How to start beekeeping, things you should know

Where to get bees? How much does it cost to start beekeeping?

If you’re like most people these are the main questions you have about beekeeping.

For us, we get bees from a variety of different places. We have caught swarms before, we have even tried to extract bees from houses. But that’s kind of advance beekeeping. There is no guarantee that you’ll get bees from extracting it from somebody’s house and it’s a lot of work!

Catching a swarm, on the other hand, is the most inexpensive way. But you have to find a swarm which can be a little tricky. As honeybee populations dwindle it’s getting harder to find swarms. All Bee and honey gurus are always on the lookout for swarms.

In fact, early on in our beekeeping career we had a swarm from one of our hives we had no idea what to do, so we called our friend and mentor Wally and he came out to help us take care of it, and he got bees out of it!

He had to work for his free bees though. He came with a friend and they climbed to the top of a huge tree, it was about 30-foot up. They cut the limb, let the bees fall, collected all the bees and then took them home. But it was all for free.

He basically has a whole hive and a thriving hive too! Because when they’re leaving it means they’re super healthy, they’re growing and multiplying. He got a good hive out of that, I’m sure.

Get bees locally, in your city or area

In our area, there’s an area called Bees Needz. We actually have lots of bee supply stores in our area, and most of them sell bees in early spring. If you google “package of bees for sale” in whatever city you’re in, something will come up.

You are welcome to message us and we can point you in the right direction.

But typically, a package of bees, maybe on the high end is around $90. Then if you go a traditional hive it is probably about $200 for the hive itself. So all in id say you should budget for about $300 to get started with bees.

How to get beehives

If you’re super handy and you want to build everything from scratch, you can customize your hives. But then you’re talking about time and materials and it can add up that way too.

We have done that too. But I will say that when you buy the pre-made hive boxes, usually they’re dovetailed and unless you’re a great carpenter, you’ll probably just nail together your sides. And they don’t hold up as long as the ones that we paid for pre-made.

When we started beekeeping, we started with Langstroth, we’ve sold off all that equipment now. We changed everything over to top bar hives.

Langstroth and Flow Hive

I think Langstroth hive is great and a really good place to start. There’s lots of information out there on keeping bees this way. The supplies for these kinds of hives are everywhere too. The downside is that these hives are not really natural for the bees. It’s really more for getting the most honey as possible from the bees. Because of this, it’s harder to keep your bees healthy. Especially if you’re devoted to not using chemicals with your bees.

On the other hand, flow hive is kind of fascinating. We heard good things from people who use these kinds of hives. What we like about them is that it is not super invasive for both people and the bees. But it is expensive. I’m also not sure about not looking in the hive on the regular to learn more about how bees work.

Top Bar Hive

We got a top bar hive a few years ago and it’s what we still use now. A top-bar hive is a totally different format. I think everyone should have at least one of these hives.

It’s more like bees in the wild, they live in a log or something and they build in a like narrow, closed off, totally sealed off compartment that’s usually like round and enveloped.

Now think about a bee tree, that’s a column, that’s what they want. And then they’ll build their comb around the outer edge and then comb will hang down. That’s what happens in the top bar hive.

A top bar hive is a very efficient way to build a hive because it’s just one long body and then bars that are literally along the top, there’s nothing on them. They’re just strips of wood that you put in there and they build a comb down from that.

It’s really a cool thing to see because they build it in a very natural way and it comes down and curves down and around, much like if you see comb in the wild.

Benefits of a top bar hive in beekeeping

Because of that natural beekeeping arrangement, I think they stay way healthier because they can build it the sizes they want. Different bee cells are different sizes depending on what they need. Like a cell for honey, it’s a different size than a cell for a male larvae egg.

They can manipulate as they go, knowing what their hive needs to survive.

That hive though it has taken two years to really get full force, it’s thriving this year and we actually did take some honey from it.

Harvesting Honey

When you extract honey from a Langstroth hive, the cool thing is they make spinners specifically for that.

You can take the frames with the comb on it, you slice off the top layer, uncover the honey, stick it in there, spin it and all the honey comes out and it’s very convenient.

With the top bar hive, you take out an entire frame, with comb and honey on it and you’re going to take it out whole, because there’s no frame at all. You can’t put it in anything. Even if you flip it upside down, it could bend over and break. So we take it from the frame and we cut off the honeycomb. This last time we had some that we crushed the beeswax to get the honey out then we let it drain the honey through a filter.

It was just a little bit different of a process when it comes to the collection, but then we got wax from it and the honeycomb from it and the honey too, so you get a lot more.

The honey’s amazing. It’s like nothing that you buy in the store, it just tastes like the smell of our property, like spring!

How many bees do you need to start beekeeping?

Probably two packages. A package is three pounds.

You have two options. One is a package of bees it is just literally a screened box with three pounds of bees in it. The other option is what’s called a nuc.

With a nuc, the bees have built a few frames, it’s five frames and then you can take that out and put it in a hive. I think that’s the better way to go. But with nucs, they’re more expensive. Also, you have to wait until later in the year to get them. Which means you might miss your honey season in your area.

So you have to weigh it out.

With nucs they’re just stronger because they’re more bees, it’s an established colony. They already know each other.

When you get you a package they don’t already have their system down. On a package, it’s a queen that’s in her own little container and then the bees’ around her and they have never actually interacted before and she has a little piece of candy that they eat through over the course of like a week or so.

After they eat through that, then they’re acclimated to one another and then, ” she’s the official queen.”

Advantage and Disadvantage of Nucs and Packages

With a package of bees, there’s a little bit more of a chance that you can get honey this year because you get your package of bees much earlier. You can get a package of bees probably in early spring if anybody still has them in stock. Generally, you want to reserve your bees in January to get them in the spring.

So you have to weigh it out.

To us, I think if I was doing it again, I might do a package of bees and a nuc. Most places have one or the other. So you can try both and see. But having two allows you work some bee magic if you need to, if something happens to one, you can take bees from one and put them in another.

You get a little more variables than if you just have one package of bees and something goes wrong, that’s it for the year. There is security by getting both.

Beekeeping for total beginners

If you have never done beekeeping but want to get into it then you totally should.

I encourage you to just go ahead and try. If we had known about the top bar hive when we first started, it was what I would have done.

They were sort of a new phenomenon and we already had Langstroth hives, we started there. But if you start with a top bar hive they’re much more affordable to start with.

They’re also much easier to make for yourself. There’s lots of plans and you can make them far easier than making all the pieces because you don’t have to buy frames and you don’t have to buy exractors. There’s lots of things you just don’t have to buy.

Basically, to get started, you need a smoker, a hive tool, and a veil so you don’t get stung in your face.

Stay tuned for more beekeeping and bees blog!

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