Unlocking the Secrets to Successfully Start Beekeeping

honey bee colonies on frame of honey

We have been beekeepers for over nine years.  In our trials and errors, we have learned how to be beekeepers.  We are not perfect by any means, but there are things to consider when you want to start beekeeping.  Our beekeeping advice is based on the climate in Michigan, so your climate may be different and require adaptation to what we share below.

There are many things to consider before you even get the honey bees. These are from our personal experiences for keeping bees, your experience may go completely different.

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What To Do Before You Buy Honey Bees?

Before you get honey bees, try to attend a local bee club session and ask questions of what people in the areas recommend.  This will help you determine if you really want to get into managing honey bees.

If there is not a local club, see if there are conferences in your area or research online, read books.

Ask questions like:

  • How much work is required to have honey bees
  • What equipment do you need to work with the honey bees
  • What care do they require over winter
  • How do you prepare the honey bees for the winter
  • Where do you keep the honey bees
  • Read up on Beekeeping.  Books like Backyard Beekeeping, Beekeeping for Dummies,
  • Attend a bee conference
    • Michigan Bee Keepers Association has a conference in the Spring and in the Fall
    • Check out the Honey Festival in Michigan (fi you are local)
  • Volunteer at a Apiary (local bee keeper) to learn about bee care
  • Plant pollinator flowers to attract and help bees thrive
nuc honey bees to start beekeeping

Where Should You Buy Bees From?

If possible, buy bees from a local beekeeper.  This is someone who lives nearby, versus getting honey bees from out of state.

You will know that the bees are able to survive the climate, and should winter (survive the winter) in your area if buying local. If possible, you will want a queen bee that has survived the winter (it’s likely it will be a stronger hive).   If you live in a colder climate and get bees from a warmer climate, they may have a hard time adjusting to the weather (and vice versa).

The goal is to give the honey bees the best survival rate in your climate and not have them leave the hive, or die.

nuc bee hive to start beekeeping
‘Nuc’ nuclear hive comes with a few frames with brood & honey, bees, and a queen.

What Kind of Bees Packages to Buy

There are a few different ways you can buy bees.  You can just buy a queen, or a marked queen bee (so it’s easier to find her in your hive).  This would work well if you have honey bees already and want to split the hive and introduce a new queen.

You can buy a nuc (small nucleus hive).  Nucs come with a few frames of honey, brood (comb with bee larve aka baby bees) honey bees (worker bees) and a queen.  This is typically what we purchase.  This hive requires feeding protein packs and sugar water for a few weeks to get them producing honey.

You can also buy a package.  This is a container of 2-3lbs of honey bees, that has a queen.  No frames are included, so the hive will need to start from scratch to survive the winter. This hive will require a lot of attention and a lot of sugar water and protein packs.

Starting a hive from scratch means the bees have to build their own comb for brood (baby bees), honey and pollen to support the hive. Getting a package should happen as early you can in the Summer season for cold climates to give the bees enough time to make honey to survive the winter. It’s also recommended to not take honey from the bees the first year, so they have food to survive the winter.

What is the Cost to Start Beekeeping?

You will need to have hives, and frames to put the bees in. You will need tools to get into the hive and extract the honey.  Consider getting a suit (or jacket) and gloves.  We shop for a lot of these things at Mann Lake Ltd.  My husband builds his own bee boxes, you can purchase these as well.

Over the years we have spent a few thousand dollars acquiring the equipment needed.

The bees can cost $95-$300.  Getting package bees can cost less than buying nucs.

The hive boxes are cheaper to make yourself (if you are skilled).  You also need frames or top bars. You will eventually need additional frames and a box to expand your hive.

Where Can You Find Information on Beekeeping?

Joining a bee club is a great way to interact with experienced beekeepers.  Once you get a beekeeper talking, they can share so many stories about their honey bees and tips they have learned. Search online for ‘honey bee clubs near me’.

YouTube has a lot of great videos that can help you as well. Search social media for a bee group in your area.

Find a local beekeeper and ask him to mentor you or if you can pick their brain on farming honey bees.

Beekeeping Gear

bee frame
This is a top bar hive. They have built comb on the top bar in a V shape.

Can I Get Honey from My Honeybees the First Year?

The first year of the owning honey bees, they are busy making enough honey and brood to last over the winter.  They use the honey they make to survive the winter.  If they run out, they will die.

We do not take honey from honey bees their first year.

overheated top bar hive
This is our top bar hive that is overheated. The bees are on the outside of the hive during the day and go back in when cooler.

What Type of Bee Hive Should I use?

There are 3 different types of hives you can have.  Langstroth, Warré and Top Bar.

We have done Langstroth and Top Bar.  Our preference in Langstroth.  It is common and easier to find bars and boxes for.  Langstroth are best for beginner beekeepers.  You use frames to capture the comb and honey.  Multiple boxes can be stacked on each other to give the bees more room for honey and brood.

Top Bar Hives are just a bar within the hive.  Bees use this to make their own comb.  Minimal materials are needed to build a Top Bar hive.  We found little information online to help us manage this type of hive.  In the Summer (in Michigan),  the hive became too hot and did not have enough ventilation.  In the winter,  if you are building out of pine and 1 by stock, there is not enough insulation for over wintering the bees.  And they will die.

Warré hives – Similar to Langstroth in size/shape, but uses top bars instead of frames.  They are lighter than a Langstroth hive.  With Langstroth, empty boxes are placed on the top of the full box.  With Warré, empty boxes are placed on the bottom.

beehive bench
Have some space between the bottom of the beehive and ground to allow airflow in the hive. This ‘bench’ is open in the middle for ventilation.

How Much Effort is Needed to Start Beekeeping?

To start beekeeping you need to at least start with bees and one box.  You will need to gather all the equipment, which can be expensive.  Building your own hives can cost less, but will take time.

It’s up to you on how much time you want to spend with the bees.   We find not bothering the bees and going into their hive often, doesn’t disrupt them and allows them to grow the hive.

If you have several hives, it will require more time.  But we are lazy beekeepers.  We check on the bees in the Spring to see how they are doing. If they need a new box, we’ll add it.  We only take honey out in the Spring and check on them before the Fall.  Throughout the Summer, we make sure we see bees flying around.  If we don’t, we’ll go into the hive.  And in the Winter, we’ll put straw bails around the hives to keep out the wind and give the bees mite treatment.

The hardest thing is knowing the bees may swarm and leave. Or die.  That is a high likelihood, depending on how early in the Spring that you get them.  For us in Mid-Michigan, the first week of May seems to work in getting new bees.

Why Do You Want to Raise Honey Bees

For sure you will need at least one hive whether it’s for personal or business use.

You need to decide what you are looking to get out of your honey bees.  Do you just want to have bees for personal use?  I would suggest starting with this, but having enough frames and boxes to support 2 hives, in case you need to split the hive.

If you want to just support the honey bee population, you could start with one hive as well.

If you want to have a honey bee business, you could start multiple hives.  Are you just going to sell honey?  Will you make and sell wax items or wax?  Do research on what is needed to best to support your efforts and make a profit.

honey bees
In the Spring, we still keep the straw around the hives to insulate until daily temperatures are above freezing consistently.

Where Do You Keep the Bees?

You will want to have your bees in a low traffic area, that are easy to access and shielded from high winds if possible.

We have around 4 acres.  Our bees are situated on the southwest corner of our property.  It is set into a wooded area to block westerly wind.

Our bees are approximately 200 feet from the house in a low traffic area of the property.  You want to leave the bees to do their thing as much as possible.

inside beehive
You can see the bottom of the beehive where the screen allows the air to move in the hive.

Does The Bee Hive Go on the Ground?

Short answer no.

There is a screen on the bottom of the hive and helps circulate air to cool the hive.  You want to allow air to access this.  If you don’t, your hive could get too hot, swarm and leave.

You can put some landscape timbers on the ground and then place your hive on top of this.

You could also make a bench style structure that is open in the middle and place your hive on this.

In the cold months, you surround the hive with straw to block the wind.  There are other ways you can also keep the bees warm in the winter, this is just want we do.

If your bees get too hot, they can swarm.  This could mean you don’t have enough airflow for your bees in the summer (and why you need them off the ground). It can also mean the queen has died or they are leaving because they have no food. Sometimes you scratch your head because you are doing everything you think to be right.

Beekeeping Summary

These are just some of the things that found work for us.  There are a wealth of knowledge out there with local beekeepers or clubs.  They are an excellent source to help guide and mentor you in your journey to start beekeeping and become a beekeeper.

Are you interested in beekeeping? We have 10 detailed tips to help you consider before you start beekeeping.

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