Need a new hobby to keep you buzzy?
Raising bees is a rewarding activity that helps the environment, grows the bee population and gives you delicious honey all at the same time!
If you’re new to bee-keeping, don’t stress. In this article, we’ll be going over the essentials of how to raise bees in your backyard and providing you with the resources to help you get started.
1. Know Your Local Beekeeping Laws
The first thing that you should do is research your local laws and regulations regarding beekeeping. Regulations vary depending on what county you reside in. In some counties, beekeeping is prohibited; especially in places consisting of busy cities or if you’re living in close proximity to other people.
2. Double Check That You Have Ample Space
After you’ve confirmed that your county allows beekeeping, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have a good chunk of land to raise the bees on. We recommend that you have at least an acre or access to uncultivated wooded land behind your home. This will ensure that your bees won’t bother any nearby residents.
If you happen to live in closer proximity to a neighborhood or have close neighbors, be sure to check in with them to get their approval. Making them aware of your hives is the neighborly thing to do and, after all, it’s good to bee kind! And considering the fact that bees are excellent pollinators (and with a little free honey now and again), we don’t think your neighbors or their gardens would mind too much!
3. Get in Touch with Experienced Keepers
If you’re a newbee, starting out can be a daunting task. Bees can be dangerous insects, especially in swarms, like they are when they’re placed in artificial hives. Being inexperienced and educationally blind when beekeeping can result in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s best to talk to people who have experience in the field before you go all in and buy your beekeeping equipment and bees.
Some towns or cities will have a local beekeeping club that you can join to get in touch with experienced beekeepers that can provide you with valuable information and may even offer to show you the ropes.
If you’re not in an area where you can communicate with fellow beekeepers in person, there are plenty of beekeeping blogs and communities that you can join on the internet. You can also consult the USDA National Agriculture Library, which has a large collection of articles concerning beekeeping and the laws behind it.
4. Research and Determine the Best Bees for Your Needs
Unbeknownst to some, there are actually a variety of honeybees that you can choose to farm. Some types of honeybees are more aggressive than others, so if you’re just starting out, it’s definitely in your best interest to pick a colony that is less docile.
Of course, all manner of bees will sting you if they feel threatened – and if one bee stings, more stings will come thanks to the alarm pheromones released from the initial attack. Despite this, let’s take a look at the most recommended bees for beginners: the Italian honeybee.
Italian Honeybee Temperament and Characteristics
Italian honeybees first originated in… you guessed it… Italy. In the mid-1800s, Italian honeybees were brought over and introduced to the United States. They do well in most environments here in the United States, except they may not do so well in areas with harsh winters. This is because, during winter, Italian honeybees will run through their food supply extremely quickly because of their large population sizes. So if your winters are harsh, be vigilant in keeping an adequate food source.
As we mentioned, Italian honeybees are some of the best choices for beginners. This is due to their mild temperaments. Italian honeybees are less likely to swarm and are therefore easier for new beekeepers to maintain and learn from.
Another downside to Italian honeybees is that they will feed on their own honey supply if they’re not presented with enough pollinating plants. Therefore, it’s a good idea to grow your own flower garden to keep them stocked up so that you can have most of the honey to yourself.
5. Purchase Bee Hives
After you’ve decided what bees suit your experience the best, the natural next step is to select high-quality artificial hives. We recommend starting off with two hives (and two honeybee colonies) if you’re new to beekeeping and just testing the waters. This will keep you busy enough and provide you with enough honey, without becoming overwhelmed.
When selecting an artificial beehive, it’s generally a good idea to find one made of natural wood materials and a metal top (but all-metal hives work just as well). This will ensure that you’re not exposing your bees to unnecessary chemicals and, in turn, keep your bees happy and healthy. You’ll also want to select a hive that provides enough space for expansion and population growth once your bees begin to settle and make honey.
We think this hive is the bee’s knees!
6. Make Sure You Have Safety Gear
Protective Body Gear
One of the most vital aspects of beekeeping is your safety gear. As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, bees can absolutely be dangerous – and especially when they’re in swarms. Getting stung by multiple bees at once can result in an allergic reaction leading to anaphylactic shock, and even death if not treated.
When handling bees, we recommend that you purchase and wear a full bee suit. Bee suits consist of a complete body covering (torso, arms, and legs), a screened-in mask to cover the face and neck, and gloves to protect the hands and forearms.
While bee suits can protect you from a majority of stings and keep masses of bees off of your bare skin, you’ll want to be sure to duct tape your sleeves to your gloves, your pants to your shoes, and the top flap of the mask to your suit to ensure that the stray bee or two don’t find their way inside.
You can find decent quality bee suits online at Humble Bee or through Amazon.com.
You’ll also want to be sure that you have a bee smoker. Beekeepers use smokers to calm the bees and prevent them from swarming whenever the hive needs to be maintained. Smoke helps to calm honeybees by blocking their senses from alarm pheromones given off by some members of the colony. During forest fires, bees naturally turn to gorge themselves with their own honey to carry with them over to a new location. This act, in combination with the blockage of pheromones, makes them lethargic, slow-moving, and unalarmed.
This may seem like a cruel way to disarm honeybees, but there’s really nothing to worry about. Smoke isn’t harmful to the bees when it’s at the right temperature, and is usually produced by natural burned elements such as pine needles as to not expose the hive to toxic chemicals.
You can find a bee smoker online through Amazon.com. The following is our favorite and a highly-rated bee smoker praised by beekeepers everywhere:
7. Check Up on Your Bees Frequently
Regardless of what beginners may assume going into beekeeping, raising bees doesn’t actually require a whole lot of work (on your part). However, it’s a good idea to check on your bees once a week (at the most) to make sure that the Queen is present and laying eggs, and that the workers are producing honey.
One of the most common mistakes people who are learning how to raise bees make is checking the hive too often. When you check the hive, you almost certainly will kill a few bees and disrupt their processes and delicate systems. You want to do this as little as possible so that your bees have the chance to produce honey efficiently and set up their colonies.
You’ll also need to watch for signs of swarming. Bees swarm for a few reasons, but the most common reason they swarm is when they have too little space to fit their colonies. It’s important to purchase additional bee boxes when you notice that your colonies are growing in number to avoid swarms.
If you need additional information on how to properly inspect your hives, PerfectBee.com has an excellent article consisting of things to look out for.
8. Don’t Forget the Honey Extractor!
It would be a right shame if you had everything set up and your bees producing honey but found yourself without a honey extractor – which is exactly why we’re reminding you before you forget it!
Manual honey extractors are great tools to have when you’re serious about beekeeping. Contrary to removing honey by hand, extractors are excellent at getting every last drop that you may miss otherwise. And if you’re just now learning how to raise bees, a manual honey extractor could be a dream come true!
Here’s our top honey extractor pick:
Additional Beekeeping Information
Honeybees and Their Environmental Impact
Honeybees play a vital role in ecosystems all over the world. Let’s take a look at some ways in which they benefit the environment:
- They’re excellent pollinators. Honeybees are essential to the process of the pollination of wild and domestic plants alike. They make our flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens flourish as well as thrive wild vegetation. Bees even play a part in pollinating our industrial-sized farms, which means the food on your table was likely pollinated by honeybees!
- They provide a food source for a variety of creatures. People aren’t the only ones that like honey! Honey is a food source for mammals such as bears and raccoons, as well as for some types of birds and insects. And not only is the honey a food source, but the bees themselves play a part in the food chain. Around 24 species of birds, including Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, prey on honeybees.
- Bees build habitats. Expanding off of #1, because of the massive amount of pollination honeybees provide, they’re also largely responsible for building natural habitats for other animals. Without honeybees, some trees and other plants wouldn’t be able to grow and provide shelter for insects, birds, and small mammals. Without bees and the pollination of the plants that depend on them, the animals that rely on those plants would cease to exist, as well.
How to Raise Bees: The Benefits
Learning how to raise bees isn’t just rewarding simply due to the fact that it’s a new hobby. There are other ways that honeybees benefit us when they’re farmed. Let’s look at some of the benefits in more depth.
Consuming Honey is Good for You
Honey has been shown to have quite a few medicinal and health benefits. These include healing wounds faster, improving heart health via antioxidants, and soothing sore throats and coughs.
Raising Bees Brings Communities Together
As you learn how to raise bees, you’ll likely get in touch with other bee lovers near you and your neighbors, friends, and family will gain an interest in your hobby, as well, creating a great sense of community.
Bee Produce can be Sold for Profit
Bees produce quite a variety of goods, it’s not just limited to honey. Beeswax is bought for and used in cosmetics, honeycomb can be consumed alongside the raw honey, and the honey can be used in a mixture of jams and other canned recipes that can be sold at a local farmers market.
Bee Keeping is a First-Hand Learning Experience
It’s not every day that kids (or adults) get to witness the complete lifecycles and inner workings of an insect colony. Raising bees is rewarding not only in sweet, edible gold but also in the educational value. Kids can learn lessons on how to be responsible and how to respect wildlife, among other life learnings.
Bees will Improve Your Flower and Edible Garden Beds
What’s better than a lush garden? We all want our flowers to be bright and beautiful and for our garden to yield ample homegrown food – and raising bees is a surefire way to give you the gardens you want and deserve.
You’ll be Helping the Bee Population Grow
In recent years, the number of the bee population has decreased dramatically. We depend on bees to pollinate our crops and create balance in their ecosystems. Without bees, we would lose many of the plants and animals we’re so fond of. By learning how to raise bees, you’ll be helping honeybee populations thrive. Which, in turn, helps our planet to thrive.
Honeybees are Low Maintenance
While the initial setup can be somewhat costly (when purchasing high-quality beekeeping supplies) and time-consuming, there’s really not too much work on your part for the majority of your beekeeping experience. Honeybees are hard workers and build their own colonies, producing honey and baby bees on their own accord.
As we’ve mentioned previously, disturbing your hives too often can wreak havoc on their delicate processes. The most work you’ll need to do is hive checks once a week which usually only takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
Things to Consider Before You Raise Bees
- The initial cost. As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, starting off can be a costly affair. You’ll need all of the supplies we’ve listed in order to keep you and your bees happy and healthy. Investing in good-quality products will make your beekeeping experience the best it can possibly bee.
- Stings. You will get stung no matter what equipment you use to raise bees. Even the highest-quality bee suits made of the thickest, most sealed fabrics aren’t always enough to protect from a little wandering honeybee. Actually, we can almost guarantee that you’ll be stung enough to develop an immunity to the toxin. Bee stings are painful, can cause swelling, and make some people incredibly ill. If you, someone in your family or someone in your friend group is allergic to bees, we don’t recommend that you take beekeeping up as a hobby. We can’t stress and reiterate enough that, for those who are allergic, bee stings can take a deadly turn.
- Lack of honey. For some new beekeepers, their honeybee colonies won’t yield honey for up to a year. This can be disheartening and proves that beekeeping is definitely a game of patience when you’re first starting out. If you choose to raise bees, keep in mind that it may take some time before you begin to see results – at least, results in honey.
- Your physical strength. Ask yourself if you can lift and maneuver at least 30 pounds. Hives, especially during honey harvesting season, can become quite heavy with the combined weight of the bees, the honeycomb, and the raw honey. Of course, this means that raising bees does require some physical strength. If you’re physically unable to lift hives and don’t have anyone to help you, it may not be in your best interest to venture into raising your own honeybee hives.
- Your attendance. Beekeeping is a year-round job. Though not a strenuous everyday duty, you do need to be present during the weeks to occasionally check up on your hives. If you travel to warmer locations during the winter or aren’t up for looking after a couple of colonies of bees all year, raising bees may not be in the cards for you. However, if you can’t be present all year-round but still insist on keeping honeybees, be sure to have a backup beekeeper to tend to your hives.
Learning how to raise bees is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. If you’re just starting out, we hope we were able to help you understand the essentials of beekeeping and provided you with valuable resources to set you on your bumbling way.
Don’t forget to research your local beekeeping laws, create a decent space to set up your hives, gather your bee boxes, a high-quality honey extractor, your safety gear, and find the best bees for your needs!
Remember that beekeeping is a long process of trial and error. No two hives are alike and it may take time to get used to how your bees function. With a little patience and some diligence, you’ll have buckets of honey in no time – and you’ll be helping your local environment.