2017 Spring Home & Garden
Video Magazine

Backyard beekeeping
By Jim Youngquist

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[October 11, 2017]  One of the newest hobbies catching on like wildfire is backyard beekeeping. In our area it was reported that more than 80 new beekeepers bought packages of bees this past May. Beekeeping is a hobby that keeps you learning and rewards your efforts. There is nothing like seeing your own bees succeed, make honey, and contribute to the ecosystem!

Before you take the plunge, there are some things to consider. First, you need to have some basic knowledge before you become a beekeeper. There are literally thousands of youtube videos online on every facet of beekeeping, many of which are aimed at the new beekeeper (if you click on the gear, you can adjust the speed to optimize your time). They are usually short and often are about a single facet of beekeeping. They show you in a hands-on way what to expect and how things are done. There are also many good books written on the subject, and they are a good reference for all the issues you will face. Watch as many videos as you can and check out some of the beekeeping books at your local library before you decide you will become a beekeeper. Since spring is the time you can obtain your bees, then you have all winter to do your research.

Tips for Getting Started in Beekeeping

Second, as a beekeeper you need to expect to get stung by bees (no beekeeper likes to get stung, and you never get used to it). It is not unusual for a beekeeper to get stung at least once a month whether wearing protective gear or not. It comes with the territory! Bees, for the most part are passive, gentle and docile, but they are protective. Your job as a beekeeper is to manage their efforts, keep the hive in order, ward off disease, provide for them when natural supplies are short, and help them be successful. That means that you have to invade their territory and their home, do things that they don’t approve of, and every once in a while cause some of the bees to die an untimely death. None of your tasks are meant to harm them but the bees often take offense. If you can’t stand the idea that you will be stung (and members of your family may be stung too) then maybe beekeeping is not for you.

Happy Bees and Oh Crap I Got Stung... Again

Third, beekeeping may not be popular with your neighbors. A healthy hive may consist of upwards of 30,000 bees. Your bees will go out from the hive into your neighborhood foraging for nectar, pollen, water, and tree sap to support the hive. They will visit your neighbor’s swimming pool or birdbath for water. They will visit your neighbor’s flowers for nectar and pollen. They will visit your neighbor’s pine and poplar trees to collect sap to reinforce the hive. Your decision to become a beekeeper involves your neighbors because they too may get stung (and some of them may be allergic to beestings), so it is best to locate your hives well away from neighboring houses and gardens, and to discuss with your neighbors your plans to bring bees to the neighborhood.

How to be a beekeeper not a bee-haver

Fourth, beekeeping is challenging in this area. It is said that only 40 percent of beehives survive our winters despite best informed efforts. That means if you have three hives, it is likely that you will lose 1 or 2 whole hives each winter. You have to be emotionally prepared for the losses and not take it personally. If we have a harsh winter, then the bees stand the chance of freezing to death in the hive. If we have a mild winter, the bees can be too active, run out of food and starve. Viruses and fungus diseases can kill them when they are stressed. As you do your research watching videos and reading books, you will learn about the various causes of hive death, practices to prevent it, how to propagate new hives, and how to start all over.

(2/19/2017) Nosema Killed My Bees - Explanation

Finally, beekeeping can be expensive. There are things you must buy to be a beekeeper, some you can make, and some other things that are optional. You can easily get carried away (it is often compared to photography because of the costs and depth you can become involved). The first thing you need to decide if you are going to take the plunge is how many hives you are going to start with. Since the winter mortality rate is 40%, then the recommended minimum is to start with two hives. This gives you the chance to compare how the hives are doing, and gives you resources to transfer from hive to hive.

Did My Bees Survive Winter?

It is recommended that you get a ventilated full body suit with veil and gloves to work in the hives, costing about $150 or more.

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You will see videos on youtube of beekeepers who do not wear gloves or suits. Do not follow their example. The result is that they get stung more often (getting stung in the face is a real experience). You will need a smoker, a hive tool, and a brush. These things should cost about $75.00.

Protective Beekeeping Clothing...Part 3 Of Basic Beekeeping

A full hive consists of these wooden parts: a full deep that will serve as the brood box, a medium that will serve as the honey box, a bottom board, an inner cover and a telescoping top cover. Inside the brood box and the honey box are hive frames for the bees to build honeycomb on. The hive boxes should be painted on the outside to prevent rot. A full hive consisting of these parts should cost about $140, but there are plans out there to make your own hives if you choose. Beehives and beekeeping equipment are available locally at Big R in Lincoln.

Beekeeping 101 Hive Components

And, of course, you need to buy bees. There are two ways to purchase a productive hive of bees. You can buy a 3 pound package of bees (there are about 10,000 bees in a 3 pound package) that includes a mated queen for about $130. Packages are generally assembled in the southern states and shipped here. So the bees you receive in a package have no idea what a central Illinois winter is or how to survive the cold.

Sasse’s Apiary has packages of bees for sale in May of each year.

How to install a package of honey bees

Another method of obtaining bees is to buy what is called a “Nuc” from a local beekeeper. A nuc (short for nucleus) includes frames with honeycomb and is a fully functional hive when you receive it. Since it comes from a local beekeeper, it may have a better chance of surviving the local winters. Nucs also run about $130, but may give you a better chance wintering in this area.

Buying A Nucleus Hive Vs Packaged Bees

There are two big payoffs in beekeeping. First there is the satisfaction and learning that you get from having bees and observing them. They are very interesting creatures. Secondly, your hives will produce honey that you can eat, share with your neighbors, or even sell. Beekeeping is cool and can be a real “sweet” hobby.

Flow Hive Honey Harvesting

Read all the articles in our new
2017 Fall Home & Garden Video Magazine

Trellises and Arches for your yard and garden 4
Getting your vegetable and flower gardens ready for winter 8
Best methods for bringing down a tree 11
Simple steps for pouring a concrete walk and pad DIY 15
New windows for your old house 18
How to re-roof your house 22
To dream the impossible dream: The quest for alternative energy 25
Turning that tired piece of furniture into something new and exciting 30
Backyard Chickens 33
Backyard beekeeping 38

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