How To Start Beekeeping: A Beginner’s Roadmap

Beekeeping is a wonderful, rewarding practice, so congratulations on starting this transition from bee enthusiast to new beekeeper! Any local beekeeping association will tell you that the beekeeping experience is unparalleled. It’s incredibly fulfilling to guide a package of bees into a healthy, thriving beehive.   

In this article, we’ll dive into beekeeping 101 from the experts. The first year of beekeeping can be tough. It’s not as simple as planting flowers and setting a nucleus colony (nuc) free on them. Never fear! Our guide will offer all the tips on the best beekeeping supplies, honey production information, and more. 

You’ll be an experienced beekeeper in no time! 

Beekeeping Essentials: What Every New Beekeeper Should Know

Being a fan of honey bees and guiding them toward success and growth are two very different things. The best hive tool you can have is knowledge, so in this section, we’ll cover the basics of beekeeping. Let’s make like a worker bee and get busy!

  1. Bee Life Cycle: There are thousands of bee species, but only three types of bees within a colony. There are Queens, workers, and drones, and all undergo the following four stages of life: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. A queen bee lives from around two to three years, her workers can live up to around six months, and drones (male bees that only breed with the queen) live until they are done mating. 
  2. Bee Behavior: All bees follow specific behavior patterns. If you ever notice a hive deviating from these behaviors, something is wrong. Below are the basic behaviors of each type of bee:
    1. Workers: There are many types of worker bees, including nurse bees, scout bees, foraging bees, queen attendants, guard bees, and more. Worker bees perform these various functions that keep the hive safe and functional. 
    2. Queens: There is only one true queen in a hive. This bee will lay up to thousands of eggs a day and will take only one mating flight to secure sperm from other hive’s drones. The queen bee is the only egg layer in the entire honey bee colony. 
    3. Drones: These bees will complete a daily flight path to mate with fresh queens from other hives. If they’re successful, they will die. If unsuccessful, they will continue to try until they die of natural causes or are kicked out of the hive by the worker bees. 
  3. Role of the Beekeeper: The beekeeper has four main tasks: ensure the apiary is in a good, thriving location, help the set up of a new hive, monitor the hive for pests like varroa mites, wax moths, and hive beetles, and harvest honey. 
  4. Importance of Sustainable Beekeeping: At West River Exchange, we only promote and teach ethical beekeeping practices. Sustainable beekeeping has many tenets, but one key factor is only removing the surplus honey. 

Regular hive inspections and monitoring of the hive body will help ensure all new bees are healthy, happy, and productive! 

Gearing Up: Selecting the Right Beekeeping Equipment

Listen, backyard beekeeping is not a casual hobby. Caring for bees, encouraging local pollination, and harvesting honey/honeycomb are important jobs. It requires some essential tools to do it right. 

You’ll need protective gear like a bee suit. This protective clothing will protect you from bee stings, and it’s necessary when establishing a new hive. Honeybees aren’t necessarily aggressive but defend their hive and siblings if they feel threatened. A beekeeping suit will keep your delicate extremities safe if a new hive considers you a threat. A smoker may help calm your bees down in this situation. 

You’ll need hive equipment such as a standard wooden frame hive with options like metal-lined or insulated top cover, attached inner covers, entrance covers, inner dividers (such as excluders), wooden waxed frames, and bottom board. At West River Exchange, we provide fully assembled Langstroth hives with the above options. 

The most important factor to remember is to invest in quality honey bee equipment. Successful beekeepers have tools that last for years and help bees prosper. 

Your Beekeeping Allies: Picking the Right Bees

Thousands of honeybee species are buzzing around the world, but only a handful of these bees can thrive in a midwest American climate and make good working honeybees. The most popular bee species are the Italian, Carniolan, and Italian/Carniolan hybrids. 

These bees are not incredibly likely to swarm; when they do, it’s easy to predict and prevent. They winter with an average to a large cluster of bees, helping them survive the winter (with occasional help from a friendly beekeeper). Plus, the Italian honeybee is the most popular bee for honey production in the United States. 

  • Italian: Hygienic, extremely passive, and easy to work with. These are gentle bees. 
  • Carniolan: Consistent foraging/honey production in all weather but slightly more aggressive. 
  • Italian/Carniolan hybrids: You get the best of both worlds! (But only if you work with a reputable bee breeder.) 

You can’t just go pick up bees at the store. That would be kind of cool, though. The best method is purchasing a nucleus colony with a queen from a reputable, local breeder like West River Exchange. 

Establishing Your Hive: A Step-by-Step Guide

Congratulations! Aside from when your bees first come home and the initial honey harvest, this is the most exciting moment for new beekeepers. Setting up your hive takes careful consideration, though.

Here are the steps you should take that will set your bees up for success:

  1. Find Shelter: Don’t place your hive in a spot that’s too exposed to the elements. Ensure the bees aren’t in a windy spot or a spot that’s too cool and shaded. 
  2. Orientation: There’s nothing like the morning sun to help bees get active! Orient the hive front toward the rising sun in the east.
  3. Flowers and Water: Make sure there is a source of fresh water near the hive. Ensure there are enough flowering plants nearby where your bees can forage for flower nectar all season long. 
  4. Ensure a Safe Flight Path: Bees are known for making beelines to good sources of water and nectar. Make sure their path is uninhibited by cars, pedestrians, buildings, and pets whenever you can. 
  5. Beware of Pesticides: Never use pesticides on your local fauna, and ensure no nearby commercial pesticides are used. These will hurt and even kill your bees. 

A good setup will help ensure the health and productivity of your bees. Follow these steps, and your hive will be off to a great start. 

A Beekeeper’s Handbook: Best Practices for a Thriving Hive

Beekeeping is more passive than you’d think. After all, bees are one of nature’s most productive, instinctual producers. Still, there are some essential beekeeping practices you’ll need to add to your routine. 

First off, regular inspections are a must. How often you inspect the hive depends on the hive’s age and recent history. A young hive will need to be looked after more frequently. In general, a two- to three-week inspection interval should do it.

You may need to eliminate pests and diseases that you discover. Best methods depend on the exact issue, but common solutions could be manually removing pests, removing diseased bees, and booby-trapping the hive against predators/pests. 

Hive management throughout the seasons is also vital and may include:

  • Make sugar water.
  • Keep the hive entrance free of snow.
  • Add new bees as needed.

Don’t worry if this seems overwhelming. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your apiary. Continued learning and adaptability are the most essential attributes for new beekeepers. 

Navigating Beekeeping Challenges: Tips for Troubleshooting

We’ve compiled some common issues new beekeepers encounter and the practical solutions. Remember, challenges are a natural part of the learning process in beekeeping. Even the most experienced beekeepers come across new challenges to navigate. 

Here are our best tips on working through troubling beekeeping situations: 

  • Overharvesting: Bees make a surplus of honey that they won’t need, but the surplus is limited. If you’ve over-harvested, you can help feed the bees with sugar water at the end of a harsh winter.   
  • Not Checking on the Queen: Hives need a productive, healthy queen. If a queen dies or is killed by the hive, you need to make sure they have a replacement or get one yourself. You’ll need to find the queen every hive inspection. Can’t see her? Not a problem; keep searching every frame until you do or look for signs the hive is rearing a queen egg. 
  • Not Keeping Backup Equipment: Beekeeping equipment breaks. You don’t want to be left without your smoker or hive repair tools in a pinch. Keep extras on hand, and if you need a tool you don’t have, contact your nearest beekeeping suppliers for assistance. 

Begin Your Buzz-Worthy Journey with West River Exchange

First off, we just want to say that you can do this. At West River Exchange, we are dedicated to supporting new beekeepers, and we know you’ve got what it takes. 

Beekeeping is an incredibly rewarding practice that gives back to your local ecological community and the bees themselves. Way to be an environmental warrior! Check out our resources, products, and community for a well-supported beekeeping journey.