How to Get Started as a Beekeeper
You need three things to become a beekeeper: knowledge, equipment and some bees.
There are many paths to beekeeping knowledge. For example, you can take a class, find a mentor, read a book, or watch YouTube videos. The best results may be a combination of two or more.
We recommend you get some face-to-face experience with a hive full of bees before you make the investment and buy your own. It’s nice to have someone else there the first time to show you how to pull out the frame of bees without crushing any and to demonstrate how to hold and inspect a frame of bees. When the odd bee gets stuck in your hair and you freeze or scream in panic, it’s not a bad idea to have someone there who’s dealt with that situation before.
You can get hands-on experience in a class, by asking a more experienced beekeeper to show you the ropes, or by signing up for our mentor program.
Is hands-on experience mandatory? No. Plenty of beekeepers have winged it, but having some coaching may make your first year of beekeeping smoother and more successful.
You can buy, borrow or build equipment. Buying is the most expedient, but the most expensive. Our list of vendors includes many who can sell you equipment. Some will offer starter kits. You can buy it assembled and painted, or in pieces that you need to assemble and paint. How you go about it is your decision.
At a minimum, you will need:
- Protective clothing. This usually includes a jacket with a veil and gloves. As you become more experienced, you may choose to work without gloves or with only a veil, but we recommend you gear up and wear light-colored pants or a full suit when you first start working bees.
- A smoker and some appropriate fuel.
- A basic beehive, including:
– bottom board
– hive body with frames
– super with frames
– inner lid
– outer cover.
The frames should have foundation in them. You may also need a queen separator and some kind of feeder. As your hive grows, you may need more hive bodies and/or supers with frames.
While bees can be shipped, we recommend you check out our local vendors so you can pick up your bees in person. Bees are sold in two different formats.
A package of bees is a screened box that contains three pounds of bees, which is about 10,000 individual bees, plus their queen.
To install a package of bees, you open it up and shake most of the bees out and into your hive. Then you remove the queen and place her in the hive in her protective queen cage with a candy plug. The queen’s presence will keep the bees from leaving their new hive. In a few days, the bees should have chewed through the candy plug and freed the queen, but it’s a good idea to check back in four days and remove the empty queen cage.
Below is an instructional video on how to install a package in your new hive.
A Nucleus Hive
A nucleus colony, commonly referred to as a nuc (pronounced nuke), includes about the same number of bees as a package, but also four or five frames of drawn comb, at least two of which should include brood.
Buying a nuc gives you a head start over a package because the brood will hatch into new bees over the next days and weeks, strengthening your hive. It also gives the queen room to immediately lay eggs. With a package, it takes a few days for the bees to make new comb in which the queen can lay eggs. Then it takes three weeks before new bees are born.
Below is a video on transferring your nuc to a full-size hive.
Package vs Nuc After Two Weeks
The following video compares the result of a package of new bees and a nucleus of bees installed in new hives at two weeks prior. This video also includes a detailed hive inspection and is an excellent video for new or inexperienced beekeepers.