Beekeeping for Beginners

Ten compelling reasons to encourage beekeeping for beginners.

Honeybee on Purple Flower

Honeybee collecting honey and pollen on phacelia tanacetifolia flower.

iStockphoto.com/proxyminder

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Labor costs can eat up meager earnings on the farm, but imagine the benefit of signing up thousands of workers who will literally pay for the privilege of pollinating your crops. I’m not talking about the latest scheme for taking advantage of your fellow humans, I’m talking about creating a hive of activity at your place with bees. Given the right environment, bees will work hard to add to your bottom line with increased yields – and if you treat them right, they’ll pay you rent in the form of sweet, delicious, healthful honey and wax, which you can easily convert to cold cash.

Beekeeping may be the best small-farm business you’ve never considered. Read on for 10 compelling reasons to recruit a buzzing labor force to your farm.

1. Some farming activities need large amounts of physical strength for heavy lifting, or endurance for long, strenuous hours of activity, but beekeeping is different and democratic. It can be accomplished by men or women. Youngsters, under adult supervision, make excellent beekeepers. Seniors find that beekeeping makes an excellent hobby. The most physically demanding part of beekeeping is lifting honey-filled supers (the boxes that hold the frames on which the bees build the honeycombs) from the hive.

2. Beekeeping is an activity that can be enjoyed anywhere in the United States. Hives can be kept in the cold Northern states, the desert, and in the hot and humid South. A local beekeeping group can be an invaluable resource for assessing specific regional strategies for beekeeping. If you live where there are flowering plants, shrubs or trees, you can keep bees. You can find hives in the city as well as the country. Country beekeepers, however, enjoy fewer
restrictions. City dwellers will want to check local ordinances regarding rules or restrictions for beekeeping.

3. Bees do not require daily feeding, watering or milking like many kinds of livestock. They generally need supplemental feeding in the spring and fall, which requires checking food reserves in the hives every few days. During the summer, you might check your bees every week or so for health of the colony, condition of the hive, and progress of honey production. Late summer or fall involves removing surplus honey from the hive, which can generally be done in a day if you only have one or two hives. Winter involves no work for the beekeeper. It is a time to read up on the latest beekeeping information and make plans for next year’s honey crop. The practice can easily be done with other daily farm chores or with a full-time job away from the farm.

4. Beekeeping has benefits for those who garden, maintain orchards or vineyards, or who raise row crops. Honeybees are the leading pollinator of all plants. Increased fruit, vegetable and flower production make beekeeping a real asset. Pollination increases can be enjoyed by neighbors as well, since bees can travel up to three miles from the hive looking for food sources. Some beekeepers rent hives to other farmers for pollination purposes.

5. Home-produced honey is delicious. Drizzled on top of biscuits or added to a cup of hot tea is just the beginning. Baking with honey creates moist muffins, cakes and cupcakes. Many who suffer from seasonal allergies swear by local raw honey’s ability to help alleviate allergy symptoms without the need for prescriptions or over-the-counter medications. Honey and honey products make great gifts for family and friends.

6. Bees produce items other than honey. Wax, propolis (a sticky resin-type substance) and royal jelly all have retail possibilities. Beeswax makes beautiful candles. Beeswax candles are valued for their cleaner burn and mild, sweet fragrance. Honey and beeswax are frequent additions in handmade soap, lotions and lip balms. Milk and honey soap is a perennial favorite, and farmers with dairy cows, goats or sheep often find it a good use of extra milk.

7. Working with bees can be a great stress reducer. Tending the hive requires smooth, deliberate movements and concentration so as to not provoke the bees. This ability to focus only on the task at hand allows the other stressors of the day to melt away. Observing the industry of the colony and listening to the hum can be very relaxing.

8. Compared with other farm startup costs, beekeeping is an inexpensive proposition. Most beekeeping suppliers offer beginner kits in the $165 to $450 range. These kits generally include a hive, basic tools, smoker, gloves and basic protective garments like a veiled hat, as well as an introduction to beekeeping book. Bees are purchased by the package or a nuc (pronounced nuke and short for nuclear hive). A package will include worker bees, drone bees and a queen bee, which will be in a separate cage within the package of bees. A nuc consists of workers, drones, a queen and brood. Expect to pay at least $100 for bees shipped to your place.

9. Beekeeping is a fun hobby with the perk of extra income. In a good year, one hive can produce about 100 pounds of surplus honey, which can more than pay for startup costs. Many beginning beekeepers start with two hives so they can compare the progress of the two hives. Add in the additional income that could be earned by making value-added items such as candles, soaps, lotions and lip balm, or selling wax, pollen and propolis, and beekeeping contributes nicely to the bottom line; not to mention the increased profits from fruits and vegetables due to improved pollination.

10. Small-scale beekeeping may well keep this important labor force alive. Bees all over the country are suffering from the devastating effects of colony collapse disorder (CCD). A proliferation of smaller, isolated colonies can help keep our honey-making helpers alive long enough to learn how to combat CCD.

Honeybees could be a productive part of many farms, but there are caveats. Beekeeping is not rec-ommended for those who have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings or those with family members who are severely allergic to bee stings. Severe reactions can result in the onset of anaphylactic shock and rapid death without immediate epinephrine treatment. Consult with your family physician if you have any concerns. In addition, some people have an extreme fear of stinging insects. Obviously beekeeping would not be enjoyable for those individuals. For the beekeeper, however, the possibility of an occasional bee sting does not outweigh the enjoyment and income of maintaining a beehive.

Still on the fence about whether to try your hand at beekeeping? Here is an awesome 11th reason to consider. Beekeepers are some of the friendliest, most helpful people you’ll ever meet. Beekeeping can be a great way to meet new people, make new friends and build community.   

Linda Rountree Grove and her husband are hobbyist beekeepers. They currently have two beehives on their Missouri farm. 

anne m.
3/16/2011 12:45:36 PM

Do an online search for “bee club, your town” to find your local beekeeper club, and join. They are an unparalleled resource! I have been a member of two, one in the city, and one in the country. You will never meet a more welcoming, helpful group of people! This time of year, most clubs will have beginner classes starting, and most clubs devote part of their meetings to informative lectures. Your club may run its own apiary for you to practice in, my city club even let some members house their own hives there, if they didn’t have a place at home. Search for other bee clubs in your region, many have great websites which give you great information, for timing, techniques, and equipment for your area. Just like gardening, beekeeping varies greatly around the country. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest we don’t have the warm summers and nectar flows of the Midwest, so here it’s a lucky/skilled beekeeper who gets 100 lb. of honey from most of their hives; as a result, startup costs must be spread over a few years. Happy beekeeping!