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beekeeper extracting a frame full of honey and bees Getting Started with Beekeeping
by Kathleen Roberts

 
Getting started with beekeeping is a great way to explore alternative livestock if you are starting on the road to self-sufficiency. Bees are easy to get started and the results of your efforts can be very rewarding. Winter is ideal for getting your equipment and learning the basic care of a bee colony. There are a few things you need to know before you start, however.

You likely already know that a beehive is the box used to house your colony of bees, and you know a bee suit and veil are the protective clothing you wear when tending to your bees. Some more experienced beekeepers may not use protective clothing, but for beginners, it is absolutely recommended -- especially if you aren't sure if you have an allergy to bee stings.

Brood is the term for eggs, larvae and pupae of bees that are still growing in their cells: the individual holes in the comb. The queen is the mother of the whole hive. She is the only bee that lays eggs. Other bees are called drones (males from unfertilized eggs) and workers (females whose reproductive organs do not completely develop). Each plays an important role in the hive.

Your first step should be to join a beekeeping club or group that will help you get started with beekeeping. Usually you can locate beekeeping groups by calling your local County Extension Office. This is the first thing you should do for a few reasons. You'll have the opportunity to take classes and attend meetings that will teach you what need to know to get started. You'll also have the benefit of others' experience; if you encounter a problem or have a question, you'll have a list of experts who can help you. Finally, you'll learn the laws concerning beekeeping in your location. Some states require that all hives be registered and periodically inspected. You need to be sure you are in compliance or you may run into problems down the road.

The next step is to order your bees and equipment. It is best to purchase as much as possible in new condition. Used equipment may carry disease that could infect your bees. You can also build much of what you need yourself, if you are so inclined.

honeybees gathering nectar A basic hive consists of an outer cover or lid, an inner cover (a board that lies just under the outer cover), a honey super with frames for storing honey, and a queen excluder which separates the queen from the rest of the colony. Only worker bees can get to the queen. A brood chamber -- also called a deep super -- is another part of the hive. As the name implies, this is where the brood is kept, as well as winter stores of food. The floor of the hive is called the bottom board. It should be placed on a sturdy hive stand that keeps the entire setup elevated off the ground.

You'll also need to get a smoker to calm the bees while you are tending to them, as well as the protective clothing mentioned earlier. A hive tool (get more than one) is also important to have. It will be used for various things while you care for your new charges. More costly equipment, such as an extractor -- which is used to remove honey from the combs -- is often shared by groups of beekeepers.

Ideally, you should start out with a purchased package of bees from a reputable bee supply company. This will help assure that your bees are healthy. Most bee supply companies offer a beginner's package that will provide almost everything you need to get going. The
 
package contains a few pounds of bees, as well as a queen contained in a small cage of her own. The cage allows the bees to get to know their new queen without killing her. By the time your package arrives, the bees will have accepted her. There is also a feeder can of syrup for the bees to eat while in transit. Once the bees are in their new home, they will eat away the plug on the queen's cage, releasing her into the colony to begin the important task of running the hive.

This is a very basic overview on getting started with beekeeping. If this sounds like an exciting adventure to you, you are ready to learn more! Educate yourself as much as possible and you will find that beekeeping is fairly simple, fun, rewarding and will provide you with an abundance of wonderful bee products. Be careful -- you may find yourself hooked on honey bees!

Once you get started with beekeeping, Learn how to Make Mead  and Make Candles with Unrefined Beeswax