The last couple of years has been filled with trends headed towards self reliance. Instagram feeds are starting to fill up with gardens and chicken coops. People are even diving into the wild world of beekeeping, including myself. In this post I'll tell you why I got started in beekeeping and share resources with how to get started yourself.
Spouse Peer Pressure Five years ago my wife said it'd be cool to keep bees in our backyard and told me how fun it would be to have our own honey. We didn't have a good yard at the time and we forgot about our ‘bee venture' for a couple years. We moved to Arvada, Colorado a year ago and looked into the city ordinances and found out that the size of our lot would allow two beehives. Eureka!
Here are three reasons why we pulled the trigger and got bees.
- The honey. We've tasted organic honey and it is like nothing else. We wanted the experience to keep bees our self and see the process start to finish.
- The beeswax. You can get quite a bit of beeswax from the hives which can be used for lip balm and hand salve. Ya know, when the world ends and everyone has chapped lips?
- The experience. I just turned 30, my wife just turned 34. We needed something to get us excited about life and a cool project that would last a long time. Beekeeping seemed good.
The Reality We've had our bees since April of 2014 and I've come up with three new reasons why we are keeping bees which quite frankly surprised the heck out of me. These are stacked ranked by importance.
- To understand God better. I'm religious and in my research of beekeeping I found multiple references of veteran beekeepers saying that keeping bees has helped them understand God's plan. In my short months of this hobby I can tell you this is absolutely true and now my primary motivation for this hobby.
- Educate my kids. We have small children and I absolutely love showing them the bees and explaining the process. They are a little young to really be interested but they can explain honey production, pollination, and the lifespan of a bee fairly well.
- Pollination for the garden. Take the last 30 years of Christmas mornings and add them to 5 trips to Baskin Robbins and that amounts to the feeling of seeing my bees land on my flowers for the first time. Not exaggerating.
The Investment Beekeeping is expensive. For the two hives, the actual bees (2 3lb. packages), feeders, bee suits, honey extractor, and tools – I'm in over $1,000. Seems spendy right? Well the cool thing about beekeeping is that while the up front costs can be steep, beekeeping is long term activity that actual pays for itself over time. I met a beekeeper in Boise, ID last week and he told me he started with two hives and now has 1,600. He shared his love and enthusiasm of his bees and how they've been beneficial to his farms. Over time, the bee colonies will grow and you can actually split the hives. So two become four, which become eight and so on. Will I be managing 1,600 hives one day? I sure hope so. That would be absolutely radical.
Is Beekeeping Safe? Yes. Totally safe. No seriously, the bees could care less about you. They are so focused on honey production and contributing to the hive you honestly are a distraction. I've been stung 7 times and each time it's because I'm being an idiot. I don't have my suit on, I'm in a hurry, or I'm trying to sneak a peek into the hive. Will you get stung? Yeah probably. My kids have stood inches away from the hive while a couple hundred bees have been flying around working and they've been fine. We don't roll around in the bees or anything but we can have dinner in the back yard and be safe. Don't let getting stung deter you from keeping bees. If that's the hold up, send me a tweet at @adam_buchanan and I'll convince you otherwise.
Getting Started You ready to go for it? Good. Let's get you going young Jedi. First off, you can only start keeping bees in the spring. When you buy a new package of bees they need enough time to build up the colony and honey. You can buy what's called a ‘nuc' hive which is more established and you can get away with starting a nuc later in the spring. If you start a hive later in the summer of fall the bees won't survive, and you honestly won't find a supplier to get you bees anyway. Next, read books and watch a lot of YouTube. Three books you must read:
- Homegrown Honey Bees by Alethea Morrison – Alethea gives a newbie view of beekeeping and keeps the hype and nonsense out of it. This is my top pick if you're going to do this.
- Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum – Great overview of the crazy adventure you're getting into.
- Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston – This gives you a play by play of beekeeping. At most libraries.
YouTube Channels to check out
- LDS Prepper – This guy is insanely helpful. He has 35+ videos just for beekeeping, his other videos are awesome too.
- WallsBeeMan – Solid guy and has so much info.
- FatBeeman – Hilarious guy who always has students in his beeyard. Must watch.
- Watch the live feed of when I installed my two hives here (32Min). And here is an update I recently did for a friend on twitter here (2Min).
Did you read all those books? And watch hours of YouTube? If so, then you know all about the equipment you need to buy and that attending a beekeeping club in your area is a really good idea. Personally I haven't attended a club but the local bee shops in Denver have been super helpful. Have more questions? Hit me up on twitter @adam_buchanan and follow the progress of my bees on Twitter and Instagram at #BuchananBees. I've only been doing this a couple months and while I'm not an expert I'm well on my way, and so are you.