how to miscellaneous musings

How to get started in beekeeping

A reader from Orlando wrote to ask if he really needs ninety-some lessons before he can keep bees. My answer: absolutely not! Don’t even think about it! Very little about beekeeping has to be pre-learned.

For one thing, the word “lesson” has negative connotations—at least for me. Expressions like, “I hope you learned your lesson!” or worse, “I’m going to teach you a lesson!” have made me hate the word.

Beyond that, I believe you can over-prepare for your first hive. All the stuff you read is overwhelming until you have a hive in front of you. Although beekeeping organizations write “lessons” by the bushel and the peck, it is the bees themselves that do the actual teaching. Once you have your hive, you will start to wonder what the different behaviors mean and you will look them up. You will question how to handle a situation and, again, you will look it up. The bees will guide your education.

The beginner should relax and enjoy the bees. You can learn an infinite number of things by just sitting next to the hive and watching them come and go, noticing how they interact with each other on the landing board, seeing how they handle an intruder, and discovering what they bring into the hive and what they take out of it.

Once you have a feeling for the bees you will know what questions to ask. Your knowledge will deepen as you go along and eventually you may want to resort to “lessons.” But don’t get ahead of yourself—take it one day at a time.

So how do I recommend you get started? Here are my suggestions:[list icon=”sign-in”]

  • It’s nice to watch an experienced beekeeper open a hive and perform a few basic tasks. Seeing someone else work the bees will make you feel more comfortable the first time you do it.
  • Read a beginner’s book—and I mean beginner. Don’t worry about grafting queens or regressing colonies before you’ve done a simple hive inspection. In the beginning it helps to learn a few basic concepts and a little beekeeper vocabulary.
  • Sometimes bee clubs can be helpful. But if you are impatient to learn, avoid those clubs heavy into minutes, dues, fund raisers, name tags, elections, and by-laws.
  • Use the web to ask questions. Many beekeepers maintain websites and blogs and will try their best to answer your questions.
  • In the famous words of Nike, “Just do it.” Order your equipment, order your package or nuc, and follow the directions provided. Millions of people all over the world keep bees and if they can do it, you can do it.
  • Have fun—it’s the most important part.
  • [/list]


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  • This is great advice. I definitely over-thought my first year of beekeeping and it became paralyzing at times to know too much. Good instincts, some basics, patience, humility.

  • The beauty of beekeeping is that it is easy to get started and then you have a lifetime of learning. Most of us fall head over heels for our girls very quickly. One of the first things I learned was that for every 5 beekeepers there are at least 10 different opinions on any given subject.

  • Before I got my bees I “assisted” a friend with hers, which means I stood gaping as I watched disturbed bees swirling around my head. My first thought was “I am insane for even THINKING about doing this” but my second thought was “this is absolutely amazing and utterly terrifying”. So I did it.

  • I just found this website and I’m having a blast reading these posts! I’m gonna be starting my beekeeping adventure next spring. I’m moving to Washington, otherwise I’d be starting this year. Do you have any advice for keeping bees near Whidbey? I’ve tried to look up local beekeepers but I don’t think I’ll find much info until I actually get there. I know the weather there is interesting but if I’ve read right your in the Washington area and have great success. I’m hoping to have 2 hives going. Is there any particular type of bee that does better in the Washington climates? Thank you for all your great advice! I just wish I could start my beekeeping this year! haha

    • Lindsey,

      I prefer Carniolans because they maintain smaller colonies during our long, wet winters. Smaller colonies mean they burn through less food and are less likely to starve.

      I know I have readers on Whidbey; I hear from them now and then.

  • This is exactly the advice I needed. I tend to be a person who jumps into things with very little preparation and it always works out ok because I don’t know what I don’t know. But i started doing research and looking into equipment because I want to get my husband bees for our anniversary. I was getting totally overwhelmed by all the terminology and supplies.

  • Hi! Rusty,

    I asked you few days ago how long after I oiled the hive with linseed oil can move the bees in. You suggest to wait a week or so. I could not wait that long so I moved the bees after 2 days. It seams to be ok. Now after 9 days the bees did not leave the hive.

    I never worked with bees but I am stuck with one. I do not know what to do, I will like some advise.

    The swarm was in a plastic con. My neighbour has put it on top of the box. He left the area and I am stuck with it. I managed to put one box with frames and foundation under that box last week, Yesterday I took the con off from now on I do not know what to do. I got all the safety equipment and tools and hive especially for this. I wish to send some photos but I do not know how to attach to this site.

    Thank you for your support

  • Hi Rusty,
    Thank you for reply. I did send you photos. I do not know what to do next.I intend to put an queen excluder on top of the old box, and a new box with frames and foundation. Leave it like that until I will find a beekeeper. The best I can think of is this.

    Any other opinion?