When we ventured into beekeeping last spring, my biggest fear was losing the bees during a hard Indiana winter. This winter hasn’t been particularly rough, but we have had a good number of deep freezes. Enough to worry a newbie beekeeper, anyway! This past Saturday was a glorious winter day, giving hints of the spring to come. I took advantage of the high temperature and ventured out to check on the bees. To my delighted surprise, they were buzzing happily about!
Beekeeping is one of those homestead additions that comes with a spectrum of warnings and encouragements. It comes with endorsements like “Take the plunge, but be warned…” or “Beekeeping is great, but so very expensive!” I tend to take a hands off approach to beekeeping and, like everything we do, I sniffed out the best deals and cheapest way to approach it. With that in mind, I think beekeeping is a wonderful addition to any homestead. Here’s my “primer” for the average homesteader to become a beekeeper.
The first step to beekeeping is acquiring a hive. We have a tradition movable frame hive with two “deeps”, which are the box in which the bees with build comb, store honey, and lay brood. You can purchase a complete set up from a company like Dadant&Sons, but I highly recommend checking your local craigslist or beekeeping group to see if you can find a used set up. We were able to buy our complete hive from a neighbor for only $100. Late winter is the perfect time to acquire a hive and have it ready to go come spring.
The best time to bring your bees to their new home is early spring. They need as much time as possible to build their hive population and their honey stores before winter settles in. Last year. we picked up our bees on May 25, but you may be able to do it earlier in a warmer climate. There are options to mail order bees, but like any mail ordered livestock, they arrive stressed and need that much more time to recover. We found a honeybee farm about an hours drive from our house and were very pleased with our experience.
There are a number of advantages to buying bees face-to-face. When you buy a nuc from a bee farmer, you bring the bottom deep of your hive, filled with frames, to the farm. They offer you tips and advice on establishing your new hive. They will remove four empty frames from your hive and replace them with honey, brood, and bee filled frames from their hive. They ensure that you have a healthy queen and plenty of brood to establish a healthy hive of your own. They also make sure that the hive is securely closed before sending you off, trapped in your car with a swarm of angry bees! (Everyone else picking up bees that evening arrived in a pick up truck. We were in our little VW and stuck those bees in the trunk! Don’t be like us!)
This is getting long! For fear of becoming boring, I’ll break this up into a series. Part II coming soon! Feel free to ask questions in the comments. Or give suggestions for part II.