Questions to Ask When Starting a Bee Colony
How to Get Bees and Support for your Beekeeping Journey
Backyard beekeeping is gaining popularity as more people want to help bees and other pollinators survive. But starting a bee colony is not as easy as just putting a hive on your property, there are things that need to be considered before you start your beekeeping journey.
Where Will I Keep the Beehives?
Beehives can be kept on a small property or large property. While rural beekeepers can set up a bee yard on their property, many urban beekeepers set up beehives on their rooftops so the bees can come and go uninterrupted.
Regardless of where you set up your hives, you need to be sure they can find adequate food to forage, have access to water and have a clear flight path.
Will my Homeowner’s Insurance Allow Beehives?
Just a few years ago this would have been an odd question to ask your insurance agent, but not today. Many insurance companies are allowing beehives and cover liability that occurs, just as they would cover liability from a pet.
However, if your policy doesn’t explicitly list beehives, bee stings, or beekeeping as being covered, you need to talk to your agent and get it listed in the policy. If you’re going to sell honey, you might need a separate home business policy.
Is Beekeeping Allowed in my City/County?
Most cities and counties have ordinances about what type of animals and livestock are allowed on your property. Some cities won’t have specific beekeeping ordinances but will have general nuisance ordinances, which means they’ll allow beehives until someone complains. Counties, especially rural counties, are more likely to have specific ordinances that pertain to beekeeping.
If you’re researching how to start a honey bee farm, don’t forget to also check with your state. Some states have limits on how many hives you can have before you have to register your apiary and have it inspected.
How to Get Bees for my Hives?
There’s usually not just one right answer to what bees should I raise? There are many bee varieties and some do better in various areas than others.
Talk with other local beekeepers and with your county extension agent to find out what bees do well your area.
Once you’ve decided on what bees to raise, there are several ways to get bees for your hives. The surest, but most expensive, way to get bees is to buy a nucleus (nuc) colony of bees from a local beekeeper. A nuc is basically a bee colony in a temporary hive. There are usually four to five frames and the bees are working and acclimated to your climate. It’s a great option.
If you can’t find a local beekeeper, then ordering packaged bees is another option. Packaged bees come in a wooden box with screened sides and are mailed to you. It’s a good idea to get the queen marked when you order the package of bees. This will help you locate her.
Catching a swarm or removing bees from someone’s property where they don’t belong is another option for getting bees for your hives. Of course, this is the least expensive way to get bees.
Bees that are already making it on their own are usually hardy and will do well in your area. That is a huge positive. However, you do run the risk of them being more aggressive than purchased bees.
Can I Physically Manage the Hives?
While bees don’t need a lot of physical attention from the beekeeper, they do need some. You’ll need to be able to lift the boxes to do inspections and harvest honey.
A 10-frame Langstroth super that’s full of honey can weigh up to 70 pounds That’s a lot, especially if you have them stacked four to five high.
If you’re a smaller beekeeper or an older beekeeper you might want to consider using top bar hives instead of Langstroth hives. A top bar hive will be easier to physically manage for inspections and harvesting because all the frames are available in one layer and you just remove one at a time instead of lifting an entire box to get to the frames in lower boxes.
Can I Find Local Beekeeping Support?
You can learn a lot about beekeeping from reading books and articles. If that’s all the support you have, you can still be a successful beekeeper. However, having local support can help you be more confident when you’re starting a bee colony.
One of the best places to search for local beekeeping support is your county extension office. They will likely know of any beekeeping associations or beekeepers that might be willing to be a mentor. Beekeeping mentors can either be someone who has been actively keeping bees for several years or a retired beekeeper who kept bees for many years.
It’s really great to know you can call someone when things aren’t going well to get advice or encouragement, especially if you live in an area that has a harsh climate and keeping bees is tricky.
Beekeeping is possible for most people that desire to help bees survive. What other questions do you think are important to ask before starring a bee colony?