If you’re curious about keeping honeybees, deciding how to start a beehive might feel a little overwhelming.
You need to know a lot of information and preparation to be done before you can bring bees home. While it might seem daunting, you’re one of many new beekeepers embarking on this incredible journey.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about starting a beehive and keeping honeybees in your backyard.
How to Start a Beehive
A crucial part of being a successful beekeeper is getting the foundation to start out right.
A lot goes into adequately preparing yourself before you buy any equipment or bees, and you don’t want to take shortcuts.
Research Is Everything
The most important thing about beekeeping is to learn as much as you possibly can first. Plan to spend a long time researching everything before you jump into it. Some beekeepers will even take a full year or more before they feel ready to start.
Remember that while they’re “just bugs,” honeybees are intelligent and complex creatures that will rely on you to keep them happy and healthy. This is the same for any livestock under your care.
Read as much as you possibly can! There are so many amazing books out there for beginners that will help you feel more confident about beekeeping.
Watch videos so you can see visually what different parts of the process look like in action. This can make a big difference once you get started.
Be aware that there are infinite ways to keep bees. Soak up as much knowledge as you can to decide which methods will make the most sense for your apiary.
A great place to get started is a beginner beekeeping course that will cover all the basics of how to start a beehive. These courses can be online or in person, and they’re a comprehensive introduction to the world of beekeeping.
It’s also a great opportunity to make sure beekeeping is for you before you attempt to start a beehive on your own.
Find Local Resources
The best way to be confident and comfortable around bees is to get as much hands-on experience as possible.
Chances are there’s a local beekeeping club in your area that can be a huge help. They’re more common than you think! You can find tons of great information from other beekeepers in your community.
This is especially important because beekeeping changes depending on the area and climate. Local beekeepers will know what works best near you and what to expect when you start a beehive.
Even the plants in bloom where you live will have an impact on your beehive, and locals will have experience with nectar flows.
Having a more experienced mentor is one of the best resources you can get. A mentor can bring you along on their hive inspections so you can get lots of practice and experience.
They’re also someone who can look at your hives and help you through any problems you might encounter once you start a beehive.
Important Equipment You Need to Start a Beehive
There’s no way around it: you’ll need to have the proper equipment for your bees before diving in to start a beehive.
Being unprepared because you’re missing something important can cause major problems, so plan ahead to make sure you have what you need.
While it feels like a lot of equipment, there are all kinds of different options so you can find items that will work best for you.
You’ll, of course, need a hive for your bees to live in. There are many types of beehives, but the most common you’ll find is called a Langstroth. This is best to start with because it will be the easiest to find information on, replace supplies, and get help if needed.
A beehive mainly consists of hive bodies, frames, an entrance, and a lid.
The bees will build wax comb on the frames to raise new bees and store resources, like honey. The entrance helps them keep their colony safe from intruders and also ensures they have adequate ventilation. The lid keeps the entire hive closed and secure.
You’ll also need a hive tool, smoker, and smoker fuel to help you during inspections. Smoke keeps the bees calmer and interrupts alarm pheromones. Pro tip: practice getting and keeping your smoker lit before you get your bees, it can be challenging when you first start a beehive.
The hive tool is necessary to pry apart hive components that get glued together with propolis.
New beekeepers especially should start with protective equipment. Hive inspections go more smoothly if you feel comfortable enough to really take your time and stay calm.
If you eventually prefer less protection, that’s okay, but it’s best to start with as much coverage as possible while you get the hang of things.
A feeder will ensure your new bees have the energy they need to start building their hive. Plain white sugar dissolved in a 1:1 ratio by weight with water is a good way to feed your bees in the spring.
Think ahead to checking and treating for mites. You can find testers to help you determine if you have mites, and many different treatment types are available. Have a mite plan in place before it becomes a problem!
Don’t worry about harvesting honey yet, even if that’s why you want to learn how to start a beehive. It’s very common for beekeepers not to get any honey for the first year or longer, and you can always borrow an extractor or harvest manually if you get lucky.
For now, focus on gathering all the items you need to start a beehive and take good care of your bees.
How to Get Bees to Start a Beehive
Now you have all the equipment, but how do you get the bees?
There are a few different ways to acquire honeybees to populate your hive. You can purchase a package or nucleus colony or catch a wild swarm.
Bee packages are probably the most common way for beginner beekeepers to start a beehive.
A package usually contains about 3 pounds of bees, or about 10,000 bees.
Inside the package will be a can of sugar water to keep them fed during their journey to you. Attached to the can is a queen cage, a small container that keeps the mated queen inside with a few workers to take care of her.
One end of her cage has a cork in it, and the other has a candy plug. This is so your bees can get more used to the queen as they slowly eat through the candy plug to release her. The queen is from a different colony, so they need this time to accept her into the hive.
You can buy packages locally or have them shipped to you, but shipping is a bit riskier for them.
To get package bees in the hive, you’ll first need to remove the queen cage and set it aside somewhere safe.
Tap the package to get all the bees in one spot, then open up the hive and carefully shake the bees in. Strap the queen cage to a center frame and close the hive. Check back a few days to a week to ensure the queen has been released.
A nucleus colony, or “nuc”, is basically a very small established colony.
Unlike in a package, the queen and the other bees are already part of the same colony and don’t need time to accept each other. Some beekeepers prefer nucs because it gives your bees a bit of a head start.
Nucs can be more expensive than packages, but many people believe the benefits are worth it to start a beehive right.
Nucs typically have to be acquired locally. Installing a nuc is easy. Just transfer the nuc frames into your hive and close it up.
The last way to get bees and start a beehive is to catch a swarm in your area.
Bees swarm when they need to find a new place to live, and you can sometimes spot a swarm or lure one to your hive.
Swarms are great because they’re free, but you don’t know anything about their origins or health status. This is still a great option as long as you’re prepared to assess their health and act accordingly.
You can lure bees directly into a prepared hive, or catch them in a box and carefully pour the bees in to start a beehive. Make sure the queen is inside when you’re done.
Enjoy Your New Beehive!
This is just a place to begin learning how to start a beehive, and there’s so much more to explore. Beekeeping is a very rewarding hobby but be prepared to have questions as you go. It’s well worth it to start a beehive the right way so you’re ready for anything.
To get even more details about honey bees, we have all the information you need!
- About the Author
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Hope Schwartz-Leeper is an avid reader, writer, and lover of all things nature with degrees in English and Philosophy.
Born and raised in the Northeast, Hope has always had an affinity for spending time outside. Growing up and attending college in New York, then living on Cape Cod and finally settling in Rhode Island has given her plenty of experience with the climate and environment of these areas.
She loves growing her own food and plants and is always trying to grow something new. She’s hoping her apple trees will one day bear fruit, but for now she’s excited about anything that comes from the garden.