How to start beekeeping

How to start beekeeping is the best of my many hobbies; finer than gliding, more rewarding than trout fishing and satisfying than carpentry.

I have many hobbies, but only one has really stood the test of time: raising bees. Backyard beekeeping has been a passion for over fifty years; since my grandfather, a great beekeeper, gave me my first hive when I was twelve years old.

For two periods of my life, I have had to go without my African honey bees but, for the rest, I have always had a beehive or fifty around. Right now I'm back to square one, with only one hive brought in from the bee traps this week. Those two periods of dearth were during four years studying chiropractic in Chicago, and seven years practising chiropractic in the Netherlands.



"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Henry David Thoreau


Honey bee farming

Honey bee farming is where I could just as easily have made my mark in life, but it was not to be. Chiropractic and human health proved even more interesting.

Gliding is on hold for the moment, I still haven't unpacked my carpentry tools after the long sojourn in Holland, I haven't yet bought another motorcycle, but I have just acquired my first honey bee hive. Doesn't look like much, but just you wait Henry Higgins.

Here's an update at how to start beekeeping; that busy hive above comes from two small colonies that I've united. We'll get on to the details of how to do that later, but it's now four weeks since the initial swarm moved in; and the first young workers have hatched. By adding another colony you immediately greatly strengthen the workforce; the queens fight it out.

The front of the box is very busy as you can see; newly hatched bees are getting acclimatized with the environment, making their first solo flights, and the workers are gathering in the harvest. Only join colonies during a honeyflow.




Before deciding to become a chiropractor, several times I considered honey bee farming. Why, you may well ask?

Well, how many jobs are there where you have to work really hard for about four months, and then have the rest of the year off to do your own thing? Makes you think, eh?

The set up costs are relatively low. A beehive in South Africa, bought from the local supplier in 2017 is around R1000, or sixty dollars, unassembled. Now a very strong colony will produce about 100 pounds of honey per year. At fifty rand per bottle, that comes to a healthy R5000; a five fold increase on your investment.

That's not a bad return, huh, but not every hive will produce 100 bottles of honey; you can bank on an average of around 30 pounds per year. 

Then, I had to do something about my apiary. The jungle again reigned supreme after our seven years in the Netherlands. This was once the site of 24 hives.


These logs, from a tree that fell down in our absence will make excellent compost; they are already half rotten. Compact compost tumbler and composting with sticks ...


Backyard beekeeping

Backyard beekeeping is for all if you have tame Italian bees; our killer bees are another story. They must be treated with great respect.

Mostly you are probably thinking however of half a dozen honey bee hives in your backyard. Whether it's the honey bee life cycle, simply raw honey for the table, or some very nice pocket money, or just something fascinating to get the kids away from the TV, a few hives in the garden makes a wonderful hobby. Full of wonder, yes, I mean it.

Here you'll find out how to start beekeeping.


"Beekeeping is a source of enrichment and inner renewal."

- Bernard Preston

The apiary

The apiary is where you'll keep your hives; it's an old fashioned word, not much in use any more.

Computer studies have found that there is no stronger structure, for the amount of wax used, for building honeycomb than the hexagonal cell, offset against those on the other side.

So strong that the configuration is used in building jet fighter wings. We have been fearfully and wonderfully made, and our honeybee too.

The first requirement is a warm, protected spot for your apiary. You'll notice that my hives above are up against a concrete wall to keep them, and the workforce from strong winds. Honey bee colonies should be north facing, in the southern hemisphere, and vice versa above the equator, for maximum sunlight.

Early to bed, and early to rise makes their boss, the beekeeper, you and me, healthy, wealthy and wise. See how bright my eyes are? Few foods beat raw, unprocessed honey for taste and health.

An average beehive should produce between twenty and fifty bottles of honey per year. You can do the mathematics, and figure out what the gross income on say two thousand colonies would be; it's a good business to be in too. 




It should also be protected from your neighbours and your own home. You can't see it, but there is a thicket of bamboos between the bees and our nearest friends, and we live on the other side of that concrete wall.

In case you are concerned about a few weeds, bees are able to cope with incredible circumstances.

I had to again go through the process of how to start beekeeping, and you can join me as I rediscovered their world. Like cats, you can never tame them; they remain dangerous, wild animals; magnificent creatures if you can manage them and get them to work for you. Each will collect about a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

I'll be adding pages at how to start beekeeping about what you'll need, the cost thereof, how to assemble the hives, how to trap swarms, and so on. Watch this space. The basic equipment really isn't very expensive, in relation to the return.

If you want to increase to more than five hives then you'll need an electric extractor eventually; but the honey will provide for it. This is a hobby that pays its way.


How to start beekeeping

How to start beekeeping starts with an old, preferably used beehive; it should smell of bees and honey, not paint and synthetic waxes. 


At my beekeeping equipment page you'll find out about the other stuff you'll need; like a veil and gloves, and an extractor and bottling tank.

Spend an hour reading all these links and you'll have a pretty shrewd idea of what it's all about, and what'll you will need to start beekeeping.

Then, even before buying your first hive, join the local beekeepers' association.


Honey bee traps

Honey bee traps are an easy way to start beekeeping in a land where there are indigenous, feral colonies; but not probably in North America or England.

An apiary needs bees! Making good honey bee traps saves the cost of buying colonies. They need to be placed about two metres above the ground, for best results.

Update: Well, I used to think so. An old tank stand, less than two feet above the ground has proved the best place for me to place my honey bee traps to attract swarming bees; four swarms in less than six months. I am now up to seven, and that's probably enough.

Waxing honeybee frames is something that needs to be learned. It's not difficult, but a bit fiddly.

First you need the raw wax and that's best obtained using a bees wax solar extractor; it's not difficult to make.


Beekeeping courses

Many local associations hold free beekeeping courses for their members. They are a mine of information, and not just for the beginner. One always seems to learn something new.


RAW HONEY

Raw honey, lightly filtered, is quite different to what you may be used to.

Only small beekeepers, and their special friends are privileged to enjoy raw honey; it's worlds apart from the supermarket stuff.

There's a heat-labile enzyme in raw honey that makes it special for treating varicose ulcers and burns, and diarrhoea in babes; and your own digestion.

All supermarket honey is heated and strained through many filters; it ruins it, turning it into a processed food; like the difference between cake flour and 100% wholemeal; chalk and cheese.

Pollen for the prostate gland

Numerous studies have shown the beneficial effect of pollen for the prostate; an enlarged gland is one of the most awful conditions to afflict a male. It is a very complex subject, more of which you can read at those links above.

In short, to prevent cancer and engorgement of your prostate, you need a tomato a day, regular enjoyment of avocados and plenty of natural, unfiltered honey rich in pollen; pumpkin seeds with their high zinc content have been shown to help too. 

We have a fetish for things pure, but nature doesn't make them that way. In my early days of beekeeping, I widely proclaimed that I produced only pure honey; all tiny particles were filtered out through seven layers of muslin cloth.

But today, I filter the honey very lightly to remove any dead bees and, of course, debris but no more. The intention is that our natural, raw honey should contain as much pollen as possible. It's good for your allergies and does help with prevention for that nasty prostate affliction but it is less pure; intentionally so.

Pay a lot of money for prostate health supplements if you must; alternatively you can enjoy your own lightly filtered honey loaded with pollen.

I put both pollen rich honey and pumpkin seeds into our bread for my own prostate gland.

So, you see that how to start beekeeping isn't just a fetish; it's about better health too.


Prostate supplements

Prostate supplements certainly have some proven value. For myself, as a beekeeper, I'm happy to enjoy honey which is lightly filtered and rich in pollen. Nearing 69 I have zero prostate problems, with a PSA below 1.0, not just because of the pollen, but because I zealously enjoy a tomato a day; it's proven to reduce prostate cancer by fifty percent. A diet rich in phytochemicals and knowledge of how to start beekeeping have far ranging benefits for our health.

We have three avocado trees planted in our garden for the beta-sitosterol; it's a phytosterol that helps prevent BPH; a swollen and inflammed gland; can you pee normally?


What about the honey bee life cycle? Apologies, but for the moment this page probably reads like the desultory mess that it is. Establishing an apiary and the virtues of nectar are vast subjects and that will have to wait for a bit.




I've already alluded to the fact that the first young bees have hatched in my new colony. One of the first tasks that the queen of the new hive must accomplish is to lay as many eggs as possible, as quickly as her workers can provide brood cells for her. Twenty one days later they will emerge, and the future of the colony is assured.

It's a trade off. The beekeeper provides them with the perfect home; it must be dry and secure. But like the Mafia he demands payment; their produce during the honey flow belongs to me. If I take too much, they will die of starvation, and there will be none next year. The best is that if I look after their interests, they look after mine.

Those hives in the apiary incidentally must be in full sun. Yesterday I was astonished when a friend from our soaring society wanted to buy my raw honey; he has nine hives, he tells me. But they are buried deep in a forest and produce no surplus for him.

We are looking at how to move them nearer his home, but it's only a third of a mile away. So, we'll move eight of the hives to his new apiary, leaving the weakest colony behind to collect any stragglers that return to the old forest site. You can only do that during a honey flow, by the way. Otherwise you'll have the possibility of a bee war on your hands.

How to start beekeeping is fascinating.


Why does honey crystallise?

Why does honey crystallise may help you dispel some misconceptions. Beginning with how to start beekeeping there will be many things that puzzle you.

There's vast misunderstanding about bees and honey in the general public. Just type why does honey crystallise into Google and you'll be astonished how many people think that because honey has solidified it must have gone off and should be thrown away.

Crystallisation of honey is an entirely natural process and, if your honey doesn't go solid, then it's probably been adulterated.

With a few exceptions all top rate honeys will solidify, forming fine, uniform crystals. Actually it's the sign of a good product.

Is it about the bees or the honey? Either way, if you want to get your kids away from that boring box, how to start beekeeping is worth a thought. Like all things new, it's important to talk to the locals and do as much reading as possible before making a start. 

It's a silly question really; it's about both honey and bees for most of us. But there are legitimate questions about just how healthy - or unhealthy - honey is. Does it have a high glycemic index? Is it fattening? Does honey stress the pancreas by producing a dramatic surge in the blood sugar? These are all good questions.


This is fresh lightly filtered, raw honey from the hive; it will crystallise in a few weeks.

So, I hope that you've been inspired and the subject of how to start beekeeping will soon be a daily discussion at your dinner table.



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Healthy choice foods

Healthy choice foods are what give you a real chance of reaching a happy, healthy eighty with all your marbles and joints intact. I'm unconvinced that the stuff you buy in the supermarket qualifies, but I know that the raw honey you'll be enjoying once you know how to start beekeeping will bear fruit; it's a wonderful food, in moderation.

Whilst I skeptical about the highly refined and often adulterated stuff you buy in the supermarket, just like white flour or sugar, raw honey which is rich in pollen and certain important enzymes is certainly to my mind one of the healthy choice foods.

Eaten in moderation it's a rich source of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and energy. I don't have more than a teaspoon or two a day.

It may also be the beginning of a fascination with brewing mead, or a braggot. It's difficult to retrieve the gleanings from the honey cappings without ruining them; one way is to dissolve it and use it for making honey mead. It's impossible to determine just how much honey you've added, so you would also require a little device for measuring the specific gravity of your wort; it's for making mead or beer hydrometer readings.

How to start beekeeping is not just for fruitcakes; it's been the hobby of a lifetime for me and many others since time immemorial. If you enjoy old, free books on your Kindle, like I do, then Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree is a classic example; that's what got me started with making mead; the sublime drink that promotes fertility; ever wonder where the term honeymoon comes from?


Beekeeping and the spring garden

Bees and flowers of course go hand in hand; or should that read proboscis in anther? Flowers have to be pollinated, and bees need food. And so beekeeping and the spring garden go symbiotically together.

What's potting in the spring garden has just as much to do with honey as it does to do with a rich harvest of fruit and vegetables; every flower is pollinated in our veggie patch.

Short stories

Short stories is much of Bernard Preston's site is about. You'll enjoy for example Bee under the Mitre and this peach, Special Honey, is definitely worth ten minutes of your time; it's a hoot.



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Italian bees are relatively docile but but keeping those from Africa is a bit like having a pitbull in the garden. It's wise to do plenty of planning before rushing into beekeeping.

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Bird pressure on hive productivity 
Hi Barrie I notice that we have a diversity of insect eating birds who congregate around our hives in the morning. Do you think that the swarms are …

when can I harvest honey? Not rated yet
Hi Bernard I am new to beekeeping, but have been highly successful in capturing hives and now have 6. I have left them for a year and just recently harvested …

Hiving a colony so that it doesn't abscond Not rated yet
I started beekeeping with a few colonies that I was given, and have been trying to build up my numbers by removing problem colonies from buildings and …

LEGAL DEFINITION OF "PURE HONEY"??? Not rated yet
Is there such a legal requirement? In SA? USA? EU? Health Regulations may demand something? Hello Derek, As I read it, if you claim your product …

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