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Getting Started in Beekeeping Evan Davies Colonial Beekeepers Association. First Questions. How many answers do you get if you ask three beekeepers a question? Four, because beekeeping is a art and a craft as well as a science. There is always more than one way to do things.

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first questions
First Questions
  • How many answers do you get if you ask three beekeepers a question? Four, because beekeeping is a art and a craft as well as a science. There is always more than one way to do things.
  • How long have you thought about keeping bees, and why do you want to do it now? Many answers to why to do it, including pollination, honey, wax for candlemaking, propolis, pollen, apitherapy, to help the balance of nature, for relaxation or nature study.
what does it take to get started in beekeeping don t worry about starting choices
What does it take to get started in Beekeeping?Don’t Worry About Starting Choices
  • Actually, there are few choices that you need to make up front in beekeeping; choices that will influence everything else that you do.
  • You just need to decide between a few hive shapes and sizes. We will talk about those choices later.
think more about commitments
Think More About Commitments
  • To The Bees
  • To The Craft
    • Temperament and Health
    • Learning
    • Risk
    • Patience
  • Of Time
  • Of Location
  • Of Money
commitment to the bees
Commitment To The Bees

You are sponsoring living creatures in return for their unique services…

Having bees in the backyard is no different than being responsible for any other animal, whether a pet cat or dog, or farm animals like chickens or horses. They need basic care ... food, water, shelter, preventative health care, protection from the elements, each other, pests and diseases, vandals and any other unnecessary stress in their lives.-

Yes, they are ‘just bugs’. But you will be surprised at how attached you can become to them.


Commitment To Nature

Most beekeepers have or gain an ecological sense of connection and commitment to the natural world.

Because the reality is that you don’t have bees if you don’t also have flowering plants. The plants are the source of everything the bees need to survive But the opposite is also true - One of the most important reasons to keep honeybees is their ability to pollinate trees, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Many statistics are given about the level of our dependence on honeybees for agricultural pollination. At the very least, all our stone fruit, curcubit and nut crops depend on pollinators.

Most beekeepers and their surrounding neighbors notice an increase in the pollination of garden plants and flowers in the area.

As a beekeeper you will start to see firsthand the effects of some of the choices we made in the late 20th century on natural systems. You may have heard of colony collapse disorder and the other problems with pollinators.

Bees are in trouble right now – from pesticides, industrial farming, pollution,

Loss of habitat, parasitic mites and viruses – and we need all the 'natural' beekeepers we can get to build up their numbers and give them a chance to solve their own problems.

Keeping bees is an excellent way to help them overcome the obstacles that face them, and us.

commitment to the craft temperament
Commitment to the Craft -Temperament
  • Are you scared of flying stingy things?
    • Congratulations, you’re human!

But you do need to be able to develop an ability to get past being scared of them, and know that…

commitment to the craft temperament9
Commitment to the Craft -Temperament

You are going to get stung.

It is not a matter of if but when.

commitment to the craft temperament10
Commitment to the Craft -Temperament

You can greatly reduce your chances of getting stung by working smart and wearing protective gear.

commitment to the craft temperament11
Commitment to the Craft -Temperament

In time, you will learn the triggers that set off YOUR bees; not all triggers affect all bees in the same way and those triggers may only cause defensive behavior at certain times of the year.

Keep note of when the bees seem to be reacting defensively and what you are doing, the state of the hive, the weather, honey flows currently happening, etc. and learn from these clues.

But know that you will still get stung.

the facts about stings
The Facts about Stings
  • *30-50 people a year die from single hymenoptera (all bees and wasps) stings in the U.S. because they are highly allergic to bee/wasp venom. Most of them knew they were highly allergic, and were outside, off the pavement, and not carrying an anti-venom treatment.
  • If you have had a previous medical emergency due to stings, and currently carry an anti-venom kit, beekeeping isn’t for you.

*Dr. David Golden, associate professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Johns Hopkins University's Medical Institute, 2009

the facts about stings13
The Facts about Stings
  • Except for cases of highly allergic reaction, it takes about ten stings per pound of body weight to administer a 50% lethal dose on adult humans. A 150 pound individual would need to receive about 1,500 stings to be at 50% risk of dying.
if you are getting stung 1 500 times while beekeeping you are doing something wrong
If you are getting stung 1,500 times while beekeeping,you are doing something wrong!

Beekeeping may not be for you.


You should remove the stinger from your skin as soon as possible, which reduces the amount of venom injected into your system. There are many ways to help reduce the swelling and pain of a sting. The best are antihistamines such as Benadryl, and ice. Others are vinegar, meat tenderizer paste, and calamine lotions.

types of reactions to stings
Types of Reactions to Stings
  • Normal - localized pain, minor swelling, a weal (raised red area with a white center), itching all of which should diminish and generally go away within hours or at most a few days.
  • Large Local - this starts similar to a normal reaction but after 24-48 hours the swelling can spread over an extensive area, sometimes the entire extremity (whole arm, leg, face etc.). This type of reaction can be quite painful due to the swelling and the itching can become unbearable; usually this type of reaction can take anywhere from 4-7 days to resolve itself. Treat with antihistamines and ice packs.
  • Systemic Allergic -- Hives, angioedema (massive facial swelling), a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, light-headedness, dizziness, fainting, and tremors. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms IMMEDIATELY call for an ambulance. Again, truly severe reactions occur in less than 1/tenth of 1% of the population.
treatments for stings
Treatments for Stings
  • Reduce the swelling - antihistamines (such as Benadryl) and ice. Others are vinegar, meat tenderizer paste, and calamine lotions.
  • Epi Pens - are prescription items that contain a dose of adrenaline to overcome the allergic reaction to a sting so that the "victim" can seek medical attention. Some sources will recommend that as a beekeeper, you carry an epi pen. However, they are expensive, require a prescription (more expense) and expire quickly (typically only good for a year) so that the carrying of one "just in case" can be quite expensive if you are not allergic.
commitment to the craft health
Commitment to the Craft -Health

The far more important question is: can you lift a box weighing 45-85 pounds?

You will need to be able to lift honey supers and hive boxes and carry them around without throwing your back out.

Also, can you stand being outside in the heat and humidity while wearing a bee-suit?

commitment to the craft learning
Commitment to the Craft – Learning
  • Do you like to learn about the natural world? You will become a scientist if you commit yourself to learning to keep bees successfully.
  • You will continue in a long line of amateur and professional scientist beekeepers.

Charles Dadant, founder of the Amer. Bee Journal

commitment to the craft learning20
Commitment to the Craft – Learning
  • You will learn about nectar flow, plant life, honeybee biology and lifecycles, colony behavior, disease and medicines, integrated pest management, etc..
  • The best beekeepers are those who learn to think like a honeybee by understanding their social nature and biological needs.

Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey, bee geneticist

Brother Adam spent 70 years at Buckfast Abbey, England, improving the genetic stocks of the European honeybee, and breeding survivor bees to withstand tracheal mites.

commitment to the craft learning21
Commitment to the Craft – Learning
  • This means keeping records, too. You can’t experiment with bees unless you remember what you have done and what you want to do.
  • Many beekeepers don’t figure this out for a few years, until they realize they can’t remember which hive was better or which one they previously manipulated, and for what reasons.

Dr. Marla Spivak, U.Minn.

2010 MacArthur Fellow

Dr. Spivak is a pioneer entomologist who is developing the Minnesota Hygienic Line of bees, which resists varroa mites. The MacArthur Foundation gives $500,000 ‘Genius Grants’ every year to those who they believe have ‘advanced the world’s knowledge’.

commitment to the craft risk orientation
Commitment to the Craft – Risk Orientation

What is the connection?

Are you a rancher/farmer by disposition?

That is to say, are you a Gambler?


Beekeeping differs from other agriculture because the beekeeper simply lacks much of the control inherent in other farming activities.--Malcolm Sanford, UF bee extension agent

Because, folks, this is ranching with tiny flying livestock that you cannot corral, vaccinate, or provide much guidance to. Beekeeping is inherently a risky enterprise.

commitment to the craft risk orientation24
Commitment to the Craft – Risk Orientation
  • Weather
  • Diseases
  • Annual Climate Variation
  • Nectar Flow
  • Pests & Pesticides
  • Accidents
  • Bee Genetics
  • Feed & Commercial Prices

Every bit of weather, microclimate, diseases, sugar prices, etc. all affect the outcome, and all you can do is increase your knowledge, do your best, and hope.

commitment to the craft patience
Commitment to the Craft – Patience
  • Each hive of bees works at their own pace.
  • The bees don’t read the same books you do.
  • You may not get any surplus honey in the first year or in any given year.
  • Your bees may die.
  • As a beekeeper, you will be asked questions that border on the idiotic.
  • You will have to be diplomatic to counteract the misinformed and the uneducated.
time commitment
Time Commitment
  • It will take some time to keep bees. How much? More time than a cat - not as much time as a dog, an old saying goes.
  • You cannot set a hive in your backyard and never look at it again until honey harvest.
  • The time needed changes by the season. The beekeeper’s year follows the natural cycle of the hive.

Time – The Beekeepers Year

  • To begin, you need to set aside time early in the year to assemble and paint your hives and frames. You do planning and fixing equipment during the early winter months, when the bees aren’t active outside.
  • Typically, mid-February is good, although you can order and assemble equipment at any time of the year.

Rest assured that the bees are already planning and fixing in their own way. When is beekeeper’s new year? Does anybody know? The winter solstice. Dec 22nd. As soon as the bees sense that there is a minutes worth more light than the previous day, their year begins, even if you cant see it.


Time – The Beekeepers Year

  • Spring is your busiest season -- you will be putting on hive boxes for the bees to increase and swapping off honey supers as needed.
  • Next you are looking at an hour or two a month for checking your hives and performing basic maintenance between May and September. In the summer and early fall, you monitor their health and manipulate their environment to help them get ready for winter.

Time – The Beekeepers Year

  • Finally, you will need to set aside a day or two to harvest and bottle any surplus honey the bees may have produced; typically this is done in August or September, but can be earlier or more episodic.
  • Once your hive is established, you may have the opportunity to harvest several times a year.

Time – Bottom Line

  • For a couple of hives, figure an hour a month in the winter-off seasons, and bi-weekly attention during the spring and summer seasons to do actual work with the bees.
  • The largest time investment is in becoming familiar with beekeeping management challenges - the learning and planning phase of beginning beekeeping.
  • You should attend club meetings, seminars, and classes to increase your knowledge, in addition to joining forums on the internet and reading books, magazines, and catalogs.
  • Just like real estate, beekeeping depends on location, location, location.
  • Bees need access to forage -- you need blooming plants within a 2 mile radius around your hives. Remember, pine forests are largely nectar sterile. Pure agricultural areas can be sterile too, as monocrops planted all the way to the road in modern farming may not leave room for wildflowers or weeds.
  • Aim for a maximum of 4 hives on a ½ acre lot.
  • Check restrictive covenants if you are considering keeping bees in a residential neighborhood to make sure there are no prohibitions.
  • The city of Newport News has only two requirements – a setback distance from property lines, and provision of a water source.
  • There are no other requirements in other peninsula localities, yet.
  • Leave yourself room to work around your hives. Do not jam them together.
  • Place hives on level ground so you don’t stumble while lifting boxes.
  • Erect a 6-foot barricade between hives and your lot line or active foot-traffic areas in your yard to keep bees flying high and avoiding accidental collisions with you in their takeoff and landings.

Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Sunlight - full sun or dappled sun work best. Remember, bees need the sunlight to warm up and get going in the morning. If you keep a hive in a shaded area, they may not get started working as early in the morning and in the winter, at all. Southern exposure is helpful for this reason.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water - bees need to drink and to cool the hive. Bees will go to the easiest source of water - ensure that you have a ready source of water near your hive that is clean and available for the warm months of the year.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water - this is where you may run into problems with neighbors. Your bees may go to their swimming pool, air conditioner, birdbaths, dog water or leaky faucet, if you don’t provide water first.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water– However, make sure your water source will not flood your hive area.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Wind - you want to protect your hive from exposure to winds that will blow INTO the hive. Therefore, most hives face south/SE.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Wind – Use fences, hedges, treelines, brushlines, or terrain to provide a wind break for your hives, especially in winter.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Air– Make sure your location does not have humid stagnant air which can cause diseases, molds, and fungus.


Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Vehicle Access – You want to get as close as possible by vehicle (if not in your backyard) to eliminate lugging heavy honey supers very far. You especially don’t want to lug them uphill.



  • Protection- you need to protect your hive from several key items: high water, predators, snowdrift, fire, and vandalism.
  • Most hives are raised off of the ground at least 6" to prevent exposure to water due to rain or irrigation. Keeping your hive off of the ground will also help keep some predators such as mice and ants out of your hive.


Protection - Predators such as skunks and raccoons should be considered and there are steps that can be taken to combat them if you live in an area where they are present. Ants can be kept at bay using ground cinnamon, ashes, oil barriers, diatomaceous earth, and other means.



Protection - Raising your hive will also help minimize the build up of snow in the winter; the bees need to be able to exit the hive on warm days in the winter for cleansing flights.

You can’t fully protect your hives from fire, but you can minimize the chances by not putting your hive around stacks of old wood or in dry grass fields where a fire could spread quickly.



  • Protectionfrom paranoid, ignorant, and irrational people.
  • Out of sight is out of mind.
  • Vandalism must be considered; don’t place a hive where the general public has access to it. Try to put your hive somewhere out of the way or out of sight to reduce or remove the risk. Make sure your hive is on private property that you either own or have permission to use.
equipment and costs
Equipment and Costs
  • There are just a few fundamental choices that will affect the beekeeping equipment you buy when starting.

First, you cannot use a skep - they are illegal in all 50 states because you cannot remove the individual combs.

equipment and costs48
Equipment and Costs
  • Although there are other kinds of hives (topbar, Warre, English garden, etc) the only hive I would recommend to beginners is the Langstroth hive, named after the father of American beekeeping, Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who standardized it in the 1840s.

There are two American sizes for Langstroth hives, one 8 frames wide and one 10 frames wide. The 10 frame is the standard of the commercial beekeeping industry, while the 8 frame has recently become popular for hobbyists, due to less weight.

equipment and costs49
Equipment and Costs
  • In addition, 8 or 10 frame Langstroth hives can have deep or medium-sized frames. Traditionally, deep frames are used for the bee’s space, while medium or even shallower frames are used to collect honey.

Recently, many beekeepers have started standardizing on all medium equipment to cut down on multiple sizes, and for weight considerations.

equipment and costs50
Equipment and Costs
  • You should plan to spend $300-400 to set up everything to receive one colony of bees, and probably $175 to set up a second hive for bees.
  • You should plan to pay $80-120 for a colony of bees.
  • You should start beekeeping with two hives. Having two will allow you to compare them to each other and allow you to figure out much faster if one of them is not doing well.
  • You should not expect to make any excess honey in your first year, so you should not expect any immediate return on your investment.
equipment and costs51
Equipment and Costs
  • There are some household tools and materials that you should have before getting into beekeeping, such as a hammer, wood glue, wood square, ratcheting straps, paint (outdoor) and painting tools , spray bottles, notebook, pen and markers, and a means for moving hives, bees and supplies, like a car or truck.
  • Don’t buy a pre-packaged kit unless you know you will use everything in it. That means you should hang around other beekeepers long enough to see what others are using.
  • Two cases in point - boardman feeders and solid bottom boards are not widely used around here, and yet they are routinely sold as parts of prepackaged kits.
equipment and costs52
Equipment and Costs

Hive is built in this order -- screen bottom board, two hive bodies with frames, honey super(s) with frames, inner cover, telescoping cover.

equipment and costs53
Equipment and Costs
  • The tools are: bee suit or veil, gloves, hive tool, smoker and lighter, sugar feeders, and a pail-o-specialized gadgets.
  • The hive tool is pretty much the basic badge of the modern beekeeper.
  • We strongly encourage you to purchase bees through a local club ‘nuc’ program.
  • Beekeepers in this area are committed to keeping out Africanized bees and are raising nucleus colonies to sell. The best defense against Africanized bees are strong colonies of European honeybees already established in the area.
  • Nucleus-raised bees are acclimated to this area and are further along in development than package bees. Package bees are thrown together from many different hives with a queen that they have never seen before. Nuc colonies have already accepted and worked with their laying queen when you purchase them.
learn from the bees don t go it alone
Learn from the bees.Don’t go it alone.
  • We strongly encourage you to get involved with a local beekeeping organization prior to getting bees. Just ordering a package of bees from an unknown supplier and buying some equipment from a catalog can bring quick disappointment and hive loss.
for further information
For Further Information:

The Colonial Beekeepers Association meets the third Tuesday of most months at St. Lukes United Methodist Church, 300 Ella Taylor Road, Yorktown (Grafton), Virginia at 7 PM.


beginning beekeepers course
Beginning Beekeepers Course


Colonial Beekeepers conducts a Beginning Beekeeping Course in the Spring of each year.

Other classes are held throughout the year.

Check the website for classes and events, times and locations.