I love sharing my bee experiences with anyone considering keeping bees! With all the information available, starting to keep bees can be overwhelming - particularly because some of this information is conflicting.
I often say that if you ask ten beekeepers one question, you’ll get twelve answers. It’s a little bit silly and a little bit true. This is because our job as beekeepers is to know our specific colonies and their environments. What is right for a beekeeper located in the Pacific Northwest who keeps bees with Italian genetics, will be different from what works for a beekeeper in the south who rescues colonies with mixed genetics. Because of this, my first recommendation for anyone curious about keeping bees is to meet a local beekeeper and ultimately find a local mentor.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO KEEP BEES?
Before diving headfirst into your first hive, I encourage people to think about why they want to keep bees. While there are dozens of answers, here are a few common reasons.
- Honey > The idea of having a honey source in your backyard is enticing. However, it’s important to note that very few hives produce honey for their keepers in the first year, as they are spending their resources growing the colony. Some years are good for honey production, some aren’t. Mother Nature decides that.
- Environmental Support > Because honey bee populations and habitat have been threatened, managed hives provide a safe home for bees. They also boost pollination for local trees, flowers, and crops.
- Educational Experience > Bees are amazing teachers. Some beekeepers want to learn all the inner workings of a colony and may even wish to include their friends and family in learning about hive magic!
INTRODUCING YOURSELF TO BEEKEEPING
From Youtube videos to Facebook groups, there is so much beekeeping content online, you may get lost. To help give you some direction, here are a few starting points I suggest:
- Check out our World of Honey Bees page for great honey bee education, activities, crafts, trivia and more!
- Watch our Beekeeper Tools 101 Video. It’s basic, but a good intro to beekeeping
- Join the Women in Beekeeping group on Facebook. It’s a well-moderated group of women beekeepers dedicated to supporting one another, especially those new to beekeeping bees. There you’ll find many answers to questions new beekeepers have. It's the most positive and educational forum I’ve seen yet!
- Join or follow your local beekeeping association. Many of these have meetings and most will have a social media group. Dues to join are usually very affordable. Attending a meeting is a great way to find a local bee mentor.
- Take an online Intro to Beekeeping course created by one of our hometown beekeepers, Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey. The course costs $75 and is worth it.
Experience the World of Honey Bees in Person
- Visit a local apiary or public hive host. Often, botanical or community gardens will host hives. You can see the list of schools hosting hives on our website through our grant recipient database. Local honey producers or beekeeping supply shops are also great resources for where you can experience bees close up.
RULES IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
There are neighborhood rules and city ordinances you’ll want to understand as you consider beekeeping. A local beekeeper can offer their experience. They can also help you find the right position for your hive so the bees’ flight patterns are the least disruptive to your family and neighbors. No matter the rules, I recommend speaking with your neighbors before you get bees to understand their questions and concerns - especially if there are fears or allergies.
INVESTING IN EQUIPMENT & BEES
There are a lot of ways to get your first colony or two. I recommend starting with two nuc (nucleus) hives. These are small colonies that have all the resources they need to start growing. Usually, you purchase five frames that include nectar, pollen, brood, and a queen. Having two colonies means you’ll have the ability to compare, contrast, and share resources if needed. Additionally, you’ll need to have your woodware ready, as nucs often come in cardboard boxes. This means choosing the style of the hive: Langstroth, Top Bar, or others. Choosing one style of hive can help with equipment costs and storage.
Rehoming bees is typically easier than rehoming a dog or cat. If you do decide to dive into beekeeping, knowing your exit plan is wise. Luckily, many beekeepers are happy to take on a hive from someone who needs to rehome a colony.
IF BEING AN ADVOCATE IS MORE YOUR SPEED
Share your bee enthusiasm with friends and neighbors! You don’t have to keep bees to be an advocate. I find myself sharing bee lessons with neighborhood kids in the driveway, adults at backyard gatherings, and anyone willing to listen in the middle of the street.
MORE RESOURCES FROM US
Our Honey Bee Experience Box is full of tools you can use, including creating your own at-home lesson plan. The Thing About Bees by Shabazz Larkin - with our companion reading guide available - is a fabulous book to introduce kids to our honey bee friends. Our downloadable Inside Buzz guide is filled with honey bee education and activities for kids 5-11. Additionally, we have lots of illustrative photos on our website that you can use to show kids what’s happening in a hive.
BEE BOOK CLUB
For more bee information and activities, I recommend checking out these great books:
- Beekeeper's Lab: 52 Family-Friendly Activities and Experiments Exploring the Life of the Hive by Kim Lehman
52 family-friendly activities and experiments that explore the life of the hive
- The Honey Companion: Natural Recipes and Remedies for Health, Beauty, and Home by Suzy Scherr
A collection of remedies and recipes for health, beauty, and home
- Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid by Mikaila Ulmer
The story of a teenage change-maker whose startup makes a difference for bees
- 100 Planets to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive by The Xerces Society
Providing healthy habitats to help pollinators thrive
- The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North American Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Carril
A guide to North America’s bees
- Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha
An illustrated history of all things honey bee
- QueenSpotting: Meet the Remarkable Queen Bee and Discover the Drama at the Heart of the Hive and Little Book of Bees: An Illustrated Guide to the Extraordinary Lives of Bees by Hilary Kearney
A complete exploration of the queen bee, as well as fun facts from the hive
- The Music of Bees: A Novel by Eileen Garvin
A beautifully written fictional tale of an Oregon beekeeper that includes an accurate intro to the life of a beekeeper