The fourth step is to make sure your neighbors do not pose a threat to your bees. Insecticides and herbicides are harmful – and often deadly – to honeybees. While you may not use these toxins on your property, your neighbors might. There is no way to completely eliminate this threat. Honeybees are known to forage as far as five miles from their hive! You have no control over such a large area. But it is a good idea to talk to your closest neighbors about not using poisons on their property or, at least, minimizing the impact by spraying at night when bees are not foraging and by spraying only the leaves and stems and avoiding the flowers. If you belong to an HOA, you should talk to them too. Every little bit helps.
The second step toward becoming a beekeeper is to research local regulations – including HOA rules – to learn about any restrictions regarding your hives. It is possible that beehives are prohibited in some areas, there might be a limit to the number of hives you can have, or you might need to install them some distance from the property line or behind a tall fence. You might be required to register your hives and there could be an impact on your property liability insurance. On the positive side, in some areas, there could be tax benefits to adding this agricultural activity to your property. If you took your beekeeping class from a local organization, they might have covered these issues and your local beekeeping club can help as well.
Much of what we have said here will be covered in an introductory class. And, as you will find, there are differences of opinion. It’s often said that if you ask 10 beekeepers the same question, you’ll get 12 different answers. It is also said that regardless of what beekeeper’s do, “bees are gonna do what bees are gonna do”. We have found both of these statements to be true – and that’s part of what makes beekeeping so much fun.
The first step toward becoming a successful beekeeper is to join a local beekeeping club and take a beekeeping class. Many clubs offer classes annually to both members and non-members. Some are in-person and offer hands-on training, others are virtual. Some are done in one or two long days, others are spread out over several weeks. The classes will give you most of the information you need to get started. This is also a good time to subscribe to a beekeeping publication like American Bee Journal to help you keep up with the current science surrounding beekeeping.
The third step is to consider the area around your hives to ensure that your bees do not pose a danger to your neighbors. Talk to your neighbors about what you are planning. Find out if anyone nearby is severely allergic to bee stings. You might have to provide some education about bees and explain that most people who get stung by a “bee” have really been stung by a wasp. Foraging honeybees rarely sting. They save that for defending the hive. If your neighbors have swimming pools, fountains, or bird baths, make sure you provide a water source for your bees closer to the hive, so they do not visit your neighbors in search of water. A few thousand bees around a pool will cause tension between neighbors! And of course, offer your neighbors a jar or two of your honey harvest!
Image Credit: Loudoun Beekeepers Association
Image Credit: Loudoun Beekeepers Association
Become a Beekeeper
Being a member of a beekeeping club ensures that your training doesn't end when the introductory class is over. Most clubs hold periodic educational meetings to improve your knowledge and skills and to share local information. And many provide new beekeepers with an experienced mentor. You will be surprised at how many questions you will have as you start caring for your bees and how confusing the information in books or online can be. So, having someone to call for advice can be the difference between the success and failure of your hives. Some clubs have equipment for extracting and bottling honey that you can borrow. They might provide an outlet for selling your honey and other hive products. And many will manage the purchasing of bees for club members.
You are ready to begin! You should have a list from your class of everything you will need to purchase, including the bees, and a timeline that will allow you to have everything ready when the bees arrive. If you have a mentor they can help you with setting up the hives and installing the bees. Plan to spend a few hours each week with your bees for feeding, inspecting, treating for parasites and diseases as needed, maintaining the area around the hives, and simply observing. It is fun to sample the honey during inspections but you probably will not harvest honey in the first year. New hives need time to grow. But with patience, knowledge, and a little luck, you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest next summer.
One advantage of an in-person class is the people you will meet. While there are certainly beekeepers who work alone, beekeeping is easiest with two people. An extra pair of hands and eyes makes hive inspections and honey harvesting much easier and more fun. So, if you don’t already have a friend to share your beekeeping journey, the class might be a way to find one! Get your family involved too. Beekeeping is an exciting and educational activity for families with children of all ages. You can get fully protective bee suits for children as small as 28 inches tall weighing as little as 22 pounds! The little ones will be fascinated by the bees and enjoy their honey.
From the Summer 2018 Edition of Loudouner Magazine