If you have a keen or tentative interest in keeping bees and producing honey then there are some basics you need to know to ensure you are set up for success.
Environment is everything in more ways than one. We need Bees for our environment; we also need the right environment for our Bees. From a compliance stand point to ensure we understand our responsibilities as a beekeeper and so we don’t upset our neighbours more than normal. Of course we need to ensure the best opportunity for your bees to flourish as a healthy colony of productive, disease and pest free honey makers. You don’t need to have the “right trees” or flowers on your property, bees will forage up to 4 or 5 kilometres and will need to visit millions of flowers to collect the nectar and pollen needed to produce enough to feed themselves, their keepers and keepers friends and family or customers. Being near forest, on acreage is not necessary and urban environments can still provide good havens for productive beehives. In Australia, north facing with plenty of early sun and some shade from the mid day sun is a good place to start and ideally a good 5-10m away from neighbouring fences is recommended. Consult your council policies to be sure as they vary from state to state.
Did you know that one hive can produce from 50-240 kilograms of honey in a season?
If you are selling your honey – you will pay for your hive in your first or second season of production.
How to get started in Beekeeping?
- You will need the following basics to get things going and we’ll break it down to the Hive itself; the equipment needed to efficiently work the hive; and what you will need to manage the health of the bees, harvest the honey, wax and honey comb and cleanly process the honey and comb with minimal waste and damage to the bees.
- Hive Boxes, Frames, Foundation Wax, Hive Base, Hive lid, Queen Excluder, Smoker, Hive Tool, Bee Suit or Veil, Beekeeping Gloves, Bees (of course) including a mated Queen, Beetle Traps, a hive stand of a sort, honey containers, strainers, capping tray.
Hive Box with a Base Board, Frames (Timber or Plastic) for the Bees to build comb on a roof. Your initial hive will be your brood box where the queen bee will live and lay eggs, whilst the workers and nurse bees develop the brood into a larger colony.
There are many tools, parts and accessories which are designed to make your beekeeping less problematic and more enjoyable. Every mistake has already been made, so it’s unlikely you will be inventing new problems. If there is a piece of equipment on the market, it is generally of use but it is down to the individual and the scale of beekeeping which really dictates how much you spend.
There is nothing like a good reference book to have on hand to show you the ropes. Beekeeping hasn’t really changed much at all in the hundreds of years humans have kept them. The bees are still the bees, so it’s really a matter of the equipment and the use of it, which has changed – you will want to join your local Bee Club which is always your best start in life as a beekeeper, but if one is not nearby, a good book and bit of google and youtube will go a long way. There are now a lot of Facebook and social media groups with plenty of information and forums so there should be no issues finding what you need.
The Bees will be obtained from a friend, a local supplier of bees, normally in a small 3-6 frame nucleus (Nuc) hive which you will introduce into your new brood box. Or catch a swarm!! This Nuc should include a mated queen, some eggs, some larvae and a couple of frames of honey. In most parts of Australia, you’ll want to be prepared for the Small Hive Beetle which will likely invade your hive – you’ll want a beetle management system of some sort to allow the hive to grow strong enough to be able to manage these pests which have the potential to destroy a hive, if not managed early on.
You can generally get fully kitted out from $600.00 to $800.00 including your hives, your bees and basic (necessary) kit up to an Easy Beekeeper Kit. Generally subject to the availability of bees which range from $154-$240 – bees or nucleus hives are generally speaking sold separately.
You’ll want to monitor your hive regularly – a few beetles is okay and a growing colony of bees will manage these critters, however intervention with beetle traps of which there are many kinds is important particularly with a new hive or weakened colony for any reason.
Once you have established a strong colony – (normally getting well into summer if you started your hive in Spring) – you are now ready to put the next box on top of the brood box. This is referred to as the Honey Super and is where the magic will happen. With a Queen Excluder placed between to two boxes, the Honey Super is now where only wax and honey will be produced and eventually collected.
You will have purchased some tools by now, having inspected your brood box – bare minimum you will already have a smoker, a hive tool, veil or bee suit and gloves by this point. The more you get into this, the more you realise that the kitchen bread knife, the rice strainer and welding gloves don’t cut it and for a small investment you can have an efficient, clean and hopefully sting free first harvest with a small investment in the right gear. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to get it right and make it enjoyable to keep bees every step of the way.
Harvesting your first Honey:
Whilst nothing beats that first flow of honey off the knife into the strainer, the novelty of harvesting honey with stuff gathered from around the shed and hijacked from the kitchen, soon wears thin, and you will want your time spent efficiently for the sake of your time and enjoyment; and for the sake of the bees.
A horsehair bee brush, an uncapping fork, a capping knife, a good strainer, some food grade containers will cover you to make life easier. The first frame of honey and the last frame of honey will have the same enjoyment of extraction and it’s when you get to two or more hives that Honey Spinners/Extractors and wax processing systems start to enter your mind to make processing more efficient and faster.
Getting things in stages will help if you are on a budget and if you work with your local beekeeping equipment supplier to advise and plan for the next steps, then this will help with progress. The basics can cover it and it’s when you increase hive numbers that you’ll want to improve efficiencies and make your life and that of the bees easier. Take your time and keep reading and listening as you will pick up ideas from even the newest of bee keepers.