What to Do Before Buying Your First Bees

What to Do Before Buying Your First Bees

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Story and photos by: Kristi Cook   I’m not going to lie. Keeping bees is one of the best adult hobbies ever because where else can a grownup play with bugs, carry around fire, and play mad scientist all at the same time? Even better is the built-in fortress beekeepers have for those times we want a little peace and quiet — after all, how many non-beekeepers do you know who are willing to follow a beekeeper into the bee yard unprotected? And, of course, there’s all that luscious honey, too. But before you run out and buy your first set of bees, there are a few things you should do to ensure your venture into beekeeping is a success loaded with honey and lots of fun, too.  

Attend a Beginner’s Class  

Most beginner beekeeping classes are conducted by the local beekeeping association and often include the club’s membership dues and access to their monthly meetings and publications in the registration fees. Usually, these classes are posted months in advance and range from a short four-hour course to 8 or more hours in length, with each covering varying amounts of information. These classes show you what to expect before you begin handing over hard-earned cash for honeybees and equipment that you may later discover you don’t want or need.  

Beginning Beekeeping classes often take place in January and February, only a few months before the typical time to pick up your first bees. It is here that many discover if beekeeping is right for them.  

Locate a Bee Club  

The value of the bee club cannot be overstated. Countless times novice beekeepers wander into our monthly meetings not only frustrated with beekeeping after only a season or two but are considering giving up their hobby entirely. These folks have often never attended a bee meeting or a bee conference, and perhaps they’ve watched a few videos online or read a book on beekeeping. But absent from their toolbox of beekeeping skills is the community and knowledge gained from regular attendance at their local bee association.  

Why is a club so important? Two reasons. First, in this location, you discover what only those beekeepers in your region can know — how to keep bees in your area. Beekeeping is highly region-specific as many factors outside the beehive affect how any colony behaves. The timing of seasonal changes, the timing of forage availability, and even timing of farming practices all affect the timing of key beekeeping best practices as described in the literature. And timing is one key factor that can make or break your entire beekeeping adventure.  

This mentee has joined our local bee club and is now being mentored all season as he learns to move frames, read comb, and more. In just a few years, he’ll be mentoring the next round of NewBees. 

Secondly, it is also at the local bee club where you will have the most incredible opportunity to find a mentor or someone else who will talk with you beyond the classroom walls to guide you as you discover your own beekeeping style. I cannot begin to tell you the number of folks who have helped me along the way, and it was at these bee associations that I met all but one of my mentors. And I have had many. So, the value of your local beekeeping association is arguably one of the most significant if you want to succeed from the beginning of your journey.  

Read Quality Sources  

Many excellent beginner beekeeping publications are available to suit anyone’s reading style. Nearly all these resources are available in any format you desire — hard copy, digital format, and audiobooks. The knowledge gleaned from quality resources is the foundational information every beekeeper needs to know to keep their bees alive beyond the first season. In these books, each novice learns the importance of each aspect of beekeeping while simultaneously discovering the various methods that accomplish each task. It is the knowledge gained from these books and other publications that the local bee club helps each beekeeper learn to time properly and how to apply correctly in their specific region.   

Be Judicious with Online Videos  

The internet, of course, is an excellent tool to utilize when first discovering the world of honey bees. It is in these videos that we are allowed access into a beekeeper’s bee yard. These videos will enable us to see what the inside of a colony looks like. We learn how to light a smoker in three ways while discovering what a queen cell looks like. We even see honey bee diseases up close and personal through the lens of a knowledgeable beekeeper.  

What we can’t see, however, is the flow of beekeeping practices that keep honeybees alive year in and year out. We can’t see that the beekeeping practices for the state of Maine vary dramatically from those practices best used in Texas. Floridians keep bees a bit differently than those in Arkansas, partly due to small hive beetles. Dysentery is a more significant issue up north than down south, so spring/winter practices often vary for this reason.   

Even better, some regions require pollen supplementation to survive, while pollen subs wipe out entire colonies in a matter of days in other areas. So, use these videos in conjunction with the science and practices learned via your local association and science-based beginner beekeeping books, as these videos are never intended to be a standalone resource.   

Before buying your first set of bees, slow the pace down and do some information gathering. Take the time to meet up with folks from your local bee club, visit the library and read a book or two, and take a beginner’s class while watching a few videos to see if you really want to jump into the exciting world of beekeeping. The success of your beekeeping journey depends on it. 

Originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

One thought on “What to Do Before Buying Your First Bees”
  1. Nice article! I’d add that a beggining beekeepng class should be at least 8 hours taught by someone who’s kept bees alive for 7-10 years. In addition there should be a hands on session with actual bees when the weather’s suitable. A good class can move your odds of success from less than 15% to over 75%!

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