Thanks to the increase in media and public attention, many people are realizing the need to do something about the declining bee population across the world. Bees are an integral part of many ecosystems, and if their populations continue to be decimated, it will negatively impact many other facets of life.
The public’s increased awareness of the importance of bees has resulted in a renewed interest in beekeeping. If you have been researching how to become a beekeeper, but haven’t taken the first step yet, you are in the right place! We have put together this quick guide to help beekeepers get their operation off of the ground in a timely and cost-effective manner.
As you enter the world of beekeeping, remember these tips!
1. CONDUCT THOROUGH RESEARCH
Bees are really unique and complicated insects. Jumping into beekeeping without doing intensive research about the species is a recipe for disaster. Before you buy any bees, equipment, or gear, make sure that you know everything that you can know about each type of bee. Also, be sure to know what type of equipment you will need, and the space that you will need to adequately keep the bees.
As mentioned, the type of bee you select will be extremely important. Certain types of honey bees are more equipped than others to handle certain climate conditions. The type of bee you select should be dependent on where you are in the world, and the type of colony you want to have. Here is a quick rundown of two of the most common types of honey bees that people keep:
ITALIAN (Apis Mellifera Ligustica)
One of the most popular types of bees amongst beekeepers is the Italian Honey Bee. They are great for beginners as they have high honey production, are typically gentle, and have long brood cycles. A downside to the Italian Honey Bee is that they tend to wander from hive to hive during nectar dearth periods and can rob other colonies of their resources.
CARNIOLAN (Apis Mellifera Carnica)
This Honey Bee reigns from parts of Europe and is an excellent choice for beekeepers who face long winter months. Carniolans limit population growth in the fall, but boom in the springtime, which is great timing for the summer season. These bees are extremely docile, but overpopulation in the springtime can lead to swarming if not maintained properly.
There are other hybrid species out there, but these two are the common choice amongst most beekeepers.
Besides the type of bee, it is also important to research things like local beekeeping and wildlife regulations to make sure that you are following local apiary laws. It would also be wise to inform any neighbors or businesses nearby about your plans, just so the new beehive is not a surprise to them!
2. ASK YOURSELF SOME KEY QUESTIONS
An apiary is another name for a bee farm. Most people think that to be a beekeeper, you have to have thousands of bees to maintain a colony. This is actually not true! Your apiary can be as large, or as small as you choose. As a beginner, it may be better to start with a smaller hive and build your way up.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you layout a well-thought-out plan beforehand to best use the space you set aside for your colony. During this stage, you are going to have to address some major questions regarding your beekeeping plans.
First, what is the main reason that you want to get into beekeeping? What may seem like a fun hobby is actually a huge time commitment that takes years of practice to perfect. During this time it would be best to think about your long-term goals for beekeeping. Do you want to make money selling honey-based products? Do you just want to help the environment? Is this going to be a big hobby? After you answer these questions, you will have a better idea of what type of equipment you’ll need, and how much money you’ve got to have to get a colony started.
Another question to ask yourself is, will you be going on this journey alone? Or will you have partners to help you? The answer to this question should be in direct relation to your overall plans for the colony. If you plan to use the bees to make money, then you likely will need some additional help. Even hobbyists should ask others for help—managing a colony can be extremely difficult to do alone.
3. DEVELOP YOUR APIARY PLAN
After asking yourself those tough questions, you should have an idea of what you want your apiary to look like.
The first decision you will need to make is, what type of bee do you want to have to start a colony? After choosing the species of honey bee that you want to have, you need to figure out how many hives you want and how you want to keep them.
If you are using your apiary as a hobby, then one hive is a great place to start. For beginners, buying a fully assembled hive is always a good idea. Building a hive box can be expensive and confusing for a newbie. Luckily, most beekeeping supply stores will give you the option between selecting a fully assembled box and one you build yourself.
Besides deciding which type of hive box you need, you will also need to think about how many bees you want to start with. Again, if this is for a hobby, then one hive to start will be plenty. To fill a hive, you will need at least 10,000 bees and a queen to start. If you are planning on producing honey to sell or use the bees for some other business venture, then you will need to purchase enough bees and multiple queens to start more than one hive. Using the 10,000 bees and one queen per hive is a good starting point.
After you select the type of hive and how many bees you need to start, you need to plan out the area around the apiary. The bees will need a variety of flowers and other nectar sources around the hives to maintain the health and population numbers of the colony. To get you started, read up on the best flowers you can keep around your beehives.
4. PURCHASE THE NECESSARY EQUIPMENT
So far, we have discussed in detail how to plan out your apiary, but if you have made it to this point, you are ready to start buying the tools you need to actually get the colony started.
As mentioned, the type, amount, and quality of the gear you need to start your apiary will depend on the goal of your colony.
If you are using the bees for commercial purposes, then you will need to purchase a lot more equipment than a general hobbyist. Some of the most important gear to have on your beekeeping list are:
Again, the hive box will depend on the type of colony you run. No matter what size you decide, be sure to go with a wooden hive box over a plastic one. While more expensive, the wooden boxes are more durable and have better moisture resistance.
Top and bottom covers are exactly what they sound like, covers for your beehive box. When selecting your covers, make sure that they are compatible with the box you already have. Also, when choosing a top cover, try to find a durable one with aluminum covering the top as it will keep your colony safe from predators and weather conditions.
Whether you plan to use the honey for yourself or sell it, it will be easier to extract using specific tools. Honey storage compartments, honey removal aids, and wax maintenance tools can all be used to maximize the yield that your colony produces.
Even though honey bees will be docile in nature, they can grow agitated when being moved around, especially by a novice beekeeper. Make sure you have vented suits and veils to keep bees off of you and out of your clothes.
This is not even everything that you will need to get started, but it will get you in the right direction. While maintaining your colony will be costly, starting the hive will come with the most sticker shock.
For many, starting a commercial beekeeping venture will need some outside funding in order to get started. The equipment is likely too expensive for you to front completely on your own. If you have some savings built up, but just need a bit of extra cash, you could take it to your family and friends for a loan. Just remember, borrowing money from a personal friend can go sour quickly if the loan agreement is not completely fleshed out. Draw up a legit loan document that way you and your lender are on the same page regarding payback terms.
If you are interested in starting an apiary, but do not want to deplete your savings account all at once, and don’t want to borrow from a friend, a personal loan could be the route for you. Personal loans can be used for a variety of both personal and commercial projects. If you do decide to take one out, make sure that you understand the differences between certain personal loans ahead of time to ensure that you get the funding you need. Even if you plan to use the apiary for business purposes, you will likely need a personal loan over a commercial loan to get the business started as commercial lenders do not give out business funds to brand new businesses.
Starting off with the right equipment will provide the momentum that you need to get the hive started. The first few months will be extremely crucial in determining your future success.
5. LAY OUT YOUR APIARY NAME AND BRANDING
Even if you don’t plan to use your apiary as a business, it can still be fun to have a name and logo for your beehive. If you do use it as a business, it will be necessary to have a brand image and local recognition. Moving forward, we will be focusing on apiaries that will be used as a way to make money.
Naming your business can be one of the most fun and challenging steps of this process. Make sure you choose something that is unique, easy to remember, and encompasses the feeling of your brand. If you are not sure where to start, try using a brand name generator to get some ideas going!
After you get a name picked out, consider making a logo for your brand that you can use to promote your apiary. Again, if you don’t have graphic design experience, you can outsource this and hire someone to create a logo for you. After you have the logo made, consider getting promotional materials such as branded hats, gear, and stickers made up for your apiary.
6. (OPTIONAL) MAKE THE BUSINESS LEGITIMATE
As a new business owner, making your business a legal business can be a confusing process. There are a variety of business structures and tools needed to get your idea off the ground.
The first question to tackle is, how do you want to set the business up legally? There are pros and cons to choosing a business structure which we will run through now. For beekeepers, there are two popular business structures that will have slightly different rules associated with them.
First, you have a limited liability corporation. An LLC is great for any beekeeper who thinks that they will eventually scale their operation. LLCs keep the financial responsibilities of the owner and the business separate. LLCs also allow for other people to become part-owners and help manage the business.
If you plan on staying small, then a sole-proprietorship is likely the option you will pursue. Sole-proprietorships allow owners to control all aspects of the business but also state that the owner will be personally responsible for anything that happens with the business and its finances. If you start a business as a sole proprietorship, you need to apply for a “doing business as” name to make your business legitimate.
Besides legally registering your business, it would be a good idea to set up a separate business bank account. Separating your finances early on will only help you better manage your business in the long run.
This guide is just scratching the surface of what it takes to start your own apiary. Over time, each beekeeper will have their own set of preferences and priorities when it comes to maintaining their colony.
As you enter the world of beekeeping, know that it can be a stressful and time-consuming process, but the result is going to be worth it. Beekeeping can become addicting as the species are so interesting and beautiful, there is always something to learn!