Thinking of raising honey bees? Here are the pros and cons of keeping an apiary in your backyard.
Starting an apiary is relatively easy. However, as with caring for any new animal, you should learn all that you can about their husbandry before diving in.
Here are some things to consider about keeping bees:
There are many reasons why you might want to raise honey bees, including:
- Honey is probably the obvious answer. Who wouldn’t love their own fresh batch of honey to use in recipes? 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.
- Wax is another popular product that comes from bees. Bees convert their food and make it into the wax comb. Wax is used in many ways, including candles and cosmetics. Many creams and lipsticks contain beeswax. You can even learn how to make your own lipbalm.
- Healthier Landscapes: If you want healthier plants and better crops, bees can help. Raising honey bees encourages land that’s free from pesticides, more wildflower meadows and trees, and more flowers and food. Honey bees are often our first introduction to bees—a gateway. However, the true unsung heroes of pollination are native bee species, not honey bees!
- Diligent workers. There’s a reason we say “busy as a bee.” Bees are constant workers. The nice thing is that it doesn’t take a whole lot of work on your part to raise bees. Once you get past the initial startup costs, you now have a free labor force that will produce honey and wax that you can later sell. Bees are independent, so there is not a lot of time commitment on your part. Plan for about a half hour each week and for honey collecting twice a year. As long as you are collecting when you should be, not over- or underdoing it, than you will have a happy relationship with your little honey-makers for years to come. Note that in colder climates, you may need to help the bees overwinter properly.
There are some downsides to raising honey bees, however:
- Non-Natives: While we farm honey bees for honey, there’s mounting research 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 farm 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 bee stings. Even if you are not allergic, stings can still be slightly painful. Luckily, though, most beekeepers develop immunity to the poison over time.
- Cost of supplies. The initial cost of beekeeping is relatively cheap. You will, however, need to invest in supplies such as a hive, proper clothing, a smoker, extracting equipment, and hive supplies. As of this writing, a single new hive may cost about $110, clothing and gear may cost about $160, and a package of new bees may run $75 to $100. 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 a large amount of honey. 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.
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.