Beekeeping For Dummies, 5th Edition
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Is beekeeping the right hobby for you? Here are a few things worth considering as you consider beekeeping as a honey-producing pastime.

Beekeeping environmental considerations

Unless you live on a glacier or on the frozen tundra of Siberia, you probably can keep bees. Bees are remarkable creatures that do just fine in a wide range of climates. Beekeepers can be found in areas with long cold winters, in tropical rain forests, and in nearly every geographic region in-between. If flowers bloom in your part of the world, you can keep bees.

How about space requirements? You don’t need much. Beekeepers in Manhattan have a hive or two on their rooftops or terraces. Keep in mind that bees travel miles from the hive to gather pollen and nectar. They’ll forage an area as large as 6,000 acres, doing their thing. So the only space that you need for your bees is enough to accommodate the hive itself.

Zoning and legal restrictions related to beekeeping

Most communities are quite tolerant of beekeepers, but some have local ordinances that prohibit beekeeping or restrict the number of hives that you can have. Some communities let you keep bees but ask that you register your hives with the local government. Check with your town hall, local zoning board, or state agricultural experiment station to find out about what’s okay in your neighborhood.

Beekeeping costs and equipment

What does it cost to become a beekeeper? All in all, beekeeping isn’t a very expensive hobby. You can figure on investing about $200 to $400 for a start-up hive kit, equipment, and tools--less if you build your own hive from scratch. In addition, you’d spend $175 or more for a package of bees and queen. For the most part, these are one-time expenses. Keep in mind, however, the potential for a return on this investment. Each of your hives can give you 40 to 70 pounds of honey every year. At around $8 a pound (a fair going price for all-natural, raw honey), that should give you an income of $320 to $560 per beehive! Not bad, huh?

How many beehives do you need?

Most beekeepers start out with one hive. And that’s probably a good way to start your first season. But most beekeepers wind up getting a second hive in short order.

What kind of honey bees should you raise?

The honey bee most frequently raised by beekeepers in the United States today is European in origin and has the scientific name Apis mellifera.

Of this species, the most popular bee is the so-called “Italian” honey bee. These bees are docile, hearty, and good honey producers. They are a good choice for the new beekeeper.

Time and commitment for beekeeping

Beekeeping isn’t labor intensive. Sure, you’ll spend part of a weekend putting together your new equipment. But the actual time that you absolutely must spend with your bees is surprisingly modest. Other than your first year you need to make only five to eight visits to your beehives every year. Add to that the time that you spend harvesting honey, repairing equipment, and putting things away for the season, and you’ll probably devote 35 to 40 hours a year to your hobby (more if you make a business out of it).

Beekeeper personality traits

If you run like a banshee every time you see an insect, beekeeping will be an uphill challenge for you. But if you love animals, nature, and the outdoors, and if you’re curious about how creatures communicate and contribute to our environment, you’ll be captivated by honey bees. If you like the idea of “farming” on a small scale, or you’re intrigued by the prospect of harvesting your own all-natural honey, you’ll enjoy becoming a beekeeper.

Allergies to bee stings

If you’re going to become a beekeeper, you can expect to get stung once in a while. It’s a fact of life. But when you adopt good habits as a beekeeper, you can minimize or even eliminate the chances that you’ll be stung.

All bee stings can hurt a little, but not for long. It’s natural to experience some swelling, itching, and redness. These are normal (not allergic) reactions. Some folks are mildly allergic to bee stings, and the swelling and discomfort may be more severe. The most severe and life-threatening reactions to bee stings occur in less than 1 percent of the population. If you’re uncertain, check with an allergist, who can determine whether you’re among the relatively few who should steer clear of beekeeping.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Howland Blackiston has been keeping bees for almost 40 years. He has appeared as an expert on CNBC, CNN, NPR, The Discovery Channel, Sirius Satellite Radio, and other broadcast outlets, and has written numerous articles on beekeeping. Howland has been a keynote speaker at conferences in more than 40 countries.

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