What to Know Before Getting a Hive
So you're interested in getting a hive...how to know if beekeeping is for you?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is your goal?
- If your goal is to improve pollinator health, getting a hive is not the best way to help, despite what you may have heard in the news. Increasing the concentration of bees in your area could stress limited floral resources and spread disease. The best way to help pollinators is to plant bee-friendly pesticide-free plants or support organizations that conserve bee habitat. If this sounds like you, check out our pollinator planting resources.
- If you are fascinated by honey bee biology and have the itch to learn more, then you should look into keeping bees! We understand, because we think opening up a hive is fascinating too :)
- How is your health?
- How is your back? Beekeeping involves a lot of heavy lifting. Make sure that you are ready to lift heavy boxes, or enlist the help of a friend or family member. Also, if you are worried about lifting boxes, consider buying all 8-frame medium equipment, which is smaller.
- How is your eye sight? Spotting honey bee eggs is critical for diagnosing hive health. If you have poor eyesight, purchase black rite-cell foundation, which makes it easier to see eggs. Also, consider enlisting the help of a beekeeping buddy who can help you inspect your hive. Finally, you might want to buy a magnifying glass!
- Do you have time to keep bees?
- Keeping bees is not a passive hobby. Be ready to devote many summer weekends to your hives.
- Are you prepared for the financial investment?
- It costs roughly $500 per hive to get started. That doesn't count a continued investment in queens, replacement bees, sugar (for feeding), and new equipment (as you split your hives, try out new techniques, etc.). Be ready to spend well over $1,000 in the first year for two hives.
You've decided to pursue beekeeping...now what?
Keeping bees is hard! It's important to do your homework. Mismanaging a hive is not only costly for you, but it can spread diseases to neighboring bee hive and other pollinators. We highly recommend making use of the following resources:
- Attend a beginner bee school. Most county clubs offer a beginner bee school. There is no bee club in Hampshire county, but there are active clubs in neighboring Hampden, Franklin and Worcester counties
- Join your county bee club
- Read about Varroa mites and make a Varroa Mite management plan. This one is really important!*** Even if you can't see them, your hive has mites, or will have them before the end of the summer. Check out the honey bee health coalition resources as well as resources from the Cornell Bee Lab. Also, plan to sample for mite regularly using an alcohol wash.
- Buy bees from a local source! If your only option is to buy packages from the South, then plan on requeening with Northern stock as soon as possible.
- If you live in a rural or suburban area, build a bear fence to protect your hives.
- Request an inspection from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture apiary program. Not only will these inspections let you know if you have any diseases in your hive - but they are also an opportunity to work bees with an expert. And they're free!
- If you suspect that you have a disease, you can send samples for analysis to the USDA lab in Maryland. This service is also free!
- Attend MDAR monthly field days and keep an eye out for other educational opportunities
- Check out the University of Guelph video series, especially:
- Hive Location and Setup
- Hive Equipment
- Protective Clothing
- Smoker Use
- Opening Hives
- Colony Inspection
- Finding Queens
- Note: many of the individuals in these videos do not wear veils. Unless you are very experienced, it is strongly recommended that you wear a veil when opening a hive.
- Continue to read widely. Here are some recommended books and websites:
- Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping. 2013 (revised edition). Dewey M. Caron with L. J. Connor
- Bee Biology: "The Buzz about Bees" by Jorgen Tautz
- Magazines: American Bee Journal and Bee Culture
- The Honey Bee Health Coalition, Best Management Practices for Bee Health
- The Bee Informed Partnership
- The Cornell Dyce Lab website