August 17, 2009

The Buzzzzzz on Beekeeping for Beginners

Suzanne from The Herb Farm in Annisquam MA asked about becoming a beekeeper. It's a great idea, harnessing all those industrious little nectar-gathering bees to provide you with pollination, honey, and beeswax. But for the total neophyte, it's not the easiest or cheapest hobby to start. Now, do I have bee hives? Nope! I've always wanted some and we have a good location for one or two, but Bert's allergic, so that's that.

FIRST, before you even go further in thinking about becoming a beekeeper, you MUST spend a day or two with an experienced apiarist. In addition to learning what equipment you'll need for yourself and the bees, you need to actually experience being around an active hive, and you need to see firsthand - not just read about - what it takes to manage a healthy colony. It would be ideal if you could visit a apiary now, later in the fall, in mid-winter and then early spring before you order your own equipment and bees. I can't stress enough how important this visit to a working apiary is BEFORE you invest in your own beekeeping.

Before we even glance at the equipment needed, consider, too, that keeping a healthy bee colony is not always something you can control. Bees are subject to a number of challenges, as the recent past has shown. Two or three years ago, mites wiped out many a hive in New England. Happily, we've noticed a full rebound in bees in our fruit trees and bushes and flower beds this year. But, just be aware...

I've heard estimates of $250 to $1,000 to set up your first hive or two. And a beginner certainly shouldn't consider undertaking any more hives than that. You might be able to get some equipment secondhand, but take some care there as you certainly don't want to take any chance on compromised equipment. I've found the website for New England Beekeeping Supplies, Etc. absolutely invaluable. The following link will take you right to their page that helps you estimate your first year costs for setting up a couple of hives. New England Beekeeping Supplies, Inc.

Your state university's Cooperative Extension Service also has much helpful information, and of course, your local library probably has books on this subject too.

You'll need gear to protect yourself even if you do believe that bee stings are good for treating arthritis, etc. There are helmets, hats, veils, those long leather gloves and full protective suits, all of which adds up. You can buy a beekeeping starter set for well under two hundred dollars, and plans to guide you in building your own hives are easy to come by. So you can get started inexpensively if you work at it.

Now what about getting the bees themselves? Well, you don't just go down to your local seed-/feed store and pick up a hive's worth!! Most northeastern suppliers get their bees from the south or mid-west, although I do believe there's one apiary with their own stock in MA. Bee packages are usually under $100, while a sturdy queen may be $25 or so.

I hope this gives you a cursory idea of what's involved, even though I haven't talked about setting up and populating the hives, dealing with swarms, etc. The sweeetest end product, the honey, varies hugely from hive to hive and indeed, all over the world, depending on whether those bees are feasting on Maine blueberry blossoms, Scottish heather, or Australian eucalyptus!

My daughter Heather's father-in-law, Don of VT and sister-in-law Lee, of NH both keep bees, and their honeys are great! In fact, several years ago, I put together a little honey information and recipe booklet for Don called Recipes for My Honeys. If there's enough interest in it, I'll print off some more... what do you think? There are about 30 pages and recipes including breads, cookies, cheesecake, veggie and main dish recipes? What would be a fair price?? Help me decide whether to make this available??
And, thanks for your help!! Mary


Herb Farm said...

Thank you, Mary!

Just recently I heard a radio program on imported honey which was bad enough (see link for info) which lead to a comment that the US government does not have a defination of what honey is exactly so what we buy can be labeled honey and still include corn syrup. At least that is what I took away from the story.
Honey Laundering: A sticky trail of intrigue and crime

We will visit a beekeeper. Maybe Ben Chadwick!

Herb Farm said...

I have a copy of "Recipes for My Honeys". Will check it out again!

Herb Farm said...

More on the honey from China
"Tainted honey from China tops FDA watch list"

Herb Farm said...

How about "Recipes for My Honeys" as an ebook?

Herb Farm said...

And since I am going to have to put some money aside for the bees, etc. what do you think about making my own laundry detergent? My machine is a HE so maybe there would be too much suds?

Family Thrift Counselor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Herb Farm said...

And . . . thank you for my birthday gift! S