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Thinking about raising honey bees in your backyard? Before you jump into raising bees for honey, here are something things to consider—the pros and cons.
Almost anyone can master the skills necessary to be a good beekeeper. Your journey to successful beekeeping begins with preparation. You should learn all that you can about bee hive management before your bees arrive.
Pros to Beekeeping
There are several reasons why you might want to raise honey bees, including:
Honey is probably the obvious answer. Most beekeepers want to produce fresh honey. A single bee can produce 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime (about 6 weeks), and with a colony consisting of thousands of bees, that can add up quickly. Read more about collecting honey.
Beeswax is another popular product that comes from bees. Worker honey bees produce wax from special glands on their abdomen. The beeswax is formed into honeycomb and becomes the structure of their home. We use beeswax also. It is used in candle-making and cosmetics. Many creams and lipsticks contain beeswax. You can even learn how to make your own lipbalm.
Pollination: If you want better yield from your orchards and gardens, honey bees can help. Raising honey bees ensures better pollination of flowering plants. This means more food for ourselves and wildlife. Honey bees are the heroes of pollination efforts for modern agriculture. However, the role of native bee species cannot be overlooked.
Diligent workers. There’s a reason we say “busy as a bee.” Bees are constant workers. They do not require constant monitoring. A colony of healthy well-managed bees will produce honey and wax that you can use or later sell. On average, expect to spend an hour per week during the warm season on colony management. Note that in colder climates, you may need to help the bees overwinter properly.
Challenges to Beekeeping
There are some downsides to raising honey bees, however:
Non-Natives: While we manage honey bees for honey & pollination, there is some concern that honey bees are out-competing our native bees in the wild. Honey bees are non-natives. Wild, solitary bees are the super-pollinators of our native flowers and plants. If you’re getting bees to pollinate your food (not to produce honey), consider a solitary bee house (and encourage native plants and wildflowers)!
Stings can happen with honey bees. Check with your doctor first to determine if you are one of the unlucky people who are allergic to honey bee stings. Even if you are not allergic, stings are painful. Learning how to properly manage your hives will lessen stinging episodes.
Cost of supplies. The initial cost of beekeeping can be intimidating to new beekeepers. You will need to invest in supplies such as a hive, proper protective clothing, a smoker, and hive tool. As of this writing, a single new hive may cost about $150, clothing and gear may cost about $160, and a package of new bees may run $125 to $150. Often you can find starter kits with bees, boxes, and gear for a better combined price. Read more about beekeeping supplies.
The first year can be a tough one. On top of learning the ins and outs of beekeeping, you may not get any honey for yourself. Your bees have a lot of work to do during the first season. They must produce wax, raise young bees and store honey for Winter. Learn to be patient with yourself and your bees.
Bee diseases. As you might know, bee populations have been in decline for several years. Diseases, pesticides, and parasites are the most common troubles encountered by bees, but sometimes, there is no explanation for an unhealthy hive. Take the time to learn how to keep your bees healthy and to inquire about any problems other beekeepers in your area might have had. Read more about common bee diseases.
Join a Beekeeping Community
Be sure to talk to local beekeepers and beekeeping organizations or communities. They often meet at public libraries. It’s always a good idea to go out with an expert a few times before raising your own bees.
There are plenty of organizations about beekeeping available to those willing to look. These organizations are particularly useful for finding swarms (collections of bees) once you’ve become established with your apiary.
Beekeeping 101: Raising Honey Bees in Your Backyard
Read through our Beekeeping 101 series to get an overview of backyard beekeeping: