Basic Beekeeping -- Getting Started
The best time to start beekeeping is in spring time. Fruit trees and flowers are in bloom and should supply the new colony with sufficient nectar and pollen. If you have never kept bees before, do not start with more than two or three hives. Having a few bees around doesn't make you a beekeeper. Some people become bee-havers. The difference lies in how much you know about bee behavior and how successfully you apply this knowledge!
Who can keep bees?
Beekeeping can be undertaken by anyone who has enough ability and determination to look after the bees properly, enough courage to work with bees, and enough money to buy bees and equipment. Please note: Before you get into beekeeping, you should check to make sure local zoning laws allow you to keep honey bees and what your reaction is to bee stings.
Traditionally a person starts beekeeping by building hive equipment, buying packages of bees, and installing the bees into the equipment. It is possible that you could purchase a nuc (a nuc is a small hive. Generally it can be three, four, or five frames of brood and bees with a queen. The bees have begun to build new comb and the queen is already laying eggs. Or a person could buy a complete hive. We will discuss each:
1) The complete hive This is the easiest way to get started. It does have some drawbacks.
Above are three typical configurations of bee hives that you might find for sale. The price you will pay for a hive can vary considerably. Don't pay more than what you would spend for brand new equipment and bees. At present that should be no more $150.00 per double hive configuration.
The major advantage is that you do not need to do much. The major disadvantage is you could be buying some else's problems.
A nuc is nothing more than part of a hive of bees. It does not come in a full size hive body. Often nuc's are sold in cardboard boxes which provide a temporary shelter for the bees. The nuc will have a laying queen (usually a young queen), several pounds of bees, drawn comb in which the queen is already laying eggs, some honey and pollen stores and is roughly four weeks ahead in development than a package of bees would be. The bee population in a nuc will not decline because new bees are emerging to replace worker bees that die. The hive made up with a nuc will develop much faster than a hive made up with a package of bees.
The major advantage is that you get a quicker start with a nuc than with a package of bees. The major disadvantage is the possible spread of disease carried on the frames of the nuc.
3) Package bees/ swarms
I have included both package bees and swarms together for one obvious reason: They both develop at just about the same rate. Package bees are ones which are shipped in screen wire cages for the purpose of starting new colonies. They are sold as 2 pound, 3 pound, and 4 pound packages with the 3 pound package being the most popular.
Swarms on the other hand are found hanging in a tree or on some other object such as parking meter or maybe even a car. Usually they are free for the taking because the person who owns the property wants them gone. At one time swarms were plentiful but no more due to the mite death of many of the wild bees that populated trees in our cities and forest. They do occur though and you might contact your local fire department and let them know that you would collect such a swarm if the fire department is notified by a worried property owner. To read about how to hive a package, go to: Package bees
The major advantage of starting a package of bees is: 1) you know that your bees are disease free, [bees shipped in packages must be state inspected at the point of origin] 2) you can install them into new equipment to insure that disease is not transported from other comb, and 3) you can follow the development of your hive of bees from its very beginning thus learning more about the development of a hive. The major disadvantage is the new colony is going to take more time to develop and most likely produce little honey the first year.