April 21, 2020

beekeeping: where and how to start

To the uninitiated, keeping bees can seem like a daunting challenge. In this guest post, expert beekeeper Jennifer Holmes offers tips and tricks for a successful start.

Jennifer Holmes
April 21, 2020

No matter where you live, it’s likely you know someone who either already is — or wants to become — a beekeeper. If you ask most people whether they want to help struggling pollinators, they answer with a resounding “YES!” Then, they usually ask a question: “What can I do?” 

Well, for starters, we all like to eat, right? I know I do, and if you have met me, you know I do too! A good deal of the food we eat is directly affected by pollinators, either because the crop is dependent on them to facilitate successful pollination, or because they enhance the yield and quality of the food. 

Ever see a cucumber that is thin on one side, and giant on the other? Incomplete pollination is the culprit! Honeybees and other pollinators need to visit certain flowers a number of times to “complete” pollination. As a beekeeper, you have the ability to contribute to that success — in your own garden, or someone else’s. That is one aspect of beekeeping many don’t think of right away. 

Of course, there is one thing that immediately comes to mind: “Where’s the HONEY?” I never tire of that question, as I am on a deep-down-the-rabbithole journey to learn all there is about all the honey varieties in existence. I could easily spend the rest of my days on that subject alone and never tire, and probably run out of time before gleaning all the information I seek. 

Honey is one of the oldest foods, revered by cultures the world over, and sought because of its amazing qualities and flavors. Honey ranges from light to dark, liquid to crystallized, sickeningly sweet to extremely bitter — and everywhere in between. Each attribute is a unique representation of the qualities of the plant it came from and the honeybees who created it. 

Should you be ready to get buzzing with the bees, a good starting point is to find a local beekeeping association in your area. There are also state, regional, and national beekeeping associations in the US. You will find a great start there, communing with everything from inexperienced newbies, to those with serious skills. There may even be a mentor in the mix. 

Read all you can about getting started. The University of Florida has a master beekeeper program, and you can participate online no matter where you’re located. Do as much research as you can, and take a lesson if possible. Practicing with bees before you acquire them is a great way to become more comfortable around them and know what to expect, while developing handling skills and an understanding of what is going on in your hive(s). 

Get your safety gear and equipment together, and when you are ready, order bees from a reputable beekeeper. Try to find someone as close to your area as possible, since those bees will be tolerant and resilient in the local climate. I recommend buying nucleus colonies, but in many areas, package bees are very common and all that is available. If that’s the case in your area, fear not! They can be used with great success. 

I hope this article provides you with the encouragement and steps you need to get started on your beekeeping journey. Stay tuned for more — I’m just getting started!

Got experience keeping bees and want to share your story? Do you have questions about beekeeping that weren't answered in this post? We'd love to continue the conversation.

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