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Getting into beekeeping is easy with the right guidance. Following the right steps to become a beekeeper is crucial for your smooth entry into beekeeping. The process involves preparing yourself to start beekeeping, setting up to receive your first colonies of honeybees, and looking after them henceforth. In setting up your beekeeping operation, you will also take into account the goals of your beekeeping and the products you aim to get from the operation. In most cases, beekeepers are in it for honeybee conservation, profit, or both. The steps outlined in this article are the best for aspiring beekeepers to follow, whether they are aiming to be beekeepers for conservation purposes or for profit.
1. Buying a Beehive Kit
Buying a beehive kit is a great way to prepare yourself as you become a beekeeper. A beehive kit is a set of equipment that you need for the housing of honeybees. It may also include some tools that come in handy in beehive management. When the beehive kit includes beehive components only, it usually has all the parts that will come together to make a complete beehive.
If it has additional tools or equipment, they are usually the tools that you often need to open up the beehive and manage honeybees within the beehive. Common tools and equipment included in some beekeeping kits are: hive tool, beehive smoker, hive stand, and entrance reducer among others.
Each beehive kit has a unique composition, usually differing by manufacturers. The beehive kit you purchase should have the following components: beehive bottom board, beehive boxes, queen excluder, beehive inner cover, beehive top cover, beehive frames. Some kits add extra components on the side of beehive assembly such as foundation frames, entrance reducers, beehive feeder and pollen collector.
When making your choice about which beehive kit to buy, consider the included components and tools. They should be the ones that you do not have so that you avoid spending on items that you do not need. It is, therefore, best that you buy the beehive kit first, and then make purchases of the items that you need and which are not included in the beehive kit that you purchased.
Pros of Buying a Beehive Kit
- A beehive kit makes purchasing of the equipment and tools you need for beekeeping easy. The kit contains many items bundled into one set, thereby saving you from purchasing the one by one. In purchasing components separately, you may end up with components that do not fit into each other or work well with each other.
- The total amount of money you spend in many purchases may be more than you would spend by buying a beehive kit. This is due to the individual shipping costs among other costs. With a beehive kit purchase, you cater for the costs of shipping only once.
- Components in the beehive kit are made to fit well into each other where necessary. Buying a beehive kit saves you from the problems you may encounter when you use components from different manufacturers to assemble your beehive. If the components do not fit into each other, they become useless to your beekeeping operation or require you to adjust them at your cost. Even when you have the option of returning the component that does not fit, it is often a tiring process that you would rather avoid.
- You have many options of the components included in the beehive kit because there are many different manufacturers of beehive kits. Each manufacturer includes different components to meet the needs they have identified in beekeeping. This variety allows you to choose a kit which is most suitable for your needs when preparing to become a beekeeper.
Cons of Buying a Beehive Kit
- A beehive kit can be expensive when you are operating on a tight budget. Such a beekeeper might want to purchase different components, tools and equipment over time as their budget allows small expenditures. Buying the beehive kit requires you to spend a significantly large amount at once.
- The beehive you assemble from a kit may not be a complete beehive, depending on the items and components included in the kit. In such a case, you are forced to made additional acquisitions of components to complete the beehive. The separately-bought components and items may not fit or work well with the components from the beehive kit.
- Beginner beekeepers may have difficulties putting together different components in the beehive kit to make a complete beehive. They often resort to engaging the assistance of an experienced beekeeper.
2. Buying Other Beekeeping Equipment
Buying other beekeeping equipment is the next step after you have obtained a beehive kit. This other beekeeping equipment is mainly what you did not get included in the kit. Some of the equipment is not usually found in the kits, so the only way of getting it is to buy it separately. Such equipment ranges from protective beekeeping suits to honey extractors for when you are harvesting honey.
It is best that you plan your purchases of these other beekeeping equipment. Spreading out the purchases allows you to fit them easily into your budget. Make sure that you purchase each item on time so that you have it when you need it. The equipment you need late in your beekeeping should, however, be left for later purchase.
Buying other beekeeping equipment should be fun activity for you. It enables you to know all the equipment you have in your beekeeping operation. You can do it offline in stores and retailers you can visit, or online from various sellers. When buying online, be sure to make purchases from reliable sellers only.
Buying Equipment Offline
When buying other beekeeping equipment offline in your steps to become a beekeeper, go for the best quality you can afford. This is especially important for the equipment that are multi-use. You should focus on quality over quantity. Using low quality equipment in your beekeeping operation may cause your operation costs to increase due to breakage. Any broken down equipment requires you to carry out repairs or replace it by buying more equipment.
Check out various offline shops and retailers to compare the quality of items they sell and the prices at which they are selling the items. From what you find out, make enquiries on warranties and guarantees. With this information, you can settle on the seller to buy different items from.
If it is possible, buy other beekeeping equipment from sellers that are near your apiary or home. This is useful if you ever need to return the equipment for repairs, replacement or refunds. Making a trip to a seller near you is cheaper on costs and time you spend that visiting a location that is far from you.
Buying Beekeeping Equipment Online
Changes and developments in business as well as in beekeeping have made buying online an option for beekeepers. In your quest to become a beekeeper, you may buy some equipment online. Sellers that have online shops often have their products priced at very competitive prices. There are also great offers and packages for equipment online that will save you some money in comparison to buying offline.
Perform some research when you are buying other beekeeping equipment online. Compare the different offers you find online so that you get the one that is best for you. Take into account the quality of the equipment you find online, the price it is selling at, shipping options and costs, the time it will take to ship the item and warranties or guarantees the online seller gives on the equipment, among other considerations. Once you have identified a great deal, you may proceed to make the purchase.
Buying online has more risk than buying offline. For your online purchases of beekeeping equipment, take time to find out the reliability of the online seller. Read reviews of the seller and their products to get a picture of their reliability and trustworthiness. You may also ask experienced beekeepers for the online sellers that they trust and recommend. Additionally, put in place as many safety and security measures as you can to avoid loss, harm and injury to yourself from your online activities.
3. Buying/Catching Bees
In your steps to become a beekeeper, you will get to a time when you need to have honeybees for the hives you are starting with. You may start beekeeping with as few beehives as you want. Even a single beehive is enough. Experienced beekeepers advice it is best to start with two or more honeybee colonies. You gain many advantages in your start of beekeeping. This is because you are able to compare the performance of different hives.
Number of Beehives to Start Beekeeping
Having only one beehive as you start beekeeping, causes you to lose all your beehives in case you suffer such a misfortune. With more than one beehive, you have greater chances of having a colony to work with even if one of the other beehives suffers total loss of its habiting honeybees’ colony. If the remaining beehive experiences growth to an acceptable level, you can split the colony and get a fresh colony to install in the beehive that you lost.
Benefits of Starting With 2-3 Beehives
With two or more beehives in your start of beekeeping, you quickly learn, adopt and benefit from better management of the beehives. The management experience you gain improves continually and you are soon able to raise healthy honeybee colonies that are productive.
New beekeeping operations can take widely varying trajectories. For some beekeepers, growth is rapid while for others it takes longer time. The most important thing when you are a beginner beekeeper is that the colony of honeybees is still active in the beehive. Your colony of honeybees may be setting up the beehive space they are in, or managing it after they have settled in.
On average, a beekeeper that gets their start of beekeeping right and does everything needed in management in the right way may get results in form of beehive products that he can harvest in a year or two. Always find and use the best management practices for beehive and honeybee colony management.
Due to these reasons, beekeepers that have been at it for some time caution against having too many beehives with honeybee colonies in them until you are confident you can manage them well. Many people that have become beekeepers say they hit a sweet spot when they start beekeeping with two or three honeybee colonies. As you gain experience, you can go for many more beehives until your apiary reaches the size that you want of it.
Buying or Catching Honeybee Colonies
You may buy or catch colonies of honeybees to use in your beekeeping. The natural movement of bees to search for new locations to set up a new hive is called swarming. Catching swarming bees is great for genetic diversity of your colonies of honeybees. If you prefer to, you can get a colony for your beehives from sellers. Buying the colony enables you to start beekeeping as soon as you receive the honeybees.
It is faster than waiting until you have caught a swarming colony. If you have access to beekeepers in your area, you can get a honeybee colony with great ease. Beekeepers sometimes split colonies intentionally as a management practice. Honeybee colonies from sellers are called package bees.
To buy bees, you only need to reach a seller of package bees. Some sellers deliver the bees right to you. Others may require you to pick the bees. Agree on the method of delivery and payments for shipping with the seller.
You should make sure to install package bees into a beehive as soon as you can. The experience of putting the beehives in a package bee box and moving locations often causes the bees to get stressed. Installing package bees in a beehive helps them lower colony stress levels. It also helps the bees settle in to their new home sooner and start work on the beehive.
Follow the instructions of the seller well when installing package bees so that you do it the right way. Mistakes during installation of package bees can cause the colony to die off or not take to the beehive.
Catching Bees in a Trap Box
To catch a swarm of honeybees, beekeepers use trap boxes and swarm lures. They may apply various treatments to better their chances of catching a swarm. Once you have caught a swarm of honey bees in a trap box or catcher box, transfer them to a beehive. This calls for regular checking of your trap boxes to see if you have caught a swarm. It also needs you to keep a beehive in your apiary ready to receive a new colony of honeybees. Experienced beekeepers can nurture a swarm they catch at most times of the year into a healthy and productive honeybee colony.
Catching bees is a satisfying experience for beekeepers. It is, however, intensive and may take time before you catch a swarm. It may lead to starting beekeeping behind schedule. Installing new colonies of honeybees late causes them to have few resources in the beehive during winter. Such colonies require more care to ensure they get through winter. Catching bees is, therefore, more suitable for beekeepers with operations that are already running. It comes in handy when the beekeeper wants to increase the number of active beehives in their apiaries.
4. Installing Bees
Installing bees is an important milestone when you become a beekeeper. This is a procedural process of settling a honeybee colony in a beehive. Colonies that you buy or catch should start life in the beehive that you have prepared as soon as they can. You should, therefore, install package bees you buy as soon as you receive them.
Swarms that you catch in trap boxes should also get the same treatment. Regularly inspecting traps ensures that a swarm does not stay too long in the trap box before you install the colony into a beehive.
Installing Package Bees
With package bees, use suitable methods to get the swarm into the selected beehive. You may shake them into the beehive and then close it up. Provide a means for bees that may remain outside the beehive to enter the beehive. Positioning the package box under the beehive and having a stick or piece of wood leading from the package box to the beehive entrance usually works. The bees climb up the piece of wood from the package box or ground and enter the beehive.
Once you have shaken package bees into the beehive you want, install the queen bee to ensure that the colony is complete. With good installation, the colony settles into the beehive without much difficulty. The queen bee of the colony keeps the colony together and functioning through various ways. She is, therefore, very important for the health of the colony.
For more information on installing package bees, click here.
Installing Caught Swarms
You may catch a swarm of honeybees for your new beehive after becoming a beekeeper. To install the swarm, get the trap box from where you had put it and bring it to a beehive that you have prepared. Shake out the honeybees from the trap box into the beehive in which you are installing them. If there are any beehives that are not in the beehive, provide a means for them to get into the beehive.
It is alright to take some time during installation to check for the presence of a queen bee in the colony, or do it later on. If the honeybees had drawn too much comb in the trap box, you may try to use methods to enable them to use the comb in the new beehive. You may also feed them for longer so that they can draw enough honeycomb in the beehive you have installed the colony into.
Preparing a Beehive for Installing Bees
Prepare the beehive into which you plan to install a colony of honeybees so that it is ready to receive the colony. Failure to do this may result in losing the colony.
The main things to do are:
- Ensure that the beehive is clean. You should not install honeybees in a beehive that has debris or is housing other insects and animals. Clean and sterilize the beehive on time so that is clean, dry and safe for honeybees when you come to install honeybees in it. Compounds you have used for preservation, cleaning or sterilization should not be present in the beehive, especially if they are harmful to honeybees or people. Airing out the beehive boxes and components ensures the compounds and their vapors are not in the beehive.
- Confirm that the beehive is properly set up with all components present. The beehive should be in good shape and have all components that make it up. For Langstroth beehives, ensure the beehive is standing on a suitable and stable hive stand.
- Place a filled-up bee feeder in the beehive. Feeding honeybees is often necessary after you have installed them. This is because you may close the beehive for a day or two before letting beehive out of the beehive. A feeder that is already in the beehive during installation allows you to leave the beehive closed for longer time before you have to open it up. Closing up the beehive causes the bees to settle into the beehive. They start using the beehive as their home during the time they cannot leave the beehive. Once they have invested in the beehive, there is better chance of the colony staying in the beehive.
5. What to do After Installing Bees
After installing bees, the first few days are a busy time for you. There are many things happening in the beehive and affect the colony of honeybees in different ways. Once the installed honeybees are in a beehive, you should close the entrance for a day or two. The bees cannot go outside the beehive during this time and thus need feeding. You should also take steps to ensure that the temperature of the beehive is within the acceptable range so that honeybees do not die. Too much cold or heat in the beehive causes honeybees to die or use up a lot of energy in regulating temperatures.
Using a Moving Screen after Installing Bees
You may use a moving screen with the honeybees you have installed in a beehive. A moving screen covers the entrance of a beehive while allowing aeration of the beehive. Using it on a beehive into which you have installed bees, allows worker bees to quick learn the location of the hive entrance. It also lets them practice how to get out of the beehive and back in. It does this while preventing honeybees from flying away from the beehive. If temperatures get too high in the beehive, bees can use the open hive entrance for thermoregulation in the beehive.
Close the Beehive for a Day or Two
A closed beehive provides great security for the honeybee colony living in it. Once you have installed honeybees, you need to open the beehive entrance after a day or two. The honeybees can then fly away from the beehive to collect resources to use in the beehive. They are also able to access the environment outside the beehive for various other activities they carry out.
Open beehive entrances are avenues through which predators can attack the colony you installed in the respective beehives. You should, therefore, take measures to ensure best hive security. Reducing the entrance size using an entrance reducer is a great way of helping the honeybees with hive security.
Feeding Installed Honeybees
For about a week after installing bees, ensure you feed them. Sugar water helps the bees stay nourished and producing a lot of wax. It speeds up drawing of comb in the beehive. Honeycomb is needed for rearing of brood and storage of resources for use in the beehive. You may also feed pollen patties to the honeybee colony. Pollen patties boost the nutrition of the honeybee colony. They are useful for ensuring survival of installed colonies. Ensure that sugar syrup is fresh and pollen patties are accessible to honeybees. Fermented sugar syrup causes honeybees to get dysentery which is disruptive to the colony.
6. Conducting Your First Beehive Inspection
Worker bees in a honeybee colony you have installed in a beehive start accessing the environment outside the beehive in a day or two after installation. Their activity in the beehive and around tells you that the bees have settled in the beehive.
If you do not see any activity, you may have lost the colony. Honeybees are active during the warm hours of the day. They do not go outside the beehive during the night. You should conduct a beehive inspection to see inside the beehive. The inspection helps you to know if the colony is doing well or not. You can then decide on the best course of action. Beehive inspection is part of beehive and honeybee colony management.
How Soon Should You Inspect a Beehive After Installing Bees?
Your first beehive inspection after installing honeybees can come within the first week or after a week. If you see enough activity at the beehive’s entrance during the day, you may leave the inspection to a week after installing bees. If you do not see activity at the beehive entrance after opening it, you should quickly check on the colony. Regularly clean bee feeders in the beehive and refill them with fresh sugar syrup.
During your first beehive inspection, you should focus on checking for signs of the honeybee colony settling in the beehive and setting up the beehive as their habitat. This is usually indicated by the honeybees drawing comb on beehive frames. Some cells in the ready sections of honeycomb may contain early stores of nectar and pollen that worker bees have collected in their foraging trips. You may also find eggs that the queen bee lays in the honeycomb that the bees make in the beehive.
Must a Beekeeper Spot the Queen Bee in a Beehive Inspection?
It is great if you spot the queen bee of the colony when conducting your first beehive inspection. The queen bee lays eggs in the colony and releases pheromones that help to keep the honeybee colony together. If you do not see the queen bee, check for other signs of the queen bee’s presence and a healthy colony and close up the beehive. The first beehive inspection should be fast so that you cause minimal disruption to the newly-installed colony of honeybees.
Preparation to Inspect a Beehive
Prepare adequately for the inspection before conducting your first beehive inspection. Take into consideration your safety, the activities you need to carry out, lay out what signs of colony health you will be looking out for and get all tools and equipment ready for use. Making a checklist of activities is recommended for all beehive inspections. You should also ready a method of recording observations that you make during the beehive inspection.
For more information on conducting a beehive inspection, click here.
7. Networking After you Become a Beekeeper
Networking with beekeepers is an important part of your journey in beekeeping. Seek out and join beekeeping clubs, organizations or groups near you. Additionally, reach out to various agricultural authorities, especially if your apiaries will be in a jurisdiction of a government body that deals with beekeeping.
In beekeeping clubs, you will meet other beekeepers and have opportunities to learn from them. They have a lot of experience to share with you. Learning from beekeepers that have practiced beekeeping for some time saves you from making the mistakes they made.
Beekeeping clubs are also a great place to borrow some resources that you need in your beekeeping and which you do not yet have, such as beekeeping books, tools and equipment. You may even be able to get some honeybee colonies for your beekeeping operation from the beekeepers in the club that you join.
Once you start harvesting products from beehives in your apiary, the beekeepers in the club are a great source of information about where to sell the beehive products, as well as the market prices at which you should sell the products.
Beekeeping is an interesting undertaking that nearly everyone can get into. It allows you to play a role in conserving honeybees. Being a beekeeper is also a good source of income. It can be your main income generator or you can do it as an additional revenue stream. It is great for diversifying your existing farming and produces useful products that you can use in your home.
You can safely practice beekeeping in both rural and urban areas. Adequate preparation and management of the beekeeping operation are important for success. In your entry into beekeeping, be sure to follow the steps to become a beekeeper as detailed in this article.
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