A question I received on TikTok, from Usmanuiya:
How do I start a bee keeping farm? What do I need to do?
Beekeeping is something I’ve been doing, commercially, since 1996. Before 1996 I was only a hobbyist. Getting into bees and beekeeping is one of the greatest things I’ve eve done. If you go into beekeeping, you’ll enjoy it.
PROS AND CONS
The first thing we need to look at are the pros and cons of beekeeping. The following list, though not exhaustive, covers he basics.
- Honey is the obvious answer. Most beekeepers want to produce fresh honey. A single bee can produce 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime (about 6 weeks), and with a colony consisting of thousands of bees, that can add up quickly,
- Beeswax is another popular product that comes from bees. Bees produce wax from special glands on their abdomen. The beeswax is formed into honeycomb and becomes the structure of their home. We use beeswax also. It is used in candle-making and cosmetics. Many creams and lipsticks contain beeswax. Even the apples you buy in the store may have a coating of beeswax to make them shine!
- Pollination: If you want better yield from your orchards and gardens, honeybees can help. Raising honeybees ensures better pollination of flowering plants. This means more food for us and wildlife. Honeybees are the heroes of pollination efforts for modern agriculture. However, the role of native bee species cannot be overlooked.
- Diligent workers. There’s a reason we say, “busy as a bee.” Bees are constant workers. They do not require constant monitoring. A colony of healthy well-managed bees will produce honey and wax that you can use or later sell. On average, expect to spend an hour per week during the warm season on colony management. Note that in colder climates, you may need to help the bees overwinter properly.
- Non-Natives: While we manage honeybees for honey & pollination, there is some concern that honeybees are outcompeting our native bees in the wild. Honeybees are non-natives. Wild, solitary bees are the super-pollinators of our native flowers and plants. If you’re getting bees to pollinate your food (not to produce honey), consider a solitary bee house (and encourage native plants and wildflowers)!
- Stings can happen with honeybees. Check with your doctor first to determine if you are one of the unlucky people who are allergic to honeybee stings. Even if you are not allergic, stings are painful. Learning how to properly manage your hives will lessen stinging episodes.
- Cost of supplies. The initial cost of beekeeping can be intimidating to new beekeepers. You will need to invest in supplies such as a hive, proper protective clothing, a smoker, and hive tool. As of this writing, a single new hive may cost about $160, clothing and gear may cost about $200, and a package of new bees may run $175 to $250. Often you can find starter kits with bees, boxes, and gear for a better combined price.
- The first year can be a tough one. On top of learning the ins and outs of beekeeping, you may not get any honey for yourself. Your bees have a lot of work to do during the first season. They must produce wax, raise young bees, and store honey for Winter. Learn to be patient with yourself and your bees.
- Bee diseases. As you might know, bee populations have been in decline for several years. Diseases, pesticides, and parasites are the most common troubles encountered by bees, but sometimes, there is no explanation for an unhealthy hive. Take the time to learn how to keep your bees healthy and to inquire about any problems other beekeepers in your area might have had.
All the years of beekeeping I’ve never suffered losses until COVID and the associated closures, and from being in the hospital and having to be away from the farm.
Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons, let’s look at some of the basics you will need to consider.
Knowing The Laws and Regulations
Believe it or not, there are regulations in place for beekeepers. There may be restrictions on how many hives you can keep, where you can keep them, or if you can even have them at all (this is especially true if you live within city limits). Like here in Texas, we must register our apiary in many states.
If you live in the United States, the Apiary Inspectors of America will let you know what you can and cannot do. (Link will open in a new window).
United States Honey Bee Laws Alabama Louisiana Ohio Alaska Maine Oklahoma Arizona Maryland Oregon Arkansas Massachusetts Pennsylvania California Michigan Rhode Island Colorado Minnesota South Carolina Connecticut Mississippi South Dakota Delaware Missouri Tennessee Florida Montana Texas Georgia Nebraska Utah Hawaii Nevada Vermont Idaho New Hampshire Virginia Illinois New Jersey Washington Indiana New Mexico Washington D.C.
You also need to make sure your neighbors, if you live within a city, are alright with keeping a hive or two in your yard. Talk to them about your bees, what you are doing, and maybe promise them a jar of fresh honey!
Flight Path of Bees
Bees will find and take the shortest and fastest path from the hive to the nectar source. This can be a disturbance to people, pets, and livestock. Keep this in mind when you are placing your bees.
[PRO TIP: One thing to keep in mind, you can control, for the most part, the direction your bees will fly. Wherever you point the opening of the hive, most of your bees will fly in that direction.]
Another consideration is sidewalks. Will the bees be crossing sidewalks or bike paths? If so, you can put in fences or tall bushes near the hives to encourage the bees to gain altitude. This will keep them, and you, from running afoul of your neighbors.
The Right Location
You can place bees almost anywhere. Place your hive opening towards the rising sun. Morning sun at the hive entrance is a plus as it warms the hive, bees and helps them get an early start.
Look for a sheltered area to place your hives. You want to stay away from the top of hills, small valleys, or areas that tend to flood when it rains. In West Texas I also must contend with wind gusts that can be up to 90 miles per hour, so make sure you have a way to secure your hives if you are in a wind prone area.
Another thing to consider is water. Your bees are going to need water every day of the year. Our farm uses stock tanks near a group of hives, which places a water source close to several hives. These are the same tanks we use with livestock.
Bees will need pollen and nectar. What plant sources are near to your bees? In West Texas, our bees can find the following: mesquite, rosemary, cotton when it is flowering, clover, and wildflowers.
You want to make sure, before you package bees arrive, that they have a safe, natural habitat.
Education is a very important part of beekeeping. You are always going to learn something new, every day. To get started on the right foot, check with your county extension office, and see if they have any beekeeping courses. You can also take an online course.
If you are looking for a good online course, the TheBeekeepr.org is a great one! It is extensive and covers every aspect of beekeeping (the link below will open in a new window).
Expert-led advice on getting your first beehive started. Any time. Any device.
You also want to reach out to local beekeepers and beekeeping organizations. Both will help you grow as a beekeeper. Click here for a listing of State Associations.