We’ve been beekeeping since 2014 and when we first started out, like all new beekeepers we had to figure out how to start beekeeping. We didn’t have a clue what to do! Over the years we have learned a lot of knowledge from reading, classes, mentors and of course oodles of hands on experience. Here are some tips to help you learn how to start beekeeping too!
This Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping covers all the basics you need to know to help you get started beekeeping. I also answer some of the most common questions I hear from folks interested in starting beekeeping. There is a lot of information in this article but I broke it down into sections to make it easier for you to read through and jump around to the different sections that are more pertinent to you. Good luck and happy beekeeping!
Learning About Beekeeping for Beginners
There are so many resources out there to help folks get started beekeeping. Here’s a list of beekeeping resources that have been helpful to us:
- Take a Class: My husband enrolled in a local adult education course on beekeeping when he first started beekeeping. A few years later the local beekeeping club put on a one day Beginner’s Beekeeping class that I was able to attend. Taking an introductory beekeeping course was so helpful. I learned a TON of information in one day and could ask questions on the spot with lots of knowledgeable people there to help answer questions.
- Read Beekeeping books: My top three favorite beekeeping books are:
1. Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees
2. Beekeeper’s Lab: 52 Family Friendly Activities and Experiments Exploring the Life of the Hive
3. The Benevolent Bee: Capture the Bounty of the Hive Through Science, History, Home Remedies and Craft
- Watch YouTube videos: I prefer to read books, my husband preferred to watch YouTube videos when learning. There are tons of videos out there to help you learn the basics of beekeeping.
- Read articles online: We have a whole section of helpful beekeeping articles on our site with a wide variety of how-to topics to help folks learn how to start beekeeping. I also have a whole Pinterest Board dedicated to Beekeeping so check it out and find helpful beekeeping articles.
- Join a local Beekeeping Club: I did this when I first started beekeeping and it was SO helpful. There are monthly meetings focused on several relevant/seasonal beekeeping topics as well as some hands on “field trips”. There are always knowledgeable beekeepers in the club willing to answer questions and help.
- Find a Beekeeping Mentor: I was able to find a beekeeping mentor through our local beekeeping club. This was really helpful for me to consult with a beekeeping mentor with a lot more experience and knowledge. Mentors often are willing to come out to your beehives and help with hands on beekeeping if needed.
- Practice, Practice, Practice!: Growing up my mom always said “Practice makes perfect!” I don’t know that anyone will ever be a “perfect” beekeeper, but there is something to be said for practicing your skills on a regular basis.
- Join an online Beekeeping community: There are a wide variety of groups on Facebook dedicated to beekeeping. Our local beekeeping club has a Facebook group and there is also a really active Montana Beekeeping Facebook group. These are really helpful places to ask questions, find out who is selling equipment, bees or queens. I like to read the posts in the Facebook group as a way to learn. For example, when someone posts a question about something I haven’t experienced yet I read the post and all the answers in the comments. It helps me to gain knowledge for if/when this issue will arise for me.
- Teach your Kids about beekeeping: The only way for me to teach my kids how to be beekeepers is to learn it myself first! This is a great motivator for me, especially since we homeschool. When we did our dead hive “autopsy” this winter, it was a great learning experience for us all since I was teaching my kids at the same time I was also learning more first hand knowledge and experience.
How to Start Beekeeping for Beginners
Learning how to start beekeeping can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make, supplies and equipment to gather, hives to set up, bees to order and figuring how to care for a bee hive. We’ve totally been there!
To help simplify the process and make it a bit less overwhelming, I’m going to break it down into clear, actionable steps to help you get started with beekeeping. Once you figure it out, it is an amazing backyard hobby!
1. Where to Place Your Beehive:
Deciding on a location for a bee hive is the first step before you order bees or gather supplies and equipment. Why? You may discover that your HOA, neighborhood covenants, or town ordinances restrict placement of beehives at your location.
Once you ensure there are no laws or rules against beekeeping in your back yard, assess the space you have to determine the best location for a beehive. It’s ideal to have the bee hive face east and be in a location where there is full sun or mostly full sun throughout the day if you live in a cooler climate like we do in Montana.
Bee hives are best placed in an out-of-the-way location in your yard so they are not disturbed. If you are placing your bee hive near a property line, be mindful of what your neighbor is doing nearby. Placing your bee hive on the property line just on the other side of the fence of your neighbor’s hot tub might create some conflict and unhappy neighbors!
Here’s a helpful article with more tips on proper placement of beehives to help you figure out the best location for your hives.
2. Compare Nucs and Package Bees
We’ve been beekeeping since 2014 and have purchased both package bees and nucs of bees. Both nucs and package bees have their pros and cons so you will need to decide what you prefer and what is a better fit for your needs and your budget.
Here is our article comparing nucs vs package bees. This article explains what each type is and the pros and cons of nucs and package bees. I also explained which type we prefer and why to help you make an informed decision.
3. Order Honey Bees
Once you decide if you prefer nucs or package bees, it’s important to get your bees ordered early enough that the suppliers in your region don’t sell out. Apiaries that sell nucs and package bees in our region of western Montana typically open up pre-orders and waiting lists in late winter. Some apiaries will have a set amount of nucs or package bees available to sell and once their list of buyers is full, that’s it and they are sold out for the season.
How do you find where to buy nucs or package bees? Our local beekeeping club sent out a list of options for buying nucs and package bees. I’ve also seen apiaries advertising on Craigslist, Facebook and local beekeeping Facebook groups.
Word of mouth is also a great option if you know of any beekeepers in your area. We have experience buying nucs and package bees from several different suppliers, some of these experiences were great and others not so much!
4. Gather Beekeeping Supplies, Tools, Equipment and Clothing
Now that you have a location figured out for your beehive and ordered bees, you need to gather the rest of the supplies and equipment you will need for beekeeping.
We have a whole article dedicated to explaining all the must have beekeeping supplies, tools, equipment and clothing a beginner beekeeper will need.
Buying all the supplies you need to start beekeeping can be a big expense. To save money, you can often find second hand supplies and beekeeping suits for sale in local sale ads on Craigslist, local beekeeper clubs or beekeeping Facebook groups.
You can also try to save money by building your own beehives. Here’s our article on how we saved quite a bit of money by building our Langstroth bee hives and frames.
5. Install honey bees in a new bee hive
When the day finally arrives that your honey bees are ready for pick up, make sure you have your bee hive set up in the location you want and have your beekeeping tools ready.
Installing a Nuc: If you are buying a nuc of honey bees, here’s our article on how to install a new nuc in a honey bee hive. This will show you step by step instructions on how we install our new nucs in our bee hives.
Installing a package of bees: If you are buying a package of honey bees, here’s our article on how to hive a package of honey bees in a Langstroth bee hive.
6. Do Regular Bee Hive Checks
Once your honey bees are in their new bee hive, it’s important to go back and do a hive check in another week or two. You want to look for the queen, make sure she is healthy and laying fresh brood.
In the nine years we’ve been beekeeping, we’ve had a couple new queens that weren’t laying properly and needed to be replaced by the apiary so it’s important to do this first hive check.
If you’re not sure what to look for when doing a hive check, here’s our article on a look inside a honey bee hive. This shows pictures of honey bee brood and stages of growth and development to help you learn what is “normal” and what is not.
After the initial hive check, you can do a hive check about every two to three weeks. You don’t want to go into the hives too often because it disturbs the bees and could cause them to swarm.
It’s important to monitor the hives, look for queen cells which tells you that your hive may be getting ready to swarm or your queen is not in the best of health.
To learn more about what exactly to look for when doing a hive check, here’s an in-depth article explaining how to do a bee hive inspection.
7. Keep a Beekeeping Journal
A few years ago, someone in the local beekeeping club suggested keeping a beekeeping journal so I gave it a try. It is so helpful! I use a plain lined notebook and make an entry for each hive visit I do and any other important things to note.
After I go out to the bee hives, I write down the date, what I saw in the hives, any observations like queen cells or concerns to follow up with next time.
This helps me to track the health of the hive and make sure I follow up on any issues that I noted in the previous hive check. If I notice that the queen isn’t laying as much fresh brood, I will definitely need to follow up on the next hive check in two weeks and potentially re-queen the hive.
8. Harvest honey from bee hives
In our area of western Montana, the time to harvest honey is late summer through early fall. Honey bees need at least 100 pounds of honey left in their bee hive to survive through the winter.
If you have a new bee hive that was started in the spring, the honey bees may not have had enough time to build out new comb and store enough honey for the winter. Or maybe they stored enough honey to feed the honey bees through winter but not enough honey for you to harvest.
The amount of honey bees are able to produce and store is also influenced by the weather and availability of forage. During a drought year, the honey bees produce less honey because there’s less forage available.
At our old homestead, we were surrounded by hundreds of acres of irrigated alfalfa fields so our honey bees had an abundance of forage and produced epic amounts of honey.
If your honey bees produce enough honey to feed their colony AND allow you to harvest honey, that’s wonderful! But this doesn’t happen every year so keep this in mind.
If you do have enough honey to harvest in your bee hives, here is our article explaining how we harvest honey from our bee hives.
How much does it cost to start beekeeping?
The costs to start beekeeping can vary widely. If you buy all new equipment, clothing, tools and supplies then add in the expense of buying honey bees you are looking at well over $500 to start beekeeping. This estimate is only for one bee hive. If you want to start with two bee hives, the cost estimate is $850 or more.
There are ways to cut the initial costs when starting beekeeping. We built our Langstroth bee hives for $17 and also made our frames which saved us quite a bit of money. My husband also made his beekeeping tool box out of scrap wood to organize our supplies for doing hives checks.
You can also buy used beekeeping suits and tools from folks who decided to stop beekeeping. Be especially careful about buying used bee hive boxes and frames since these can harbor diseases if a previous honey bee colony had an illness.
Here’s an article with more information about how to properly assess and clean used beekeeping equipment and supplies.
How many acres do you need for beekeeping?
In an ideal world, having acreage for your honey bees to forage would be wonderful. But not everyone who wants to be a beekeeper has land or even a large yard. And that’s ok!
There are beekeepers keeping bee hives on the rooves of skyscrapers in busy cities. If you don’t believe me, check out this article from the Bee Culture online magazine about roof top bee hives in the city. I was amazed when I first read about this a few years ago.
Honey bees will travel up to three miles from their bee hive to collect nectar and pollen. That’s how honey bee hives can be located in a tiny yard or on top of a city skyscraper.
If you have a small backyard space to put a beehive then you can still be a beekeeper. Your honey bees will likely be flying a lot further than your property to look for forage but that’s normal.
We can’t track the movements of all of our honey bees, but I’m pretty sure they visit our neighbor’s fruit trees and gardens and don’t just stay on our couple acres of land.
How many bee hives should a beginner beekeeper start with?
It’s commonly recommended for beginner beekeepers to start with two bee hives. Too many bee hives can be a bit overwhelming and a lot to manage when you are just learning and figuring out the ins and outs of being a beekeeper.
Having two bee hives gives you the opportunity to compare the bee hives when you are doing hive checks. There may be slight differences you may notice between the hives. For example, if one queen is laying an odd brood pattern you might not know this is concerning unless you saw a healthy brood pattern in the other bee hive.
We typically get two new nucs every year and I always compare the two hives and document it in my beekeeping journal. One hive always tends to be stronger than the other which is important since a weak hive may not make it through winter and will end up a dead out hive.
Do Beekeepers get stung by honey bees?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I’m a beekeeper! My answer? Not unless it’s my fault!
When I first started beekeeping, I used to be pretty freaked out about getting stung with thousands of honey bees swarming around us at the bee hives. Then I learned to trust the protective beekeeping suit I was wearing. The bees can land on my suit, crawl on it, even crawl on the screen right in front of my face but they can’t sting me. Well, unless you make a stupid mistake like I did that one time….
In 2021, I was out at the bee hives doing a hive check by myself. My husband was at work and my kids were in the middle of another project. The top super of the bee hive was heavy and I was having a hard time lifting it up. I leaned in to get more leverage and didn’t even realize what I was doing until it was too late. As I leaned in, my knee pressed against the side of the bee hive. I squished several honey bees and their stingers right through my protective bee suit. Ouch did that hurt!!
That was a painful learning experience for me that year. My kids almost always come out to the beehives with me wearing their protective beekeeping suits. They have not been stung through their protective suits and gloves and have also learned to trust the protection of their beekeeping suits.
How to Start Beekeeping if You’re Afraid of Bees
Would you believe me if I told you I used to be terrified of being a beekeeper? When my husband started beekeeping in 2014, I loved the idea of it but was adamant I couldn’t go out to the hives with him.
I’m not afraid of a single bee, or even two bees for that matter, but thousands of bees swarming around me? No way was I up for that!! My anxiety skyrocketed just thinking about having that many bees around me.
I loved to look at pictures my husband took of inside our bee hives when he did hive checks. I loved hearing him tell me about what he saw, explaining their life cycles, and helping to harvest honey.
My husband kept encouraging me to come out to the bee hives with him and explained there wasn’t anything to be afraid of because the bees couldn’t sting me through a beekeeping suit. I still said NO WAY! I was too terrified of the mass amount of honey bees.
The longer my husband was a beekeeper, the more I really wanted to join him at the bee hives. If I could just get over my fear of all the honey bees!
Some of you may not know this, but I’m also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and have worked as a mental health therapist. So I know a few things about how the mind works and how to try to change thought patterns and behavior.
So I decided to put my best mental health therapist skills to work on myself with the goal of one day being able to shift my way of thinking and be able to feel confident and safe about going out to the bee hives.
And guess what? It worked!! In 2018 I went out to the bee hives with my husband and I absolutely loved it. I was a little nervous at first but used some simple calming techniques to rein in my anxiety, mellow out and enjoy being out at the bee hives in my protective beekeeping suit.
The following year, I became the primary beekeeper in our family and started teaching our children how to be beekeepers. I talked with our kids about what to expect at the bee hives, how to trust your protective beekeeping suit and not be terrified of all the honey bees swarming around you.
I’m living proof that it’s possible for someone who was terrified of thousands of honey bees to become a beekeeper and actually fall in love with the hobby!
Now if you have a severe allergic reaction to honey bee stings, this is probably not the best choice of backyard hobby for you!
How to Start a Bee Hive Without Buying Honey Bees
Is it possible to start beekeeping and have a bee hive without buying honey bees? You bet! This is done by capturing a swarm of honey bees.
Capturing a honey bee swarm takes some luck in finding one, but if you put the word out and advertise you are willing to come capture a honey bee swarm then you are more apt to find one.
We captured a honey bee swarm a few years ago at a neighbor’s house. Here’s our article on how to capture a honey bee swarm which explains the process.
You can also set up what are called swarm traps or bait traps for honey bees. This is where you take a bee hive with frames inside and put in a honey bee bait or scent. The swarm trap is then placed in a location 6-15 feet off the ground so any honey bees scouting a location for a new hive may find it.
We’ve set up a couple swarm traps the last few years but have yet to capture a swarm that way. It doesn’t cost me anything to do it so I set them up every year on the off chance luck will be on our side and we’ll get one!
If you want to learn more about how to set up a swarm trap, here’s an article on how to build a bee swarm trap.
The Beekeeping Learning Continues
This Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping covers a lot of information but not EVERYTHING you need to know about beekeeping. There is so much to learn but starting out with the basics is key.
One thing you will likely discover in the world of beekeeping is that there is no one way to do things. We found this a little frustrating in our early days of beekeeping. One beekeeper gave us advice about how to manage our hives, then another beekeeper gave us a different opinion and then I heard even more variations of opinions at the local beekeeping club.
What I learned to do was gather information, listen to opinions, try out various techniques and decide which was the best fit for our style of beekeeping.
I even eventually shifted my philosophy about why I’m a beekeeper which I wrote about in this article about beekeeping to help the honey bee pollinators.
Are you a beginner beekeeper and have more questions about how to start beekeeping? Ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!