Backyard Beekeeping Basics: Setting Up, Bringing Bees Home, and Keeping Your Colony Happy

By Bethany Johnson in Thinking Sustainably

You’ve got the equipment. You’ve learned about pollination. You’ve set up the beehive. You’re committed to this beekeeping endeavor, so now is the perfect time to review some key elements in preparing for your colonies.

Creating a Home for Your Bees

A good location is vital for healthy, happy bee colonies, especially in an urban or suburban backyard beekeeping venture. The following tips can help you set up a prime spot for your bees.

Backyard beekeeping experts recommend a semi-sheltered, slightly elevated location for bees. Here's how to get started with your own beehive.

  • Keep your beehive in an open, easily accessible area, with dappled sunlight.

  • Ensure the ground is drained well, as dampness can lead to disease.

  • It’s best to orient the hive entrance to the south or southeast, according to the experts at the University of Kentucky. Ensure there are no prevailing winds.

  • Having a fence or shrubbery that’s at least six feet high can provide protection from wind. It’ll also force the colony to choose a flight path that takes them over the heads of passersby. Plus, it’ll keep the hive hidden from nervous neighbors.

  • Always keep the safety and comfort of your neighbors in mind. The Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium has excellent information on keeping bees in an urban setting while avoiding conflict with neighbors.

  • And, of course, you want to ensure your bees will have plenty of foraging area within the shortest distance possible.

Don’t be shy about inviting a member of your local beekeeping association to come help you choose the ideal location. Seeking advice from a mentor sets you up for greater success. Often, experts are happy to oblige, since experienced beekeepers tend to love these remarkable creatures.

Purchasing Your Colony

Next, consider the type of bee you should get. Whether you’re interested in pollination alone or honey production, you want to make sure your bees are as gentle as possible. Doing your research and asking questions will help you make the right choice.

These days, you can buy nearly anything on the internet, including bee colonies. The online purchase of bees, however, isn’t recommended. You want to examine the beehives to ensure they’re healthy and thriving. So what’s the best route? Purchase from an established local backyard beekeeping enthusiast as the colony will already be acclimated to your area. This approach also gives you the opportunity to pick the brain of someone who’s got some experience to share.

The University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences has an excellent and concise resource for buying and moving bees. They recommend moving bees in the winter. You’ll also find practical tips on preparing the hives to move.

Caring for Your Bees

Bees have the same basic needs as any other living creature: food, water, and safety.

Backyard beekeeping experts say you should check your bees for disease regularly. Here's how to get started in beekeeping.

Having a shallow water source close to the hive but not too close can keep your new friends happy and prevent them from becoming interested in a neighbor’s pool. Even a nearby dripping faucet will do.

The best food is, of course, honey. Many successful beekeepers set aside low value honey for this purpose. A syrup made with equal parts cane sugar and water will also do the job.

The rest is seasonal:

  • Winterize when the weather turns colder.

  • De-winterize in the spring, check for disease, and begin feeding.

  • Check for disease in the summer, and replace the queen if needed.

  • The fall is the time to extract honey, check again for disease and mites, and give the last feeding before winter.

Keep an eye out for our next and final installment of this series. We’ll discuss a few of the challenges of beekeeping and how to handle them. Until then, share your pictures of your new gear and beehive boxes with us on social! And also check Parts One and Three on this topic.

Image sources: Flickr | Flickr | Flickr

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom’s of Maine.

You can help the environment, learn a new skill, and harvest healthy local honey by starting your very own backyard beekeeping venture. A bonus benefit is the feeling of achievement and pride you'll get by nurturing these remarkable insects.