JOIN A LOCAL BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION
For those wishing to start beekeeping, there can be no better first step than to join a beekeeping association. Most associations, comprised of large and small, new and experienced beekeepers, meet regularly to share information and insights.
Most have informative websites, monthly meetings with expert speakers and beginner’s classes. Attend a meeting mosey up to an experienced beekeeper and ask for a visit to his/her beeyard.
Or better yet, offer to help out to get some hands-on experience. (Note: Try not to set yourself on fire with the smoker.)
TAKE A WORKSHOP. READ ALL YOU CAN. CHOOSE YOUR MENTORS
Sign up for the
HCBA course, or any of the other local beekeeping courses. But don’t stop there: buy or borrow a few good beekeeping books,
join the HCBA, read beekeeping periodicals, and explore the Internet.
There are a lot of good on-line resources, but be aware that there is also a lot of bumpf (a technical term for really bad beekeeping advice). Pick a few recommended experts that you can relate to and listen to them. Ask an experienced beekeeper to be a mentor to you.
Look for conferences as well, the
EAS Summer Conference is great for beginners and experienced beekeepers alike.
START SMALL (BUT NOT TOO SMALL)
No matter you long-term intent, it’s a good idea to start with at least two colonies. This will give you an idea of what it takes, how your location works out, and whether you like this thing we call beekeeping.
It’s not recommended to have only one, as it’s helpful to have two or more for comparison and for things like equalizing winter stores and population for successful over-wintering.
MAKE A PLAN
There are a lot of things to think through when you start beekeeping: your budget, where you are going to get bees, what kind of bees, what kind of equipment, how you are going to manage your hives, what kind of records you will keep, etc.
And then there is the honey production side as well. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you’ll feel a lot more confident if you aren’t flying by the seat of your pants at all times...there are enough surprises in beekeeping as it is!
CONSIDER YOUR EQUIPMENT
There are a lot more options in equipment than you might think, especially in hive components.
You’ll want to consider your physical capacity and the pros and cons of various options as it is a significant financial investment and you’ll be living with your decisions for a long time.
Most common hive bodies used are “standard” sized Langstroth equipment, but increasingly, beekeepers are working with medium-sized boxes. Check out local suppliers for 10-frame and 8 frame equipment. You can also check online (or local if you are near a distribution site) with suppliers such as Mann Lake, Dadant, Betterbee, Rossman, and others for equipment.
And don’t skimp on things like your smoker or hive tools - you want them to last.
REVIEW LOCAL BY-LAWS AND REGISTER YOUR HIVES
You must register your hives in Maryland. That same page contains the Howard County Beekeeping Regulations.
not the time to explore your inner outlaw. Registering your hives not only gives the state important statistical data, but they will send you updates on recommended practices and you can request notification if there is any significant pesticide spraying in your area. It also connects you to the Maryland Inspectors, who, although terribly overextended, are a fantastically supportive source of expert information and advice. Our inspectors here in Maryland are an amazing bunch of dedicated professionals. So much so, we're thinking about making a “Have you hugged your bee inspector today?” bumper sticker.
First, as described in the Five Questions To Ask Yourself make sure you, your family members or close neighbors are not allergic to bee stings. Have an Epi-pen on site anyway (you can get them at your local drugstore). And second, start thinking about your sting protection.
Many experienced beekeepers don’t use gloves, but you may want to start with them until you are comfortable working with the bees. Make sure they fit you snugly; you don’t want to lose your grasp and drop a frame of bees on your foot.
In terms of suiting, personal preference, climate (it gets hot in there) and comfort with stings will determine your choices. It’s helpful to have a couple of options on hand, perhaps a veil for light beekeeping (external inspections, feeding, etc.) and a suit or at least a jacket, for full inspections. If you can afford it, look for the thick mesh suits, you won’t get stung, and they are cooler than the cotton ones. But they can be pricey. Rubber boots are good as well, especially if you have poison ivy in your beeyard.
LOOK AND LEARN
Courses, books, magazines, discussions with other beekeepers, and conferences are all critical in building expertise and confidence. But at the end of the day, paying attention to what is going on in your hives is an equally important way to learn.
Spend time in the beeyard. Get a little stool and sit yourself down for a while. You can learn a lot by watching, listening and sniffing. Write down questions. Take your time when doing inspections, make comparisons, watch for changes.
Wonder. Think. Be ‘one’ with the bees.
Further to ‘looking and learning’, keep notes on what you are seeing and doing.
Some beekeepers keep a journal to track what’s in bloom, weather, actions taken, learning, mistakes, questions. Some use a calendar to ensure timely interventions. But there are also some excellent software programs for your ‘smart’ phone which you can take into the beeyard that provide a framework for what to look for during inspections.
You might think you will remember when you installed that queen (“I could never forget Gloria!”), or when you put that honey super on or fed them, but you won’t.
Jot it down.
Finally, give yourself a break. You will make mistakes. You will do some really dumb things – you may not believe how many dumb things one person can do – but that’s the way it is with beekeeping.
But, believe me when I say that beekeeping is one of the most enjoyable and interesting endeavours you will ever encounter, but even seasoned beekeepers will tell you that it’s forever a work-in-progress.
Do your best, keep learning, keep going, keep being curious, and most of all, have fun keeping bees!