Beekeeping Start-Up, Jump Into the World of Keeping Bees

Swarm in my yard that formed on a tree

Beekeeping has moved from the pastime of fusty middle-aged men to young urban couples and singles. It is trendy now to become a beekeeper! Who could have predicted that? When I worked at the bee booth at the Fairgrounds recently, I was amazed at the young (under 25!) people, both male and female who were into beekeeping!  I was also surprised by the number of people who have asked me questions about beekeeping, who were seriously considering jumping in, but just weren’t sure if it was for them. And yes, it does change your life.  I categorize my life as BB (before beekeeping) and AB (after).  It is kind of like having children.  You are changed from the experience whether you like it or not.

Prize Winning Honey at the State Fair in Timonium, MD

So, I thought I would do a post on what to expect as a newbie beekeeper, because by now I have experienced it all – the mistakes, the outlay of money, the new friends, the frustration, swarms, the deluge of yummy honey, and yes – the stings!

New type of hive that combines top bar with traditional langstroth- The influx of new beekeepers is shaking up the traditional way of doing things

Don’t Try To Do this By Yourself!

If you are really thinking about beekeeping, first learn all you can about the basics. Contact your local beekeeping association; they are all over the U.S. My local one, the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association conducts a comprehensive course which is called the ‘Short Course in Beekeeping’. Starting in February each year, the evening classes are well attended by prospective beekeepers. At the conclusion of the series, there is a hands on practice with bees and outside demonstrations and you can order your starter hive from them. The instructor is the State Apiary Inspector who will teach you basic bee biology and  management of  your colonies for the first year. The course is excellent with lots of reference materials available and personal encouragement from experienced beekeepers.

Cross section of a standard hive

Even if you are not interested in starting up a colony, the course is fascinating.  There are local beekeeping associations everywhere. Just do a google search and you are sure to find one close by. Attending one of these courses will help you to become a successful beekeeper. I have found that the most successful beekeepers are ones who have taken the course and continue to go to the monthly meetings to learn more, and share ideas with others. The association is kind of like your cheer leading section- when you become discouraged and frustrated, you have someone to bounce ideas off of and give you support. The internet is a resource that I use a lot but there is nothing like talking to real hands-on beekeepers. Don’t get me wrong,  experienced beekeepers have vastly differing opinions and practices that vary greatly but the advice is invaluable. There are no right or wrong solutions, so you need to listen, check your references, and then do what you think is best.

My honey is my reward for beekeeping

Cost

When I contemplated starting a hive, I had no idea of how much it would cost and if I had known, I might not have taken the plunge. The expense of starting up a hive is considerable.  Purchasing hive bodies, feeders, the bee suit and hat, smoker, medications, and various beekeeping tools will run a minimum of $500 to $1000.

To save money on beekeeping equipment, I use a painters outfit that costs about $12

The initial investment is steep but once you have your basic equipment, the cost levels off. You can add other items that you need later on, such as an extractor, which you won’t need right away.  Or you can rent an extractor like I do from the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association for a nominal fee.

I rent my extractor from my bee club for $10

You can also buy used equipment from a local beekeeper to cut down on your start-up costs but it is important to make sure that the equipment is free of disease. The cost of your initial package of a couple of thousand bees with a queen will run around $100.

A queen bee comes in a small cage along with a package of bees
A package of bees with a queen sitting in my car ready to be installed

By attending the ‘Short Course’, experienced beekeepers can help you to obtain the proper equipment that you need to get started. I mostly order my new equipment on-line for convenience. There are a few local providers of supplies that I use also.

I bought my smoker from a local source, but they can be bought on line

Work Involved

Hiving a package of bees the first time

Another question that is asked of me frequently is how much time is involved in maintaining your colonies….. a lot! The lion’s share of your time is spent in the spring to make sure that the hive is happy and healthy, installing new bees, feeding them, and monitoring them. I spend at least a couple of hours a week in the early spring, feeding, inspecting, and manipulating the hives. Manipulating the hives just means you are pulling your hive bodies or boxes apart, making sure that the queen is healthy and producing eggs, and that there is sufficient room for her to lay eggs in the frames.

Checking on a frame of capped honey

Later when there is a ‘honeyflow’, which is when the particular flowers that bees prefer are blooming in abundance, you need to add extra supers, or hive bodies on your brood boxes to handle the extra honey.  Bees normally will not produce excess honey the first year that they are hived as they are just starting out, but will produce extra  for harvesting in subsequent years. Check out my post of Honeybee HoneyFlow.

I ordered a package to be delivered by U.S. mail several times

In the late summer and fall, I spend time taking off the supers, extracting the honey and feeding and medicating them to get through the winter.  I set aside one entire day to remove and extract my honey sometime in August or September. Check out my extracting post at  Spinning Honey.

Extracting honey by spinning it out
Putting feeders on the hive in October when there isn’t much nectar for foraging

Swarms

Will they swarm?  Yes, of course and you have to deal with it! I have had many swarms from my hives, some that I could catch and some that just were too difficult to hive safely. I have also caught wild swarms to increase my hives.  Swarming is a natural mechanism for honeybees to find a new home when their present home gets too crowded. Sounds like a benefit for the beekeeper as he increases his hives but the downside is no extra honey is produced for harvesting. Go to Swarming of the Bees to see how I deal with that.

Knocking a swarm into a hive body

Will they sting?

With my hives, I have noticed a much greater presence of honeybees my flower and vegetable gardens and generally around my property. They use a nearby pond next to my patio for their water source, so the honeybees are very close to where people frequent. The hives are set about 100 feet from my house.  I have been stung many times as I manipulate the hives or extract the honey because the bees are protecting their territory and that is a natural response.  But if I am working in the garden or just sitting on my patio near the pond they never bother me. Guests have never been stung either.  Honeybees are non-aggressive unlike yellow jackets and wasps, and on their daily trips to collect pollen, nectar, or water, they will ignore you and go about their business.

 The Good

I have 2 hives now on 2 acres of property, but have had as many as 4.  I normally will harvest about 50 to 60 pounds of honey from each hive every season and sell it to friends and give it as gifts. It is a  hobby that you can practice on much smaller pieces of property, even in urban locations.

My honey harvest is all jarred up

By producing your own honey, you are getting a natural, unadulterated product that has no additives. Your own honey contains nectar from local wildflower sources only, and that is supposed to help people with allergies to pollen. I use my honey and beeswax not only as a sweetener, but for healing and cosmetic purposes, like soap and body butter. See my recipe for Honey Scented Soap and Body Butter.

Honey soap
Beeswax candles from my hives

Managing your own hives also makes good garden sense as it improves the pollination of your garden and will improve the yield of your vegetable garden. Observing and managing your own hives is endlessly fascinating!

 

Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”.And what better way to put to use the beeswax and honey that I gathered from the hive last summer? I bought body butter from Burt’s Bees at $15 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and the butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. Updating on one of my older posts at Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter, I find that this has become one of my most popular posts of all time. For other uses of beeswax, go to Honeybee Gift-Beeswax or Orange Citrus Soap With Beeswax.

body butter

BODY BUTTER

After going through some recipes on-line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying Burt’s Bees. Plus, I made a dent in all of my horded beeswax. The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before. The butter is a little thicker than others that I have tried because of the addition of beeswax but it still feels light and creamy.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Healthy Ingredients

Beeswax: Forms a light coating on the skin helping to hold in moisture. If you don’t have your own hives, contact a local beekeeper to buy some. Available on-line also, and you can buy beeswax already grated which is easier to use.

Raw Unpasteurized Honey: Adds moisture to the skin and helps lock it in, while providing protective benefits. Find a local beekeeper.

Coconut Oil: Naturally rich in proteins which help keep the skin rejuvenated. Coconut oil is becoming ubiquitous in the stores and I am finding more and more uses for it.

Shea Butter: Vitamins, minerals and fatty acids moisturize and revitalize dry skin.

Sweet Almond Oil: Softens and hydrates skin.

Essential Oil: Adds aromatherapy benefits and supports healthy skin. I used lavender oil, but the possibilities are endless-bergamot, lemon, scented geranium, orange, peppermint. I especially like the flavor of lavender and honey and have used this combo in Lavender Honey Ice Cream.

Ingredients for body butter

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try Whole Foods or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, two teaspoons of honey and at least a dozen drops of lavender essential oil. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil, which is solid at room temperature

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

3-4 ounces Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

Dozen drops of Lavender essential oil

1 T of Honey

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps melt.

Melting the oils
Melting the oils at a low temperature

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax, as well as the added liquid honey added at the end.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil. Place the whole thing into the refrigerator until the mixtures turns almost hard and opaque. This could be 15 minutes or less. If you let it harden too much, just return to the heat to melt the mixture again. You want it soft enough to whip, but not too hard that the mixture will form lumps. Creamy smooth is the key, not hard and solid.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out, adding the honey and the lavender oil and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender until thoroughly mixed. The more air incorporated, the lighter the mixture.

Scrape into containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and some small mason jars.

Adding honey and lavender oil
Adding honey and lavender oil
Scooping out the butter into containers It is the perfect consistency!

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $15 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months

 

Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

BODY BUTTER

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”!  I have been buying it from Burt’s Bees at $13 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. For an updated version of my body butter with lavender, go to my post Lavender Scented Honey Body Butter.

After going through some recipes on line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying. Plus, I got to use some of my beeswax from my hives! The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Ingredients for body butter: Shea Butter, Sweet Almond OIl, Beeswax chunks, Coconut Oil, and Vitamin E

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try WholeFoods or a good pharmacy, or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, and 50 drops of Vitamin E. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. I also use about 4 Tablespoons of Beeswax.  The Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

4 T Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

50 drops of Vitamin E Oil

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps are melted.

Melting the Coconut Oil, Beeswax, and Shea Butter in the top of a double boiler

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the Vitamin E drops.

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Stir until mixed and place into the refrigerator for about an hour.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender or mixer.

Whipping the body butter with an immersion blender

Place in containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and just some other containers that I had sitting around.

Scooping out the butter into containers- It is the perfect consistency!

Don’t worry if you forget the mixture in the refrigerator and it gets too hard.  Just gently warm it until it softens enough to whip.

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $13 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months!

I am thinking about making another batch for Christmas gifts!