Getting started with bees

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Questions to ask before getting bees, start-up cost, supply list, and which hive is best for you.

Getting Started with Bees & start-up cost

In terms of homesteading trends that have gained popularity in the last decade, beekeeping has to be at the top of the list; from rooftop apiaries to backyard urban beekeeping. With all of the media buzz (pun intended) about CDC (Colony Collapse Disorder) and the increased awareness of the multitude of medicinal properties of raw honey, areas around the world are seeing an increase in beekeepers of over 220% in previous years.

I have been a big fan and consumer of local honey for as long as I can remember. Comb honey was a special treat I allowed myself whenever I could find it available. The taste comparison between store bought and local honey, well, there is no comparison. It’s like trying to compare fresh homemade bread to Wonder Bread or comparing Kraft plastic cheese to home made goat cheese, they aren’t even in the same weight category for a good fight.

On our self-reliant journey to better living I knew we wanted to add bees, however, two major things stood in my way. #1 I’m allergic to bees and deathly afraid and  #2 Our yard did not have one plant to help pollinators. After several years of transforming our property we finally solved the #2 issue and decided to throw our name in the honey pot and become urban beekeepers (still working on #1).

I am no expert, I have not been a beekeeper before, but- there are several things I wish I would have known before I ordered my bees and several things I have learned in my certification course that I would like to share with you.

Getting started with bees

Questions to ask before ordering bees

  • Does your County, City or HOA have restrictions against owning bees?
  • Do you have a good location? Bees like to stay high and dry with a wind brake and protection from the elements; boggy, wet areas should be avoided.
  • Allergies; are any members deathly allergic to bees? It is not impossible to own bees with allergies but extreme caution should be taken if doing so.
  • Do you have time? Bees are not typically high maintenance but they do require; monthly inspections, pest and disease management,  swarm control, honey collection,constant watering, winter/spring feeding, moisture control, predator protection and more
  • Do you have a nearby water source? Bees drink (collect) their weight in water each day so a water source is imperative
  • Take a course. There is so much to learn about becoming a beekeeper. Books and internet browsing is a good start but learning hands on from those with years of experience is the best way to learn. Contact your local county extension for beekeeping courses or a nearby bee farm.
  • How many hives do you want? I “thought” I wanted one, I was informed I needed a minimum of two.
    • Why two?
      • So you have something to compare your hive to. If you’ve never seen a failing hive how would you know when to recognize the warning signs unless you had a healthy hive to compare it to?
      • If your queen dies and you need to merge hives. Accidents happen and life happens, or in this case death. Ordering a queen bee is not always easy or affordable ($30.00 and up + shipping for one queen) and combining colonies may be the best choice for you at the moment to avoid losing a hive altogether
      • Weak colonies. Combining a week colony with a strong colony is sometimes needed for the survival of your hive.
      • Double the honey. With all of the beekeepers in the beekeeping course and the hundreds of years of combined experience, not once did I ever hear “I have too much honey”, you will never have too much honey.

Equipment

Hives. After deciding how many hives you would like to have, next you need to decide what type of hive you want. There are three top hives in use today.

  • Langstroth Hive
  • Top Bar Hive
  • Warre Hive

To read more about these different hives click here.

We decided to go with Langstroth for convenience and availability but we are going to build a Top Bar when time allows. When ordering your hives you may have the option of assembled or unassembled, you may save $10.00 + for unassembled but it’s worth the headache if you are not handy with tools to buy assembled.

You will also need

  • Veil (this is a must! a bee sting to the eye can cause permanent damage)
  • Bee suit
  • Gloves
  • Hive Tool
  • Smoker
  • Smoker Fuel (pine straw is an acceptable free option)
  • Feeder
  • Water Source
  • Brush
  • Resource Book
  • Honey Extraction Equipment
  • Epi Pens (always keep on hand even if you are not allergic to bees, some of your guest may be, it could save a life)

linden veil

 

Ordering bees

  • Types of bees The Italian Honey Bee(Apis mellifera ligustica) is the most common honey bee in the North America but there are also; German, Carniolan, Buckfast, caucasian, and Russian honey bees. To read more about the different types of honey bees click here
  • Packs, Nucs, or Swarms oh my! There are four common ways to obtain bees for your new hive and you have to choose the one that’s best for you.
    • Swarms (Wild swarm of bees) Swarming is the process by which a new honey bee-colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees
      • Pros
        • Free bees
        • Bees may be well acclimated to current region
      • Cons
        • No brood or eggs
        • Unknown lineage and history of captured swarm
        • Bees may be Afericanized
        • Swarm may have health or mite problems
        • Swarms will have older queen that may be failing
        • Can, but not necessarily, lead to being badly stung
    • Packs (Packaged Bees) The package of bees usually contains bees shaken from two or more colonies, and the queen supplied with the package is bred from selected colonies to be sent in the package. The queen is kept in a separate small wooden or plastic cage with one screened side and candy release plug. The caged queen in the package is well protected and fed through the screen during transportation, and usually accepted by the bees within 12 – 24 hours. The bees free the queen from the cage by eating the sugar candy blocking the exit hole of the cage
      • Pros
        • Fewer bees to start working with, therefore less intimidating
        • Must be certified as apparently healthy before sale in the US
        • History is known
        • Entire package can be treated with Sugar Roll to guard against mites
      • Cons
        • Only available during certain times of bee season
        • High stress for bees
        • Delivery personnel apprehensive dealing with bees
        • Bees may be exposed to the elements
        • No eggs or brood until queen starts laying in hive
        • Heavy feeding required to encourage new comb building
    • Nucs (Nucleus Hives) Nucs, or nucleus colonies, are small honey bee colonies created from larger colonies. The term refers both to the smaller size box and the colony of honeybees within it. The name is derived from the fact that a nuc hive is centered on a queen, the nucleus of the honey bee colony
      • Pros
        • Contains bees of all ages, brood and eggs
        • Quicker to establish
        • No queen release required
      • Cons
        • May harbor disease and mite problems
        • May require deposit and return of gear to original owner
        • Generally can’t be shipped and must be acquired locally
        • Nuc equipment may not integrate with other hive equipment
        • Queen may be old or of poor quality
        • Don’t integrate well to non-Langstroth-style hives
    • Established Hives The easiest, and sometimes the best, way to start keeping bees is to buy two established colonies from a reputable local beekeeper. Buying two colonies instead of one lets you interchange frames of brood and honey if one colony becomes weaker than the other and needs a boost
      • Pros
        • Contains many bees of all ages, brood and eggs
        • Already established
        • No queen release required
        • Full hive is ready for honey production
        • Likely kept by an experienced beekeeper
      • Cons
        • May harbor disease and mite problems
        • May require deposit and return of gear to original owner
        • Expensive
        • Hard to find/buy
        • Can’t be shipped and must be acquired locally
        • Queen may be old or of poor quality
        • Equipment may be old and failing
        • May be a bad reason as to the availability of the hive

Personally, I ordered packs and nucs, in my defense I didn’t know the difference when I placed the order (hindsight I wish I would have ordered all nucs). The packages cost me $80.00 for a 3# package and will contain approximately 12,000 bees. I later found out that nucs were available and order a nuc for $100.00. I was able to get a discount price because I placed a bulk order with the beekeepers association. Buying a nuc will give your colony a head start in their honey-making efforts because they have already started building their combs and have an established queen.

  • When to order bees. Bee season is in the spring, that is when most bees are bought and shipped, however, if you try to order your bees in the spring chances are you will have a hard time finding availability. Most beekeepers place their order in the fall to ensure spring availability.

Cost

Many factors will determine your cost; what type of hive, how many, what kind of bees, shipping, your area, etc. Here is a breakdown of my cost thus far:

(2) packages of bees $160.00 (group discount)

(1) Nuc $100.00

(2) veils with hats (didn’t order full suits yet)

(2) Gloves

(1) Smoker

(2) Complete Langstroth Starter Hives – unassembled (NOTICE I bought (3) bee colonies and only bought (2) hives. I am trying to sell one of my packages, if I fail at finding a buyer darling husband will have to build that Top Bar Hive sooner rather than later)

(2) Feeders

(1) Hive Tool

(1) Bee Brush

(1) Book

(Supply total $493.80)

(1) Bag of Bee Tea $12.00*

Certification Course through our local extension office $65.00

Total Cost to Date = $830.80

WOWZA!!! That’s a lot of Do-Re-Mi ! This is one post I will definitely not ask hubby to read. But, this is an investment and will last for many, many years.  The cost factor is something I wish I would have known in the beginning; I went into this aspect of beekeeping blindly and received the shock factor when the cost started adding up, I hope this will help you be more prepared.

Where to order supplies?

In no particular order

Burshy Mountain Bee Farm

Kelley Beekeeping

Dadant

Man Lake

Betterbee

Miller Bee Supply

* Bee Tea. I intend on raising our bees the same way I raise every living creature on our homestead, naturally. Spikenard Farm is a natural bee sanctuary and offers herbal Bee Tea to establish healthy bees. You can learn more by clicking here 

 

There are no affiliate links on this post, external links are provided for your information. 

 

 

 

14 Comments

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  3. Dahlia Iulo on May 28, 2015 at 3:42 pm
    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…
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  6. Tenley Long on January 16, 2016 at 1:20 am
    Thank you for this informative blog! I, too, live in coastal SC. 14 miles from the ocean. We have 6 acres and are trying to become self reliant. It is a slow process but very rewarding. I start my bee class next Tuesday. I am so excited! I have wanted bees for the last 12 years and it looks like it might finally happen. Yeah me! I found you on the Back to Basics blog. We also have dairy goats, chickens, ducks, guineas and horses along with the required farm dogs and barn cats :)
    • The Coastal Homestead on January 16, 2016 at 1:42 pm
      Wonderful! What part? We live in Pawleys Island on a small lot close to the ocean. So jealous of your acreage. We have 2 dairy goats (Nigerian Dwarf) chickens and bees. I am hoping to add ducks this year (maybe you can offer some advice?). The class will help you a great deal, and all the members go in together and buy their bees at a discount towards the end of class. Make sure you read my article Beekeeping on a Budget, it may help you save a couple of dollars. lease keep in touch!
      • Tenley Long on January 22, 2016 at 4:14 am
        We are in Longs. Near Cherry Grove/Little River. Ducks are incredibly messy! But they are super fun to watch. Do not put them in the bath tub. Their mess will take the finish off....ask me how I know?! Also the males can be rough on the females and their babies. I have only had Pekins. If I were to get more, I would likely try Cayugas or Khaki Campbell. They lay more eggs which are excellent for baking. We just put in a pond for ours. I love when the babies hatch in the spring. I put them under my broody hen. She is a more reliable setter. Feel free to email me. Would love for you to visit our little farm. I also homeschool but only have one teen boy at home. My others all grew up! Blessings!
        • The Coastal Homestead on January 22, 2016 at 1:26 pm
          Are you on facebook? I would love to stay in touch. I have one teen girl in homeschool (9th grade) 21 yr old son and 4 yr old daughter. I heard the campbells love any source of water and we have a pool so I will need a heavy breed that can't (or doesn't) fly.
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  9. […] you have read my post about Getting Started with Bees ( click here if you haven’t read it yet) then you already know that getting started with […]
  10. […] you have read my post about Getting Started with Bees ( click here if you haven’t read it yet) then you already know that getting started with […]

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