Pollinators are beloved for their ability to help any garden thrive and produce spectacular blooms. While the mere thought of a painful sting or allergic reaction is enough to make some people swear off of bees altogether, avid gardeners know there's nothing better than seeing these little guys land on your flowers. The diminishing bee population has even led some enthusiasts to become beekeepers themselves. Since more cities are opening up to the ideas of urban farming and beekeeping, it seems like the perfect time to start caring for a colony of your own!
Before you start buying supplies for a new hive, you’ll need to consider a few things. Is keeping bees in your yard a feasible option? Your answer to this question will depend on the amount of available outdoor space you have. If you usually spend a lot of time in your yard, you’ll want to give your bees plenty of distance. Otherwise, you risk upsetting the hive with all that activity! Depending on your particular circumstances, this could mean putting as much as a half-acre of land between you and them. You'll also need to ask yourself if your neighbors and family support your beekeeping endeavor, or if your city's ordinances will even allow it in the first place.
Once you've thought these things through and determined that you can keep bees, it's time to figure out where you're going to put them. Again, they should be kept in a place that's out of the way. If you can manage it, keep your hive out of sight, too. That way, children and other curious guests won't be tempted to get too close. For the same reason, it can be a good idea to ditch the glaring white hive in favor of a more natural-colored one. Alternatively, you can hide your colony behind a nearby building or hedge. These barriers will also encourage an upward flight pattern among your bees, meaning they'll be less likely to fly around you and your family.
Now that you’ve got the perfect space picked out, you're ready to start buying some supplies.
Hive Stand: The first thing you’ll need is a decent hive stand. Luckily, stands can be made rather easily using cement blocks and a couple of 2 X 4s. When building yours, you'll want to make sure that it will keep your hive at least 18 inches off of the ground at all times. If it's any lower than this, your bees might not be safe from predators like skunks. Setting up more than one hive? Leave an adequate amount of space between them, because you're going to be doing a lot of walking here! It's also a good idea to put mulch or gravel over this walkway to keep it mud-free throughout the year.
Hive Set-Up: How are going to organize everything inside of your hive? Usually, a natural bee colony keeps its honey at the top, food storage underneath that, and brood area at the bottom. Keep this arrangement in mind when adding sections to your own hive box.
Protective Gear: When it comes to beekeeping, protective gear is a must. At the very least, you'll want to get yourself a good veil and lightweight jacket. The veil will keep the bees from getting on your face or in your hair, and the jacket will prevent you from getting sunburnt when you're tending the hive. These pieces of equipment are well-suited for quick and easy beekeeping tasks.
If you're planning on working on your hive a lot, you might be better off buying a full bee suit. Anyone who's uneasy about having bugs on their skin will find the suit very beneficial, at least until they get used to working with bees.
Smoker: Smokers are another beekeeping essential. The smoke tricks the bees into thinking there's a forest fire, causing them to calm down and allowing you to work on the hive in peace.
Once you've picked up all the necessary supplies, you'll have to start thinking about the kind of bees you want to keep. You have plenty of options to choose from, but some popular breeds include the Russian, Italian, and Carniolan honey bees. Russian bees are relatively gentle and docile but can be a little hard to manage. Italians are gentle, easy to manage, and decently productive. Thanks to these positive traits, the Italian honey bee is one of the most commonly kept breeds out there. Carniolans are more demanding than the other two, but they're very gentle and a great choice if you live in an area with harsh winters.
As you probably guessed, you can’t just buy a bee colony at the DIY store. However, that doesn't mean bees are impossible to come by. Your best bet will be to check with your local beekeeping association. These groups typically have at least one member that sells bees. Even if you can't find a seller there, beekeeping associations are sure to provide you with useful connections. You can always look for bees online, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny for shipping if you go this route.
With any luck, these basic beekeeping tips will start you on the path toward a booming colony of your own. This is one hobby that goes great with gardening, and it's sure to yield you a ton of beautiful flowers!