Beekeeping is one of the best ways to support the environment while connecting with other people and getting closer to your food source. Best of all, it’s something nearly anyone can do. While most agricultural products require acreage, extensive knowledge, and heavy equipment, starting a bee farm is by comparison inexpensive, simple, and convenient—not to mention “sweetly” rewarding.
Last month, I contacted my local beekeeping association to see what it would take for a novice like me to get started.
Know There’s a Lot to Learn
It’s important not to honey-coat the truth: starting a bee farm of your own is not for the faint of heart. Once you’re up and running, the bees do almost all the work for you, so you can kick back and enjoy the delectable benefits of having a bee hive of your own. Until then, however, expect a learning curve and plan for an up-front investment of time, energy, and some money.
Start with Due Diligence
To say bees are remarkable is an understatement. So jumping into a beekeeping operation without proper knowledge would be a disservice to the colony and yourself. Start your beekeeping journey with research.
- Ask your family doctor to conduct bee allergy tests on each member of your household to preempt any allergic reactions long before your colony arrives.
- Look into local laws. Dust off your Homeowners Association handbook and find the page on bylaws regarding livestock. You may be surprised to find that many communities are supportive of amateur beekeepers. According to the experts at Tufts University, bees thrive in a city even more than in rural areas, and it’s a good thing: without bees, about a third of our food supply would disappear.
- Take a trip to the library to nab a few books on beekeeping as a hobby. (You want to avoid books that focus on commercial honey production, unless you’re interested in someday turning your new hobby into a business venture.) Grab a couple colorfully illustrated children’s books as well, since nurturing a queen bee, her workers, and her and drones—with parental supervision—is one of the most rewarding educational activities a kid can enjoy.
- Connect with your local beekeeping association. Other hobbies allow you to learn the ropes from someone halfway around the globe, but beekeeping is best learned from nearby neighborhood experts. Regional plants are the key to a happy, healthy colony, and only local mentors can offer the most relevant intel on the topic. The association’s website is a great place to start. They can help connect you to mentorship programs, networking events, Q&A forums, and possibly even inexpensive rental equipment.
- Get technical. Download the Bee Smart Pollinator Gardener mobile app to start learning about how pollination works. Keep the app open throughout the day to cross-reference flowers you see while running errands or playing in the yard.
Find and Prepare a Space
Are you ready to get started? First, you’ll need a safe place for bees to thrive. Cities often have enough shelter for bees to feel safe. The hive’s entrance, however, must face a clear, sunshine-filled flight path to a somewhat open space.
Urban rooftops are a great place for apiaries as they’re far from potential disturbances like traffic and mischievous pets. A clearing with nearby trees or a wall offers protection from wind without completely smothering airflow.
Gear Up (and Spend Less)
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to starting a bee farm is simply the equipment you need to succeed. Here’s a handy list:
- Hive boxes to serve as a home
- Bottom boards
- Top feeder
- Spray bottle
- Queen catcher
- Queen muff
- Beekeeping suit with veil
- Hive tool
- Extractor (or access to a communal one)
It’s easy to see that you can spend a small fortune starting a bee farm if you’re not careful. That’s why it benefits you to buy used gear for a portion of your operation. Try searching online to find a well-laundered secondhand beekeeper’s suit, helmet, and veil for much less than their brand new counterparts. Each state has different regulations for the sale and movement of used beekeeping equipment, so check with your own government to learn what local laws exist. Sometimes the resale equipment must pass an inspection, and other times an official notification is required.
If you’re crafty, consider building your beehive instead of buying new. Experts at the BuzzAboutBees have excellent free online plans for mid-level woodworkers who want to test their skills.
Now you’re on your way! Once you have the equipment and space and know how to start beekeeping, you’re ready to welcome home your first family of bees. Stay tuned to the Good Matters blog for next steps (find Part Two here and Part Three here) and to see how my bee farm is doing, and show us your progress on Twitter!
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.
Why It’s Good
A good portion of the U.S. food supply is due to successful pollination of crops by bees. In recent years as colonies have disappeared, families like yours and mine are rising up to make a difference for this remarkable little insect. The beekeeping movement is saving the bees, and dabbling in the hobby feels downright heroic. Plus, it's fun, educational, and oh so tasty!