Thinking about Starting Beekeeping Questions:

Q1: How much does it cost to get started in beekeeping?

The first year's expenses would typically be about $800, including bees, hives, equipment, protective suit, supplemental feed, classes and a local association membership. This is for two hives. With two hives, you are able to compare the two through the first first year and better able to recognize any issues that may develop with one of them. Figure $200 for the second year: for new bees (if they do poorly) or new items from catalogs (if they do well).

Q2: How do I become a beekeeper?

Contact your local beekeeping association, a local beekeeper, or any beekeeping association and they will either help you or direct you to someone who can provide information. Most beekeeping associations and beekeeping supply stores often hold beginning beekeeping classes in the early spring. It is usually timed so that you learn what you will need to buy and where to by it, how to prepare a location for bees, how to prepare yourself for the bees, and how to obtain bees. Most bee associations are all about helping and welcoming people to beekeeping.

Q3: How much time does beekeeping take?

“…more time than you need to properly care for your cat, but less time than needed to take good care of your dog.” – Kim Flottum

The first year you will want to attend a beginning class if possible. You will also want to attend local association meetings to get to know a few beekeepers you can call when you have questions. You can expect to spend a few minutes every few days in the spring to feed the bees. And then a couple hours every week or two for inspections and enjoying your bees. As you gain experience less frequent and quicker inspections are typical. If you find you like beekeeping, you may find yourself getting more bees, spending more time with them, attending association meetings, and have a great time enjoying and sharing your beekeeping experiences.

Q4: How much space do I need for keeping a hive?

You can get very creative and put them on a porch, on top of a roof, or in a neighbor's yard (with permission). Another gauge is if you can stand with your arms out and twirl around, you have space for a beehive. The bees prefer a sunny location and about 8 feet of open space in front of the hive to swirl around as they fly up and away. If you get two hives, put them a few feet apart and a couple feet free around them in all directions so you can comfortably walk around them.

Q5: What will I really need to buy?

As a beginning beekeeper, you will need:

  • 1 hive tool (buy the cheap one) mandatory

  • 1 smoker (choose what you want to spend, they all work) mandatory

  • 1 veil/hat combination (various styles available, just pick one) mandatory

  • 1 bee suit (many types optional, some come with a veil) - Recommended

  • 1 pair bee gloves (many types avail) - Optional

  • 1 bee brush (I had one for 2 years before I used it, Training required to operate successfully.) optional

  • 1 frame grip (useful in first couple years. I found I dropped more frames when using it and the bees on the frame tend to not like that.) - Optional

  • 1 capping scratcher (for checking for varroa mites and harvesting honey) - Recommended

  • 1 spare veil/hat combination (so you can show your hives to friends) - Recommended

  • 1 beginning beekeeping class - Highly recommended

  • 1 local beekeeping association membership - Highly recommended

I also recommend you start with 2 hives, this will allow you to compare one hive to the other as they progress and gives you many more options if a catastrophe happens. There are various hive sizes and configurations. The traditional commercial standard is to stack two deep boxes wide enough to hold 10 frames each for a brood chamber. Then use 10 frame medium boxes on top for honey storage. When full, the boxes are very heavy. The trend is more toward using narrower medium boxes that only hold 8 frames for both brood chambers and honey supers. The boxes are lighter, there is only one frame size to deal with, and the bees do just as well if not better. Take a beginner class or talk to a beekeeper with a few years of experience to help you determine what the best option may be best for you. To start, you will need the following for each hive (This is for the standard Langstroth hive):

  • 1 bottom board - Mandatory

  • 1 single deep hive body or two medium hive bodies filled with frames and foundation - Mandatory

  • 1 inner hive cover - Mandatory

  • 1 feeder jar and lid - Recommended

  • 1 empty hive body (for attic space to hold the feeder jar) - Recommended

  • 1 telescoping cover - Mandatory

  • (you may use a migratory cover rather than a telescoping cover)

  • 1 boardman feeder (to feed at entrance rather than in attic space) - Optional

  • (you may use a frame feeder or a miller top feeder rather than a feeder jar)

  • 1 3# package of bees w/queen - Mandatory

  • 1 5-frame "nuc" box of bees, frames, brood, new queen (not recommended first year)

  • 25 lb. granulated white sugar - Mandatory

  • 1 hive stand (concrete pavers, pallet, cinder block and plank, railroad ties, etc.) - Recommended

  • miticide treatment for varroa control to be applied during package introduction. - Recommended

 

Additionally, if both hives have no problems, and you live in the ideal honeybee microclimate, you may need the following for each hive:

  • 1 additional single hive body (box) with frames and foundation about seven weeks after the package's introduction.

  • You will also need more sugar when the sugar runs out.

  • If your bees do very well, you may need to add one single western super with frames and foundation about 10 weeks after package introduction.

  • You may want to have an extra hive setup that matches your initial hive setup just in case your hive gets ideal conditions and decides to swarm into your apple tree.  You will then have an empty hive to put the swarm into.

    

     The above listing should be all that you need during the first year up until August when you need to make a decision about what, if any, medications you may want to use (on the bees, that is). Attend local beekeeping association meetings to find common pests and recommended treatments for hives in your area.

     There are also popular alternative hives, other than the Langstroth style of hives. Some in particular that some of our members maintain are the top bar hive, the Warre' hive, and the A-Z hive .

     Top bar hives are non-standard dimensions, so if you buy from different sources, the parts will not be interchangeable. These are more typically made by the beekeeper following directions in a book or found on a website. Dimensions are not critical so scrap lumber can be used to save money. Management of a top bar hive is different than the typical Langstroth hive but there are a couple good books available and a wealth of information and opinions on websites. If you make a top bar hive, put a window in it.

     Warre' hives are a vertical top bar hive structured more like a Langstroth hive using standard parts, but it is managed differently than the top bar hive or a Langstroth hive. If you want to place a hive in your garden for pollination and never bother with it, then the Warre' is your best option. They do generate swarms if not managed like all hives do, But you can get by with less space management than other hive types. These are a standard size. Make sure you get one with windows so you can look in without opening. Unfortunately they are not mass produced so they tend to cost more than typical Langstroth hives.

     A-Z hives are another hive type that a few members are starting to use. It is style of hive from Slovenia where the bees are hived in a cabinet that opens in the back, and the frames can be slid out rather than up and out as in all other hives. They are generally put into an outbuilding, and the hives form a wall. The hives are worked from inside the building. The great advantage is that you work them from inside the building and the only lifting is that of a single frame.

Q6: Why do people keep bees?

Here are a few popular reasons: (1) bees produce honey and honey is yummy in my tummy. (2) I grow food and I need bees to pollinate the blossoms to grow food that will also be yummy in my tummy. (3) bees are having a tough time surviving and keeping some in my yard allows me to contribute to their and ultimately, my survival (4) Honey bees are so fascinating to watch as individuals and as a collective society, I am fascinated by watching and caring for them, (5) My (Father/Mother/Aunt/grandparent,etc) kept bees and I have always wanted some of my own, (6) Are there people that do not keep bees?

Q7: What is the first year of beekeeping like?

First thing to do is contact an local bee association, a local beekeeper, or your favorite website to find out what is available and close to you.

  • Take a beginner class usually in Feb/March time frame. An eight-hour day can be overwhelming, therefore it is best if you can find a beginner class spread over multiple days with shorter durations. The class will bring clarity and details to the following items. You will find there is no one way to keep bees. Therefore, you will find various opinions on the details. That is what keeps it interesting.

  • If there is any opportunity of going to a hands-on class, beekeeping field days, or even hive demonstrations, it is worth the time to see subtle things that are generally not in the books or mentioned in the beginner classroom setting.

  • You will need to order a package of bees for each hive, which comes with a queen and about 10,000 bees. Orders are usually bundled through local associations or local bee supply stores.

  • Buy or order what you need...see the detailed list on a previous question.

  • Depending upon what you buy and where you get it, there may be some assembly required. You will also want to paint the outside of the hive. I prefer bright colored hives over the boring white ones. Color does not matter (in our Pacific Northwest climate).

  • When packages arrive (usually early April), you position the queen cage and pour the bees into the prepared hive.  Start feeding the hive with sugar/water right away.

  • Feeding frequency depends upon your feeder, but you want feed in the feeder constantly until the hive is built up and local nectar is flowing

  • You will want to inspect every week or so.

  • You will add more space so the hive can expand.

  • You may need to add a super (additional hive box) if the hive does well.

  • If you have a swarm, the excitement and thrill is wonderful. Capture it and put it into a box. Maybe your class prepared you. You may have to phone a friend for advice in the capture

  • You may be able to harvest some honey, but usually not in the first year.

  • You will want to treat for mites. Many options available. Visit your local bee association meeting for advice. (Mites come on the bees in the packages and can enter the hive on stray bees from other colonies. If the bees do better than the mites the first year, the mites may not have significant impact on the hive until the second year).

  • Some hives will require summer or fall feeding in preparation for the winter. It all depends upon location, weather, forage available, timing, pests, and the hives genetic propensities for hoarding and survival.

  • Then it is time to check out the bee catalogs and make plans for the second year.

 

Q8: Are there any local laws or regulations I need to know about?

There are no specific laws for beekeeping in Kitsap County. However, beekeeping will be covered by general nuisance laws. If you place 40 hives on your property line so that the flight path covers your neighbors sidewalk, driveway, and porch or they fly directly to opened windows, I think your neighbor will not be amused. You would be required to remove your bees and we would end up with a highly restrictive ordinance that none of us want. Talk to your neighbors about you getting hive or two. If you see fear in their eyes, place your hives out of site of that neighbor. You might want to take a small jar of honey with you and share it. And in all cases, you should share some of your honey crop with the neighbors. Some neighbors will welcome your bees to the neighborhood and may want to be invited over to look at the bees after you get them. Gig Harbor does have an ordinance, but it mostly follows the friendly neighbor nuisance laws. They do have a restriction on the number of hives based upon space. My guess is they had a 40 hives on the property line issue once and did not want to repeat it. I think we have more restrictions on keeping chickens than we do on keeping bees.

Q9: What are the chances of a bee colony surviving the winter in our area?

If left alone with no care, nearly all colonies will be dead within two years. The first year losses are generally due to starvation, but some mites will cause their demise. It is usually mites that will take them the second year. I would guess survivability to be about 60% on average, but it varies greatly depending on the actions of the beekeeper and the nectar flow for the year. As beekeepers get better at recognizing weak hives or hives with problems, corrective action can be taken to improve the long term survivability of the hive. Prior to the arrival of mites, survival of managed colonies was about 80%.

Q10: I have to travel for work sometimes. Can I still keep bees?

No problem. If there is food available for the bees in feeders you provide, in frames that the bees have hoarded, or in the blossoms of the local area; they will be just fine.

Q11: Will I get any honey the first year?

Probably not. Some get a 40# super of honey the first year. I encourage beginners to harvest a pound or two the first year just to get a taste. There is nothing like the first taste of honey scraped from your very own hive.

Q12: How do I get different flavors of honey?

If a hive is health and strong when a particular plant is blooming and producing an abundance of honey, then that floral source will influence the flavor of your honey. Some years there is an early flow and a late flow and if you harvest early and again late, you may get two different tastes to the honey. The great thing is that every year is different and the honey you collect from year to year will vary in taste and color. If you want more variation in honey flavors, you can put bees in multiple locations to sample what the local flora produces. Some beekeepers move their bees to higher elevations in the summer chasing after the fireweed honey, which is highly prized.

Q13: Is it true that the queen is the boss of the colony?

Not really. The queen is the one bee that lays the eggs in the hive. She lays from 0 to 2000 eggs a day depending upon time of year and the conditions of the hive. The rest of the bees do all the work of feeding larva, foraging for food, and all other duties. The queen produces pheromones from glands in her body that are groomed off her and passed among all the workers in the hive food supply. If the queen is producing the correct mix of pheromones, the hive is happy. If the pheromone mix is not right, the hive will take action -- such as initiate swarming or starting to grow a replacement queen.

Q14: Can I keep bees if I or someone in my family is allergic to stings?

Very few people are actually allergic to stings. Most react strongly to stings with a welt and localized swelling accompanied by intense itching. Allergic reactions are more systemic such as a rash, sympathetic swelling, severe swelling, or respiratory attacks. Allergic reaction are very serious. If someone in your family may be allergic, I would have them tested by an allergist to test for honey bee venom. If the test is positive, I probably would not keep bees on the property. I would also encourage immunotherapy treatment because the risk is always there for them. Some beekeepers develop allergies to venom with exposure over time. Most go through immunotherapy treatments so they can have bees again after the treatment.