Welcome to beekeeping. It is a fascinating and engaging hobby that when done right will continue to reward you through your entire beekeeping career. This article will briefly cover the three basic topics you will need to have an understanding of before diving in a getting you very first beehive.
Knowledge in beekeeping is knowing what to do and when to do it, this is the art of keeping bees. The best way to learn about bees is to have an experienced beekeeper teach you hands on. But, since not all of us have access to this resource we can look to another option. Google “fill-in-blank County Beekeepers Association” to see if your county has one, or any bee club for that matter. Tehama County has the Tehama County Beekeepers Association. Joining groups of like-minded individuals will ensure your success as a new beek. Look for bee companies holding beekeeping classes near you. Jefferson Bee Company, Wooten Golden Queens, and UC Davis offer beekeeping classes in Northern California. This can be a great resource to learn hands-on about keeping bees. Join a honey bee forum, beesource.com has a ton of members from new-bees to beeks with decades of experience. Join a blog dedicated to beekeeping, like this one, and subscribe to Youtube channels. This will allow you to stay up to date with current climate conditions and the latest breakthroughs in beekeeping. Books, articles, and magazines, of course, are another great way to get information from industry experts. American Bee Journal and Bee Culture are to of the best up-to-date magazines today. Whatever you do make sure (A) it is from an accredited beekeeper and (B) the information you are receiving is in your region. LIke stated in an earlier blog, Welcome to Jefferson Bee Company, beekeepers on the east coast or in Canada are going to do things differently than those on the west coast.
Once you feel you have a basic understanding of bees, it is time to pick a good location. The best place to start is your local county’s agricultural department. You can either call them directly or look them up online. They should have a page dedicated to bees. I have placed a link to Tehama County’s Bee’s/Apiary page (https://www.co.tehama.ca.us/bees-apiary). It is important to have a good understanding of the local apiary requirements for keeping bees in your county and/or city. Keep in mind county and city can have different restrictions. It is your responsibility to make sure you know them both.
Once you understand the local requirements it's now time to start scouting out a nice home for your bees. Water, when scoping a good spot make sure there is close access to water. The key word here is close. Bees will find the nearest water source, leaky faucets, and neighboring pools are their favorite. If there are no nearby natural water sources, water troughs that provide a continuous supply of fresh water make a good alternative for backyard beekeepers.
Here’s a quick tip. Get a water trough or 5-gallon bucket from a feed store. Put a hose with an automatic refill nozzle in the trough/bucket. Fold burlap over the bucket submerging half of it in the water and hanging the other half over the outside of the bucket. The burlap will soak up the water and allow the bees access to it without drowning.(if some bees drown, don’t worry it happens)
Next, know your surroundings, if you are in a rural environment are there any large pastures nearby or is there a large orchard near you? Where cows eat, bees do too. On the other hand, monoculture is not ideal for bees. Bloom only happens once and growers usually have to spray to keep crops healthy. A diverse population of grasses, shrubs, and trees make the best apiaries. This brings us to our city folk. Suburbs, believe it or not, make for great bee forage. They offer a healthy variety of well-irrigated vegetation for bees! Think about that the next time you are mowing down all those fresh flowers on your perfectly manicured lawn :).
When it comes to keeping bees, the right tools an excellent ally. There are 3 tools that are the most important to own before you get your bees. First, is the hive tool. Arguably, the single most important. The hive tool allows you to break apart the propolized, wax-filled hive parts. Bees like a tightly sealed environment and the hive tools make quick work of stuck together frames, lids, and boxes. Next in order of importance, is the smoker. Smoke interferes with the bees ability to communicate and therefore confuses the colony. Contrary to popular belief the smoker does not put the bees to sleep. It triggers the bees defense mechanism, flight, not fight. Smelling the smoke tells them there is a fire nearby and they may need to evacuate. They begin sending this pheromone throughout the hive, kind of like a fire alarm. Unlike us, the bees do not get excited and act frantic. In fact, they do the opposite. They fill their bellies up with honey to make the journey. This act of gorging themselves with honey makes them calmer and more dosel. If done right, the beekeeper is working in the hive amidst this happening. Last on our tool list is a head veil or full bee suit. This as many of you are aware, this does not allow the wearer to get stung, particularly, where it covers. There are many more tools available for beekeepers. These are the three you will need to get started.
Now you have a starting place. Learn as much as you can. Pick a good location with the characteristics mentioned, and get the tools you need. Once you have a good handle on the above material it's time to get your first hive!
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