Become A Beekeeper In 2023: In-Depth Answers To The 4 Most Common Questions Of A New Beekeeper
|Photo by Bianca Ackermann|
So, you're a bee lover, and you want to become a beekeeper, but have no idea what that entails, or what to expect. You may even be asking yourself, "What's a fancy word for 'beekeeper'?"
How Do I Become A Beekeeper?
In order to become a beekeeper, you'll need to take the time to really consider your level of interest in beginning this adventure. To succeed, you'll need to commit your time to learning everything you can long before you even order your bees.
In your quest to become a beekeeper, you'll quickly find out there is much more to beekeeping than putting bees in a box. Ozarks beekeeper Jeffrey Maddox recommends that all new beekeepers, "Join a bee club and volunteer/work with experienced beekeepers. Get the beekeeping magazines. Read at least one beekeeping book a year. Keep learning."
|Photo by Kenny Eliason|
To become a beekeeper, you'll also want to join your state beekeeping association. A quick google search should put you in touch with them. Most state beekeeping associations have links to a bee club near you.
Your local bee club will probably host beginning beekeeping classes sometime each January where you'll learn the basics. You may even learn where to find local nucleus colonies (nucs) to get your hives started.
Each club's educational resources will be different, but they'll all use beekeeping vocabulary you may not be familiar with. We'll touch on those now, so you arrive at your first meeting somewhat prepared.
A Langstroth Hive is the most common type of hive used by beekeepers. Sizes vary, but they are commonly found in 8 or 10 frame "deep" and "medium" boxes that are used for brood or honey.
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- Queen Bee- Her purpose is to lay eggs. She will lay one egg in the bottom of each cell she visits. She also produces pheromones to communicate with the colony.
- Worker Bee- All worker bees are female. They clean and guard the the hive, care for the queen and brood, build beeswax, and forage for pollen and nectar.
- Drone- All drones are male and develop from unfertilized eggs. They exist solely to leave the hive and mate with virgin queens. They die immediately after mating.
- Laying Worker Bee- When a beekeeper sees several brood cells with several eggs, it is an indication that worker bees have laid unfertilized drone eggs. Laying worker bees will lay eggs more sporadically than a queen bee, often on the sides of cells. This is an indication that the queen bee may be missing or in poor health.
|Photo from beespotter.org|
|Photo by Chad Stembridge|
Burr comb is simply comb the worker bees build anywhere but on the frames where beekeepers want it. Burr comb makes beekeeping difficult because it causes problems removing frames for inspection, and it's removal means a beekeeper has to destroy the hard work their bees have done. If burr comb cells contain brood, the brood is also destroyed.
Now that we've covered bee vocabulary, let's move on to perhaps the most common question new beekeepers want to know!...
Do Beekeepers Get Stung A Lot?
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The website for Bee Aware is great to check out if bee stings are concern for you. According to their article, 58 stings per year is the average for a beekeeper, but actual beekeepers say it's an occasional occurrence, and it really depends on the type of bees they work with (Italian bees being one of the calmest varieties, and Africanized bees being the most aggressive), and the bees' environment.
Most of the time, bees are gentle, and only attack if provoked, or if they are stressed, hungry, or hot. Interestingly, bees have a genetic dislike of dark colors because the bears and skunks that naturally prey upon them have dark fur. This is also why beekeeping suits and protective equipment are white.
The good news is, bees rely heavily on scent, specifically pheromones, to communicate with each other. Over time, they may "get used to" their keeper's scent, and are unlikely to respond defensively to the intrusion of beekeeper duties.
That leads us to the next question,
How Hard Is It To Be A Beekeeper?
|Photo by Janet|
The first year of beekeeping is tough. While you're learning the ins and outs, your bees are working hard and expending a lot of energy just to establish their new hives. That comes with a big responsibility to make sure your bees have everything they need to survive and thrive.
You'll need to become an amatuer plant expert to make sure there is plenty of forage for your bees. A typical hive needs around 125 pounds of pollen per year. An average honey bee will visit 1,000 flowers per day.
It's a good idea to start planting in the fall before your nucs (nucleus colonies) or package bees arrive, or you need to choose an apiary spot with lots of access to pollen and nectar producing plants.
Aside from making sure your honey bees have plenty to eat, you'll need to check on them regularly. You won't go longer than two weeks between hive inspections. These inspections can be physically demanding. A medium honey super can easily weigh 50 pounds. Deeps often weigh around 90 pounds.
Harvesting your honey will be physically intense, but, you'll be well rewarded for your work!
Finally, the burning question new beekeepers are most eager to know!...
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How Much Money Can You Make As A Beekeeper?
If you want to be more than a hobbyist, and are researching how to become a beekeeper, you're probably wondering, "How much money can I make as a beekeeper?"
Well, just like any business, you're unlikely to make any money your first two years. The first year you'll spend quite a bit just on equipment and protective gear, and you won't be able to harvest much honey. The bees will need it to sustain themselves through winter.
The second year's potential profits will be offset by the price of establishing your apiary, the cost of which starts at around $750, and can increase quickly from there. You can save money buying used equipment, just be sure to buy from a reputable source, and clean everything thoroughly. You don't want to transmit parasites or diseases to your new honey bees.
While the start-up costs may seem like a lot, it isn't much as far as new businesses go. The fun you'll have, and the experience of being a steward of threatened honey bees more than make up for any financial burden.
A good hive with all the parts included will cost $200-$300. You'll need two. Experts agree new beekeepers have a better chance of getting their bees through the first winter with two hives. You'll be able to compare the two, and notice when one becomes weak.
The sooner you identify a problem, the more likely you'll be able to fix it. Caught early, varroa mites, small hive beetles, and wax moths can be mitigated, and your investment protected.
|Varroa mites feeding on a honey bee with a deformed wing. Photo courtesy of planetbee.org.|
Aside from the $400-$600 you'll spend making your bees comfortable, your bees themselves can cost anywhere from $80-$125 for packaged bees that ship from national sources, or you can buy local nucs for $120-$200. Again, you'll benefit from ordering two sets.
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|Photo by Isabel Kronemberger|
Commercial beekeepers make the most money. After around twenty of your hives become well established, you can begin selling nucs or package bees to new beekeepers. You can also teach classes, or give tours of your apiary.
|Photo by Fabian Keller|
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