A beginners' beekeeping day is a very good place to start, just like doh re mi.
Having made the decision you would like to have an apiary, the next step is to attend a beginners' beekeeping day.
It is not a decision one should make lightly. Bees sting and if molested can certainly be dangerous to both you and your neighbours. It is not unlike the plan to purchase a pitbull, and he at least cannot jump a stout fence; insects can with ease.
This page was created by Bernard Preston on 7th April, 2019; and updated on 16th April, 2021.
Why would you want to keep a few hives in the garden anyway, if they can sting and attack you and your family?
The reasons are many but the one that probably attracts us most is the realisation that the honey purchased at the local supermarket is highly processed and really does not taste that good; and you may have read that it is quite likely adulterated.
Heating honey and extracting all the pollen destroys most of its value; it is worth little more than high fructose corn syrup or sugar. Start by attending a beginners' beekeeping day and decide if this is really something you want to get into.
Beekeeping shares with gardening many of the lifestyle facets that scientists have now shown are associated with a long and full life; outdoors we are so much less stressed and the physical benefits are enormous compared to those sitting behind a computer, watching TV, or even reading a book.
It is a hobby that continues into old age giving one a reason for living; in Japanese it is called ikigai. At the beginners' day you will meet several elderly keepers who are still enthusiastic about life. And of course you will discover that connectedness with others that is so important.
Firstly you will be taught about the basic protection that you need before opening a hive, and then where to site your apiary.
You will be shown how to assemble frames, and perhaps there will be some discussion about the merits of the Langstroth hive over the much simpler top-bar box.
You will be shown the basic equipment you need, like a smoker, and a hive-tool, and how to use them.
You will most likely be taken to the honey-room and shown the equipment that you ultimately will have to acquire, and some alternatives.
You may be able to open a hive or two, see the bees at work, and possibly even harvest a few frames of honeycomb and extract the nectar; you will get to view some of the brood, young larvae that have not yet hatched, and may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the queen.
Beginners' beekeeping day is where you will learn the basics and how to avoid a few common but potentially serious mistakes.
Bees are mean creatures; you mess with them at your peril.
Best of all you will get to rub shoulders with others who are also pondering whether beekeeping is a hobby that they would like to start; you can share and discuss your doubts and there will be experienced folk for you to shoot your questions at.
For example, is beekeeping for adults only, or can a child keep a hive or two? Is it expensive and how much honey can you expect to harvest from your colony, and how soon?
It is a big decision and a beekeeping day for beginners is where you will have your questions answered.
There will no doubt be several people sprouting forth, urging you to make a start, hopefully telling of the pitfalls and cautioning you from rushing into something that you may later regret.
There will certainly be a representative of a local company that manufactures beekeeping equipment; the first two big items on your shopping list are the gear you will need to protect yourself from their stings; a veil, gloves and overalls. Boots and a smoker too are vital.
And then your first hive, and how to fill it with bees, will be the next consideration.
Honey bee traps are not difficult to make, but you do need to prepare them in a particular way to make them attractive to a migrating swarm.
The way in which they reproduce is by breeding a new queen and forming swarming bees, usually during a strong honey flow; this is the time to capture your first colony.
There is much to be learned, like waxing frames, for example. For that you will need to return for a second beginners' beekeeping day. If you apply your mind, read some books and scour the net, there is no reason why you should not have your first jar of raw honey on the table within a few months.
Any person can keep a dozen hives, and make good pocket-money, but to turn beekeeping into a profession is another story. However it is a rewarding business with plenty of free time between honey flows.
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With reportedly one in four mouthfuls of food requiring bees for pollination, there is good money to be made by moving hives from a crop such as almonds or macadamias to sunflowers and deciduous fruits.
It takes considerable business acumen as well as solid knowledge of beekeeping to make a success of it as a profession.
Perhaps the best part, whether big or small is that it is not difficult to get your capital back in a relatively short time. A hive costing about R1500 should produce at least 15 kg of honey per year, and often far more than that.
As I write in June, 2021 we are not half way through the year and already I have harvested 450 bottles of honey; 500 grams which I retail for R80 each. That's not bad pocket-money from 11 hives.
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