In the first 12 months of our beekeeping experience, we learned a lot about what it takes to keep your hives healthy and thriving. While we know a lot more now than we did when we started, there is still so much more to learn.
Here are some of the most important take-aways we can share from our experience so far.
- Take a course online or preferably in person. Make the time to educate yourself to know if this is something you really want to do before you make that investment of time and money. It can take a lot of both.
The course we took was through the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association. It was an all day course in winter that was invaluable for learning the basics, and interacting with new beekeepers and experts. It’s also a great place to meet experts that can provide equipment and the resources you’ll need as you begin your journey. No doubt there will be similar courses where you live. They are usually offered in the winter before beekeeping season begins.
There are also very good online courses that you can take for free or for a modest cost. A couple we checked out and liked are Ohio State’s free course, one from NC State at $26 per topic and a fairly comprehensive course from Penn State for $129.
While these courses are good for learning basic information and we definitely suggest you take one or more of these, there’s no substitution for a real-life mentor or beekeeping club.
- Join a local beekeeping club and / or find a beekeeping mentor. Our Master Beekeeper, Linda Tillman has a wonderful blog that we suggest you bookmark and dive into. She’s a wealth of knowledge and has done a fantastic job of documenting her experiences. Likely anything you’ll want to know, she’s dealt with in her blog.
- Find a reputable source for buying your equipment. Again, there are a number of great companies. Our go-to source for researching and purchasing the equipment and nucs (complete mini-hives) you saw on the show was Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina. Their catalog and information is great and they have knowledgeable and passionate people ready and happy to help you.
We also purchased package bees (the second method demonstrated in the show for adding bees to a hive) for the 3 additional hives. We got these from Jarrett Apiaries in north Georgia.
If you’re thinking about adding honeybees or taking on beekeeping, here are a few thoughts from our observation over our first year in this new endeavor.
- This is not a set it up and forget it hobby. While bees are perfectly capable of going about their business with no help from us, to ensure your hive(s) remain healthy, periodic hive inspections should become a part of your routine.
- Hive inspections are very educational! This is where we learned the most about keeping bees. But it can prove to be a time consuming task. While your intrusions into the hive should be kept to a minimum, on average, inspections should occur about every 10 days after setup and into the fall. Minimal to no disturbance should take place during the winter months.
Over time, you will become faster with each inspection. But we found it was taking about 30 minutes per hive to really inspect everything thoroughly the first year.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew when getting started. Because this will require an investment of time and money, we suggest you start small and add later.
You may feel overwhelmed and confused, especially the first year. We did. The more we learned, the more we realized there is a lot to know. And the answers are not always straightforward. All the more reason it is important to do hive inspections, make notes have a good mentor, club or website where you can go to get your questions answered.
- One of the most important resources we relied on was our mentors. There is NO substitute for having a real expert by your side to walk you through the steps of hive inspections, what you’re looking for, and what to do for the various things you’ll see over the year. Our confidence grew exponentially with this hands on help! While it may be an investment to have them make house calls, it’s worth it. You will grow so much faster as a confident and capable beekeeper!
- Make notes at every hive inspection. An excellent tip from one of my experts, BJ Weeks, is to have an index card and pens stored in a zip storage bag and keep it under the top cover of each hive. That way, you’ll always have your past notes right there, and be able to make new notes with each inspection. It will be nearly impossible to remember all the details from one inspection to the next, especially when you have multiple hives.
With beekeeping, keeping track of the number of days between inspections and what you observed when is REALLY critical to knowing the health of your hive. I was constantly reminded of this whenever I had questions. Trust us on this. Take notes of what you see, take pictures if you can and keep the notes in the hive but above where the bees live.
What are your tips?
We’d love to hear them.
Please share your experience in the comments.