beekeeper!