How to start beekeeping is the best of my many hobbies; finer than gliding, more rewarding than trout fishing and satisfying than carpentry.
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 13th September, 2019.
Reviewed by Derek A. Lewis, beekeeper
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 apiarist, gave me my first hive when I was eleven 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 in the Netherlands.
It's now nine years later and I'm happy to report to this column on how to start beekeeping that I'm up to ten hives, and that's enough.
"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 is where I could just as easily have made my mark in life, but it was not to be. Not to detract from how to start beekeeping but 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 six 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 2019 is around R1500, or one hundred dollars, unassembled. Now a very strong colony will produce up to 100 pounds of honey per year. At eighty rand per bottle, that comes to a healthy R8000; 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 40 or 50 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 and old logs are two other options.
If you are going to keep them in your own garden then consider whether it's possible to plant indigenous trees for bees. Whilst every beekeeper loves Eucalypts, they are not at home in Africa, suck up a profound amount of water apparently, and indigenous trees like Halleria Lucida flower sooner and also produce prodigious amounts of nectar for insect and bird alike.
Backyard beekeeping is for all if you have tame Italian bees; our killer African 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 profound source of enrichment and inner renewal."
- Bernard Preston
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; seventy if you are a good keeper, and they have access to plenty of nectar.
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.
The apiary should also be protected from the 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.
Plant indigenous trees for bees in your area if you are able; or even citrus and avocados. I was surprised to hear from a friend that he is rearing Halleria Lucida shoots, and sticking them in the ground near his home wherever possible.
There are several different modus operandi harvesting honey that you could follow.
How to start beekeeping starts with an old, preferably used beehive; it should smell of bees and honey, not paint and synthetic waxes.
Watch the news media and you will often find someone selling hives, or even giving them away; it's probably the best way to start beekeeping, so there is immediate reward for your enthusiasm.
I would not recommend you start beekeeping by getting a swarm out of a tree stump or roof; it's difficult and dangerous and often the bees will abscond leaving you despondent.
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.
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.
First you need the raw wax and that's best obtained using a bees wax solar extractor; it's not difficult to make.
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.
So, even before buying your first hive, join the local association. Most will have each year at least one beginners' beekeeping day.
Start a beekeeping journal right from the start; all your interventions, costs and of course your honey produced and sales.
This is my beekeeping journal for 2019.
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 truly raw honey; it's worlds apart from the supermarket stuff. One factor is the debate over hot knife vs fork honey decapping.
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. If you really want to enjoy the genuine product then consider how to start beekeeping.
Keeping bees is a lot of fun, with some danger to yourself and your neighbours and pets. A well fed colony is likely to become vicious.
Feeding kept bees with a sugar syrup is a subject easily misunderstood. The purpose is definitely not to adulterate the honey, but to prepare them for an anticipated flowering that is known to produce a surplus for you.
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. If you know about how to start beekeeping, then you can ensure that every day you are able to enjoy small quantities of pollen for the prostate gland.
In short, to prevent malignant disease 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.
That pollen will also help your honey set when you are making creamed clover honey, or whatever plants your bees are sourcing.
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 natural pollen. Nearing 70, 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 inflamed gland; can you pee normally? How many times to you get up at night?
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; but that's no reason for you not find out how to start beekeeping.
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.
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
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; he's not up on how to start beekeeping.
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 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 in the general public. Just type why does honey crystallise into Google and you'll be astonished how many people think that because nectar has solidified it must have gone off and should be thrown away.
Crystallisation of honey is an entirely natural process and, if it doesn't go solid, then it's probably been heated or 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.
Read more on the subject at Honey glycemic index.
Once you consider how to start beekeeping, you'll find it leads you down any number of fascinating subjects; what pollen does for you health, some deeper understanding of the simple vs complex carbohydrate debate, they can both be good or bad, and a love of the outdoor life for you and your family. Let's turn off the damn telly and get the kids off their smart phones.
This is fresh lightly filtered, raw honey from the hive; it will crystallise in a few weeks. I cream most of it actually.
So, I hope that you've been inspired and the subject of how to start beekeeping will soon be a regular discussion at your dinner table.
All the research suggests that queen breeding makes a huge difference to the strength of the colony and the amount of honey harvested. By mating with one or perhaps a few of the most resilient of the drones from all the neighbouring hives, she is a perfect example of Darwin's theory of natural selection.
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, eaten 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.
Natural honeycomb has incredible health benefits too; an anti-inflammatory and the only known medication for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
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. How to start beekeeping is not just for your taste buds, but has many implications for our wellness.
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?
Turkish helva is a traditional honey and sesame dessert; I don't recommend the fudge; it has too much sugar in it.
Bees and flowers of course go hand in glove; 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. Using other terminology, they exploit whatever pollen and nectar sources they can find.
That raises another point; I then exploit the honey in the hives for the sweetness in our home, as we use very little sugar, and to make a few bucks on the side. Is that unethical? Some vegans think so.
But my grandfather who was a vegan taught me beekeeping. And they seem to have no distress about exploiting guide dogs to assist the blind.
Apiarists would argue that it's a mutually beneficial relationship; without beekeepers there would be a tiny fraction of the colonies that dot the countryside visiting our crops for nectar and pollen.
One mouthful in four is dependent on bees for pollination.
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.
The bees wax solar extractor is something to consider in time.
As always, this site is about stepping up to better health, in part with chiropractic for your joints, but also with a return to the healthy choice foods that our forebears enjoyed. Today, the modern industry has duped us into believing the fast foods they process and produce are just as good; it's a lie. More exercise too is vital.
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