Learning how to raise bees in your backyard is easy and fun and is a great way to help manage the shrinking bee population, pollinate your plants and produce your own honey. While the basics of keeping bees is simple, there is plenty to learn and problems to overcome. This article is basically ‘bee keeping 101, ‘ and is for beginners looking into keeping bees as a hobby.
Want to learn more about how to raise bees in your backyard from the Backyard Farming Connection? Check out these articles or read below to learn beekeeping basics.
- What do Honeybees do in Winter?
- Where are all the bees? Why Dead Bees are a Problem for Everyone
- The Basics on Swarming Bees
- Growing a Bee Garden
- The Best Beekeeping Book
- Best Bee Hive Starter Kits
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1. How to Raise Bees in your Backyard: Decide if They Are Right for You?
Raising bees is a slightly different undertaking than other animals on your backyard farm. They need care just like other animals, but not daily care and they tend to need periodic care and general observation compared to other backyard farm animals. These reasons make keeping bees for a hobby an excellent choice for many backyard farmers.
Is it hard to keep bees? That depend on how much time you have and how comfortable you are working with bees.
Before you jump into bee keeping, consider the following things.
Can you legally keep bees?
Before you get excited about keeping bees, make sure it is legal where you live. Some towns and cities restrict beekeeping, or restrict how many bees you can have or how close to the property boundary you can keep them.
Is it Safe to Keep Bees?
Honey bees are typically not aggressive, but you will need to check that no one in your home or nearby homes have serious allergies.
Where Will your Bees Forage?
Honeybees typically forage up to 3 miles away from their hives. While you can grow a bee garden, it’s important to have a variety of trees, bushes, and wildflowers nearby. There are some environments that may be lacking a food source during a specific time of the year.
How Much Time do you Have for Bee Keeping?
You don’t need to give daily care to your beehives, but have enough time (and money) to manage your bees is important.
Where Will you Keep your Bee Hive?
While honeybees are generally considered not aggressive, you should try to find a quiet spot in your yard that you don’t pass all the time. Bees prefer a sunny spot often against a fence or wall. If the entrance is facing a wall or even a bush, the bees will fly up not just out.
If you still feel like keeping honeybees is for you, read on. If you are unable to keep honeybees for any of the reasons above, consider your other options:
- Keep bees on someone else’s property
- Attract pollinators with a bee garden
- Attract native bees with a mason bee house
Once you’ve decided you can keep bees, your next step for your beekeeping hobby is to learn everything you can know about how to start beekeeping. I strongly recommend you get at least one bee keeping book. If you are a beginner and need a book to get started, check out The Beekeepers Handbook. I also recommend you look locally for beekeeping courses and a mentor as this can be helpful when you have questions. There are a few online bee keeping courses as well that are excellent and comprehensive options.
2. Collect Your Bee Keeping Supplies, Purchase and Pick Up Your Bees
Keeping bees requires it’s own special set of bee keeping supplies. You can purchase a bee keeping kit that come with all or most of the supplies you will need or you can use the list below to purchase the bee keeping supplies you will need.
This is a good starter kit, but you may need more boxes to expand your hive. It comes with most of the maintenance supplies you need to get started although it does not have a complete suit.
Here is a list of bee keeping supplies with some links to find these items online.
- Langstroth Bee Hive
- Bee Smoker
- Hive Tool
- Bee Hive Brush
- Bee Keeping Suit (you can also do just a jacket and wear normal pants)
- Bee Gloves
- Queen Excluder
This basic list should get you started. There are plenty of other things you can get like a queen marker, boots, bee feeder, etc, but these items are a good start
Next you will need bees. You will want to look locally for where to purchase a nuc – or nucleus hive (you can also get a full hive, but this will be more bees and more expensive). A nuc comes in a box full of bees, usually with a queen in a small box inside. You will need to put the bees into the hive from this box. If you don’t have a queen, or if you are looking to requeen for any reason you may have to find the bee separately. There are several different types of bees you can choose from although depending on where you get your bees, you may not have a choice.
A local bee keeping group or bee keeper will be your best resources in looking for bees.
3. Put Your Bees in the Hive
Once you’ve got your supplies and you have brought your bees home you will want to prepare to put your bees in your hive. Make sure to set your hive up where you want to keep it permanently since it will be difficult to move. If you can’t put your bees right into the hive, you can mix sugar water (1 cup water to 1 cup sugar) and using a brush, paint the sugar onto the screen of the nucleus bee hive. The bees will eat the sugar water and it will settle them down a bit – check out their tongues when they’re eating the sugar water!
How to Raise Bees in Your Backyard: Dumping the bees into the hive
Here is a step by step guide of what to do when adding a nuc to a hive:
- Get all your supplies, a helper and prepare the smoker. Ideally do this at the end of the day when it’s normal weather conditions and not too windy
- Spray your bees with sugar water
- Use the hive to remove the sugar water feeder in the nuc
- Remove the queen box – there should be a little piece of candy the bees will eat through to release the queen – put the box with the queen between 2 of the hive frames
- Shake the bees to one side of the box in one motion and dump the bees into the open hive – this may take a few shakes and you can then leave the box leaning up against the hive for the stragglers.
- After about 1 hour when the bees are mostly in the hive, add a pollen cake and close up the hive with the cover
- Add the syrup feeder if you are using it and then add the entrance reducer to the hive
That is a quick guide to adding bees to the hive! Congrats you are done. If the bees seem rowdy you can use the smoker although we usually just keep it nearby just in case during this part.
4. Manage and Maintain Your Bees
This article includes the basics of how to raise bees in your backyard to get you started, but I strongly recommend that you get a book and also a calendar with bee keeping tasks throughout the year.
You should plan to check on your bees consistently to monitor for several things, including:
- The general health of the hive, including the queen
- The amount of honey
- Healthy larvae and eggs
Depending on what you find in the hive, you may decide to take action such as such as feeding your bees, treating with (antibiotics
or miticides), swapping out damaged combs with frames containing new foundation, adding an super, or removing honey. You should plan to keep the hive open for as short a time as possible so plan to have all the supplies laid out and nearby when you get started.
This may be the most difficult step in learning how to Raise Bees in Your Backyard as there are many unexpected things that can happen. You can have an animal knock over your hive, you can have your bees swarm, or you can lose a queen unexpectedly. You can read the story here of our bees swarming a few years ago.
5. Collect Honey
If you’re lucky, you will be able to collect honey from your hive. You can decide to do this if your hive seems to have more than enough to get through the winter. We also lost a hive one winter and the bees didn’t get the honey, so we harvested the honey in the late winter when it was clear the bees were gone.
If you can, you should consider renting, borrowing or buying a honey extractor. The first time we collected honey, we did not get an extractor, and it was a sticky mess. We had dripping honey frames all over the kitchen and we tried to rig up a spinning bucket to get the honey out of the frames. Below are some basic honey extracting supplies.
Supplies for Extracting Honey
There are several options and methods for extracting honey.
- Cut off the honeycomb and put it into a bucket. You can keep some of the honeycomb to serve as it is. With the remaining honeycomb, you can crush it and drain off the honey. You will need the strain the honey and comb through several filters. You can then use the wax to make candles or other products.
- If you are extracting with an extractor, you will leave the honeycomb on the frames. You cut off the caps to the honeycomb with an uncapping knife. Depending on the type of extractor, you will place the frames inside and then operate the extractor to spin out the honey from the frames. You can then run the honey through a filter and store indefinitely.
Learning how to raise bees in your backyard is a lifelong task, and you will never know everything you need to know about raising bees, so do your homework and then get started.