In response to COVID-19, many people spending more time at home picked up some new hobbies. The buzz for Texans was a skyrocketing interest in beekeeping, as #SaveTheBees became synonymous with #SaveThePlanet.
Juliana Rangel, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M Honey Bee Lab and professor of apiculture in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said increasing numbers of enthusiasts want to know how to start an at-home beehive, produce honey and receive an ag tax exemption.
There are several things to consider for beginner beekeepers before they start a hive, she said.
Before you buy hives and a bee suit, some research is necessary. Mary Reed, chief apiary inspector for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service at Texas A&M AgriLife Research, said educating yourself is most important, starting with the basic biology of a honeybee.
“Knowing the biology of your bees helps you better understand what is happening in your hive and how to react to setbacks such as pests and diseases,” she said. “In the end, it sets a foundation for what, hopefully, will be a long-lasting healthy hive.”
Reed said it’s also important to understand how the seasons affect hives. The way a hive is supposed to act in the winter is completely different from how it will act in the summer, which impacts how you treat it.
“In beekeeping, you always have to think three months down the line to be prepared for changes in environment and behavior,” she said.
Investing in backyard beekeeping is an ongoing expense, Reed said. Potential beekeepers should consider their expectations for the hives and what products are needed to maintain a flourishing hive.
“Beginner beekeepers can start with a package of bees, which will be the lowest price point; a nuclear colony, which is the medium price point; or a whole functioning hive, which is your most expensive,” Reed said. “Consider how you want to start your hive. I recommend starting with two hives for behavior comparison. If you have a hive that begins to decline in health, the stronger hive can help the weaker one.”
Your beginner beekeeping set should include:
- Assembled hive body.
- Frame, foundation and bottom pane.
- Bee veil.
- Leather beekeeping gloves.
- Smoker with guard.
- Hive tool.
There is so much to know and learn when it comes to beekeeping that it is almost impossible for everything to go right on your first try, Reed said. Beginner beekeepers have to be patient and flexible.
“You have to gain as much knowledge as possible when beginning to keep bees and prepare your environment, but you also have to understand that beekeeping has a learning curve, and things will happen,” she said. “Staying consistent in your journey to understanding keeping bees will place you on the path to success. Pest care, hive management and queen watch all come with experience. You don’t fully begin to understand beekeeping until you begin beekeeping.
Don’t mind your own beeswax, connect with other beekeepers
Whether you are just thinking about having bees or already have a hive or two, it’s always a good plan to connect with others to brainstorm and swap suggestions.
“It’s always a good idea to team up with an experienced mentor or bee buddy to get a better understanding,” Rangel said. “The beekeeping community is welcoming and gracious, you just have to be open to learning. All ‘newBEES’ are welcome.”