Beginner Beekeeper Q-and-A: What It Takes to Get Started With Bees

If you plan to get bees this spring, here are some answers to the most basic questions as well as links to previous related articles.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: Penn State/Flickr

It’s nearly spring, and that means the beekeeping season is about to get active. If this is your first year keeping bees, you probably have a lot of questions. This is normal—and wonderful—and it will continue through the coming year. Join us here at Hobby Farms for our Beginner Beekeeper Q-and-A series. where we’ll answer the questions you have as well as those that haven’t yet occurred to you.

We’ll start at the very beginning:

Q: What do I need to be a beekeeper?

A: A beekeeper requires two things in abundance: the right equipment and the right knowledge. It’s critical to educate yourself on bee behavior, colony dynamics, modern diseases and beekeeping techniques before bringing bees home. You need equipment such as safety gear (hat, veil, jacket, gloves and so on), a hive in which to place the bees, a smoker, a hive tool and a few other items that are optional to some.

Q: Where do I get bees?

A: You can buy bees from local beekeepers or order them from beekeeping suppliers. Suppliers will usually have packages available for shipping all over the country, whereas local beekeepers may have packages as well as nucleus colonies, which are commonly called “nucs.” Recently I wrote guidelines about how to find a reputable breeder when buying bees.

Q: What’s the difference between a “nuc” and a “package” of bees?

A: “Nuc” is short for nucleus colony. These are miniature, fully established honeybee colonies; they have a mated, laying queen; bees and brood in all stages of life; and a small supply of honey and pollen on drawn out frames. A “package” of bees refers to several tens of thousands of bees and one laying queen only, shipped safely in a wire mesh box.

Q: Where do I put my bees?

A: Bees will need housing. This is usually a square box of some style made of wood that contains a series of frames upon which the bees build their comb, raise their brood and store their honey. The most popular hives are Langstroth and top bar hives. Read this post about choosing the proper location for a hive.

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Q: What’s the difference between a Langstroth hive and a top bar hive?

A: Langstroth hives are the quintessential honeybee hive style used around the world to harvest honey. They are often white, with stacked boxes called “supers.” Each Langstroth hive has a waterproof outer cover and the entrance at the front bottom of the structure. It looks like a miniature townhouse. Top bar hives were developed in Kenya (so they’re also called Kenyan hives). They are long, watertight hives, shaped a bit like a coffin, that house the frames in a horizontal orientation rather than vertical as the Langstroth does.

Q: What is a hive inspection?

A: A hive inspection is what beekeepers call the process of monitoring their colonies. The beekeeper dons his or her chosen safety gear, lights a smoker and opens the hive to look inside. Hive inspections must have a purpose: Beekeepers often look for the queen to confirm her presence and health in addition to scouting for signs of colony health (or disease). Hive inspections can occur anywhere from once a week to once a month for most beekeepers for routine purposes.

Good luck this spring, and join us again soon for another installment of Beginning Beekeeper Q-and-A.

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