Have you ever been stung by a bee (and lived to tell about it)?
Kidding aside, allergies to bee stings are no joking matter. For a very small number of people, a sting can trigger anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction. Painful hives and swelling may progress rapidly to block off airways, causing circulatory collapse and, sometimes, death.
If you or anyone in your family or close neighbourhood has an allergy to bee stings, in the immortal words of Tony Soprano, ‘fugetaboutit’ – beekeeping is not for you. It can take just minutes to die of a sting if you are seriously allergic, so know before you decide.
On the other hand, if you consider yourself allergic because you swell up a bit at the site of a sting and it hu-u-urts, you should know that beekeeping is not for sissies either, because you
will get stung. That grandmother of a friend of the nephew of your grocer who was so in tune with her bees she never got stung in 50 years? Forget about that, too. Every beekeeper gets stung - we know it’s not personal.
Are you curious, persistent, committed and a little obsessive?
(Mildly crazy helps, too, but not required.)
Beekeeping is a long-haul endeavor. The first year, the colonies are busy building comb and population, so you will get no honey to speak of. The second year onwards, there is a chance you could get lots of honey. Unless there is a drought. Or it’s too rainy. Or it was a terribly cold winter and your bees died. Or an early spring and your bees swarmed. Or Winnie-the-Pooh’s ex-con uncle and his pals paid a visit... You get the idea here... there is no guarantee of how much, if any, honey you may harvest in any given year.
Bees are livestock and require responsible, consistent attention. Plus, abandoning or poorly managing your hives can cause considerable damage to the environment or to other beekeepers. Beekeeper, know thyself.
Are you a student at heart?
If you like to be the smartest guy/gal in the room, beekeeping may not be for you. As a (now) successful beekeeper said, “After the second year I thought ‘Hey, I’ve got this down’, then all hell broke loose”.
Yes, hell breaks loose on a regular basis in beekeeping and it is often necessary to grovel up to other beekeepers for advice and assistance.
If you are excited to learn and keep learning (things change as well as there being endless amounts to learn) and recognize that you know next to nothing, welcome to beekeeping.
Are you willing to invest your time, your spare income, and your back?
Just kidding about the back, almost anyone can beekeep on a small scale with some help with the heavy lifting, and there are various sizes and weights of equipment if one is doing it alone, but beekeeping is physical work, no doubt about it.
In terms of time, backyard beekeeping doesn’t require a huge investment in time – rather like a good-sized garden – but timeliness is a big issue. Hive management requires vigilance and intervention when the bees need it, not when you can fit it in.
Spring and Fall are the most demanding times, but if you answered ‘yes’ to question 2, you will no doubt be spending lots of time with your bees anyway.
With regard to the spare income, many beekeepers say that it is possible to make a small fortune in beekeeping – provided you start with a big fortune. Realistically, the upfront investment is in the area of $500 to $1,000 to get you started with a couple of hives and other basic equipment.
With backyard beekeeping, you may make a bit of money on the sale of honey and other items, but if you are wanting a secure revenue stream, beekeeping may not be for you unless you plan to scale up considerably and work like a dog (but not my dog, though, who spends his days plotting against squirrels and chasing his tail).
Do you have a good place for the hives?
Location, location, location isn’t just about mobile home property in Florida. Honeybee colonies need forage, light, access to water, friendly neighbours and protection from predators. And don’t forget to comply with your local zoning and other regulatory laws and licenses.
If you are in farm country think about what is growing in the forage area. Pesticides and herbicides can be lethal to bees even when applied according to label, so you will want to talk with your neighbors before moving forward.
How did you do?
If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, congratulations! You are about to embark on one of the most rewarding and facinating undertakings in the natural world.
To get started off right, take some time to read through the
Ten Steps to Get Started.