Friday, March 4, 2011
A basic start to beekeeping
Since I've started the Beekeeping posts at Farm Friend Friday, several bloggers have commented that they'd like to be a beekeeper but it looks hard, or they tried once and their bees died and they are afraid to try again, or they just don't know where to start. I decided that today I would start at the beginning. There is a lot to learn, but here's the thing about beekeeping. As is typical with nature, there isn't just one way to do something. If you ask several beekeepers a specific question, you might get several different answers. And they probably all work for those beekeepers. I've been beekeeping since 2003 and I've changed how I do things several times. It's always a learning experience.
The first thing I did was take a class. It was a weekend class hosted by an experienced beekeeper and we learned how to build our hives, our frames, and about beekeeping. I would highly recommend taking a class if one is available in your area. The reason I say to take a class in your area, or at least in your USDA zone, is because every area is different. Weather affects bees differently. If you live in the south, where it doesn't freeze in the winter, you will need to consider the threat of Africanized honey bees. If you live in the north where it does freeze in the winter, you'll need to learn how to keep bees alive during the freezing temperatures.
The first three years, I lost my hive every winter. I didn't give up. But I did decide that I was going to connect with a couple of people that took the same class I took, and see if they wanted to start getting into each others hives together. They thought that was a great idea and we learned a lot off from each other. The first thing we did was move my hives to a different location in my back yard. By working together we became brave enough to try new beekeeping techniques. I started out with one hive, I now have eleven. I would highly recommend finding a beekeeper or two in your area and work with them. I would even recommend doing this before you get a hive. Try it this year and you will find out if it's something you want to pursue.
I would also go get some books on beekeeping at your local library. But remember, those books might be generic and not necessarily everything in them will be for your zone.
I order most of my beekeeping supplies from these three companies.
I purchase different things from different companies, depending on prices, and shipping. Shipping is something to keep in mind because it can add significantly to the cost. I also have a beekeeper friend in Northern Indiana and I have purchases supplies and bees from him.
I usually purchase my hives from Kelley. The reason for that is when I took the class, that's where they purchased our starter kit and I wanted everything to be interchangeable. I don't think this really matters though because hive bodies are pretty much the same size. There are 8 frame hives now, but I started with ten so that's what I'm sticking with for now. Order some catalogs and go through them to get an idea of costs.
If you already know you want to be a beekeeper, I would order the starter kit from one of these companies or a company nearer to your area, so you will be sure to get what you need to start. If you are taking a class, you'll need to check because most classes include hive building and they supply the hive.
Keep in mind, every single item in the hive has to be built. It all comes in pieces, including the frames and comb, unless you add the cost of assembly. Also keep in mind you still need to purchase bees. It's not cheap to start out and if you want to extract honey, you'll need to purchase an extractor at some point or find someone that has one you can borrow.
The hive on the left is the one I started out with. I wouldn't really recommend this style of top unless you know for certain that you are definitely only going to have one hive and you want it to look a little extra nice. There isn't any reason for this type of hive except looks, and I use the flat topped hives to lay my tools on when I'm in the other hives.
Before you get started in beekeeping call your local extension office to make sure you can keep hives if you live in town. You might also ask if they know of anyone offering classes.
I hope I've given you enough information to consider beekeeping, and if you are a beekeeper that lost your bees because of our harsh winter we had this year, please don't give up.
If you are thinking about beekeeping, send me questions and I will keep a list and answer them on Farm Friend Friday's.