DIY Backyard Beekeeping: A Guide for Beginners

by James Bailey on November 02, 2020

Backyard beekeeping is a worthwhile venture whether you are doing it as a hobby or for business purposes. We all enjoy the delicious honey that they make! The bees also help our vegetables, flowers, and other garden plants to thrive. Beekeeping does not require a lot of space and is less laborious compared to other farm animals. You can do it with ease and enjoy the benefits. Beekeeping has risen in popularity in recent years. Furthermore, raw honey, royal jelly, and beeswax are valued products that are much sought after.   

diy backyard beekeeping a guide for beginners

So, how do you get started in backyard beekeeping? Being a beekeeper is not enough; you need to be a competent beekeeper. Like any other venture, you need to acquaint yourself with the essential information to be successful. There are a lot of books and resources on beekeeping: reading as much as possible puts you on the right track. Joining a beekeeping club in your area is also a great avenue to learn. Some associations offer mentors who can help you through your first season. Like other investments, you will also need capital. The initial capital will depend on the number of hives you want to keep.

Read on to discover the equipment you will need and how to choose the right bees.

Enquire About Your Local Beekeeping Regulations

As a beekeeper, you do not want to violate the law. You need to know what your local and state beekeeping laws state about a backyard beekeeper. In most cases, there are no ordinances or laws that strictly prohibit backyard beekeepers, but there some that restrict beekeeping practices. This may include the number of hives you can put on your property, the distance between the hives and your neighbors’ properties, and so on. Ensure you have met the legal requirements of beekeeping in your area before you embark on the project.

Make necessary concessions with your neighbors to prevent possible disagreements with them about your venture. It is also advisable to know whether there is anyone in your family who is allergic to a bee sting. If unaware, it is good to be tested. Bee stings can be lethal to some people and can even cause death.

Prepare a Place for the Beehive

When preparing a place for your hive, keep your family, neighbors, and other livestock in mind. The location should allow ample sunshine and proper air circulation. There should be some shade too to prevent overheating. Fencing out the area is necessary before you purchase the beehive and your bees. A wooden fence of at least 8 feet tall will prevent the bees from flying low and stinging people. It also keeps away the predators from the beehives, such as bears. It acts as a first-line defense for your honey bee colonies.

A fence or hedge made of annual flowering plants or even sunflowers not only acts as a barrier but also as a small source of pollen and nectar for the colony. You can also consider putting your hive behind a building. A fence or a building will make the bees to fly up and away when leaving the beehive and return to the beehive from an elevated height to avoid human interactions.

Get a Hive Stand

A hive stand is a platform upon which a beehive stands to keep it off the ground. It provides a sturdy and secure base for the hive and allows better air circulation. It also protects the colony from pests and predators such as skunks. Preparation of the ground around the beehive is also necessary to keep the mud off during the rainy season. You can use gravel or stones, an old carpet, bark mulch, and the like.

Get a Hive

You will need a hive to keep your bees. You can purchase a beehive or build one. Langstroth and top-bar hives are the most commonly used.  A Langstroth hive comprises a bottom board, an inner cover, an outer cover, deep brood box including flames and foundations, an entrance reducer, and some stands. Some a couple of honey supers are also necessary for a honey in case of a good nectar flow. In the hive, the bees create their comb and fill the cells with honey on waxed frames that hang vertically. These will require frames and beeswax foundation as well. 

The bees use the foundation to draw out comb. It can be plastic, but natural beeswax is better. At Natural Apiary, we provide 100% pure natural beeswax foundation sheets. For a beginner, a medium super is recommended. If you opt to purchase a used beehive, ensure that the beekeeping equipment is inspected and free from diseases and pathogens. 

The entrance of the hive should face away from strong winds.  Orient the hive entrance away from a foot traffic near your house, barns or shed. People or animals should not be walking through the flight path that bees use to get back to the hive.

Beehive Frames Recommendations

Boxes hold different numbers of frames depending on the size. The most common are 5, 8, and 10 frame boxes. These  are structures where bees make honey and honeycombs on. They can have a small strip of beeswax (starter strip) for bees to begin their combs. They can also have a full beeswax foundation with or without supporting wires. 

A deep box with 10 frames weighs about 90 pounds when full of frames of beeswax, honey, and bees. A medium super weighs about 50 pounds while a shallow super weighs 30 pounds. A medium-sized box, with 8 frames is lighter and easier to handle.

Purchase a Protective Gear

Protective clothing is essential when handling bees, especially for beginners. They protect you from the painful bee stings. The protective clothing should fit you loosely so that you can work and move with ease. Alongside the beekeeping suit, feet protection is also crucial. Thick socks and boots protect from bee stings on your ankles and feet. Some experienced beekeepers use just a simple hat with a veil, especially when it is hot.

Beekeeper Suit

A full beekeeper suit is a necessity when performing heavy-duty bee work. It is also required when the weather is unfavorable and when bees are more aggressive. Many new beekeepers start with this gear since they are inexperienced in dealing with bees and it protects your whole body from bee stings.

Zephyros - 3 Layer Ventilated Beekeeping Suit

Beekeeper Gloves

Most of the beekeepers' gloves are made of leather for the hands and fabric up to the elbows. At Natural Apiary, we provide high-quality goatskin and cowhide bee gloves, which are great for sting protection. 

Smocks and Jackets

Beekeeping smocks and jackets will offer upper body protection and are more comfortable and less bulky. It is not advisable for new beekeepers venturing into backyard beekeeping. You may try them later after you are more accustomed to beekeeping, or use them when doing maintenance work around your apiary, i.e. cutting your lawn or hedges.

A lightweight jacket with an attached veil is an ideal choice when doing regular bees work. You can unzip and push it back when drinking some water or even driving to another yard.

For all information on how to order your protective gear, know the right sizes, how to remove the suit, how to clean the jackets and bee suits, and much more, visit the Natural Apiary website.

Other Essential Tools

Bee Smoker

A bee smoker comprises a cylinder with bellows attached to it. In the cylinder, you build a slow-burning fire using materials such as wood chips, pine needles, leaves, or even commercial smoker fuel to produce smoke. Smokers are used to blow smoke around the bees to help keep them calm. 

It also causes the bees to think there is nearby fire, just like when a smoke alarm goes off in your home, you figure out why and take the necessary action, which is normally you switching off the alarm because you just burnt your toast. Bees do the same as they become preoccupied investigating to see if there is a fire, while others start to gorge on the stored honey in the hive in order to save it from the suspected fire. Like all living things, survival for their colony is their main concern. A human having a look inside the hive is less of a threat than a possible fire. That said, this only affects the bees temporarily and is not harmful. 

beehive beekeeping smoker

Bees also communicate using movement and chemical cues referred to as pheromones. The chemical inform the bees what to do, when to do, and when to stop. The smoke masks some of these pheromones and interferes with communication in the hive. 

Hive Tool and Scraper

A hive tool helps a beekeeper to separate hive components when inspecting a beehive. It is made of  hardened steel with a hook on one end and a small blunt blade on the other end. A hive tool can be used for various purposes, such as separating supers or boxes, loosening hive components, prying off the hive lid, removal of combs, and so on. The scraper helps you to remove the build-up of wax or propolis on your hive components.

Brushes

When you pull up a frame from the hive, most likely, you will need to brush off the bees from it. A bee brush will help you to sweep the bees off the frames and hive without harming the bees. It has long and firm bristles normally made of horsehair that will remove the bees gently.

Honey Extractor

A honey extractor helps to extract honey from the honeycombs. It extracts the honey without destroying the combs. It may not be a necessity when starting, but you will need it along the journey.

Choosing Honey Bees

There are various bee breeds that differ in temperaments, resistance to diseases, and foraging abilities. The major types of bees include the European bees, African bees, Russian bees, and Carniolan bees. When starting, it is advisable to purchase the gentle bees, which make plenty of honey. These will make it easier for you to carry out hive inspections. Handling aggressive bees as a beginner can be very discouraging. They can even sting your neighbors, and you get into trouble with the law.

To establish a colony in your beehive, you need to source a bee package from beekeeping suppliers and breeders. Other ways to get bees is to purchase a nuclear family from a local apiary or capture a swarm. An advantage of nuclear colonies is that they have already started to produce honeycomb and honey when you bring them to your hive. You only need to transfer the frames from the cardboard box into your beehive.

A bee package has enough bees to start a new beehive. A typical bee package size is three pounds of bees with about 10,000 bees. You can also get two or five-pound packages. A package comprises worker bees, a newly mated queen bee, and some sugar syrup for the bees to feed on during transit. Each pound is expected to cover one frame in a beehive, so you will need three frames for a three-pound package. Here are the species of bees available in bee packages.

Italian Honey Bees

These are the most common bees available. Italians bees are gentle honey bees species with good wintering ability and are very productive. They begin their build-up as soon as the temperatures are favorable, and their tendency to swarm is limited. These are pretty easy to manage. However, the resulting bee population can become more than a colony can feed. This may be the reason why they intend to rob other neighboring hives. They also have a disloyal habit of joining other colonies.

Russian Bees

Russian bees are gentle, very hardworking, and great producers of honey. They are highly resistant to varroa mites. They have a higher probability to swarm when disturbed. Although they are slow to build in the spring, they build very fast when they do. They are a bit more complicated to manage.

Carniolans Bees

Carniolan bees are dark in color and easy to manage. They are known for their gentle temperament. They are a perfect choice for a backyard beekeeper if you are worried about aggressive bee behavior. Even if they are more demanding when it comes to management, their population builds pretty fast in the spring, so a need to be prepared to prevent swarming.  They winter better when winters are harsh.

Buckfast Bees

The Buckfast bee is a breed of honey bee, a cross of many subspecies and their strains, developed by Brother Adam (born Karl Kehrle in 1898 in Germany), who was in charge of beekeeping from 1919 at Buckfast Abbey in Devon in the United Kingdom.

The Buckfast bee is popular among beekeepers in Europe as the bees qualities are very favourable, sometimes referred to as the beekeepers bee. They are non-aggressive and highly productive. Brother Adam, in his book, Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, writes that in 1920 they obtained "an average of no less than 192 lbs [87 kg] surplus per colony.

How do You Buy a Package of Bees?

To order a package of bees, contact a local beekeeper supply or local bee association. Choose a provider who is competent and has a good reputation. It is advisable to order your bee package as early as possible since there is a probability of limited stocks in the peak season. The bee supplier should provide you with a manual explaining how to install the bees into their new home and how to introduce the queen to the workers.

When you have installed the package, the bees start making combs and foraging for nectar and pollen. The queen bee will also start to lay eggs. Do you know she can lay up to 2000 eggs per day?The best time to install a package is late in the afternoon. The bees are unlikely to drift at this time. It is crucial to note that you will need to feed the bees heavily until the colony is established. This will take the first few weeks.

There are a variety of feeders available from entrance feeders, in-hive feeders, or hive top feeders. The feeding solution should be 1 part of sugar and 1 part of water. Pollen bee feed substitutes are also available if you may want to feed your bees.

Bottom Line

Amid the excitement of becoming a backyard beekeeper, there are more responsibilities to take. Although bees do not require a lot of effort like other livestock that they need regular checks to ensure they are healthy and thriving. To help prevent swarming the hive should be inspected every seven to ten days. and it is not advisable to open the hive every day, as this would disrupt the bees and cause too many fluctuations in the hive's temperature, causing the colony to become weak or leave. 

One of the most crucial things to check is whether the queen is laying eggs, which is an indication that the colony is growing. In many regions, you should not harvest honey until the second year. The first year is for the establishment of a strong colony. 

(James Bailey and Kamenju, 2020)

 

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