- Honey bees are super-important pollinators for flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
- They help other plants grow! Bees transfer pollen between the male and female parts, allowing plants to grow seeds and fruit.
- Honey bees live in hives (or colonies). The members of the hive are divided into three types.
Queen: One queen runs the whole hive. Her job is to lay the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. The queen also produces chemicals that guide the behaviour of the other bees.
Workers: these are all female and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, and clean and circulate air by beating their wings. Workers are the only bees most people ever see flying around outside the hive.
Drones: These are the male bees, and their purpose is to mate with the new queen. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer. But come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out!
If you’re a beginner at beekeeping, you might be confused as to where to start. But if you want to keep bees, this guide will show you how, step by step, from ordering the bees to choosing your hive to get everything set up when they arrive.
1. How to purchase bees?
It might seem strange to order bees before you get everything else together for beekeeping, but it’s important because most places don’t have bees for sale by the time spring is well underway. January is the time to order your bees for shipment or pickup in April or May.1
Local beekeeping associations are a great place to start asking around for bees. And you’ll want to decide whether package bees, nucs, catching a swarm, or buying an already-started hive is the right choice for you. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
2. Hive System
Two main systems are used in beekeeping. One is called the Langstroth hive, and it’s composed of boxes that are stacked on top of each other, each containing frames where the bees build their comb and store honey. You pull the boxes out like drawers to access the bees, harvest honey and perform maintenance tasks. You can add boxes vertically if your hive needs more space.
The other is a top-bar hive, where the bees’ frames are arranged horizontally, not vertically. The bees make comb without foundation in this system. Each bar, containing comb and honey, is pulled up out of the hive from the top.
You’ll need to choose which system is right for your needs. Most beekeepers use a Langstroth hive
3. Take care of your supplies
Keeping bees requires an investment upfront in supplies. Once you’ve decided on the type of hive, you’ll need to purchase that, but you’ll also need a few bee tools, some protective clothing, and feeding supplies. You can also brush up on your bee information by reading some beginner beekeeping books.
4. How to introduce bees to the hive?
Now comes the fun part! Your bees have arrived, and it’s time to set up the hive and get them settled. You need to safely and comfortably introduce the bees to their new home. Depending on if you are receiving them by mail or picking up a NUC, the setup will be different.
The mail order variety will come with a queen packaged in her own little wooden box who is introduced to the hive over the course of a few days. Worker bees chew threw a candy plug to release her from her small box to the rest of the hive.
If starting from a NUC, you will already have bees who are familiar with their queen and who have already started work on building comb. Then, sit back and let them settle in while you observe the comings and goings.
5. Maintaining the bee’s health?
Month by month, season by season, bees need ongoing care. But they don’t require a huge time investment. You must check on them somewhat frequently, but observation is a good percentage of what you’ll do to keep your bees happy. Just watching a hive activity can be relaxing and informative.
You can organize beekeeping tasks by season, from setting the bees up in spring to harvesting honey, to preparing the hive for winter.