How to Prepare for Bee Keeping

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How to Prepare for Bee Keeping l Homestead Lady (.com)Need to get started with bee keeping but aren’t sure where to begin?  Here are some basic bee keeping tips for newbies.

Affiliate Disclaimer for top half2 Things to Do Now to Prepare for Bee Keeping

  1. The first thing you should really do is to make sure what legalities are involved.  Check your city and/or county website for regulations regarding backyard bees.  For instance, in my city, I have to register and post a sign in my yard that bees are there.  Oh, and pay the ever-present yearly fee – don’t get me started.
  2. With the popularity of bee keeping on the rise, those who sell packaged bees often sell out by Valentine’s Day or even before.  So order your packaged bees before then.

When you figure out if you can keep bees and you have them ordered, here are some things you’ll need to start gathering for the coming season.  You usually pick up packaged bees in spring, whenever that is for you. 

Don’t worry, its not anything you can’t handle.  Preparing for bee keeping is a simple process. 

Equipment to Prepare for Bee Keeping


Bee Hives

You need a house for your bees.  You’ll first need to decide if you want to use standard, box-type bee hives or something like a top bar hive.

Why Top Bar Hives

If you have trouble lifting 40-80 pounds (the varying weight of bees and honey in a box), you may also want to consider top bar hives.  We have yet to try these but we plan to make the switch soon.  There are several options when it comes to deciding what kind of hive body to use.  Talking with bees has a review of every kind of hive you’ll come across as well as a review of the top bar hives.  Both articles are worth a read – fyi, they’re easy to read, too, without any elevated, snooty bee speak.

Top bar hive -

Langstroth or Box Bee Hives

These are the bee hives I’ve always used, so I know them best.  If you’re going to use box hive, also called Langstroth bee hives, you’ll also need hive components like:

  • Brood boxes, for the bees to raise new bees 
  • Honey suppers (plus extras for switching out during honey flow), for the bees to brew honey into
  • Bottom board, we prefer to use one with a screen for air flow
  • Top board, to contain and protect the hive
  • Queen excluder, to keep the queen bee out of specific parts of the hive
  • Feeder (make it an internal feeder if you have cold winters), to provide honey water during times of no or low pollen and nectar

We’ve used Better Bee for hive body parts because they sell the polystyrene boxes (called Beemax) which help with hive temperature regulation.  However, there’s nothing wrong with wooden boxes and they’re cheaper!  We like to use a bottom board with a screen and invite you to read this to learn why. 

How to prepare for bee keeping - wooden hives are just fine but polystyrene is extra insulation - www.homesteadlady

Bee Keeper Equipment

The bee keeper needs equipment, too!  Some items you will want to have on hand are:

  • A hive tool, to pry open the hive and move its parts
  • Smoker, or honey water in a spray bottle to keep the bees calm and/or busy
  • Veil, to protect your head and face
  • Gloves, to protect your hands
  • Bee brush, to gently and safely move bees off of honey frames and equipment
  • Jacket or suit (optional), but highly recommended
  • Honey extractor, is optional but will make your life easier if you can afford it. 

A Note of Equipment

Yes, you can work your bees without a smoker, especially if its cold and they’re not interested in moving a lot.  But I suggest you get experience under your belt first and then you can eventually become a tough guy who doesn’t use a smoker?   I actually don’t prefer a smoker and instead use warm-ish water with honey mixed into it in a spray bottle.  I spray this on the bees so they’ll go clean themselves instead of attacking me.

You can also work your hives without special clothing and just use long sleeves shirts, long pants and socks.  After so many years of bee keeping, I prefer the ease a protection of specific bee keeper clothing.

Equipment for Children

If you have pint-sized bee keepers, there are a few companies who make full sets of clothing for your kiddos.  Brushy Mountain Bee is where we get ours.  All my children, except the newborn, have worked the hives.  There’s always something for them to do! 

Plus, that training ensures that they’ll be smart about bees even when I’m not around.  I’d be shocked to discover one of my children throwing rocks at beehives because they’ve:

A) Been stung and would never do anything so dopey as to encourage a bee to sting them, and

B) Know that bees die when they sting and would never be happy about that.  We love bees!

For tips on keeping bees with kids, please visit our Farm Sprouts blog: Click here

How to prepare for beekeeping - - bee keepers tools

Books for Bee Keeping

The last thing I’ll suggest you get your hands on are some good books like Natural Beekeeping, The New Starting Right With Bees or Bee Keeping for Dummies.  

The first one features natural controls and organic management while the last two are pretty conventional but still good for information’s sake.  In my opinion, most of the bee keeping books are pretty much the same (except for Conrad’s, Natural Beekeeping), and so just get a bunch from the library and see which one makes the most sense to you.

Specialty Bee Keeping Equipment and My Opinions

Trying to keep all the terminology straight as you prepare for bee keeping?!  Don’t worry, you’ll get it.  Just keep reading and handling the equipment you’re collecting.  Here are a few thoughts from me about various bits of specialty equipment we’ve used.

Staying Safe

Over the years of being stung, I’ve developed a bee sting allergy and so I purchased myself a jacket with a veil connected to prevent the bees from getting anywhere near my face and trunk system.  

I would also suggest you get a few Epi pens for surprise, serious allergic reactions to bee stings in your family or visiting friends.  Less than 1% of the population will have a deadly allergic reaction to a bee sting, but you and they may not know that your visiting friend is one of those people. 

If you don’t have sting allergies, you’re really fine wearing thick jeans and a few long sleeve shirts.  Either way, you’re going to be warm since most of your intense work with the hive takes place in the summer.  Suck it up, you’ll live, and you will be enjoying many years of a gorgeous garden and delectable honey. 

To find out how to get at that honey, follow this link.

Internal Feeders

If you live in a place with cold winters, get an internal feeder for early spring feeding.  I learned the hard way that a cold colony may not travel upwards to feed from a top feeder if it’s too chilly.  When I lived in Northern California, I never even used a feeder because the growing season is about eleven months long.  Ah, those were the days. 

By early spring, though, the bees in cold areas may have gone through their food stores and need a little boost before the spring bloomers start appearing.  I always feed them back their own honey, diluted with filtered water, with a few drops of essential oil added now and then.  I never, ever use corn syrup or table sugar (if I wouldn’t eat it, I ain’t given it to my bee babies!).

Smoker Pellets

If you do use a smoker, you can buy fuel pellets to put inside.  These you can simply light and take to the bee yard without having to stop and refill your smoker with more twigs or grass or whatever.  It may seem like cheating but I love those things!  

Frame Lifter

The other piece of special bee keeping equipment you might want is a frame lifter.  Inside the boxes are frames that fill with honey and bee brood.  When you’re called upon to move those frames, you have to unstick them and pry them up gently. 

I usually use the corner of my hive tool to carefully extract the frame.  However, quite often its a battle of wits with the laws of physics to get the frame out without popping its sides or damaging the box or killing a bee.  The frame lifter just clamps right onto the top of the frame allowing you to lift straight up.  I love it!  You may not need one if you’re using top bar hives as everything is so much smaller and lighter with those.

How to prepare for bee keeping - you need a frame lifter!

Finding Local Resources

For those in Utah, my local IFA (farmer’s co-op/country store) actually has bee stuff this year!  Hive bodies, racks, suits, you name it.  We also have a few local stores and wherever you are, of course, try those first. A lot of the bee stores will also offer classes, of which I highly recommend you avail yourself. 

There will most likely be a bee keeping associations for your city, county and/or state so be sure and check out the Internet for those.  Associations are a great place for novice and seasoned bee keepers learn and share.  Your local University Extension will also have information for you, especially about local bee inspectors in case you have a problem. 

Also, we have a company here in Utah that will set up and manage hives on your property for you if you don’t want to mess with it or they’ll come to you and educate you about how to do it yourself.  You may have a similar company in your area.  We recently met one of the gentlemen who runs Neighborhood Beekeeping, aforementioned company, when we were at Utah Natural Meat and he was very friendly.  He was also passing out samples of their honey which made him seem like Santa Claus as it was quite delicious.

An Herb for Your Hives

As a side note, it was this gentleman who told me that if you plant Cat Mint next to your hives, it will help control mites, which can cause real havoc in the hive.  He did specify that Cat Mint isn’t Catnip, but I’m guessing any kind of Nepeta will suffice since anything remotely related to mint is going to have a high amount of powerful oils and will naturally act as a pest deterrent.  Plant several varieties and see what happens!  Here’s a link for other blooms for your bee yard.

To learn more about planting for your bees, click here.

What Kind of Bees Do You want?

As far as what kind of bees to get, ahhhh….do your own homework on that one and see what works for your area.  Ask a bee keeper near you! 

I’ve had Italians, Russians, Hygienics and there are pluses and minuses with each but they’ve all been basically good.  The Hygienics are THE cleanest bees (no mites) I’ve ever had but I’ve struggled with them so far here in Utah.  I’m not willing to say they won’t survive here yet, but I did switch to Italians last year when I had to replace both my hives.  Everyone up and down the valley lost copious amounts of bees last year, though – it was ugly all around.

Whatever you do, start with at least two hives.  That way, if you lose one, you still have bees to build on and won’t have lost a whole season and have to live without bees.

More Questions?

The rest of what you need to know you’ll discover on your own, I promise.  And it will be an awesome journey.  I can’t imagine life without bees at this point.  They’ve been part of home for nearly twenty years!

If you want a quick and edifying bee read, try Honeybee, by Marlena Marchese – here’s our review of it.  If you have someone in your house who isn’t sold on the idea of bees but they like to read and they like a little science/history, have them try Letters From the Hive.  This book is a worthy, but nerdy, tribute to the honey bees – their history, their usefulness and their coolness. 

Sometimes, there are those among us who, for whatever reason, need a little convincing before they house 60,000 -120,000 bees on their property.  Go figure.

How to prepare for bee keeping - you can do it!

Here’s a great article by The Homesteading Hippy on beginning bee keeping – enjoy!


DisclaimerInformation offered on the Homestead Lady website is for educational purposes only. Read my full disclaimer HERE.

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How to Prepare for Bee Keeping — 11 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this we just put in our order for bees at our IFA. My husband and I are trying to learn about them we do know someone with bees so we do have a little help. I have wanted bees for a few years now and am so excited to be getting them.

    • Congratulations – you won’t be sorry! Just fyi, don’t freak the first time you open the hive along about May after you’ve hived them and they’ve sat for a month or so; the first time I took the lid off of that many thousands of stinging insects, I admit, I was a little spooked. 🙂 I enjoyed reading your blog; I’ve never thought to can onions but what a great idea. We dehydrate ours but it makes the house and the dehydrator stinky for days. Clears your sinuses, though! Tell me about Elk meat – I’ve never eaten it but have been curious what it tastes like. I’m guessing this came from a hunt? We have Elk here, too, so maybe someday…

      • Thanks for the info. Elk meat is so good it taste a lot like beef in fact I would rather eat elk then beef. We do have elk here so we are able to hunt them.
        Have a Merrry Christmas.

  2. Hi, Homestead Lady!
    Thanks for linking up to Homestead Abundance today. Love this post. I’ve been considering starting a bee project for a few years. This might just be the push I need to make it a reality. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’m sharing this on my Facebook page tonight.
    Joybilee Farm

  3. Any tips for beekeeping with small children? My husband and keep wanting to start, but our kids are currently 2 1/2 years and 6 months old, so we keep postponing.

    • Great question! By March, we’ll have five little ones ranging around here and so I understand the concern. The best thing to do is keep a fence around your bee yard. A few things – 1) Your bee yard doesn’t need to be much bigger than the area directly around your hive(s), allowing for enough room for you and a helper to work the hives. 2) Any kind of fencing will do – your bees will adapt their flight path to accomodate whatever is in their way so the fence is really just to keep kiddos and larger animals out (my dopey goats would knock over a beehinve in two seconds flat). 3) When their ready and you’ve had bees for a few years, get the kids their own equipment so they can help you work the hives – even my three year old has a bee job when we get into the hives. There are several companies that now sell bee clothing and veils for wee ones – worth every penny to help your kids fall in love with bees! 4) Have several lessons on what bees are, what they do and why you have them. Make sure you explain that a bee doesn’t want to sting anyone because she knows she’ll die so if you follow the bee rules, you shouldn’t get stung. Some adults could stand to have this talk, too. 5) Your kids will learn where the bee yard is and how to avoid running through the bee lines going into the hive but visiting children will need a warning so consider posting a sign or two. Most bee companies sell bright signs that clearly indicate the presence of bees. I’m legally required to post one where I live now but I always have because it’s just a good, proactive thing to do. Hope that helps?

      • That does help, thanks! Any reason not to have the hives in a small strip of yard between our house and our neighbor’s garage (fenced on one long side and one short side, house wall on second long side, only open on a short side half obscured by shrubs)? We live in northern CA and have a bottlebrush tree attracting bees so my daughter already knows something of bees vs. yellowjackets/wasps and calls bees the “nice ones.” 🙂

        • No bee reason not to place the hives there that I can think of; just double check the laws for your city, county, state and be sure to double check with your HOA, if you have one. If it’s legal, you don’t need your neighbor’s permission but alerting him would be polite – I usually bribe my neighbors with honey when the hives end up close to property lines. The only other thing to think of is to make sure you have enough room to work the hives wherever they’re placed. Otherwise, yippee, you have a place to put them – that’s half the battle! I remember the bottlebrush bushes of my youth…incidentally, CA’s climate is great for bee keeping. Have fun!

  4. Thanks for the reminder! We tried to get a couple bee hives going in ’11, but got them way too late in the year thanks to my negligence in ordering. I’d love to try again in the coming year though. Can’t think of much that would be better than producing our own honey!

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