Are you thinking about raising homestead livestock but not sure where to begin? You might want to consider starting with self-sufficient animals like bees. Apart from the fact that they are easy to take care of, you don’t need a large space for them, unlike other animals.
With enough knowledge and preparation, anyone can become a master beekeeper. Some do it as a hobby, while other beekeepers do it for business. For you to succeed in beekeeping, you should learn everything you can about raising bees and beehive management before you get started.
Bee Facts You Should Know
Bees are hard workers
You’ve probably heard of the idiom busy as a bee, and that’s a fact. Bees are always very busy and full of energy. They get their energy from nectar and the other nutrients and protein from pollen. A lot of crops depend on pollinators such as bees and thanks to them we have a good supply of food to put on our table.
It’s not just the honey they provide but also other vegetables and fruits. Apart from that, they help farmers and consumers save money. Without these hardworking bees, farmers would need to spend billions of dollars each year to pollinate their crops. With that additional cost, our food would cost more, too.
They can live almost anywhere
Bees can easily build a home in almost any location. Aside from trees, they can build a hive on sand dunes, quarries, wetlands, shingles, soft cliffs, marshes, gravel pits, chalk grasslands, and sea walls. They can be found in almost all continents except for Antarctica. They are everywhere as long as there are flowering plants around, even if it’s in the city.
Bees have different personalities
There are over 270 species of bees around the world and each has a different personality. The most common bee and most popular is probably the Honey bee. Some other common bees are bumblebees and solitary bees. Bumblebees and honey bees are very social and they are led by a queen bee.
You can easily identify a bumblebee for its black and yellow striped furry body. Solitary bees have a single pair family unit and are smaller than others. The different types of solitary bees are mining bees, leaf-cutter bees, and mason bees.
You can help a bee come back to life
Did you know that you can help bring a bee back to life? Yes, you can be a lifesaver for one of these hardworking insects. If you see a struggling bee, all you need to do is to pick it gently and place it in a bee-friendly flower. However, if there’s no flower around, you can make your own sugar water by mixing equal parts of water and white sugar.
You can give the bee one drop or two of sugar water using a teaspoon or bottle cap on the bee’s front end. Wait for the bee to recover and then let it fly. The sugar water will give the bee the energy and carbohydrates it needs to fly again. Don’t offer brown sugar or honey as the latter contains pathogens, while it is hard for bees to digest brown sugar.
Special food for the new queen
Once a queen bee dies inside the honeybee hive, bee workers will find and create a new queen to replace the fallen queen bee. They will choose a young larva and feed it with royal jelly – a special food for bees. The royal jelly will help the larva develop and make it a fertile queen.
Their feet have a distinct smell
According to the University of Bristol’s scientists, bees’ feet have a distinct smell that allows them to identify their own odor, the scent of their relative and a stranger bee. This also allows them to distinguish which flowers have already been visited and prevent them from wasting time visiting them.
Herbs and the Bees
Not all flowers can provide the nectar that bees need. If you want to help them get the nourishment they need, you can plant single flower varieties. Bees are known to love herbs so you can plant some flowering herbs such as sage, chives, thyme, and marjoram. You can also try some bushy plants like lavender and rosemary. Aside from herbs they also love fruits and vegetables like beans, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Sow a variety of plants that can provide them nectar throughout the year. They particularly need nectar starting from early spring up to winter. If you don’t have a garden but want to help the bees and the wildlife, you can plant on hanging baskets or window boxes.
Roles of Bees in Their Community
Each bee has a role to play in its community. While queen bees play the most important role, they still need the help of their fellow bees. Aside from the queen bee, the other roles are drones and worker bees.
Worker bees are female bees and they are pretty much very busy all day long. They are responsible for collecting food, building honeycombs, looking after the queen and her eggs, as well as guard the entrance of the beehive. Drones are male bees and are bigger than female bees, but they are still smaller than their queen. The main role of drones is to breed with the queen. The queen is considered the mother of all bees and her sole responsibility is to lay eggs and the genetic traits of its colonies.
Pros and Cons of Raising Bees
Before you begin reading and researching about how to raise bees, it might help if you learn first the advantages and disadvantages of beekeeping. This will also help you decide if this is something you would like to pursue before you even purchase the tools and kits to start a hive.
Pros of beekeeping
Produce fresh honey
It’s probably the top reason why beekeepers want to raise bees – for their honey. One bee can produce at least 1/12 teaspoon of honey for around 6 weeks before it dies. It may not be much but imagine if you have thousands of bees working. You’ll have jars of honey in no time.
Beeswax is produced by worker honey bees from a gland in their stomach. The wax is then formed into a honeycomb and becomes their home. There are so many things you can do with beeswax. Most candles and beauty products like lipsticks and creams have beeswax as one of their ingredients.
You can earn money
With honey and beeswax, you can put up your own business. You can either sell fresh honey to your neighbors or whip up something that contains honey. You can also sell the beeswax to manufacturers who need it or you can learn to make your own candle or cosmetics using beeswax. The possibilities are almost endless.
Grow your garden or orchards
Raising honey bees can help grow your garden or orchards through pollination. With the help of bees, nature can provide us with more food as well as for the wildlife.
Since bees are known to be self-sufficient and hard-working, you don’t need to monitor or check on them frequently. They’ll be busy minding their own business with producing honey and beeswax. On warm days, you only need to spend at least 1 hour a week to manage them. However, you would need to spend more time with them during winter to help them get through the cold.
Cons of beekeeping
Some people have allergies to bee stings and if you have one or anyone in your family does, you need to be extra careful. If you are not sure if you are allergic to bee stings, it’s best to check with your doctor first before raising bees. And even if you are not allergic, they can still hurt you. So first learn how to manage beehives to avoid being stung.
Just like any other living thing, bees are also prone to diseases. Although they cannot transmit diseases to humans, you might want to keep your bees healthy and maintain a healthy hive. In case you are not aware, there has been a decline in the bee population due to diseases, parasites, and pesticides. You may want to check with your local beekeeping community on how to prevent it from happening to your bees.
A bit expensive
Raising bees can be a bit expensive at first due to the tools and other supplies you need to start one. A single beehive may cost around $150, plus consider the protective clothing you need, hive tool, and a smoker. You’ll be spending more or less around $500 for the tools and a single beehive. The more beehive you purchase, the more expensive it will be. However, you can lower the cost by searching for beekeeping starter kits which include, boxes, bees, and protective gear. Starter kits are usually more affordable than buying your supplies separately.
No honey on the first year
You might be disappointed to know that you might not be able to harvest honey for yourself in the first year. We know learning everything about beekeeping is a lot of work and you’d wish all this hard work will pay off at least after a year. However, that’s just not the case, as the bees will be very busy in the first season. They need to raise young bees, produce beeswax, and store some honey to prepare for the winter. But be patient, after the first season, you’ll soon be filling jars of honey and tons of beeswax.
Beginner's Guide on How to Raise Bees
Now that you know the pros and cons of beekeeping and if you are still here reading, this means you have decided to pursue your journey to raising honey bees in your backyard. So, here’s everything you need to know about beekeeping.
Know the Laws in Your Area
Before you get started, check with your city or town if there are any laws regarding beekeeping or if you are even allowed to set one up. Most states have regulations regarding beekeeping and beekeepers are required to register where the apiary is. You might also need to consider your neighbors and make sure they are fine with it. Expect to pay a minimal registration fee every year. Aside from your municipality, you also need to check with your Homeowner’s Association if they will approve it and know the rules.
Choose the Perfect Spot
Once you are sure that your community allows the operation of an apiary, the next step is to choose the perfect spot. Honey bees have needs and where you put them plays an important role in their overall wellbeing. The four important things that they need are:
Honey bees need sunlight or at least an afternoon shade if you have hot weather. The bees need to keep the hives warm.
Bees need to have access to freshwater close to their hives. If you have a bubble fountain that is shallow, you can use it or you can place a plant saucer and add some stones in the center. Be sure to replace the water every day.
Source of food
Although bees are very hardworking and are self-sufficient, it wouldn’t hurt to place them in a location where you have flowering plants. However, take note that not all flowers contain nectars that a honeybee needs for food and pollination. There are times when you need to help worker bees to nourish them, particularly during the dry season, or to support and prepare a weak hive when the cold season comes.
The hive needs protection from the wind, especially when it snows or rains. If the rain or snow gets in the hive, it will be more difficult for the bees to keep it warm. Before your bees arrive, ensure that you provide them with a secure habitat. Pesticides and insecticides are the number one cause of death in bees, so be sure you don’t use them on your plants and you are far from areas that use commercial pesticides or insecticides. Even if worker bees were not killed instantly by the insecticides, there is a possibility that they can bring the poison into the hive, thus killing more bees or the queen bee.
Do not place the hive near areas that are busy such as swimming pools or play areas. Giving each hive enough space is a good idea. At least 50 feet away from busy areas is recommended, however, if you do not have enough space, you can place the hive near a high hedge or fence. This will give them privacy and reduce their chance of getting in contact with others.
Get the Location Ready
Once you have chosen the perfect spot for your bees, you need to prepare it. As much as possible, place the hive facing South; this will help keep the honey bees and the hive warm. If they are placed in a windy location, protect them with barriers and keep them high off the ground. Clear the area and level the ground.
Prepare your Beekeeping Equipment and Clothing
Now that your bees’ habitat is in place, the next thing you need to do is prepare and protect yourself. You would need proper beekeeping clothing. There are a lot of beekeeping jackets or full suits available and they come in different styles. Beginners may want to invest in a good beekeeping suit or jacket. Go for a loose-fitting and light-colored suit or jacket, You would also need to wear a hat with a veil to cover your face. This will protect you from bee stings.
A pair of gloves is also recommended for beginners. However, a lot of expert beekeepers prefer not to wear one so they can control the inside of the beehive easier and better. This is not advisable for new beekeepers. Wear old clothes as bee wastes can stain your clothing. New beekeepers should also try to cover every part of their bodies and ensure that not a single bee can enter their clothes so they won’t get stung.
To do this, you can insert your shirt sleeves inside your gloves to protect your wrists and tuck your pants in your boots or socks to protect your ankles from bee stings. To make sure the sleeves and pants won’t slip up, you can use a rubber band to hold them tight. It is a good idea to wash your clothing regularly to ensure that the pheromone released by bees is washed away.
Next, you need to know about all the beekeeping equipment and supplies. Not including the hives, these are the three essential supplies you’ll always need.
This tool is used to loosen or unlatch frames and boxes.
Many beginners in beekeeping will find frame grips handy when removing frames with one hand.
Smoke can keep bees calm as long as it is used properly. If you have one or two hives, a small smoker will do. However, for those who have more than 4 hives, a bigger one is more suitable. You can purchase smoker fuel to create white smoke or use pine needles but make sure they are dry.
You can easily purchase beekeeping clothing and equipment at your local beekeeping suppliers. You may also search online.
Choose your Beehive
The next step is choosing a hive for your honeybees. There are different kinds and styles of beehives. Most beginners prefer hives that are ready to assemble, however you can also build your own hive, just make sure to follow the right dimensions.
The most common beehives are the Langstroth hive, top bar hive, and Warre Hive. Once you’ve chosen your beehive style, you can make them more appealing by painting them. Whichever style you choose, be sure to know the pros and cons of each and it should match your needs as well.
There are several ways to get your bees. However, for beginners, it would be a good idea to buy bees than finding bees in the wild. There are two ways to get bees – it can be through nucleus hive or package bees.
A nucleus hive or nuc is a 1/2 size colony, with a typical size of 5 frame nuc. This means you will be getting 5 frames of bees, comb, baby bees or what they call brood, honey, and of course a queen. The advantage of getting a nucleus hive is that you can easily increase the growth of your colony. However, there are also risks involved like the possibility of spreading diseases or pests from the donor hive.
Package bees, on the other hand, will include several female bees, a queen, and a feeder that includes sugar syrup. Your bee supplier will teach you how to install the package bees in their new habitat and how to introduce the queen to the workers. The indirect method is the typical way to introduce the queen bee to the workers.
You can check with your local beekeeping group where you can purchase good and healthy bees around your area.
Nourish the Bees
Young colonies will be very busy storing nectar and pollen, tending the queen and the brood, as well as guarding the hive by sealing all seams and cracks. For them to adjust easily, you need to feed them with syrup included in the package bees or if you chose to get a nucleus hive, you can feed them with sugar syrup. Observe your honey bees feeding and if you think that they no longer need the syrup, you can remove it from the apiary.
Examine the Hives
If you are a new beekeeper, you need to examine the hives inside out more often for the first few months. This will help you learn about your hives and how bees work. If you think you have familiarized yourself, you can reduce the number of times you inspect the hives. The things you need to look out for are ants, bee wastes, and litter. Check the landing or bottom board for litter and ensure the hive is clean and there are no ants.
You also need to inspect the inside of the hive. Look and see if there are eggs and larvae on the frames during warm days. You’ll know you have a healthy queen if you see a lot of larvae in different stages of growth. If there’s none, you may need to consult with an expert beekeeper in your local beekeeping association.
As a guide, once you are comfortable with examining them, try to lessen the number of times of inspection. This is recommended to keep bees healthy and reduce their stress. Constantly checking the hive will stress the bees out and it usually takes them a day to fully recover.
Check for Diseases and Pests
Hives are prone to pests and it is ideal to regularly check them for varroa mites which are the most common pest found in hives. Apart from mites, you also need to ensure that there are no wax moths and small hive beetles. American and European foulbrood are the common diseases you need to look out for.
If you think you have pests in the hives, it’s recommended to take action right away. But you have to be careful with pest control as it may affect, or worst, kill the colonies. If you are dealing with ants, never use an insecticide and spray on them as doing this can also kill your honey bees.
Instead, you can use ant bait. You can fill small containers with boric acid and something sweet to lure the ants. Another way to prevent ants from getting into your hives is by submerging the legs of the hive stand in plastic tubs with water. This will keep the ants from getting into the hive. For small hive beetles, you can also try using baits or by killing them on sight.
If you are dealing with varroa mites, you need to take pest control seriously as this is the most dangerous pest for your bees. These mites can kill your hive and eat the brood and they can also spread viruses. To save your colonies, here are some ways to deal with them.
- Sugar dusting – Dusting sugar will loosen the mite’s grip and will cause them to fall off the bees.
- Formic Acid – This is more toxic than Apiguard and is best to be done during winter and fall. This method kills the mites through gassing.
- Apiguard – This is a gel made from thyme plant oil. It is very effective, however, it can affect the taste of your honey.
- Mite Trapping – You can trap varroa mites using drone frames
- Monitoring – This method will give you an idea of how serious your mite infestation is. You can apply petroleum jelly on your board and slide it on the lower area of your bottom board. Wait for 24 hours and pull the board and count the mites. You’ll know you have varroa mite problems if there are more than 10 mites on every brood box.
You can expand your hive if you think it is necessary. You can start with a body-brood box and see if you have at least 7 frames filled with bees and brood. Then you can top it with another brood box. Let the second brood box be filled and then put a queen excluder on top, and then lastly your box where you will get your honey.
Collection of Honey
The first year is not always fruitful, as there’s a chance that you won’t be collecting any honey because honey production may take a while, especially for new colonies. However, if your bees were able to overwinter well, you can start harvesting in early summer or late spring the following year. There are several ways to collect honey and a professional extractor will come in handy. However, if you don’t own one, here are some steps to do it.
- Use a bench scraper to cut the honey from the foundation and use a wooden spoon to crush the wax and honey in a bowl.
- Get a strainer and cheesecloth to strain the wax and honey in a plastic bucket; make sure that it’s food-grade. Leave it for a few days to drain and settle. You will notice some foam and bubbles will form.
- Now it’s time for bottling, prepare your jars, and cover your floor with plastic or old newspaper. Open the stopper from the bucket and pour the honey into your jars and use the lid to cover them tightly.
- Get your leftover wax and rinse it. You can store them in the freezer for later use. You can create your own hand lotion, candles, and lip balms with your beeswax.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to raise honey bees?
The initial cost would be around $500-600 for your bees, hive, clothing, and equipment.
Is it hard to raise bees?
There’s a lot of work required for raising bees, especially during harvest time, and ensuring that hives are free from pests. However, since they are self-sufficient, you don’t need to check on them and feed them every day.
How many acres do you need for beekeeping?
If you are planning to keep bees in your backyard, you would need at least 1 to 2 acres of land. This should be enough for two hives, or a maximum of three hives.
How do I start keeping bees?
Before you start keeping bees, you need to check in your area if beekeeping is allowed and also with your neighbors if it’s okay with them. Then you need to know everything you can about keeping bees.
Beekeeping in your backyard can be fun and exciting, whether you do it as a hobby or for profit. It has a lot of advantages not only for yourself but also in the ecosystem. The bee population is declining for some of its species, and you can help restore them by practicing proper beekeeping protocols. Your neighbors will either love or hate the idea of having bees near their backyard, so talk with your neighbors first. To get more information about the honey bee, you can check with your local bee keeping guilds. Also, don’t forget to invest in good bee keeping equipment and clothing to avoid being stung.