Thinking about starting your own hive? Use these tips from a pro to set up your swarm for success
Beekeeping is catching on as more and more people engage in hobby farming, with chickens pecking in the yard, vegetables growing in containers and a buzzing hive in the back.
Perhaps part of the interest in bees comes from positives like natural honey and improved pollination, or maybe it’s motivated by concerns about the future of the bees, especially because of Colony Collapse Disorder. But another reason for the popularity comes from the craving for peace of mind.
“The instability in the economy, job market and the world in general makes people think about getting back to basics a little bit,” said Glenn Cox, who for four years has been keeping his own bees and last year tended to 100 hives. He is self-taught and not part of Cox’s Honey in Shelley.
Here Cox shares a few of the tips he discusses in the Beekeeping 101 classes he teaches up and down the Snake River Valley every spring:
>> Do your homework before diving in. Local libraries have a good selection of beekeeping books; Cox’s favorite is “The Beekeeper’s Handbook” because it’s “about as complete as you can find,” he said. Besides reading he recommends attending bee classes like his or those offered by other folks every spring. Gathering as much information as possible upfront can help people make an educated decision about whether or not beekeeping is a good option. It takes time and money — getting started can easily cost $500 — to do things right.
>> Rest assured: Your yard will work just fine. Space isn’t an issue; according to Cox, any yard will normally support one or two hives without bothering the neighbors. Also, hives in town can thrive because of all the different nectar sources around houses, specifically flowering shrubs, flowers and dandelions — “people shouldn’t spray those because they’re a great source for the bees,” he said. Outside of town, lots of bees fill up on wildflowers, willows, clover and Russian olive.
>> Buy locally or buy online. One way to track down local resources is to join the Beekeepers of Southeast Idaho/Upper Snake River Beekeepers Facebook group, where every spring people with bees to sell post the details. Online sites like westernbee.com, dadant.com and mannlakeltd.com are reliable options for buying necessary equipment, though Cox sells bee boxes, frames, smokers for calming bees, bee suits and more close to home. “There are a lot of little guys like me that sell bee equipment,” he said. Cox suggests staying away from used equipment; buying used is often buying someone else’s problems, he said.
>> Give the bees what they need. A hive isn’t just one box; one hive consists of what’s called the brood chambers, which is two or three boxes where bees live, plus two additional boxes called supers where honey will be produced, Cox said. Each hive is started with a package of bees or a mini hive called a nuc. Bees can be purchased from Cox, who purchases his in California.
And while it might sound too easy, it’s true most the time: “Usually just pour the bees in the new hive and set the queen between the frames, and the bees think it’s a nice home and just stay,” Cox said. However, because of risks — the bees not accepting the queen or yellow jackets stirring up trouble — it’s best to start with two hives. If one fails, the surviving hive can be split the following spring and a frame of new eggs introduced for the bees to raise a new queen.
>> Be realistic. The first year, there’s a good chance you won’t have any honey at all — that’s the time when bees are establishing a hive, and the yield will depend on the quality of nectar flow in the area.
>> Don’t worry about stings. “If you’re gentle with the bees, they’ll be gentle with you,” Cox said, although he notes that in the fall when you harvest honey, “they’re just flat unhappy because they work hard for that honey, and they’re not happy that you’re taking it.” For calmer bees he suggests using a soft touch, plus a little smoke to mask the attack pheromone and put those bees at ease. And you’ll want nice and easy bees because most bee suits are not sting proof; they just discourage stinging, he said.