Many think of beekeeping as something that’s specialised and passed down from generation to generation, available to only a select few. The truth is however, that beekeeping is growing as a hobby, with thousands of people who have little to no experience taking up this exciting and rewarding pastime.
First things first- is beekeeping for you?
Beekeeping isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of person that runs screaming every time you see a creepy-crawly, then you’re probably not going to do well surrounded by bees. If you’re ok with that, you still need to have a love of nature and the environment, and a true appreciation of what bees bring to the world.
To start off in beekeeping you need to have an entrepreneurial attitude and be business minded. Good record keeping is also essential. Many people turn to beekeeping because they like the idea of “small farming”, and producing their own food source.
A wise career move?
Beekeeping as a hobby is one thing, but being a professional beekeeper is something else entirely. You’re not going to become a millionaire over-night, but the return on keeping a bee hive is surprisingly high in proportion to initial investment. Most professional beekeepers started small with only one or two hives. If things went well in the first year or two, then their hobby grew into something more substantial. Beekeeping isn’t labor intensive, and the time spent tending to the hives is surprisingly low. Don’t forget, the bees do all the work, not you!
Restrictions on keeping bees
Legally there’s not many restrictions on keeping bees. Some states and cities have regulations about how many hives you can have in residential areas, but other than that anyone can become a beekeeper. There are no formal qualifications needed, and the everyday stuff can be learned quickly by pretty much anyone.
Beekeeping can be practiced in pretty much any climate in the United States. Where there are flowers, there are bees. And you don’t need vast open fields either. Beekeeping doesn’t take up much room, just the space the actual bee hives physically take up. There are beekeepers in Manhattan who have their hive on rooftops!
How to get started
While there are no prerequisite conditions or qualifications needed before becoming a beekeeper, attending a local course on the subject is a good idea. Check your state’s public colleges or the local university. Schools which specialise in agriculture are more likely to have beekeeping courses. If there are no courses or you can’t afford the time or money, then at the very least buy a “beginners guide to beekeeping” book and allow yourself to become familiar with the basics.
Buying the equipment needed is the next step, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Buying new rather than second hand is safer, as it cancels the risk of spreading disease. Old equipment might have mites or foulbrood disease, and your beekeeping experiment will be over before it begins. Starter kits can be bought online, and are surprisingly cheap. These are fine to dip your toe in and see if beekeeping is for you. If you find it is, then invest more in the equipment and grow your new hobby.
Aren’t we missing something?
Oh yeah - bees! There are several ways to get bees. Firstly, you can order them by post. Seriously, that’s a thing. It’s maybe not the best option, as mail-order bees suffer undue stress by being passed through the postal service. Secondly, and the more recommended way, is to buy them from a local source. Contact your local bee association for help. They should be able to put you in touch with another beekeeper who can sell you some of his bees.
The third option is to capture a local swarm. The local fire department will be happy you’re taking it off someone’s property, but these natural swarms come with their own problems. They may have parasites, be more aggressive than breeder’s bees, and may take off and find a new home once you resettle them.
Bee populations have been steadily on the decline in the past two decades. The environmental impact of this could be disastrous. If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper, then you’ll not only be helping yourself but the environment, the agricultural industry and the local economy.
If being your own boss, taking responsibility for your own success and failure, and helping these remarkable creatures is something that interests you, then beekeeping might just be your calling. Bee Plus have millions of bees, all over New Zealand, helping us to produce some of the purest manuka honey in the world. If you would like to see our range of delicious manuka honey products, please click here, or if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us.