How to start beekeeping

It’s true that we’ve basically given up on the bee blog because, well, we got busy. However, someone showed interest in starting to keep bees today and I wrote this long email to her about it. I’m still very passionate about it, as you can tell. I know this post will seem a bit like an advert for certain companies – it’s by no means meant to be an endorsement, but just where we’ve gone to buy things!

Hi R***,

You’ve got me started on one of my favorite subjects, so I hope I don’t overwhelm you with information. However, doing is far better than reading…

Essentially, to get started you need bees, somewhere to put them, and equipment look inside the hives.

Somewhere to put them and equipment
If you’re not overly familiar with the components of a hive, there’s a good image here.

These are the hives we have (we like them and they’re really pretty). This kit also has MOST of the equipment you need to get going (they have a none “advanced” kit as well – the only difference is that I can see is that you get 4 hive bodies with the advanced and only 2 with the non-advanced. You’ll need 4 eventually anyway). We wouldn’t use the foundation (that’s the stuff inside the frames that the bees actually build their comb on) they provide with this kit, but prefer this kind (they are durable and you can see the eggs the queen lays in them so you have a good idea if she’s doing what she should be doing, like here). You’d need 32 sheets of this.

If you want a second hive, you have two options: buy a duplicate beginner kit or just buy just the stuff on its own. If you’re going to be enlisting the help of someone else when you inspect the hives (2-3 times per year – anyone who says you have to do it more often than this is probably stressing their bees out), I would suggest buying a second beginner kit because it has the second set of gloves, hat, hive tool, and an extra smoker.

If you wanted just the hive, it’s here and the 2 extra hive bodies are here. You’ll the frames for the 2 extra hive bodies as well (there’s 8 in each hive bodies, so 16 in total).

Since a lot of things come inside the beginners kit, but you’ll probably want to invest in one or two other things:
– white long sleeve and long legged overalls (you can get a “bee suit” but really, any washable white overalls will do). Bees like white – they don’t think it’s a bear.
frame spacer so the frames are the right distance apart (needed for a tidy hive and happy bees).
– Even if you want to leave the bees as natural as possible, it’s still good to treat them for mites at the end of the summer. This will make sure they’re strong going into the winter. We got a big box of the medication for this and would be happy to share, since it will take us a while to get through them anyway.

Word about shipping
Brushy Mountain charges a lot for shipping (well, considering how big the boxes are, it’s probably fair), which raises a dilemma because we have a Brushy Mountain dealer in Damascus MD, but he charges an 8% premium…so we’ve just decided to eat the shipping costs. OH! I just noticed they’re now doing free shipping over $150. Awesome!

A very recent innovation
I would feel remiss in not mentioning about a completely revolutionary development that recently happened in the beekeeping world: the Flow Hive. If you wanted to start some hives this spring/summer, it wouldn’t necessarily help, but if you want to get in at the ground level on this, now is the time to pledge money since the campaign is time limited. You could add it to your hives next spring, as we’re hoping to do. This innovation has really, truly rocked the beekeeping world, as you can probably see by the amount of money this project has raised!

Prepping and locating hives
Once you have all the equipment, you’ll need to make the hives durable for the outdoors. As I mentioned, we use log cabin stain, as it’s low/no VOC and breathable, yet developed for tough climates. Seems to be working like a charm so far. Jo (my wife) is the queen of research and found this kind to be the most environmentally/bee sound. It’s super easy to apply. It goes on like a stain, so you just need to brush on two coats of a color, then a final UV clear coat. It is (like everything beekeepy) a bit pricey, but a little goes a long way so you’d probably only need one 1 gal of color and 1 gal of UV coat.

You’ll want to find somewhere that gets a bit of shade, but also sun, to put the hives. They should be raised off of the ground, which can be achieved with a few cinder blocks and a couple of 4x4s. This was our old location. A hive can weigh several hundred pounds by the end of the summer, so don’t use anything less than a 4×4!

Packages of bees
The first thing to do, if you’re going to do this this year, is to order your bees. The later you leave it, the later you receive them (or suppliers run out completely) and the less time the bees have to build the colony before the winter. In fact, our supplier from last year already ran out, so we’re going with this company this time around. I think it’s honestly a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to where you get your bees from (because, actually, there’s probably only 3 or 4 companies that actually raise the bees in GA or TN, then middle men get them, add queens, and ship them to you or me).

You might – rightfully so – already be overwhelmed with the amount of different choices and information, so I’m only passing on what we have found to work for us. If you go for this, I would be more than happy to sit down with you and put together an order and be there for any beekeeping advice. We were TOTALLY unknowledgeable when we started, so all this info really has been absorbed by coming across unfamiliar situations, researching, and then doing what we felt was best for the bees.

Phew! What a lot of information! I’m sure your head is spinning, but as you can see, I’m really quite passionate about this beekeeping thing. There’s a final option if, after you’ve read all this, you still want to have bees on your land, but don’t know if the actual beekeeping part is for you – get someone else to tend to the bees for you, but fund their endeavor. That’s basically what Jo’s sister did for us – our third hive is actually hers, but we just look after it!


Winter cleansing flights


We are so unbelievably happy to see this much activity on a warm day in January. Having lost what we thought was our strongest hive, to know that there are bees in our other hive is a relief beyond measure!