Getting Started

By Bob Sitko

Honeybees are truly wondrous creatures and keeping them can be a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable hobby. Getting started though, is not always easy. The path may be simple and straightforward or it may be strewn with difficulties. To ease your way and to make your introduction to the world of the honeybee as enjoyable as possible, please consider the following:

Personal help. Find an experienced successful beekeeper who is willing to help you. Look over his or her shoulder whenever possible and ask lots of questions. Recognize, however, that years of experience do not guarantee a beekeeper’s competence or success. It may be one year of experience many times over. Select your mentor with care.

Read. There are many good books available about beekeeping. Read two or three of the most recent ones and you will find the subjects explained similarly.  Acquire one or two for your own library. Read them and re-read them. In selecting your books, realize that beekeeping is generally the same, worldwide. There are some national and regional differences in both equipment and methods. Beginners will do well to stay with books written for their own geographical area. A northern US beekeeper, for example, may not be best served by a book written in England (and there are a lot of British authors and web site owners of beekeeping information.)

Equipment. Start new equipment of standard design and dimensions. Used equipment or homemade equipment both have potential to bring problems that the novice may not be equipped to recognize or handle. Learn and use basic methods. Then you will have a basis for comparison if you chose to experiment in future years. Do not buy a so-called beginners kit until you understand the use of each piece of equipment or you may be wasting your money. Some components are not used in northern beekeeping.

Bees. Start with a package of bees rather than a nucleus hive (a nuc) or an established hive. Once past the initial awe and apprehension, the novice can easily handle and install the package. By its nature, a properly bred package is definitely non-aggressive. It is a unit that beginners can handle and relate to immediately. You will grow in confidence and competence as the colony grows in size, and surely the most fun to watch do to your care.

Timing. Start your beekeeping early in the spring, mid April for our area. Bee packages are available locally at that time from at least three local suppliers. Recognize that you may not get a surplus of honey the first year, especially from package bees. The first year is a learning time for the beekeeper and a building time for the bees.

Association. Join you local Beekeepers Association. These groups welcome and encourage beginners. You will find kindred souls there. Beekeeping is difficult to learn in isolation. Associations are a prime source of updated education, classes, workshops, and publications. They provide a social stage for meeting your neighbor beekeepers through banquets, picnics, and monthly meetings. Subscribe to a beekeeping magazine. They are full of valuable information for all stages of beekeeping.

                                        Bob Sitko: