Beekeeping is a magical art, one that will bring much sweetness and light into your life. But beekeeping also takes a good amount of preparation, dedication, and know-how. Here are some tips, tricks, guidelines, and resources to help you on your orientation flight!
How to begin
You’ll need to do some basic things before you start.
1. Do some preliminary learning
–Read about the lifecycle of a bee
–Get to know the queens habits and needs
–Discover the beekeeper’s responisbilities month by month
-Find an introductory bekeeping book, we recommend:
Beekeeping in Coastal California
Beekeeping For Dummies
Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees
Check out our blog for book reviews on other books
2. Get equipment
Budget about $300-$500 for hive, tools, protection, and the bees themselves. Read more below on what equipment is essential for your first year! Price will vary depending on method for example assembling your own equipment and capturing a swarm is on the lower end of the spectrum and purchasing assembled equipment and buying a nuc is on the upper end.
Equipment to purchase
Here is a list of what you need to get started. Everything else you can purchase as you need it. You can purchase your equipment from local business Goodland Bee Supply in Goleta.
It’s a starter kit! A nucleus (or nuc) of bees will include
-2 frames of brood (babies)
-2 or more frames of honey/pollen/nectar/built honey comb
-A good amount of worker bees.
The nuc box only holds 5 frames and should not necessarily be used as a permanent home as it’s too small.
You can purchase nucs from Super Bee for $200, this is the going rate for a nuc. Also, the best source for a nuc is not from a commercial Beekeeper but from a fellow backyard beekeeper who has split a healthy hive. Make sure to find a bee source that is local, healthy, from an experienced and trusted beekeeper. If you want to be treatment free, ask for a treatment history of the hive.
To start out your beekeeping journey we recommend full protection. Get a full bee suit with a dome shaped veil. Don’t forget gloves. When you get more comfortable ditch the gloves and eventually you can ditch everything but the veil.
Bees associate dark colors with bears so make sure to wear light colors when checking the hive. Wear a hat, if the bees get in your hair they also think you’re a predator and will sting.
Build a hive stand
Make sure your hive stand is at least 18 inches above the ground to provide ventilation under hive, to protect bees from ants and other predators, to avoid rot, and for a good working height. Build a sturdy stand out of wood, old tires, cinder blocks, etc.
All you need to start is a brood box (also called a deep). Decide whether you want an 8 or 10 frame deep. Purchase 2-3 to start. We recommend you paint hive boxes with non toxic, light colored paint to avoid wear, tear, and rot. The light color also helps with heat deflection making temperature control easier for the bees.
You’ll also need a bottom board and a hive cover (top and bottom)
This is where the bees live and build their comb. Purchase 10-20 frames to get started.
Beekeepers have 3 different strategies for their frames, wax, plastic, foundation-less. We recommend foundationless as it allows the bees to build their comb in whatever formation they like. Plastic is best for large scale beekeeping and wax foundation is fine too although when we tested commercial wax foundation we found a plethora of chemicals and disease residue. Use at your own risk.
-Feather to brush them
-Smoker + smoking fuel
-Notebook + pen to take notes
-Water source (dog water stand, add rocks so bees don’t drown)
It’s super important to choose a spot wisely! Bees are particular and if you don’t cater to their needs they might just ditch your hive to find a better hole in a tree or empty attic.
Because bees need early morning sun to let them know the its time to start forgaing. This also helps protect them from cold northern winds.
Wind and rain protection
The bees MUST keep the hive at 95 degrees farenheit so the queen stays fertile and brood (baby bees) stay warm. moisture in the hive hinders the heat regulation as does wind.
Ants can take down a weak hive by eating honey reserves and baby bees. Take precautions. I use tangle foot, you can also try a moat technique or ant traps.
When you’re in the hive
Remember that beekeeping is really all about space and pest management. When your in the hive you are asking 3 questions:
1. Is the hive growing?
2. Is the hive getting full?
3. Is the hive healthy?
Brood pattern that is tightly packed
Good brood pattern Bad brood pattern
Look for eggs
Notice how many frames are full of bees
See the queen if possible
How many frames have built out comb
How many frames are full of brood
How many frames are full of honey
Is the hive box ¾ full? Is yes, add another box with empty frames.
Health and pests
Even a healthy thriving hive can be wiped out by these threats. Learn to identify and spot them and create a management plan that works for you.
Varroa mites (pest)
-tiny mite attaching to the backs of bees and spawning and living inside the brood chamber
Small hive beetle (pest)
-black beetle living on the edges and among the bees
American foul brood (bacteria)
-sunken capings and rotting smell
If your hive is week or smaller these may effect it too:
-Stone Brood (fungus)
-Chalk Brood (fungus)
-Wax moth (pest)
Basic beekeeping tips
- Get two hives so you can compare one to the other.
- Start early in the season, give your bees a fighting chance to overwinter
- Visit your hive at-least 6-8 times a year.
- Get involved with your local beekeeping association/club. It’s a good way to continue to learn, to share resources, and to find mentors that can assist you.
- Keep records of what you see and do to track the hives progression. Some good record keeping templates: (link)
- Comply with local regulations. Here are some links to Santa Barbra County and city: (link)
- Don’t expect to get honey the first or second year.
- Stick with it. Know that you’ll most likely lose a hive or two and this doesn’t make you a bad beekeeper! It’s hard to keep bees and good management comes with time and experience.
- always manage the hive from the back
- observe your bees often, and notice if they are bringing in pollen
- smoke the bees just a bit, wait for the smoke to take affect (15 seconds) before handling hive, make sure smoke is heavy and cool as to not burn them
- educate your neighbors to avoid conflict
Article by Nicholas Wigle and Rachel Binstock