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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Keeping Bees for Fun and Profit

Keeping Bees for Fun and Profit

If you like to eat, you can thank a bee. Whether it grows out of the ground or from a tree, many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that keep us strong and healthy rely on bees to reproduce. In addition, bees produce honey, one of the healthiest and most natural sweeteners on the planet.

Because bees are so beneficial to humans, beekeeping has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. More and more people are setting up hives in their backyards, or even on fire escapes and rooftops in urban settings, to take advantage of honey, beeswax, royal jelly, or even just for a little help with their home gardens.

Some people profit from these products, or from renting out their hives to pollinate farmers’ fields, while others do it just for personal use. As bee populations in North America and elsewhere decline due to a combination of factors from parasites to pesticides, many are starting hives as a way to save these important insects from extinction. Your level of involvement depends on how many bees you’d like to keep, and how much time you plan to spend on them.

People have been keeping bees domestically for thousands of years, and though the practices have changed drastically in that time, keeping bees is still a fairly simple, low-tech hobby.

The basic tools are protective clothing (to keep from getting stung), one or more hives (usually a specially designed wooden box), a smoker to calm the bees, and a few tools for extracting honey, beeswax, and other valuable products from your hive.

You’ll need to purchase this equipment — and the bees, themselves — from a specialty beekeeping supply store. The staff at these stores are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about teaching their hobby to others. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions. These people, along with any other beekeepers you may find in your area, will be you greatest resource. There are also numerous books on the subject you can consult to help you get started. Just check your local library or bookstore.

A basic hive set-up requires only a few hours of attention each week, for harvesting honey, checking on the health of your colony, and doing any necessary maintenance on your hive structure.

Depending on the size and number of your hives, beekeeping need not take up a lot of room. A sheltered corner of a suburban backyard is more than enough space for a small set-up. A small decorative water garden will ensure that your bees have plenty of fresh drinking water if you don’t live near a pond or other natural source. A bee garden, featuring a variety of feeder plants, makes a nice complement to a hive, but is not truly necessary. Bees will travel over several miles to find a good food source.

Of course, beekeepers living in the city or suburbs need to take a few extra precautions to ensure that their bees don’t become a nuisance. Building a six foot fence next to your hive will keep their flight path above most people’s heads to minimize incidental collisions, and will also protect the bees from drafts.

With a few precautions, though, beekeeping can be a rewarding hobby for people of all ages, and from all walks of life.

6 comments

1 mommyhen42 { 06.27.12 at 9:53 am }

I spend about 2-3 hours a month on my own bees and I have about 20 hives. It really is best not to bother your bees on a weekly basis but rather every 3 weeks or so. Every time you open your beehives you upset their routine and it takes them a day or so to recover and get back to normal

2 Steve Jones { 08.05.11 at 9:58 am }

It is really no hard work involved other than harvesting the honey,the bee`s do all the work all you have to do is set the hive up and check them every few weeks.I just harvested about 12 pounds of super sweet honey.I was terrified at first until I got into the suit and started working with them,now my wild things in a box are so much fun.It is a small investment and a big reward if things go good.

3 Carol Dopp { 08.05.11 at 8:42 am }

I decided months ago that I was interested in getting hives on the property again (grandpa use to keep bees). My husband had the same interest. The beesuit and tools arrived yesterday and I get my bees from the Beekeeper 20 miles away. I joined the Association closes to me, and also bought and read books, while my husband watched many videos on youtube….We met the beekeeper and picked up our frames and equipment, we will get the queen and bees on Sunday. I am so excired. In Ohio we have to have a permit. THe Inspector is stopping in soon for a visit. Good Luck to all interested. Thanks Jamie…I shared the link on Facebook. My family thinks I am crazy! ;)

4 Jaime McLeod { 08.05.11 at 8:16 am }

Hi Lee,
This article was meant to be more of an inspirational overview. For the real nitty gritty, you’ll want to borrow or buy a book and talk to the folks who sell beekeeping supplies, as noted above. If you’re not offended by the title, then Beekeeping For Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Kim Flottum is a good place to start. One of the authors of that book, Kim Flottum, also has her own book,The Backyard Beekeeper.

5 lee respess { 08.05.11 at 7:35 am }

need to know basic’s for getting srarted

6 Deborah Tukua { 08.03.11 at 9:57 pm }

We are harvesting our very first crop of honey and it is exciting to see the sweet fruits of your labor. My husband is trying his hand at making creamed honey – it has no additives and is still ‘raw’ honey. Good article Jaime! Very thorough.

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