Develop a Philosophy and a Plan
The first thing any aspiring beekeeper needs to do is research. Read, read, and then read some more. Two sites I used extensively as I began my beekeeping journey were BeeSource.com and Michael Bush’sThe Practical Beekeeper. Mr. Bush has several books on amazon that are a great read, though, even he admits that most of what is in the book is also on his website!
In addition, Langstroth’s The Hive and the Honeybee is avaliable for free and is a great read for the beginning or even the experienced beekeeper. If you’re a hold a real book in your hand type of person, it is also available for fairly cheap on Amazon.
After doing research you will begin to develop your own “philosophy” on beekeeping. These are just initial ideas, because you don’t have any experience to really develop it further. However, these ideas are a necessary starting point. For example, after your research you should know if you want to go with 8-frame or 10-frame hives, all medium brood box or traditional deep boxes, Top bar hives or frame hives, foundation or foundation-less, and on and on. All your ideas probably won’t work for you and you’ll evolve a lot as a beekeeper once you start working bees, but you need to make these initial decisions now and not when a swarm of bees is sitting on your porch.
After your research has developed into a philosophy it’s time to create a plan. My initial plan was to build easy 5-frame nucs and a few deep 10-frame boxes. Add in some basic equipment and frames ordered online and the initial cost was very manageable. You can read more about initial equipment costs and how to build a lot of it on my Equipment and Costs Page.
Aquire Your Bees
Once you have your equipment ready it is time to start pondering how to get your bees. There are several ways to get bees.
- Take a beekeeping class: Many times if you join a local beekeeping club you can pay to take beginning beekeepers classes and the club will help to provide you with a swarm of bees during the swarm season. The only problem with this is that you are not guaranteed swarms will be available for all the students that year, but this is still a very good option if it is available to you. Personally, I had a 2 year old and a 6 year old and getting away from home that many nights for a class wasn’t going to happen!
- Retrieve a Swarm: Another way is to put yourself on a local list for swarm retrieval. You can even post on craigslist advertising swarm removal service. However, there are issues here as well. To a new beekeeper, a swarm retrieval can be a very daunting task. In addition, you need to be ready at a moment’s notice to drop what you are doing and go retrieve when you get a call or else the swarm might fly off. Swarm retrieval is a great way to get bees, but not for a beginning beekeeper. Below you see a swarm in a tree and what happens when those bees are “shaken” into a 5-frame nuc:
- Buy a Package of Bees: So you might be asking, how am I supposed to get bees? Well, you can always buy them, but be prepared to drop a good amount of $$$ on it. I would avoid buying a package. A shipped package requires a lot of care to install and ensure the safe release of the queen. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in that process, and the shipping is a risk in general. If you are going to buy then a local split is the best option. That way you get local bees that you know can survive in your climate and they come installed in a nuc with a queen. You are going to pay for these avantages. Be prepared to drop $150 or more on a nuc split that has a laying queen.
- Catch Your Own Swarm!!!If you’ve read this site much you’ll know that I’m EXTREMELY frugal, so paying for a package that might show up with a dead queen or a split that costs an arm and a leg are not things I would do. So how did I get my bees? I caught a swarm on my front porch. Don’t get confused about swarm retrieval and swarm catching. Swarm retrieval is when a swarm of bees clusters on a bush or some object and you somehow get them to go into a box so you can take them home. There are tons of videos about swarm retrieval on youtube if you are interested. On the other hand, swarm catching involves putting out bait boxes for bee swarms to move into and then waiting to see if the bees come. For those who fish, it is kind of like setting a trotline. You set your line and then check it everyday to see if you’ve caught anything. I sat out a free copy box swarm trap on my front porch and was surprised to find it full of bees only a week later! I then installed (read dumped) those bees into a hive and reset the bait box a few weeks later and to my amazement I caught another one! That was 2 swarms in one year in the same place! I might just be lucky, but it worked for me so it’s worth a shot from you. It won’t cost you anything to try. Read more about it in my How to Get Bees for Free article and see the copy box plans and video of me dumping the bees into a hive here.