Beekeeping! Who hasn’t considered it at some point? It has exploded in popularity in the last 10 years, and it seems like everyone is giving it a try. Any why not? There’s a lot to be said for keeping bees.
Firstly, they are a joy to have in the backyard. Their busy presence, the soothing white noise of their buzzing, and the smell of honey wafting a few feet from the hive are all lovely additions to a hot summer day. Vegetable and flower gardens for miles around benefit from their presence, and those who keep bees are doing their part for the local ecosystem. Then, of course, there’s the honey–beautiful in the jars, delicious, wonderful for gift-giving. So should you try it? What do you need to do to become a beekeeper?
Many websites and dozens of books can tell you about hive styles, smoker sizes, personal protective equipment, and every possible extracting gadget. Such things are beyond the scope of this blog. What I want to help you determine is–what factors do you need to consider to be sure that beekeeping is convenient and fits into YOUR lifestyle?
Location, Location, Location
You’ll need a good location – for you and the bees! The bees aren’t terribly fussy, but they will appreciate a few considerations. A spot that is protected from the north wind, has morning sun and a close water supply is ideal. Just as importantly, however, the spot needs to be good for you.
If you’re in the country, you’ll need a spot accessible by four-wheeled cart (not wheelbarrow) or vehicle. Hand-carrying everything to and from a remote location will not work. The first time you forget something in the house or have to clamber through a brushy field carrying a box full of bees, you’ll discover that the nice mowed spot behind the garage was a better choice.
If you’re in an urban or suburban location, you’ll want several feet of clear space all around the boxes, particularly in back. Bees enter and exit their hives from the front and accept handling from the back of the hives more readily. If you tuck the back of the hives up against the garage, you’ll be working with cranky bees and you’ll be “in their face” while doing so.
The space behind the boxes should give you plenty of room to squat, lift things and turn around. Between the hives, you should have enough space to set a box. If your chosen location requires mowing, you’ll need to fit your mower on all sides of the boxes.
Town or country, the closer your bees are to your equipment location, the happier you will be.
The Bee Workout
Speaking of carrying equipment, beekeeping does involve weightlifting. The amount of weight will vary, but there will be times when you’re required to lift heavy boxes filled with bees and/or drippy, sticky honey! By the end of the year, the hives can get tall, and you may have to lift heavy boxes off a five-foot stack, set them on the ground, and lift them back up again. If you can’t do the lifting yourself, you’ll need an assistant who can lift for you.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!
Consider that bees have been “keeping” themselves for as long as they’ve been around; our aim is merely to provide them with a safe, comfortable home and get out of their way. However, their housing does require maintenance, and as in other forms of gardening, the window of time to make changes is narrow. Sometimes, it’s risky to wait until the weekend to harvest your tomatoes, and it can be risky to wait until the weekend to put a new box on your bees. Stall too long, and you may arrive with your new box to see your bees flying away from the old crowded one. Is your schedule flexible enough to allow you to do what’s needed when it’s needed?
Float Like A Butterfly, (Don’t) Sting Like A Bee
Finally, in the matter of protective equipment, wear what makes you comfortable. As a beginner, you may find that “more is better.” A full bee suit is expensive and hot, but if wearing it lets you work among the bees confidently and efficiently, then invest and wear it with pride. Conversely, if you find yourself putting off going out to the bees because you think getting “suited up” is a hassle, throw on a pair of jeans and a veiled jacket and call it good.
Many websites, books, and classes exist to tell you how and why to keep bees – and they make compelling arguments! Just don’t forget to consider the reality of what beekeeping will mean for you. Take steps to ensure it’s comfortable, convenient and safe not only for the bees but for the beekeeper! And when you’re ready, set up and dive in. Happy beekeeping!