Smart Steps Before Starting Your Own Hive
Ask a “beek” (slang for a beekeeper) about honey, and many will say it is only a piece of the obsession. Indeed, beekeeping is diverse: part science, part hard physical labor, part group-think psychology, part backyard ecology and part folkloric magic. Undoubtedly, maintaining a hive of healthy honeybees is the most exhilarating micro-farming one can do within city limits.
Plus, the effort is helping to repopulate the planet with pollinators. With experts continually confounded by the causes and implications of Colony Collapse Disorder—the recent mass disappearance of worker bees—your new colony will create a real, if small, uptick in overall numbers.
Here are some helpful hints before you start your own. The eventual payout is pretty sweet.
1. GET STUNG
If you haven’t been stung since childhood, you could be harboring an allergy. Find a local beekeeper and ask to help with routine hive maintenance. Chances are you’ll be a venom victim at some point. Keep Benadryl close at hand. No reaction? The green flag has been raised to proceed to the next step.
It costs about $500 to start a hive, not including honey-processing equipment such as a centrifuge. Before you spend that tidy sum – and the hours of labor required of the hobby–read all the beekeeping books, blogs and message boards you can handle. Every beekeeping decision, from hive type to mite prevention techniques, has the potential to take you down the rabbit hole of apiary debate but it is time well spent. There is nothing worse than knowing 50,000 lives have been lost on your watch because you weren’t one step ahead of the hive.
3. FIND A CLASS
Hands-on beekeeping workshops will saturate you with the basics but more importantly, fill you with a sense of calm around bees. Chances are you may also stumble upon your mentor here (see Step 4) and at the very least, meet other newbies who will happily split the costs of a honey centrifuge.
4. FIND A MENTOR
This is, bar none, the biggest key to your success. Ask them how often they lose a hive to weather, pests, swarming, or starvation. If they reply rarely, put them on speed dial and offer to buy them dinner and dessert. Not only will you learn from their successes and mistakes in advance, you’ll have wisdom at hand when you need to troubleshoot your own hive’s issues.
5. JUMP IN
If you have gotten this far without succumbing to paralysis by over-analysis, you have officially reached “beek” status. Place your order for a hive in December, get your gear delivered in February, and away you go in March. May the force bee with you.
- DC Beekeepers Alliance (DCBeekeepers.org)
- Beekeepers Association of NOVA (BeekeepersNOVA.org)
- Bowie Beekeepers (Bumbabees.com)
- The Beekeepers Handbook, Diana Sammataro & Alphonse Avitabile
- The Backyard Beekeeper, Kim Flottum
- The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture, Amos Root & Anne Harmon
- February: Montgomery County Beekeepers Association (MontgomeryCountyBeekeepers.com)
- March: DC Honeybees (DCHoneybees.blogspot.com)
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