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Where to start with beekeeping?

 
Posts: 64
Location: Olympia, Wa
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I have always wanted to care for bees and I want to start collecting information. I am pretty Much a blank slate right now so I want to make sure I get started off on the right foot. What are some resources I should utilize to start this journey.

Any good threads for beginners?
Great books?
Videos? (not usually a fan of YouTube but it can be useful)
 
pollinator
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Anything by Jacqueline Freeman. I interned with her for a while. She has a book called The Song of Increase. It's a really good read. To be honest it's got a bit of hippy-woo in it, but her methods are also grounded in scientific evidence and her success rates in our region have been fantastic, especially considering the added challenges posed by the wildfire smoke these past few years (I'm only 45 minutes from Olympia by the way). Her website is

https://www.spiritbee.com/

Also, here's a thread on some "newer" (recently revived) hive styles that people are having success with in our region, and why we're using them:

https://permies.com/t/102215/critters/Keeping-Bees-Log-Skep-woven
 
gardener
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Youtube helped me with the most confusing part- getting the bees into the hive. No book made any sense to me. I had to "see" it.

Honestly, after that the less interaction the better. I'm not in a heavy freeze area so i don't have to deal with those issues.

I'm going into my second year. I did 2 hive types and in the future it will be all top bar. Main reason is i get what honey i need and its less weight to deal with as i get older. I have no need for large harvests.
 
pollinator
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Join the Treatment Free Beekeepers group on FaceBook.

Watch YouTube videos - you will need to watch a lot. There are some very bad ones out there, as well as excellent ones.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel - standard hives work well, and solve many problems that a novice wouldn’t at first appreciate.
 
pollinator
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My Valentine's Day present from my much better half is one of at least two two-week beekeeping courses offered online through the Ontario Beekeepers Association. The first course is everything but pest management, the second is entirely pest management, and those make up the entirety of the entry-level courses (they discuss them as sides of the same coin, but as pest management is so involved, it gets its own course).

They also offer queen-rearing and breeding courses, but one thing at a time.

It's not that I don't trust my own ability to learn from youTube videos, or that I have a problem with Jaqueline Freeman, because I don't. But taking these region-specific courses gives me something to point to when I go out to do my practicum with beekeepers either in the city or out where we're looking to move. They will also be able to address region-specific challenges, as well as legal and compliance issues.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Chris Kott wrote:My Valentine's Day present from my much better half is one of at least two two-week beekeeping courses offered online through the Ontario Beekeepers Association. The first course is everything but pest management, the second is entirely pest management, and those make up the entirety of the entry-level courses (they discuss them as sides of the same coin, but as pest management is so involved, it gets it's own course).

They also offer queen-rearing and breeding courses, but one thing at a time.

It's not that I don't trust my own ability to learn from youTube videos, or that I have a problem with Jaqueline Freeman, because I don't. But taking these region-specific courses gives me something to point to when I go out to do my practicum with beekeepers either in the city or out where we're looking to move. They will also be able to address region-specific challenges, as well as legal and compliance issues.

-CK



Excellent, Chris! That’s what I did when I first got into bees (back before YouTube) — the local beekeepers association put on classes, and those were excellent. Local classes are good for many reasons. You meet local beekeepers who will be great resources as you go forward. You learn about how people handle issues specific to your area. Beekeepers are generally NICE people and you may find new friend(s) irl. Many beekeepers are homesteader types and you may find some real kindred spirits in your area that you might not otherwise meet. Online community cannot replace the real world. And, you can ask questions and discuss things in greater depth. You simply cannot do that on YouTube.
 
gardener
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want to make sure I get started off on the right foot.



Asking questions & seeking help IS a great start.

Beekeeping for Dummies is a good book. It is available online for free but I found the online version difficult to read. Your local library also might have other useful bee books. There are too many to list. Bee supply companies usually have good books for sale.

As others have pointed out there are non-traditional methods & hives becoming more popular as time goes on. Especially among permie type people. Those will be probably harder to learn & get help with though. Local laws vary. Beware that some of the less common hive types are not legal everywhere.

On YouTube Fat Bee Guy has many good videos with many helpful tips & generally helpful advice. He uses traditional methods. Michael Palmer doesn't use chemicals & has some excellent videos too. He's my personal favorite YouTube bee person. Not sure if he has much geared toward beginners though. If nothing else his thoughts & techniques about natural beekeeping are very wise.

Try to find a local bee club or local beekeeper for assistance. Wish I would have known about that option when first starting. It would have saved time & been an easier path to follow.

One important thing to consider before getting in too deep is bee food. Flowers & trees. Bees need them. Lots of them!!! Local bee keepers are a valuable source of info about that aspect of beekeeping.

Welcome to permies. Enjoy the bees!






 
Chris Emerson
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James Landreth wrote:Anything by Jacqueline Freeman. I interned with her for a while. She has a book called The Song of Increase. It's a really good read. To be honest it's got a bit of hippy-woo in it, but her methods are also grounded in scientific evidence and her success rates in our region have been fantastic, especially considering the added challenges posed by the wildfire smoke these past few years (I'm only 45 minutes from Olympia by the way). Her website is

https://www.spiritbee.com/

Also, here's a thread on some "newer" (recently revived) hive styles that people are having success with in our region, and why we're using them:

https://permies.com/t/102215/critters/Keeping-Bees-Log-Skep-woven



Thanks a lot James, I will check out these leads. I am inclined to check out some of the "newer" methods of Beek keeping, that I am sure that will be a great link.

I will check with my library for the book from Jacqueline!
 
Chris Emerson
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wayne fajkus wrote:Youtube helped me with the most confusing part- getting the bees into the hive. No book made any sense to me. I had to "see" it.



That is exactly what I like YouTube for, to fill in the gaps!
 
Chris Emerson
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Chris Kott wrote:My Valentine's Day present from my much better half is one of at least two two-week beekeeping courses offered online through the Ontario Beekeepers Association. The first course is everything but pest management, the second is entirely pest management, and those make up the entirety of the entry-level courses (they discuss them as sides of the same coin, but as pest management is so involved, it gets its own course).

They also offer queen-rearing and breeding courses, but one thing at a time.

It's not that I don't trust my own ability to learn from youTube videos, or that I have a problem with Jaqueline Freeman, because I don't. But taking these region-specific courses gives me something to point to when I go out to do my practicum with beekeepers either in the city or out where we're looking to move. They will also be able to address region-specific challenges, as well as legal and compliance issues.

-CK



Great idea. We have a local bee keepers group that meets regularly and we have a great local store that hosts events all the time, I am sure they have bee focused ones
 
Chris Emerson
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Mike Barkley wrote:

want to make sure I get started off on the right foot.



Asking questions & seeking help IS a great start.

Beekeeping for Dummies is a good book. It is available online for free but I found the online version difficult to read. Your local library also might have other useful bee books. There are too many to list. Bee supply companies usually have good books for sale.

As others have pointed out there are non-traditional methods & hives becoming more popular as time goes on. Especially among permie type people. Those will be probably harder to learn & get help with though. Local laws vary. Beware that some of the less common hive types are not legal everywhere.

On YouTube Fat Bee Guy has many good videos with many helpful tips & generally helpful advice. He uses traditional methods. Michael Palmer doesn't use chemicals & has some excellent videos too. He's my personal favorite YouTube bee person. Not sure if he has much geared toward beginners though. If nothing else his thoughts & techniques about natural beekeeping are very wise.

Try to find a local bee club or local beekeeper for assistance. Wish I would have known about that option when first starting. It would have saved time & been an easier path to follow.

One important thing to consider before getting in too deep is bee food. Flowers & trees. Bees need them. Lots of them!!! Local bee keepers are a valuable source of info about that aspect of beekeeping.

Welcome to permies. Enjoy the bees!



Thanks Mike, those dummie books can be a great place to start. I will check it out. Thanks for a specific YouTube channel, the last thing I want to do is spends hours randomly searching YouTube. Specifics are great.

Any other books you might recommend? I am a quick learner and love to dive deep.

The whole project is still a year out. My wife and I just bought a new home and it is still a 1/4 of lawn (more or less). We are putting 7 trees in as soon as the snow melts and starting the guilds. Lots of shrubs and perennials will get started after that. I want the plants to have at least 1 year to get started before I bring the bees in. It feels like it is better for the bees that way!
 
Myrth Gardener
pollinator
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Mike Barkley wrote:

As others have pointed out there are non-traditional methods & hives becoming more popular as time goes on. Especially among permie type people. Those will be probably harder to learn & get help with though. Local laws vary. Beware that some of the less common hive types are not legal everywhere.



Absolutely, Mike. Good point. In my state all apiaries must be registered with the state, and all hives must be able to be inspected. Certain diseases, when found, will require that the hive be burned. Skeps that are being promoted online as the next great natural thing (ancient technology used before planed wood was readily available) are illegal here, and are illegal in many places. They cannot be inspected for disease like modern hives. So while online makes for interesting reading and watching, be aware that much you see online may well be illegal where you live.

Mike Barkley wrote:

One important thing to consider before getting in too deep is bee food. Flowers & trees. Bees need them. Lots of them!!! Local bee keepers are a valuable source of info about that aspect of beekeeping.



YES! Flowers are critical. Trees flower and produce much needed pollen (and some species produce nectar too). Flowers of many species give bees pollens and nectars, from flowering shrubs to perennials to annuals. In my view, the more diverse their diet, the greater their health and resistance to disease. My goal for bees, whether natives or European honey bees, is to have food sources for them from late winter when they become active in my area (on warm days that we get interspersed with winter weather) through late autumn. They will need this food through the seasons if they are to be healthy and thrive.

And on that note, one book that I don’t see recommended nearly often enough is The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. It is not strictly for bees, obviously, given the title. But if you endeavor to grow many of the herbs she recommends, you will likely have healthy bees. She also has a chapter giving her thoughts on the natural care of bees, and herbs that are helpful to them.

 
Chris Emerson
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Myrth Montana wrote:
And on that note, one book that I don’t see recommended nearly often enough is The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. It is not strictly for bees, obviously, given the title. But if you endeavor to grow many of the herbs she recommends, you will likely have healthy bees. She also has a chapter giving her thoughts on the natural care of bees, and herbs that are helpful to them.



Thanks for the book idea!

Sounds like I will need to check in and see what the laws in Washington are!
 
pollinator
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When I was starting out I attended an official course for beginners organized by the central beekeepers' association of our country.

We'd have very experienced people come in and share their guidelines, ideas, recommendations.

It turned out that the things they were teaching us were - not so rarely - not only out of sync with each other but actually pointing in opposite directions.

For me the net result of this experience was: since all these guys work with bees in their own ways which often contradict each other - obviously bees must be quite resilient to the various approaches people take. Not so fragile. One doesn't screw up bees so easily.

It may not sound like much but this was actually a very good insight because it helped me get rid of some of the "newbie block" that I had - worrying about too many things including what to worry about.

When you start from zero (and there is probably nothing that can prepare you in the sense of "oh I did X and that's similar to bees so it's a good start") it is very hard to absorb all the information that you get because you don't have a frame of reference.

You understand the words but they don't convey meaning so well. They don't relate to anything. Then, as you progress, you flash back to everything that you've read or seen and intepret it in a new light and with much improved efficiency.

For this reason it's a good idea to keep going back and revisiting the sources you've already used - chances are you will keep learning new stuff from them even though for an outside observer you're just rereading the same things over and over again.

If I had to choose just a few favorite sources it would probably be Michael Bush's website http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm and this one: http://scientificbeekeeping.com/ .


 
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Chris,

I'd second reading what Michael Bush has to say and checking his website.  

Another place would be Dr. Leo Sharashkin's website horizontalhive.com.  The book:  Keeping Bees with a Smile by Fedor Lazutin, edited by Leo Sharashkin is my favorite book on bees.  Perhaps that's because of my "If it's not broke-don't fix it" attitude.  

I don't think you can go wrong with any of the advice so far.  It seems to work out well when you decide what personality and resources you have and go from there.

Good luck,
Bryan
 
Chris Emerson
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This is all great info. We have an awesome online community here!
 
Crt Jakhel
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Chris, some things about plants in your area...

- Bees collect nectar and pollen in a very wide area. If your land is under, say, 10 acres, what's outside it will be more important most of the time than what's inside it. What you plant is not meaningless; it's just that in most situations, it's more of a dessert rather than a main course.

(Okay, if you have a field of a very attractive plant, say buckwheat or crimson clover or oilseed rape or sunflowers or..., and the time is such that there's not much else in flower, it will for sure be the main dish. But you get my point.)

- Don't plant 1 of everything. Bees like large targets, large groups of interesting plants.

- It may take a while for your bees to get used to something you've introduced. Our evodias (tetradium danielli) have flowered in 2018 for the first time and the bees were very timid about visiting this famously bee-attractive tree. But we've seen the same thing with koelreuteria and heptacodium - it can take 2-3 years for the bees to "take" to the new food source. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere but it seems to matter.
 
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For any UK readers go here: http://www.biobees.com/forum/

Plant these http://rosybee.com/research/
 
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Here's a list of things I wish I knew before I started. My observations mostly apply to beekeeping in the U.S. Also, don't bother with a book unless one just absolutely tickles your fancy. Michael Bush's website is his book, and has everything you need to know to keep bees.

1. You do not need to buy a bunch of fancy equipment to get started, nor do you need to buy standard hive equipment. If you want to use a Langstroth hive or other box-style hives (if not in the states), that is a fine choice. But unless you are a good carpenter and can make your own, you will be spending quite a bit on hives. You can construct a fully functional Top Bar hive from scrap for free, which takes much less technical skill to construct than the box hives. Plus, Top-Bar hives do not use frames, meaning, again, less wooden ware, less construction, less materials to store. Here's Michael Bush's guide to building one with just 10x10 lumber: http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm These hives take a different way of beekeeping, but if you are just starting out, that won't be a problem, as everything is new to you anyway. Honestly, besides a hive body, all you need to get started is a smoker (not even that really - you can use any source of smoke, but the smoker is easiest) and whatever level of personal protective equipment you feel comfortable with (full suit with hood, jacket with hood, just a veil and long sleeves/pants.) I'd say if you are a bit scared to wear gloves starting out, but make an effort to move to beekeeping without gloves (unless you are allergic). Glove-less beekeeping makes you move with much more respect for the animal and you can sense so much more with physical touch then through gloves.

2. You do not need to buy bees! But if you do, choose locally adapted, treatment free stock if possible. This is important because bees run from $100-300 per hive depending on your location (unless you have a good hook-up). You can catch swarms of bees in the Spring and Summer with a swarm trap (essentially a mini-hive). You can build one easily using this guide: https://beesource.com/build-it-yourself/5-frame-nuc-d-coates-version/. These boxes also serve as 'nucs,' which are just mini-hives that a small group of bees start their life in before moving to larger box, or can be used to make new hives from existing ones by splitting them or even mating new queens. Get a few of these boxes, or some Jester brand corrugated plastic nucs (easy to re-use, $10-15 each), mount them in a tree-facing south, preferably along a fence line, put some empty frames in there, a drop of lemon-grass essential oil, and check back frequently to see if any bees have decided to make the box their home. If this is not possible, look for local sources of treatment free bees, preferably between Oct.-Dec. After that, most well-known, quality local breeders will be sold out for the coming season. Bees adapt fairly rapidly due to their short lifespans, meaning bees from Georgia are going to be different than bees from NY, even if they are the same species. Buying from a keeper in your area who has had the bees for several years increases your chances for success. If you can't find local treatment free, or even local stock, and you have to order bees, consider ordering from a treatment-free source. If at the end of the day, you just can't do either of these things (swarm catch or get local, treatment free stock), know that it's ok. You can still be a successful keeper! But being aware of these factors is important.

3. It is much easier to start with multiple hives, at least 2, but preferably 5 or more. Why? Well, several reasons. First, it's hard to gauge the health of a single colony with nothing to compare it to. If you have multiple hives, you'll quickly learn which ones are struggling and which are doing well. Second, bee colonies die, especially in our modern ecological context. Even in nature, you can expect a high mortality rate among bees.  Their natural life cycle involves the act of swarming, where each year they divide the colony in two, sometimes three!. This is how bees multiply, and like many insects, a lot of bees die each year. In human-managed hives, there is an average 40%-70% loss in colonies EVERY YEAR. This means over half of your bees can die. So how do beekeepers stay in business? They catch swarms or split their hives (which is essentially simulating a swarm and splitting the colony up). All that to say, the more hives you have, the more loss you can absorb, and 5 is a good number. For context, I had 5 hives going into this winter. I now have one that I hope will make it. Third, managing 2-5 hives is not that much more difficult than managing one. In fact, with one hive, you can sometimes become more of a nuisance to the bees than a friend. Inspecting and fiddling around too much in one hive severely disrupts the super organism and hampers their productivity. By having multiple hives, you can get your fill of beekeeping and do all the intervention necessary to learn early on without overburdening a single colony. Lastly, if one hive is doing poorly, you can rob honey or pollen from another of your productive hives to keep the struggling hive going.

4. Decide if you are going to treat or not and have a plan before you get your bees. This is the most heated debate in the beekeeping community. I'll say I don't treat, and if you want to know why, Michael Bush's website above explains it much better than I can. The point I'm making here is - decide, and if you decide to treat, follow the treatment instructions exactly. Carelessly applying treatment in ways not intended by the manufacturer is dangerous to you, your bees, and the local bee population writ large. If you decide not to treat, also have a plan. Will you let your bees swarm or split them? There is a lot of evidence that allowing this natural cycle to play out or splitting bees improves their chances of fighting off various diseases, but some view splitting as a treatment. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of the most common pathogens, viruses, and parasites your bees may get, and when you see these things, know what you are going to do. In short, educate yourself well in advance of getting bees! Treat this like getting any other livestock or acquiring a pet. These are animals that feel, and deserve respect.

5. Learn the natural rhythms of bees and how they most effectively survive in the wild. The beekeeping industry is an agricultural industry just like any other. Do not let the quaint appeal of this once universal skill in animal husbandry fool you. The most common methods, techniques, and equipment are designed for one thing: maximum profit in the form of honey production, pollination services, or bee production (the more lucrative). The Langstroth hive is designed to maximize honey-production and comfort for the beekeeper. The technique of suppressing swarms is designed to inhibit the natural reproductive cycles of the bees so that more bees are in one space making more honey. Know that most of what you read, are told is "common sense," and will be exposed to are techniques of industrial agriculture, refined over hundreds of years. If you want to learn the natural cycles of honeybees and how you can work with these cycles to meet the needs of yourself, the bees, and the world (which desperately needs pollinators), I encourage you to dive deeply into the work of Dr. Tom Seeley. Pay particular attention to his work on "Darwinian Beekeeping," which, despite it's name, is basically advocating for a beekeeping that works with the natural instincts and patterns of bees. Sounds very permie right? https://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/darwinian-beekeeping
 
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