Keep bees: Beekeeping Basics: How to Raise Honeybees in Your Backyard

Beekeeping Basics: How to Raise Honeybees in Your Backyard

1. Choose the location 

Bees need four things. First, they need sun, or afternoon shade if your weather is hot. Second, they must have access to fresh water near the hive. We used a large plant saucer with stones in the center for the bees to land on and refreshed the water every day. A shallow bubble fountain would work well, too. Third, the hive must be protected from wind, which can blow rain (or snow) into the hive, making it harder for the bees to keep the hive warm. Finally, bees need privacy. Don’t put the hives near high-traffic areas, play areas, swimming pools, or pet areas. Give each hive plenty of space— 50 feet from high-traffic areas is ideal, but if space is limited, position the hive so the entrance is near a tall fence or hedge. This will force their flight path overhead to minimize contact with people and pets. And screening them from view will keep bees and people happy.

2. Prepare the location 

Hives should face south, if possible, and they need to be kept off the ground to protect them from dampness and critters. After clearing the brush and leveling the ground, we poured a cement pad to make care easier.

3. Install the bees 

Spring, when blooming flowers furnish a food supply, is the time to put your bees in their hives. Once you’ve chosen how to buy them, the best bet is to rely on your source for installation instructions.

Here is what happened when we picked up our bees from Randy Oliver at his property in Grass Valley: He gave us an introductory class in beekeeping, showing us how to use the hive tool and the smoker, handle bees, and check for eggs, brood (larvae), and queen—all vital signs of a colony’s health. Randy loaded 5 frames of his gentle hybrid bees and a queen into each of our two brood boxes and sealed the openings by stuffing them with our beekeeping gloves. We used ratchet straps to secure the boxes in the back of our truck. When we got back to Sunset, we positioned the brood boxes in their designated locations and removed the gloves from the entrances. One hive we named Betty; the other, Veronica.

4. Feed the bees 

Young colonies have a lot of work to do—storing pollen and nectar, sealing all the cracks and seams in their new home, and taking care of the queen and new brood. To make their adjustment easier, we fed them a “nectar.” Here is how to make it: Dissolve equal parts granulated sugar and water and use to fill the quart jars. Top with the feeder lids and invert the jars into the holes. The lids should not drip; they should be barely moist. The bees will drink what they need from the lids.

In the beginning, our nucs drank about three-fourths of a quart jar per day. Over the next 3 weeks or so, it tapered off to the point where we realized sugar water was no longer necessary. The bees were finding their nutrition in flowers. Plus, sugar water makes for insipid honey and should not be continued if it is not needed.

5. Inspect the hives inside and out 

Much of beekeeping is simple observation and response. If you are a novice beekeeper, inspect the hive about once a week for a couple of months so that you can learn. Once you feel comfortable, adjust your routine to every two weeks. Make sure the outside of the hive is clean and free of bee poop, the landing board is free of litter, and there are no ants on the hive. Open the hives and check frames for larvae and eggs (on warm days only). If the queen is healthy, you will see plenty of larvae in various stages of development. 

If you don’t see evidence of a healthy queen, consult an expert. Your local beekeeping guild is a good source.

Ultimately, the less often you inspect the hive, the better for its health. Opening the hives and thoroughly checking them requires smoking to keep the bees calm. This stresses the bees and it takes them about a day to recover. As you learn more, you will find you won’t need to pull many frames to know what is going on inside. And you will figure out a lot simply by observing the bees as they come and go from the hive.

6. Check regularly for pests and diseases 

Varroa mites are the pest most typically found in hives. Left unchecked, they can cripple and eventually kill the hive (see Pest Control, below, for hints about checking for mites and mite control). Other pests you need to watch for include the small hive beetle and the wax moth. Diseases you need to be on the lookout for are American and European foulbrood. Early intervention can often mean the difference between a healthy hive and a dead hive.

7. Expand the hive when necessary 

Start with one deep hive body-brood box. When the bees have filled it with 7 or 8 frames of bees and brood, top it with a second brood box. Let the bees build up brood cells in the second brood box, too. When the second brood box is well filled (7 or 8 frames of bees), top it with a queen excluder, if you choose to use one, and, finally, the honey super (the box from which you will collect most of your honey).

PEST CONTROL

Bees are like flying balls of delicate spun sugar filled with honey. Everything wants to eat them. Here are three of the worst pests we battled, and the tactics we used.

Ants 

Argentine ants can kill a hive by robbing honey and eating the brood. We couldn’t spray to kill the ants, since that would also kill the bees. We tried Terro ant bait—little containers filled with boric acid mixed with a sweet substance ants like—with some success. In the end, we were most successful with a physical barrier. We placed each leg of the hive stands in plastic tubs filled with water that the ants could not cross.

Small hive beetles 

Hive beetle larvae will eat all parts of the hive, including the baby bees. We kill the beetles on site, and have been experimenting with traps like AJs Beetle Eater ($5.25) from Dadant.

Varroa mites 

The most damaging pests a beekeeper has to deal with are these mites, as they threaten the survival of a hive once they become established. They suck the blood of adult bees and lay their eggs in brood cells, where their larvae feed off bee babies, infecting them with viruses and weakening and even killing them. To save their bees, beekeepers use a variety of methods:

1. Monitoring 

A 24-hour count of a natural mite fall will give you a good idea of a hive’s infestation. Coat the bottom of your Country Rube board with petroleum jelly or cooking spray (to trap the mites), slide it into the lower part of the bottom board, wait for 24 hours, and then pull it out and count the mites. Anything more than 10 mites per brood box indicates you have a problem.

2. Sugar dusting 

The powdered sugar method lets you both count the mites and control them. Sift powdered sugar, 1 cup per brood box, over the tops of the frames and brush it into the hive. The powdered sugar makes the mites lose their grip on the bees and fall off; plus the bees groom the sugar off their bodies, dislodging more mites. Again, use the bottom board to capture the fallen mites. You should not see more than a few mites 10 minutes after dusting. If there are more, you have a problem.

3. Mite trapping 

Drone frames will also help trap varroa mites. These frames are designed to encourage bees to make drone comb cells, which are larger than worker comb cells. Since varroa mites prefer drone brood 10 to 1, the drone comb makes a great mite trap. Just before the drones hatch (24 days after the eggs were laid), destroy the drone comb (you can freeze it and return it to the hive, or simply cut it out), and replace the drone frame for the next cycle. (Since our queens have already mated and have a lifetime’s supply of sperm inside of them, they do not need the drones in order to reproduce.) 

4. Apiguard 

A gel infused with thymol, made from the oils of thyme plants. It works well, but it makes the honey stored during the treatment taste like mouthwash.

5. Formic acid 

More toxic than thymol, formic acid kills the mites by gassing them. It makes the honey inedible for humans, so it is applied in the fall and winter, when the nectar flow is slow or stopped. You need to wear a respirator when applying it.

For more information on mite control, see the sources listed under Helpful Information, opposite.

HONEY COLLECTiON

We were lucky to collect honey the first summer. Typically, during the first year the bees build up their hive, and if they overwinter well, you can begin harvesting in the late spring or early summer of the second year. Three months after bringing our bees home, we had 4 frames packed with honey, each weighing about 8 pounds. Lacking a professional extractor, we used the following low-tech method. 

1. Cut and crush Using the bench scraper, we cut the honey—wax and all—off the foundation into a bowl, balancing the frame on a wooden spoon set across the bowl like a bridge. Then we used a wooden spoon to crush the honey and wax in the bowl.

2. Straining and settling We poured this slurry of wax and honey through a double layer of cheesecloth and the stainless-steel strainer into our food-grade plastic bucket. Then we left it to drain and settle for a couple of days (bubbles and foam rose to the surface).

3. Bottling We covered the floor with newspapers and got our jars ready. Then we loosened the honey gate (the stopper at the bottom of the bucket) to release the honey into each jar. In went the honey, on went the lids. It was as simple as that. From 4 full frames of honeycomb, we reaped 12 pounds, 10 ounces of honey. We rinsed the leftover wax and froze it. Later, we rendered the wax in a solar wax melter and used it for craft projects like lip balm and hand salve. We had a second surprise harvest later in the summer, bringing our total to about 31 pounds of pure, fragrant honey. 

WHERE TO GET BEES

Packaged bees and caged queen It takes time to build up the colony this way, but it’s the least-expensive choice. You can usually order packaged bees through your local beekeepers’ guild. Preorder as early as the fall and certainly no later than early spring, as bees are only available for a short time in spring. About $65.

Nuc (short for “nucleus”) A nuc is a young hive, usually covering no more than 5 frames of comb, with a newly laying queen. Starting this way helps you get a jump on honey production. Buy from a reputable beekeeper to avoid getting diseased equipment or sick bees. We ordered two nucs from master beekeeper Randy Oliver and drove to his location in Grass Valley, California, to pick them up. $90 for each nuc, queen included;scientificbeekeeping.com.

Well-established swarms or colonies Large colonies can be daunting if you’ve never kept bees before, and beginning beekeepers shouldn’t try to capture a swarm. Leave that to a more experienced beekeeper (contact your local beekeepers’ guild to find such a person), and perhaps he or she will help you start a hive with the captured swarm.

Check out The One Block Feast for more information on Sunset’s beekeeping experience.

A Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping

By

Lauren Arcuri

Lauren Arcuri

Lauren Arcuri Ware is an expert in homesteading, including raising chickens for eggs and meat, keeping bees, growing fruits and vegetables, and preserving.

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Editorial Process

Updated on 04/09/22

Reviewed by

Amanda Rose Newton

Reviewed by
Amanda Rose Newton

Amanda Rose Newton is a pest specialist, reviewing pest control content for The Spruce’s Cleaning Review Board. She is a board-certified entomologist and volunteers for USAIDs Farmer to Farmer program. Currently, she is a professor of Horticulture, an Education Specialist, and pest specialist.

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Review Board

Fact checked by

Sarah Scott

Fact checked by
Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a fact-checker and researcher who has worked in the custom home building industry in sales, marketing, and design.

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The Spruce / Autumn Wood 

If the thought of keeping your own bees appeals to you, read on. We’ll explain the basics of beekeeping for the beginner, whether you’re a backyard beekeeper, homesteader, hobby farmer, or a small farmer looking to start a business selling honey and other bee products. It’s fairly simple to learn how to keep bees.

There are some factors to consider before embarking on a beekeeping adventure, so before you dive in, consider whether keeping bees is right for you.

Study All About Bees

There are lots of books on beekeeping, and learning all you can about these sweet little insects can help you start your hives off on the right foot. Read as much as you can so that when your bees arrive; you’ll be ready to go and know how to keep bees.

Learn How Bees Make Honey

Before you jump in and start ordering supplies, let’s take a step back and understand exactly how a hive works and what bees do. Bees make nests in nature, fly to flowers and extract nectar, then bring the nectar back to the hive and comb, where it slowly becomes honey.

Connect With Your Local Beekeeping Organizations

In beekeeping, some details can be specific to your local area. The nature of beekeeping means that you’ll be most successful if you have strong local resources to draw on: someone to come check your hive or help you find your queen if needed, for example. Reach out and find your local beekeeping association and go to meetings. Some associations offer mentors who can be invaluable in helping you during your first season.

Learn How to Set Up Your Beehive

To keep bees, you need a beehive. In the wild, bees build their own hive, usually in a hollow tree trunk or another sheltered place, but it can be anywhere. As a backyard beekeeper, you will provide a man-made hive for your bees so you can help maintain the colony and easily harvest the honey.

There are a few different choices for the backyard or larger-scale beekeeper. Langstroth and top-bar hives are the most commonly found types.

Learn About Beekeeping Tasks

Illustration: The Spruce

What is involved in taking care of your bees? Much like gardening, beekeeping tasks are best divided by the season. The best time to start your hive is in the spring so that the colony you begin with has time to build up, lay brood (baby bees), increase in number, and store honey before the winter sets in.

Gather Your Beekeeping Supplies

What do you need to really get started beekeeping? Learn about the essential supplies and what you can do without for now. Remember: start small, so you can make adjustments if you change your mind later. Some supplies are better purchased in person, while others can be ordered ​online.

Order Your Honey Bees

Once you’ve gathered your supplies and amassed plenty of beekeeping knowledge, it’s time to order your bees! You will likely order what are called “package bees” and a queen, or a “nuc colony. ” Of the two, a nuc colony is a more established set of bees with a queen who has already started laying brood. It can give your hive a head start if you’re able to get one.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Beekeeping – Honey Bees. Penn State Extension.

I want to start bees in the country: where to start?

What are the first steps a person who decides to breed bees in the country should take? What should be purchased first? Where to install hives? How many and which bees to buy? We will answer the most important questions that concern beginner beekeepers.

Everyone knows about the benefits of honey and other bee products. In addition, the beekeeping business is quite profitable. For this reason, more and more people are thinking about how to organize their own apiary.

Theoretical knowledge

The basis of any business is knowledge. Before moving on to breeding bees, you need to sit down for books. The knowledge gained will help you understand how a bee colony is organized, what exactly and at what stage it needs, what attracts and, conversely, causes aggression of bees. With this information, it will be easier for you to understand the needs of the bees and to notice problems in time, if any. Experienced beekeepers recommend starting with old, time-tested books that provide in-depth knowledge on this issue.

You should also study the legal documentation, in particular the Federal Law “Law on beekeeping in the Russian Federation”, adopted at the end of 2020. According to this law, a veterinary and sanitary passport must be issued for each apiary.

Location

The next thing a novice beekeeper should do is to choose a place for a future apiary (if you have a stationary apiary, not a nomad one). Here you need to take into account several nuances prescribed in the “Law on beekeeping”, which regulates the development of this type of activity:

  1. The distance from the hives to the border of the neighboring land plot is at least 10 m.
  2. At a shorter distance, the hives must be located at a height of more than 2 m.
  3. At the border of the plots (in the absence of a safe distance of 10 m) there must be buildings, structures, a solid fence or dense shrubs more than 2 m high.

Before buying bees, you should ask your neighbors and household members if they are allergic to bee stings. Bee venom can provoke a very strong allergy and lead to the death of a person.

What else do you need to know when choosing a place for an apiary?

  • Do not locate the apiary in a shady place where it is always damp and windy.
  • An open and not protected from the sun area is also not the best option. At noon, from about 12 to 16 hours, the hives should be covered from the scorching sun by trees, bushes or buildings located on the south side.
  • It is best to install the hive to the east. In this case, the bees will begin to work with the first rays of the rising sun. There is one more plus in this direction – on a hot afternoon, the hole for entry and exit of bees will be in the shade.

When choosing a hive site, look for the quietest spot in your area. Do not place bee houses near paths where your family members are constantly moving. Frequent meetings will not be to the liking of either one or the other.

Sow honey plants in the area. Bees are very fond of lemon balm, they like mint and mustard. It is also recommended to sow phacelia. This green manure has a very strong aroma, so it is very attractive to bees. After flowering, mow the phacelia and plant it in the ground.

Purchase of equipment

What equipment does a beginner beekeeper need?

Experienced beekeepers who have been breeding bees for more than one year or even a decade have a dozen or two tools in their arsenal that make it easier to care for insects. However, at the very beginning, you can limit yourself to only three:

1. Protective suit. A special mesh hat and gloves will protect you from bee stings and make your work safer.

2. Smoker. Bees are known to be afraid of smoke and water. A smoker is used to scare away bees while working with the hive. Inside this device, for example, raw sawdust is placed and ignited. The emerging smoke repels insects. If you do not have a smoker, you can replace it with a spray gun. Experienced beekeepers say that in hot weather, a spray gun is even preferable to a smoker.

3. Beekeeping (bee) chisel. This outwardly simple device greatly facilitates the work of the beekeeper. A chisel helps to easily move one frame from another, with its help they clean the hives from wax and propolis, disconnect the bottom of the hive and do many other works. An experienced beekeeper does not start working with bees without a chisel.

When it comes time to collect honey, in addition to the above tools, you will also need a device for uncapping the comb and a honey extractor.

Hives

It is, of course, difficult for a beekeeper to do without the above-mentioned devices, but the main thing with which the apiary begins is the hives. Before purchasing hives, study the information about what they are. Depending on the design, all hives are divided into two types:

  • risers – hives that expand upwards (vertically): these include the Dadan hive and the multi-hull hive;
  • beds are beehives that expand horizontally.

An unequivocal answer to the question “Which hives are better?” does not exist: some beekeepers prefer risers, others prefer sunbeds.

Frames are a must for any type of hive. They come in several sizes. Each type of hive corresponds to a frame of certain dimensions, which must be taken into account when purchasing a home for bees.

The frame is a part of the hive on which bees build honeycombs or rear brood.

The hive must be placed on a stand at least 15-20 cm high (optimum distance from the ground is 40-50 cm). In this case, the bottom of the hive will not touch the grass, it will become well ventilated and will not start to rot over time.

Bees

When all the previous stages have been completed, the most important moment remains – the purchase of bees. On the Internet you can find many videos where it is advised to catch bees. This option of acquiring a bee colony is, of course, possible (and will not cost you a dime), but it has several serious drawbacks:

  • First of all, you don’t know what kind of bees you caught: most likely, they will not be the most peaceful.
  • Secondly, there is a danger of getting sick bees.

Experienced beekeepers recommend buying their first bees. Moreover, it is better to make a purchase from local beekeepers, because their insects are adapted to life in your climatic conditions. In addition, you will be able to observe the bees with your own eyes, see what conditions they are in, and get a lot of valuable advice from an experienced beekeeper. To begin with, it is worth buying 2-4 bee colonies.

For your first apiary, choose bees of peaceful breeds, such as Carpathian, Karnika or Buckfast.

It is better to make a purchase not in autumn, but in spring. Wintering is a difficult period in the life of bees, so they, unlike chickens, are counted in the spring. It is better for a novice beekeeper to acquire a bee colony in May, when the insects come out of hibernation. When buying, the seller must show you a frame with some honey, several frames with brood (there are larvae in sealed cells – future bees) and a queen bee.

Bees don’t like strong scents very much. Smells of perfume, hairspray, gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. may cause them to become violent. In order not to provoke insects, before starting work with bees, take a shower and get rid of extraneous odors.

Transportation of the bee colony:

  • it is better to carry out transportation late in the evening, after sunset, when all the bees gather in the hive;
  • before transportation, all entrances should be closed with nets and insulation should be removed: this will promote air exchange in the hive and the bees will not get tired;
  • so that the hive does not shatter during transportation, you need to fasten all its parts, for example, with adhesive tape.

Even if the first beekeeping experience was not very successful (unfortunately, it often happens), do not despair: try again, taking into account all your mistakes, and hardworking bees will surely thank you with their healthy treat.

Beekeeping: legal basis, maintenance and safety of people

In the summer period of the year, the Office of the Rosselkhoznadzor for the Kostroma and Ivanovo regions annually receives citizens’ complaints about beekeeper neighbors. Usually they complain about bee bites due to violations of the rules for their maintenance.

The procedure for breeding and keeping bees in settlements is regulated by the Federal Law “On Personal Partial Farms”, in garden plots – by the Federal Law “On Horticultural, Gardening and Dacha Non-Commercial Associations of Citizens”, which allow keeping bees subject to urban planning regulations, construction, environmental, sanitary-hygienic, fire-prevention and other rules and regulations.
The placement of apiaries and the maintenance of bees is regulated by the Veterinary Rules for keeping honey bees for the purpose of their reproduction, cultivation, sale and use for pollination of agricultural entomophilous plants and obtaining beekeeping products, approved by order of the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia dated May 19, 2016 No. 194, “Veterinary and sanitary rules for keeping bees”, approved by the Main Department of Veterinary Medicine of the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Instruction of the Department of Veterinary Medicine for the Prevention and Elimination of Diseases, Poisoning and Major Pests of Bees.
The above regulations define the requirements for the placement and arrangement of apiaries, the maintenance of bees, as well as the requirements for the implementation of quarantine measures for bees, mandatory preventive measures and diagnostic studies of bees.
According to the rules and instructions, the territory of a stationary apiary is fenced, planted with fruit trees and berry bushes, there should be no more than 150 bee colonies in one apiary, the distance between the hives should be at least 3 – 3.5 meters, and between the rows of hives – at least 10 meters. Apiaries, as well as beehives with bees taken out for honey collection, should be placed at a distance of at least 100 meters from medical and educational organizations, children’s institutions, cultural institutions, the boundaries of the right of way of federal highways, railways, and also at least 500 meters from enterprises of the confectionery and chemical industries. Hives with bees are to be placed at a distance of at least 3 meters from the borders of neighboring land plots with the direction of entrances to the middle of the beekeeper’s plot, or without restrictions on distances, provided that they are separated from the neighboring land plot by a blank fence (or dense shrub, or building) not high less than two meters. When keeping bees in settlements, their number should not exceed two bee colonies per 100 square meters of land.
Bees are kept in serviceable, painted, numbered hives. Hives are mounted on pegs or stands. Each apiary must have a veterinary and sanitary passport, which is issued in accordance with the specified columns.
On the territory of the Kostroma region, the law “On the placement and arrangement of apiaries in the settlements of the Kostroma region”, approved. 03/01/2007 No. 124-4-ZKO (as amended on 05/29/2014).
According to article 4 of the said Law, the requirements for the placement of beehives in apiaries and the arrangement of apiaries are defined:
1. The placement of apiaries on the territory of the settlements of the Kostroma region is carried out in accordance with the rules of land use and development in compliance with environmental, sanitary-hygienic, zootechnical and veterinary-sanitary standards and rules for keeping bees and other rules and regulations.
2. Placement of beehives in apiaries should be carried out at a distance of at least 20 meters from residential premises, no closer than 2 meters from the boundaries of adjacent land users.
3. It is allowed to place beehives in apiaries at a distance of less than 20 meters from residential premises with the consent of the owners of residential premises or citizens living in residential premises on other legal grounds.
4. The apiary must be fenced with a solid fence at least 2 meters high or with a hedge.
In addition, according to Article 10 of the Federal Law of March 30, 1991 No. 52-FZ “On the Sanitary and Epidemiological Welfare of the Population”, citizens must not carry out actions that entail a violation of the rights of other citizens to health protection and a favorable living environment.
On the basis of part 1 and part 3 of article 209 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, the owner has the right to own, use and dispose of his property. According to article 129of this Code, the owner has the right to own, use and dispose of land and other natural resources freely within the framework of the law, if this does not damage the environment and does not violate the rights and legitimate interests of other persons.