In 2009 I started something that I never thought I would do — beekeeping! (If someone had told me a few years ago that I would become a beekeeper, I would have told them they were crazy.)Oh, I’d been around bees because my grandfather and grandmother always kept bees and at one time my grandfather was even the county bee inspector. But work my own hives? Not me.
I had been telling my wife that if we were going to continue to raise pumpkins, we needed to find someone with honey bees. I still think to this day that on May 2, 2009, my late grandfather and grandmother had that wild swarm of honey bees delivered to me out behind our barn.
Well, I realized this was an opportunity, so I contacted a beekeeper and asked if I could borrow some of his equipment. They furnished me a nuc box along with a hat veil and gloves — and the mad scramble began. I needed to get a permanent home for these girls quickly.
I learned then that the first part of May is the worst and busiest time of year for honey bee supply stores. After a week and a half of waiting on my stuff and assembling it all, I finally got the girls their own permanent home.
Do you have the time?
Beekeeping is no easy task. Even just one hive takes a lot of time, money, and continued education.
Make sure you can at least devote one to two hours a month per hive. This would be a minimum. Some months, you’re just going to let them do their own thing, and other months you might spend more time than that. It depends on what is going on with the hive at that particular time, or if you have to deal with pest/disease issues, feeding issues because of low nectar flows, or if it’s time to pull off honey.
I can tell you right now, I don’t spend the time I should spend with my hives at home. Honey is not my top priority with my hives at home, since I mainly use my hives for pollination purposes. (And I will tell you there is a difference in the increase in production if you manage your hives.)
Money is the second thing. You are going to spend about $450-$500 on a complete hive, equipment, and three-pound package of bees with a queen.
Don’t wait until April or May to order your supplies; order them now. This way you have time to put everything together and paint it.
And too many people wait to buy packaged bees in April or May. Your only hope during those months would be to capture a wild swarm. A lot of places are taking bee orders right now, and local bee clubs also often have bee sales this time of year.
Here, at the Monroe Soil and Water Conservation District ,we are currently taking orders for packaged bees. We have ordered 25 packages the last two years and have sold out every year.
Pickup and delivery times vary (usually in April).
Equipment and education
If you’re really going to dive into this with both feet, you will then need to purchase honey extracting equipment. Now, you’re talking even more money. For basic extracting equipment, you are going to spend around another $400 at a minimum.
And lastly, and most importantly, get that continued education, whether it’s by attending local monthly beekeeper meetings, state meetings, expos, or on your own through DVDs, books, or the Internet.
Beekeepers are constantly learning new and improved methods of raising bees and fighting pest and diseases.
Great mentors out there
Another savings with the continued education is to become a member of a local bee group. A lot of bee groups have honey extracting equipment you can use for a small nominal fee.
Bee groups can also help guide you in what direction you should take in the beginning. There are some people in the bee groups that are old veterans that will mentor you through the beekeeping process. I encourage you to go to local meetings and listen and ask questions. You might go to a meeting and have no idea what they are talking about. Don’t be intimidated. Tell them you are a beginner beekeeper. I guarantee you will have at least two, if not more, people want to help.
Know the regs
Contact your county bee inspector, and get your apiary registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. In the old days, bee inspectors were usually not welcome. Things have changed.
Used to be years ago burning hives was common because they were diseased and they didn’t have cures or treatments for hives. Now, with advanced and up-to-date technology, we can treat a lot of these problems without destroying the hive.
Hopefully I haven’t discouraged anyone with wanting to be a beekeeper. People tell me that it sounds expensive and time-consuming. And I tell them that farming is time consuming and expensive too.
So when you see that pricetag of $7 a pound for local honey, now you know what’s all involved.
But when you keep bees, remember: “You’re not only producing a food product, you are producing a product that produces food.”
(Dave Schott has been employed with the SWCD since March of 1998 and is currently the wildlife specialist, ag/forestry technician and apiary inspector for the Monroe SWCD in Woodsfield, Ohio. He can be reached at 740-472-0833 Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.)