While there are libraries of information on beekeeping for the more experienced, there appears to be little information on getting started. So this page will give some broad outlines on dos and donts of setting out to become a beekeeper, rather than a box keeper.
After 50+ years of beekeeping, I find I still learn something new about bees almost every day. This is not something that can be mastered overnight, there will always be a challenge as hives change season by season.
First, let me make a major point! Beekeeping by its very nature leads to the use and sale of used equipment, people going out of bees for a range of reasons, and lots of spare equipment around.
For newbie beekeepers, this can be very tempting but should be avoided at all costs
A short story might be helpful.
Bill decided he wanted to be a beekeeper and heard of the widow lady down the road with hives of her late husband to dispose of.
Lots of boxes and frames with drawn comb, extractors and smokers and stuff.
The lady didn’t know how much, and Bill almost drooling, couldn’t believe his ‘good luck’, duly paid and set up the hives etc to receive the nine expensive nucs he had ordered.
Those nucs were doomed, Bill lost his money, and finally to add insult to injury his hives were burnt by the bee inspectors.
So what went wrong?
Bill took his time, read lots of books, thought he knew what he was doing, but he didn’t get the equipment examined by a knowledgeable person, the hives were infected by ‘Foul Brood’ spores and were deadly to the incoming bees. Only afterwards did he contact the bee inspectors who found out the problem and took what was considered the correct remedial action. This is a true story, be warned!
As a dealer in equipment, it is difficult to give advice. There are pros and cons with any of the hives available. Honest advice. Talk to local beekeepers in your area, ask what works locally, check with your State or Province Apiculture agent, shop around, if you find some equipment at a price too good to be true, it generally is.
Charging a bee hive does not mean putting it on your plastic credit card! It’s a term regarding adding bees to your hive. There are at least 3 ways, each one with its own problem.
nucleus, normally bought as a 3 or 5 frame, (Frame is the term for the item which hangs in the hive) needs to have, frames of stores (sealed honey) open brood and a laying queen, plus a reasonable amount of bees of all ages. Nucs need feeding after installation. See Feeding FAQ.
More prevalent in the US than in Canada. Bees are sold by the pound, usually, with a mated laying queen, caged inside the main bee cage complete with sugar feeder can prevent starvation during transport. The ways and timing of package installation depend on your area and you should seek local advice.
I know of beekeepers who run their outfits dependent on catching swarms to supplement their hives. With the advent of Tracheal Mites and Varroa and the overall decline of feral bees in North America, this method is very hit or miss. I do agree, though, the sight of running your first swarm into your new hive takes some beating. Watching them marching in by the thousands and immediately getting to work is a delight to watch.
Catalogues and catalogues from every point in the Hemisphere, again the best advice. Shop around! In your first year, it is unlikely you’ll need an extractor (an oversized centrifuge) to deal with your first harvest, as that is likely to be very small. Perhaps you might think of cut comb honey rather than extracting honey.
Smokers are very necessary to help calm the bees and allow you to handle them during inspections. The ideal unit, copper, will last forever and won’t burn out. We use corrugated cardboard (new, not recycled) rolled into a tight roll, lit from the bottom, easy, and stays lit for a long time.
Don’t buy cheap! A scrappy piece of netting just tucked into a collar won’t do. You can guarantee it will come loose at the worst moment, and a bee inside it can be most off-putting.
Finally, be cautious, don’t go overboard with the buying, find an honest dealer interested in helping, and then stick with them.
We have recently completed a 1 hour VHS video of ‘Getting Started’ in beekeeping. We explain equipment, tools, protection and methods of working a bee hive to ensure a successful first year. See our page on Videos and books in the catalogue section for ordering information.
Further update, all our videos have now been converted to DVDs and all complete with menus for easy reference.