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Foreword

In his foreword to the third edition of Beekeeping For Dummies, Connecticut author and beekeeper Ed Weiss wrote, “This book is written for all those folks who have happily decided to have our wonderful friend, the honeybees, as their own.” Ed concludes that Beekeeping For Dummies answers beekeepers’ perpetual “How do I do it?” question. That continues to hold true for the updated and expanded fourth edition.

The learning curve to successfully starting and continuing to maintain beehives can be steep. Beekeeping For Dummies flattens the curve in covering all aspects of keeping bees. Anyone interested in learning about the basics of beekeeping — from figuring out what equipment is required to what to do after the bees are installed to harvesting honey to helping colonies with disease and pest control — will find it all here. This book is ideal for everyone, from those with a blossoming interest in bees to those who have already started. It eliminates the uncertainties — our dumbness — of bees and beekeeping.

Dummies author Howland Blackiston is no stranger to honey bees. He has been managing bees, starting with an observation hive, for more than 30 years. He speaks authoritatively of his firsthand experiences. He offers his recommendations gently and honestly, based on his successes. And he encourages new beekeepers to experiment with their own techniques when traditional solutions don’t work as expected.

Howland is an accomplished honey wine (mead) connoisseur, makes beautiful beeswax candles, and has sampled honeys from around the world. He is a conscientious bee mentor for “newbees.” As you read, you’ll find him to be a patient and thorough teacher of beekeeping.

The fourth edition of Beekeeping For Dummies has been expanded, in response to reader demand, to include information on Top Bar hives. It still includes those items readers have come to expect from earlier editions. Icons highlight the text with tips, reminders, and warnings as well as call attention to specialty concerns that urban beekeepers face. And all beekeepers would do well to pay attention to Howland’s explanations of how to be all-natural, pointed out by another icon. Brand-new in this fourth edition is information on Top Bar hives.

In addition to money-saving coupons, there are directions to find online videos (in other words, to see, as well as read about, techniques as you set up a new hive or prepare to harvest honey and carry out the honey extracting process). You can also find a Dummies Cheat Sheet online to keep up with your seasonality practices.

The book promises and delivers step-by-step, easy-to-understand instructions to becoming organized and beginning a bee colony. Seasonal chapters explain what to do and when to do it. This is a great book to start beekeeping. However, readers will find much more as they refer back to the information or consult the additional information found online. I wholeheartedly recommend that this book be part of your beekeeping bookshelf. I expect it will become a regular read.

Dewey M. Caron
Emeritus Professor University of Delaware
Retired after 40 years of bee extension, research, and University teaching
Still interacting with bee associations, bee short courses, and outreach

Beekeeping For Dummies®

To view this book's Cheat Sheet, simply go to www.dummies.com and search for “Beekeeping For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.

Introduction

Keeping honey bees is a unique and immensely rewarding hobby. If you have an interest in nature, you’ll deeply appreciate the wonderful world that beekeeping opens up to you. If you’re a gardener, you’ll treasure the extra bounty that pollinating bees bring to your fruits, flowers, and vegetables. If you’re a foodie, you will celebrate your own honey harvest. In short, you’ll be captivated by these remarkable little creatures in the same way others have been captivated for thousands of years.

Becoming a beekeeper is easy and safe — it’s a great hobby for the entire family. All you need is a little bit of guidance to get started. And that’s exactly what this book is for. I provide you with a step-by-step approach for successful backyard beekeeping — follow it closely, and you can have a lifetime of enjoyment with your bees.

About This Book

This book is a reference, not a lecture. You certainly don’t have to read it from beginning to end unless you want to. I organized the chapters in a logical fashion with sensitivity to the beekeeper’s calendar of events. I include lots of great photographs and illustrations (each, I hope, is worth a thousand words) and lots of practical advice and suggestions.

Because Langstroth hives are far and away the most widely used type of hive in the world, most of the content is written with the assumption that you will start your adventure using a Langstroth hive. But since Top Bar hives (and Kenyan Top Bar hives in particular) have become increasingly popular, this fourth edition includes information of particular interest to you Top Bar beekeepers.

I guarantee you will discover all sorts of new information and helpful tips. Just take a look at the sorts of things I’ve included. This book

I also include some back-of-book materials, including helpful bee-related resources: websites, journals, suppliers, and beekeeping associations. I also give you a glossary of bee and beekeeping terms that you can use as a handy quick reference and some useful templates for creating your own beekeeping checklists and logs. Finally, there are some special discount coupons from major vendors that you can take advantage of for managing your hives, purchasing equipment, and subscribing to one of the leading bee journals.

Foolish Assumptions

If you’ve never kept bees, this book has all the information you need to get started in beekeeping. I assume that you have no prior knowledge of the equipment, tools, and techniques.

However, if you’ve been a beekeeper for a while, this book is a terrific resource for you, too. You’ll find new ideas on how to keep your bees healthier and more productive, as well as natural alternatives to traditional medication approaches. And if you’re a city dweller, you’ll benefit from the special hints and guidelines that are unique to urban beekeeping. You’ll appreciate the way the book has been organized for easy and ongoing reference. I include a whole lot of “tricks of the trade.” In short, this book is for just about anyone who’s fallen in love with the bountiful honey bee.

Icons Used in This Book

Peppered throughout this book are helpful icons that present special types of information to enhance your reading experience and make you a stellar beekeeper.

tip Think of these tips as words of wisdom that — when applied — can make your beekeeping experience more pleasant and fulfilling!

warning These warnings alert you to potential beekeeping boo-boos that could make your experiences unpleasant and/or your little winged friends unhappy or downright miserable. Take them to heart!

remember I use this icon to point out things that need to be so ingrained in your beekeeping consciousness that they become habits. Keep these points at the forefront of your mind when caring for your bees.

urban Urban beekeeping involves special considerations and techniques. For those of you keeping bees in a city environment, these hints and suggestions will come in very handy.

natural The trend these days is to be very judicial about the use of chemicals in the hive. Use this icon to learn about natural, nonchemical methods for tending to your colony’s health and otherwise dealing with problems.

Beyond the Book

There is much more information available from your author, and from the For Dummies brand, for your learning pleasure. Check out these resources to find out more about the art of beekeeping:

Where to Go from Here

You can start anywhere with For Dummies books, but there’s a logic to beginning at the beginning. If that’s not in your personality, consider starting with Chapter 5 to see what equipment you’ll need to get started. Then move over to Chapter 6 to determine what kind of honey bee is right for you and what to do the day your “girls” arrive at your home.

You may have some apprehension about working around bees, such as stings and whether your neighbors will be comfortable with your new hobby. Check out Chapter 3 to get some ideas on how to win over your neighbors with jars of delicious honey.

Colony collapse disorder has been in the news over the last few years. Chapter 11 takes an in-depth look at this problem and answers common questions. Chapter 8 gives you info and advice about inspecting your hives and your bees, and Chapters 12 and 13 tell you what to do if you find mites or other potentially fatal problems with your bees.

Chapter 15 is all about honey. Sweet, sticky, golden honey. You learn about the health benefits as well as a little about the history and the medicinal benefits. You find out how to gather and process your honey in Chapters 16 and 17. And after all the work is done and you have pounds of the sweet stuff, Chapters 18 and 20 give you directions for everything from brewing your own mead (honey wine) to making your own lip balm, along with lots of yummy honey-inspired recipes.

My advice is to not hurry through this book. There’s a lot of information here, and all of it will help you be a better beekeeper. Whether you’re in the country, in a subdivision, or you’re planning on an urban rooftop beehive, there’s something here for you.

Part 1

Taking Flight with Beekeeping

IN THIS PART …

Discover the role honey bees have played in history, and find out about the many benefits of beekeeping today. Understand the honey bees’ vital role in nature and what they contribute to our agricultural economy.

Decide whether becoming a beekeeper is the right decision for you. How much work is involved? Do you have what it takes? What will your neighbors say?

See what makes honey bees tick. Understand how they communicate with each other, and find out about their different roles and responsibilities as members of a fascinating society.

Find out about other stinging insects that are often confused with the gentle honey bee and as a result give them a bad rap.

Chapter 1

To Bee, or Not to Bee?

IN THIS CHAPTER

check Finding out about the many benefits of beekeeping

check Deciding whether beekeeping is for you

check Choosing which beekeeping approach to take

I’ve been keeping bees in my backyard since 1983, and I have a confession to make — I really love my bees. That may sound weird to you if you aren’t a beekeeper (yet!), but virtually all individuals who keep bees will tell you the same thing and speak with affection about “their girls.” They impatiently await their next opportunity to visit their hives. They experience a true emotional loss when their bees don’t make it through a bad winter. Beekeepers, without a doubt, develop a special bond with their bees.

Since becoming a backyard beekeeper, I’ve grown to deeply admire the remarkable qualities of these endearing creatures. As a gardener, I’ve witnessed firsthand the dramatic contribution they provide to flowering plants of all kinds. With honey bees in my garden, its bounty has increased by leaps and bounds. And then there’s that wonderful bonus that they generously give me: a yearly harvest of sweet liquid gold.

After you get to know more about bees’ value and remarkable social skills, you’ll fall in love with them, too. They’re simply wonderful little creatures. Interacting with them is a joy and a privilege. People who love nature in its purest form will love bees and beekeeping.

That being said, in this chapter, I help you better understand the remarkable and bountiful little honey bee by looking at its history and the value it brings to our lives. I also discuss the benefits of beekeeping and why you should consider it as a hobby — or even a small business venture. This chapter outlines the benefits of keeping bees, offers an overview of what is required to keep bees, and explains the various approaches you can take to keep your bees healthy.

Discovering the Benefits of Beekeeping

Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? I’m sure that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use. I’m also sure that honey remains the principal draw for many backyard beekeepers. Chapters 15 through 17 explain about all the different kinds of honey, its culinary attraction, and how to produce, harvest, and market your honey.

But the sweet reward is by no means the only reason folks are attracted to beekeeping. Since the 18th century, agriculture has recognized the value of pollination by bees. Without the bees’ help, many commercial crops would suffer serious consequences. More on that later. Even backyard beekeepers witness dramatic improvements in their garden: more and larger fruits, flowers, and vegetables. A hive or two in the garden makes a big difference in your success as a gardener.

The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees produce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive can be harvested (it’s rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in our own diets). Chapter 18 includes a number of practical things you can do with beeswax and propolis.

Harvesting liquid gold: Honey

The prospect of harvesting honey is certainly a strong attraction for new beekeepers. There’s something magical about bottling your own honey. And I can assure you that no other honey tastes as good as the honey made by your own bees. Delicious! Learn all about honey varieties, tasting, and pairing with food in Chapter 15. And be sure to have a look at Chapter 20, where I list ten of my favorite recipes for cooking with honey.

How much honey can you expect? The answer to that question varies depending on the weather, rainfall, and location and strength of your colony. But producing 60 to 80 pounds or more of surplus honey isn’t unusual for a single strong colony. Chapters 15 through 17 provide plenty of useful information on the kinds of honey you can harvest from your bees and how to go about it. Also included are some suggestions on how you can go about selling your honey — how this hobby can boast a profitable return on investment!

Bees as pollinators: Their vital role to our food supply

Any gardener recognizes the value of pollinating insects. Various insects perform an essential service in the production of seed and fruit. The survival of plants depends on pollination. You may not have thought much about the role honey bees play in our everyday food supply. It is estimated that in North America around 30 percent of the food we consume is produced from bee-pollinated plants. Bees also pollinate crops, such as clover and alfalfa that cattle feed on, making bees important to our production and consumption of meat and dairy. The value of pollination by bees is estimated at around $16 billion in the United States alone.

These are more than interesting facts; these are realities with devastating consequences if bees were to disappear. And sadly, the health of honey bees has been compromised in recent years (see the later section “Being part of the bigger picture: Save the bees!”). Indeed a spring without bees could endanger our food supply and impact our economy. It’s a story that has become headline news in the media.

I’ve witnessed the miracle in my own garden: more and larger flowers, fruits, and vegetables — all the result of more efficient pollination by bees. After seeing my results, a friend who tends an imposing vegetable garden begged me to place a couple of hives on her property. I did, and she too is thrilled. She rewards me with a never-ending bounty of fruits and vegetables. And I pay my land-rent by providing her with 20 pounds of honey every year. Not a bad barter all around.

Being part of the bigger picture: Save the bees!

The facts that keeping a hive in the backyard dramatically improves pollination and rewards you with a delicious honey harvest are by themselves good enough reasons to keep bees. But today, the value of keeping bees goes beyond the obvious. In many areas, millions of colonies of wild (or feral) honey bees have been wiped out by urbanization, pesticides, parasitic mites, and a recent phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (otherwise known as CCD; see Chapter 11 for more information). Collectively, these challenges are devastating the honey bee population. Many gardeners have asked me why they now see fewer and fewer honey bees in their gardens. It’s because of the dramatic decrease in our honey bee population. Backyard beekeeping has become vital in our efforts to reestablish new colonies of honey bees and offset the natural decrease in pollination by wild honey bees. I know of many folks who have started beekeeping just to help rebuild the honey bee population.

Getting an education: And passing it on!

As a beekeeper, you continually discover new things about nature, bees, and their remarkable social behavior. Just about any school, nature center, garden club, or youth organization would be delighted for you (as a beekeeper) to share your knowledge. Each year I make the rounds with my slide show and props, sharing the miracle of honey bees with communities near and far. On many occasions, local teachers and students have visited my house for an on-site workshop. I’ve opened the hive and given each wide-eyed student a close-up look at bees at work. Spreading the word to others about the value these little creatures bring to all of us is great fun. You’re planting a seed for our next generation of beekeepers. After all, a grade-school presentation on beekeeping is what aroused my interest in honey bees.

Improving your health: Bee therapies and stress relief

Although I can’t point to any scientific studies to confirm it, I honestly believe that tending honey bees reduces stress. Working with my bees is so calming and almost magical. I am at one with nature, and whatever problems may have been on my mind tend to evaporate. There’s something about being out there on a lovely warm day, the intense focus of exploring the wonders of the hive, and hearing that gentle hum of contented bees — it instantly puts me at ease, melting away whatever day-to-day stresses I may find creeping into my life.

Any health food store proprietor can tell you the benefits of the bees’ products. Honey, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis have been a part of healthful remedies for centuries. Honey and propolis have significant antibacterial qualities. Royal jelly is loaded with B vitamins and is widely used overseas as a dietary and fertility stimulant. Pollen is high in protein and can be used as a homeopathic remedy for seasonal pollen allergies (see the sidebar “Bee pollen, honey, and allergy relief” in this chapter).

Apitherapy is the use of bee products for treating health disorders. Even the bees’ venom plays an important role here — in bee-sting therapy. Venom is administered with success to patients who suffer from arthritis and other inflammatory/medical conditions. This entire area has become a science in itself and has been practiced for thousands of years in Asia, Africa, and Europe. An interesting book on apitherapy is Bee Products — Properties, Applications and Apitherapy: Proceedings of an International Conference Held in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 26–30, 1996, published by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Determining Your Beekeeping Potential

How do you know whether you’d make a good beekeeper? Is beekeeping the right hobby for you? Here are a few things worth considering as you ponder these issues.

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. I know many beekeepers in the heart of Manhattan. They have a hive or two on their rooftops or terraces. Keep in mind that bees travel one to two 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 is enough to accommodate the hive itself.

See Chapter 3 for more specific information on where to locate your bees, in either urban or suburban situations.

Zoning and legal restrictions

Most communities are quite tolerant of beekeepers, but some have local ordinances that prohibit beekeeping or restrict the number of hives you can have. Some communities let you keep bees but ask that you register your hives with the local government. Check with local bee clubs, your town hall, your local zoning board, or your state’s Department of Agriculture (bee/pollinating insects division) to find out about what’s okay in your neighborhood.

Obviously you want to practice a good-neighbor policy so folks in your community don’t feel threatened by your unique new hobby. See Chapter 3 for more information on the kinds of things you can do to prevent neighbors from getting nervous.

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 $300 to $400 for a start-up hive kit, equipment, and tools — less if you build your own hive from scratch (find out how to do it in my book, Building Beehives For Dummies, published by Wiley). You’ll spend around $100 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. Your hive can give you 60 to 90 pounds of honey every year. At around $8 per pound (a fair going price for all-natural, raw honey), that should give you an income of $480 to $720 per hive! Not bad, huh?

See Chapter 5 for a detailed listing of the equipment you’ll need.

How many hives 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. Why? For one, it’s twice as much fun! Another more practical reason for having a second hive is that recognizing normal and abnormal situations is easier when you have two colonies to compare. In addition, a second hive enables you to borrow frames from a stronger, larger colony to supplement one that needs a little help. My advice? Start with one hive until you get the hang of things and then consider expanding in your second season.

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 variety 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. But there are notable others to consider. See Chapter 6 for more information about different varieties of honey bees.

Time and commitment

Beekeeping isn’t labor intensive. Sure, you’ll spend part of a weekend putting together your new equipment. And I anticipate that you’ll spend some time reading up on your new hobby. (I sure hope you read my book from cover to cover!) But the actual time that you absolutely must spend with your bees is surprisingly modest. Other than your first year (when I urge you to inspect the hive frequently to find out more about your bees), you need to make only five to eight visits to your hives every year. Add to that the time 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).

For a more detailed listing of seasonal activities, be sure to read Chapter 9.

Beekeeper personality traits

If you scream like a banshee every time you see an insect, I suspect that 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. Sure, as far as hobbies go, it’s a little unusual, but all that’s part of its allure. Express your uniqueness and join the ranks of some of the most delightful and interesting people I’ve ever met … backyard beekeepers!

Allergies

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. And yet, the most severe and life-threatening reactions to bee stings occur in less than 1 percent of the population. So the chances that you’re dangerously allergic to honey bee venom are remote. If you’re uncertain, check with an allergist, who can determine whether you’re among the relatively few who should steer clear of beekeeping.

You’ll find more information on bee stings in Chapter 3.