How To Start

For setting up a functioning hive from the beginning there are basic requirements in the amount and quality of the equipment you select. BUT, before purchasing anyhing there is a lot of learning to do FIRST.

Apprenticeship for beekepers is about 5 years. In the first year there is a lot of work involved in deciding on which equipment you need, purchasing and construction, deciding the area and scope of what you want, deciding what limitations you have and where to store equipment, honey, hive bodies, supers, spare frames and foundation, medication and ... I think you get the idea.

All of that to say that you need a mentor. Find someone that is easy to work with, would appreciate the extra help and observe what is involved BEFORE buying anything. If you find you can't handle lifting supers full of honey or manhandling full hives then beekeeping may not be for you. In the long run you will need a minimum of 3 years to learn about the bees and behavior, hive bodies and identifying the queen, drones and workers as well as lhow to prevent diseases, what to look for that is out of the ordinary, weather related problems, supplemental feeding times (spring and fall when the flora is off season) and amounts of food honey that needs to be left in the hiveto maintain the bees over the winter.

We are approaching the 5th year now and looking back, it has been both fun and a lot of hard work.Just constructing and building the brood chambers (hive body), supers, dozens of frames and then adding wired foundation into the frames took weeks of work, tying up the shop and usurping any other priority and personal plans.

The First Year

1-- Read every book you can find. We purchased several and they now serve as loaners to those we are mentoring.
Here are a couple of links to docs to start with.

The Life of the Bee

Beekeeping Calendar

2-- Find a mentor. We were mentored by someone from Maldova, one of our older students, who had a generational heritage of raising bees in his country. He helped us with the initial setup and equipment, explaning what we needed to do, and then checked up on us weekly at first to see what we did, tell what we needed to do, and how.

3-- Research what equipment you need to do:

  • Hive maintenance.
  • Harvesting.
  • Which size hive bodies you can handle.
  • Local suppliers and classes.
  • Costs of the operation: Suits, screens, tools and catalogs.
  • The supers, lids, bottom tray, queen excluder and entrance cover for each hive, including samples and dimensions if you plan to make your own.
  • Populating the hive, including handling swarms.
  • Feeders, watering and medication basics.
  • Extraction methods or extractor processes.
  • Checking each frame on a scheduled (bee life cycle) basis.
  • Where to extract and process the honey .. away from the house and animals, with running water, places for the frames, drip pans, buckets, comb / frame tools etc.
The Second Year

The work becomes a love / hate relationship. Bees need some attention, and if there are other priorities that prevent opening and maintaining hives every now and then, then you need to decide what to do with all of the expensive equipment that you have invested in.

Learn:

1-- Learn when and how to inspect the hives and most important - why:

2-- What to do in early spring Read Hiving and care of packaged bees 8-19-2010

3-- What to do in late spring (before swarms)

4-- What to do periodically during the summer.

5-- What to do before harvest.

6-- What to do before winter.

7-- Learn meds, application methods and parasites.

8-- Determine how large the hives can be for you to handle safely and trimming out the sizes you don't want to manage. Bartering or trading for the size you want (8 frames, 10 frames and 12 frames all have different advantages.

9-- Reading and understanding more of the Bee lifecycle.

The Life of the Bee

10- Capturing your first swarm from yours or someone elses hives. 11- Dividing the hives.

12- Setting up supers - why, how, what and when.

13- Construction of the hive bodies, supers, bottoms, frames and foundations.

14- Storage for equipment - spare frames, foundations, medications, smoker is hot with a strong odor etc.)

The Third Year

Learn:

1-- When to extract and developing your extracting processes.

2-- Processing the honey and cultivating contacts.

3-- Labeling and marketing and developing marketing strategies - do, don'ts and can'ts (limitations).

4-- Where to purchase emergency gear and how to use it.

5-- Starting to advise others on your experiences.

6- Learning how to prevent and deal with dead hives, raiders etc.

It is also a great time to either trim down or ramp up your operation to what your first year goals were. If your operation has become too big, it approaches a full time job during the warm months.

The Fourth Year

Lots of mistakes are behind you as you settle in to the habit of thinking about the hives, the future of what you want to do, and mentoring others in start ups, marketing products and how far or not to expand.

Our first year, we started with 1 hive that went to 3, and by the second year we had 9. Between the 2nd and 3rd year we lost 2 hives due to an unusual spring. We also realized that the amount of time needed with more hives, as well as the logistics of lifting very heavy hive boxes was more than we could handle by ourselves and recruited some teens to help. We also combinded the extraction process so our neighbor that we mentored could also extract at the same time.