5 (unpopular) Rules For New Beekeepers

When I started learning about beekeeping I had some unfortunate experiences that pushed me to grow beyond the hive. I unfortunately learned quite early about the challenging social aspects of beekeeping. It can be difficult to know who to trust. Here are a few things I wish I would’ve known when I started beekeeping,

One of the very first things I learned about beekeeping is:

If you ask 10 beekeepers a question you’ll get 11 answers.

And I cannot emphasize how true the above statement is! The best beekeeping advice I ever received was from a guy named Jose at Lowes. He was walking me to the insullation and he was making small talk asking what I was using it for. I told him I am wrapping my beehives with it. He proceeded to tell me I don’t really need it in this area and I explained to him I am going to try it anyway. When we arrived at the insulation he said that everyone would give me different information but the best thing I could do is follow someone in my area that is doing well. He was right and that’s what I did the first couple years. And that leads me to my first rule…

  1. Find someone local to you who is successful and do what they do

But just for a while. You need time to learn the basics of beekeeping. You don’t have to do every single thing your mentor does, but find someone you can trust and take their advice. How do you know you can trust them? Here are a few questions to answer. How many hives do they have? How long have they been beekeeping? Do they act like a know it all (stay away from these folks) or do they show some humility? Can they overwinter bees successfully or do their bees die every winter? Checkout their social media and see how it feels. Reach out to them and see what happens!

2. Don’t try to go “treatment free” your first year (or two)

Why? Because you first need to get into the rythmn of good old fashioned regular old beekeeping. Learning the basics and doing what everyone has always done has some value to it. Treatment free beekeeping comes with its own set of challenges and no, you shouldn’t rely on answers from your treatment free FB group. Beekeeping is regional and specific to your area. Find someone local doing what you want to do and learn from them.

It would be difficult to explain to someone why they need to do something if you haven’t experienced the challenges yourself. If you are treatment free and lose your bees the first couple years you might get discouraged and quit beekeeping alltogether. Think of it like college-you have to take Enlgish classes and Math classes and do all the boring stuff before you get to take the courses you really want to take. Medical doctors can’t just go to school to become a specialist. They need core classes. Same concept.

3. Joining a club isn’t going to solve all your problems

It seems like everyone’s answer to keeping bees successfully is to tell you to join your local club. I personally haven’t found it useful and as a matter of fact, I’ve seen more drama in the local club than I have in the kids I teach in middle school. The truth of the matter is, there is drama in beekeeping. Everyone thinks they are right. Some go to clubs to learn and some go to argue. I suggest you go to a few meetings and see how you feel about it. If you like them, by all means go but if you don’t, keep looking for your people but don’t give up or get discouraged if the club isn’t all you hope it will be. The beekeepers I am closest to locally I met through Instagram, markets I sell at, and through word of mouth.

4. Start with new equipment

Don’t build your own boxes unless you have explicit guidance from a seasoned beekeeper and woodworker. Bee space is a thing and you do not understand it if you do not have first hand knowledge of what the space is for and what can happen when it’s wrong. It’s enough to remember to push the frames to the center of a hive before closing it up or remembering to add a frame you removed.

Another reason to start with new equipment is woodenware can host bacteria, fungi, and disease that can transfer to your bees. Some will tell you to torch hives and that will kill all the bacteria but that simply isn’t true. American Fouldbrood spores can remain viable over 50 years and freezing or heating them will not disenfect material. Using the same hive tool between hives can transfer disease. Practicing biosecurity is the best way to protect your colonies from disease and one way to that is to use new equipment.

5. Start with local bees

If you want your bees to have the best chance of survival in your climate, get bees local to you. Bees shipped from one geographic region to another can have problems acclimatizing. Purchasing local bees assures you have bees that are already adapted to survive in your area. Bees shipped in the mail have their own set of problems-including sometimes arriving dead.

Another good reason to start with local bees is if you are buying from a local beekeeper you automatically have a great resource! If you find someone selling nucs or queens, you may have also found a mentor. Having a local beekeeper at your fingertips is an invaluable resource.