The phenomenal attention honey bees have received over the past year due to Colony Collapse Disorder has, indeed, garnered a huge influx of people to the ranks of I want to learn more about beekeeping. If thats you, I want to encourage you to follow up on that urge right now because this is the perfect time of year to get started keeping bees.
The very first thing you need to decide is ... Do I have the time required to be a responsible caretaker of my bees?
Having bees in the backyard is no different than being responsible for any other animal, whether a pet cat or dog, or farm animals like chickens or horses. They need basic care ... food, water, shelter, preventative health care, protection from the elements, each other, pests and diseases, vandals and any other unnecessary stress in their lives. That takes time, some money, and energy. You must have all three if you want any animal in your life.
How much time will it take is probably the most often asked question? For two hives in your back yard, on your roof top or at a friends farm my answer is to figure that it will take more time than you need to properly care for your cat, but less time than needed to take good care of your dog. Dogs need attention everyday, several times a day. Not so with cats. Bees ... well, a good way to look at the seasonal requirements beekeeping will require is much like looking at the seasonal requirements your garden requires.
First-time Beekeeping, Through the Seasons
You will be busy in the spring getting your colony off to a good start for the season ... feeding if needed, adding room, re-queening perhaps, starting new colonies from "splits," packages or nucs (well go over the vocabulary later, so dont worry), taking care of any health issues, and generally getting your colony up to speed and ready for the summer ahead.
During the summer the work slows down as the colony grows in size by itself (one hopes), collects its crop of honey and pretty much takes care of itself, with only a little help from you by adding room as needed, preventing little problems from becoming bigger problems, making timely harvests, and checking up to ensure all is as it should be. Just like the garden.
Come late summer or autumn, you gather the rest of the bounty of your bees, again check for health issues and prepare the colony for winter. Your garden, too, offers much of its bounty in the fall, (but like bees, provides all summer long if you take the time to harvest). Like hives, gardens need attention after frost, to weed and remove residue removal, prepare soil, and put bedding down for the winter.
If that sort of schedule fits your lifestyle then perhaps keeping bees is for you. Theres more of course... how much room you need, whether your neighbors will like your hobby, what equipment to buy, what kind of bees to buy (like dogs and tomatoes, there are different kinds of bees and ones just right for you), how to harvest and process honey, and how to deal with those all-important health issues I mentioned. But they are all doable if you have the time, the energy and the desire to become a very special person ... a beekeeper.
For a good start get a copy of a beekeeping magazine (theres two on the market and either will do for this next task). Contact all of the beekeeping suppliers who advertise and have them send you their catalogs so you know what equipment is available, how much it will cost, and what postage costs will be. You cant buy beekeeping equipment at Wal-Mart or the corner hardware store so you will need to know where to go. Start there ... Ill send you our magazine, Bee Culture, of for free ... just send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor's Note: Kim Flottum is also the author of Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden and contributing editor of The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture, two excellent resources for beekeepers and aspiring beekeepers.]
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