Backyard Beekeeping

Are you looking for a relaxing and not-so-common hobby? Beekeeping is a craft that leads to thriving gardens, a sweet treat, and some interesting knowledge of a practice thousands of years old. If you have a backyard or a roof and don’t flee at the sight of bugs, beekeeping could be a neat hobby or side business to get into. It is essentially farming on a small scale.

The comb was sticking out of a hollow tree into full view - From Wikibooks
The comb was sticking out of a hollow tree into full view – From Wikibooks

You need to first make sure that you can engage in beekeeping. Bees are not your average cat or dog pet. Check your local zoning laws and with your neighbors or property manager. Find your local beekeeper association and ask if you would be allowed to. In addition to legal help, they will likely have educational and social workshops and gatherings for beekeepers of all levels.  If you’re in around the San Francisco Bay Area, here are some:

According to various websites, space requirement seems to be more of a matter of comfort. If you have a yard that is large enough to situate a hive a comfortable distance away from your doors and windows, then go ahead and set up a hive. Bees will fly up and out of your yard and forage in an area as large as 6,000 acres. The only space you need is the space to accommodate the hive itself. A backyard that is at least 1000 square feet may do the job just fine. Of course, if you’re planning on having multiple hives and producing honey on a large scale, you’ll need more room.

8 Frame Deluxe Bee Hive Starter Kit (Unassembled - Wood) - from BuildaBeehive.com

8 Frame Deluxe Bee Hive Starter Kit (Unassembled - Wood) - from BuildaBeehive.com

A major question for newcomers is costs. Beekeeping calls for proper housing and equipment. Luckily, you can get beginner kits that have almost everything you need: framing, boxes, gloves, wire, fume boards, feeder, veil, smoker, etc. This bundle by buildabeehive.com is $209.99. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can do a little research for a plan and make a hive and hive stand yourself. A full bee suit is needed for heavy-duty work or when the bees aren’t being friendly. You can get by with just the bee veil if you’re just doing some light work or visiting, though.  If bugs landing on you or crawling on your arms makes you feel queasy, you should probably don the entire bee suit. Uneasiness and agitation would not be good for both the bees and you. The smoker renders your bees docile and keeps them from communicating and swarming.  On top of the gear come food, granulated sugar and syrup which are more for emergency purposes and preventing starvation rather than regular feeding, and medicine, for mite treatment.

Bees in a hive in western Wisconsin. A law legalizing beekeeping in the city of Minneapolis was passed in April and took effect June 1. (MPR Photo/Tom Weber)

Bees in a hive in western Wisconsin. A law legalizing beekeeping in the city of Minneapolis was passed in April and took effect June 1. (MPR Photo/Tom Weber)

Beekeeping is a popular craft, but it’s also not something everyone sees every day. Do your research before investing in beekeeping. Take a beginner class! Some questions that come up down the road are:

  • Will you start off as one hive and then build as you grow? Is this a hobby or a business?
  • How much time do you have to devote to the care of a hive? Also, different seasons call for different amounts of attention.
  • How will this affect my current situation with regards to pesticides, dogs, my kids, etc.?
  • Will my neighbors have a problem with this? Is anyone nearby allergic to bee stings?

Once you’ve got your hive and equipment, all that’s left to do is to populate. You can catch your own honey bee swarm for free, buy a package of bees, which have a newly-mated queen and 10,000 unrelated bees for about $60-$95, or purchase a nucleus colony, which is a fully functioning mini-colony for $100-$150. (Prices from sfbee.org.) Option two, the package of bees, is the most common way to begin a colony. Consult a local beekeeper to see what level of work you would like to put yourself up for.

Jar of Honey - From Secret Beekeeping Tips

Jar of Honey - From Secret Beekeeping Tips

Honey harvesting happens yearly. You can keep this honey all yourself or tell your neighbors, friends, and coworkers you’re selling some honey and make money on the side. If you are going for a larger scale, perhaps you can prepare and package it for distribution by a local grocery store. If you can’t sell your extra honey, you can include it in gift baskets or use it in candy and baking or even as medicine.

Beekeeping has many enthusiasts, and there are many resources (classes, workshops, even conferences!) available. Here are a few links to get you on your way:

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