BEEcoming a Beekeeper
By Jodi Forcier-Turner
Honeybees play and important role as pollinators of fruit, vegetable, and seed
crops. In addition to farm and garden crops, honeybees pollinate many plants
important to wildlife and soil conservation, and many of the wildflowers that
beautify our landscape.
Some of the crops requiring bee pollination are: alfalfa seed, clover seed, vetch
seed, sunflowers, canola, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, pumpkins,
cucumbers, apples, cherries, pears, and raspberries. Beekeepers provide a
valuable resource since these crops cannot be produced without bee pollination.
How Do I Begin?
The following suggestions will help you avoid many common problems and get
your beekeeping enterprise off to a good start. Remember, you can only learn to
be a beekeeper by keeping bees, so be patient and enjoy your lessons.
Honeybees have had hundreds of years of experience in training new
1. Prepare yourself by reading about bees.
2. Get to know other beekeepers and attend association meetings.
3. Begin small. One, two to four colonies are ideal for new beekeepers.
4. Begin right. Start with new equipment and package bees.
5. Grow slowly. Successful beekeeping requires skills you can only learn by
Getting Ready -- Bees and Equipment
For the beginner who is just starting with bees, buying all new equipment with
package bees is the best way to start. An established hive can create problems
for the beginner in areas such as swarm control, re-queening, and colony
defensiveness. Buying new equipment will allow you to learn the individual
parts of the hive while putting it together, and with package bees you can gain
valuable experience from manipulating a small colony. You will witness the
colony's growth from a small package into a strong honey-producing colony.
This way your beekeeping skills will grow as your colony grows. Starting with
more than one colony is helpful and will give you more management options.
Two to four colonies are ideal for new beekeepers.
Buy your first bees and equipment from a well-recognized source. Refer to
advertisements in beekeeping journals and request catalogs from the suppliers
listed at the end of this publication. Before you buy used equipment, familiarize
yourself with honeybee diseases and pests. Second hand equipment may be
safe; or it may turn out to be a costly and discouraging investment.
Getting Ready -- Yourself
Outfit yourself with work clothes and needed accessories to make your work
easier and more enjoyable. When working with bees, always use a smoker and
hive tool. Learning to use these tools properly is an important skill for the
beginning beekeeper to master. You should be able to light your smoker and
keep it burning before you attempt to open a colony. Never attempt to open a
colony without having a smoker burning. With a well-lit smoker, you are in
charge; without it, the bees may take control.
Attend short courses, field days, and beekeeping association meetings.
Subscribe to at least one beekeeping periodical. If you have friends who keep
bees, go with them when they work with their bees. This experience will prove
very helpful when you get your own bees.
When you begin working with bees, always wear bee gloves and a veil. As you
become more aware of the factors that affect a colony's temperament, you will
learn when you can work with your bees without gloves and when the colony
will be quite defensive. You will only learn these lessons through experience
working your bees, so be well protected. Before attempting to open a colony,
carefully study information on how to handle bees when opening the hive.
People react to bee stings in different ways. Most people become accustomed to
bee venom with time and tolerate occasional bee stings with little reaction.
Unfortunately, a small fraction of the total human population can be
dangerously allergic and have a life-threatening reaction. Generalized reactions,
where symptoms occur away from the site of the sting, indicate a dangerous
sensitivity. These symptoms include difficulty in breathing, swelling away from
the site of the sting, itching and hives, nausea or abdominal cramps, dizziness,
and confusion. If any of these symptoms occur, the beekeeper should seek
immediate medical attention. Allergic reactions can be stopped by
administering epinephrine. Allergic individuals can be desensitized in most
cases and should consult their physician.
Jodi Forcier-Turner is a member of the Monadnock Beekeepers Association and
owner of Imagine That HONEY! of Swanzey, N.H.