Today, August 17, is National Honeybee Day!
The theme this year for National Honeybee Day is “Beekeeping – Ask Me How to Get Started.” I started beekeeping only three years ago, so I’m a relative newbee, but I’ve found it to be a pretty simple hobby. Of course, I’m a fairly hands-off beekeeper, letting my bees do their thing and only going into the hives a few times a year (once or twice in spring to check on them, one or two times during the summer to gather honey, and maybe once in the fall to consolidate the hive for winter); I don’t feed sugar water (I did this only with my first package of bees for the first couple of months after installing them in their hive – I prefer to leave them with enough honey to feed themselves, instead) and I don’t treat for mites or other diseases, preferring instead to allow my hives to use their natural defenses and build up their own genetic resistance.
The initial cost of setting up a hive is pretty expensive (I think I paid around $300 for my first hive, package of bees, and beekeeping gear, and around $150 each for my next two hives), but after that, there is very little money involved, and if you sell your honey, you can easily make back your initial investment in just a couple of years! I don’t recommend harvesting honey the first year, to allow the bees to build up their stores, but the second year you should be able to harvest at least a few gallons from each hive. Last year was my first year harvesting, and I did two small harvests of two gallons each, from only one of my hives. This year has been a notoriously bad year for honey in California, due to the very little rainfall we received during the winter and spring (meaning a short bloom season for native flowers), PLUS I had a hive recovering from a mold problem, and I still was able to get a small harvest of almost three gallons from a single one of my hives (the recovering hive I’ve left alone, and it’s really bounced back!, and the third hive was new this year, so I’ve left it alone as well).
Spring is the best time of year to start a new hive (while technically you could start one now, and may even be able to catch a small swarm this time of year, the later in the season you start the less likely your colony will survive the winter). However, if you’re interested in beginning beekeeping, now is a great time to begin learning as much as you can before getting started! I strongly recommend doing your research before you’ve got a new colony of several hundred to several thousand bees to manage. There are countless books and blogs dedicated to the subject, and no matter where you live you’ll probably find a beekeeping group full of members who will be eager to help you get started (in my experience, beekeepers are an enthusiastic group, very willing to mentor those new to the hobby).
Listed below are some of the resources I’ve found useful and/or entertaining. And if you have any other questions about beekeeping or my hives, please don’t hesitate to comment on this post – I love talking bees!
Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees by Richard E. Bonney and Malcolm T. Sanford
Beekeeping in Coastal California by Jeremy Rose
Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley
Mountain Feed and Farm Supply in Ben Lomond, CA (If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend Mountain Feed if you’re interested in any kind of homesteading activity!)