A few decades ago, beekeeping was more or less confined into bee yards (or apiaries) where professionals took care of the process. Nowadays, however, beekeeping is quickly becoming America’s favorite hobby. It allows families to work together on something in their free time and has a deliciously sweet and rewarding end-product. Thanks to it being a very old craft, it often requires a lot of time and dedication before you can take it head-on. This is why I’ve made this beginner’s guide to beekeeping where will go over all the steps needed to become a proper beekeeper.

To make things simpler for you, I will split this guide into the following sections:

  • Studying the craft
  • Learn about the honey-making process
  • Calculate the resources you will need
  • Find and join local clubs or organizations
  • Choosing the hive type and other resources
  • Choosing the perfect place for your hive
  • Setting up your first hive
  • Ordering your bees
  • Harvesting honey

If you want to check out some of the best beekeeping start kits for this season, make sure you read my Full Buyer’s Guide on the topic. Now, let’s start with the very first thing you should consider when getting into beekeeping!

Studying the craft

Beekeeping is estimated to be at least 5000 years old with the first evidence coming from Ancient Egypt. That being said, such an ancient craft has a lot of details around it and, therefore, a ton of things to learn about. From the types of bees, types of beehives, seasonal change all the way to inspection and harvesting techniques, you will need to dive deep in order to be successful at your new hobby.

Luckily nowadays there are a ton of books and instructional videos that can help you start with beekeeping. Further down in this article we will take a look at all of the items from your beginner’s to-do list, but here is a shortlist of all the best literature and sources you can use to your advantage:

  • Beekeeping for Dummies
  • The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile
  • Buzz into Beekeeping
  • The Backyard Beekeeper (4th Edition)
  • The Beekeeper’s Bible

These are, by far, the best books for beekeeping and will make sure that your fundamentals are solid. Most of these books also come in digital formats with instructional videos and rich glossaries. Investing some money and time into learning the topes will help tremendously further down the road. Moreover, it will make you a smarter and more skilled beekeeper which will keep your colonies safer and happier. Now, let’s move on to the next thing you have to go through.

Learn about the honey-making process

Bee on honeycomb

In order to keep your bees safe and extract the best honey out of your beehives, you will need to understand the honey-making process. While this is a topic deserving a whole separate article of its own, it won’t hurt it we quickly went through this process here. On the bees’ side, the steps needed to make honey are the following:

  • Gathering nectar from flowers
  • Transporting and transforming it
  • Filling and sealing the cells
  • Final touches

Gathering nectar from flowers

The first step of honey-making involves the extraction and collection of nectar from the flowers in your region. Adult worker bees (older than 21 days) will fly to different flowers and blossoming trees around the hive in order to find nectar. The flower’s nectar is located deep within the plant so the bees will use their long tongues to suck it out. This step lies in the idea of creating different-tasting honey. If you want acacia honey, simply place your hive near acacia fields. The same goes for rosemary, manuka, wildflower, and other types of flowers.

Transporting and transforming it

Next up, the worker bees will deliver and deposit that same nectar into the hive. The place where the bees store the nectar en-route to the hive is in their stomach. This is often referred to as the honey crop. Inside their abdomens, the nectar is mixed with the bees’ own enzymes, and its pH is altered. Inside the hive, the older worker bees give the nectar to the younger worker bees that break down the nectar compound into simpler sugar molecules such as glucose and fructose. The nectar is then further chewed for more than half an hour which reduces its overall humidity from 70-80% to around 20%. Also, the nectar gets far more acidic, reaching pH levels of 3.9.

Filling and sealing the cells

Within the hive’s frame, the bees will create groups of cells that have a hexagonal shape. These cells form the wax honeycomb we all know and have seen. To conserve the nectar/honey, the bees fill the cells and seal them with a wax-like compound. This allows the honey to stay fresh for years to come.

Another part of the preparation is moisture elimination. Bees inside the hive will use their wings to create a draft that will fan out all the moisture in the air. By doing so, bees can eliminate as much as 85% of the moisture inside the hive. The reason for all that is because moisture speeds up the spoiling of the nectar and a drier hive will be better at preserving honey, nectar, and other parts of the interior.

Final touches

After a while, the sealed honey binds with the wax and other enzymes embedded into the honeycomb cells. This is where honey gets its characteristic taste from. Once extracted, raw honey might still contain wax residue which is why you, as a beginner beekeeper, should know that you need to decant it in a special vessel for a few days. That will remove (or filter out) the hard particles and leave you with clearer honey.

Now, let’s get into the more practical side of things…

Calculate the resources you will need

A tool of the beekeeper

One step that beginners often overlook is what your budget will be and how much will everything cost. On the market, there are beginner sets that will have pretty much everything you need to get started apart from the brood and bees. These sets often include all the basic tools, feeders, protective clothing, and actual hive box with frames, and more.

On Amazon, these beginner sets can vary in price ranging from 100 to 600 dollars, depending on their quality and the number of accessories included. Some sets even come with instructional guides and beginner beekeeping books which can come in handy. My best advice is to get your protective clothing separately as the ones included in all-in-one packs are of sub-par quality.

The next biggest expense is your first bee nucleus. Nucleus colonies (or nucs) are, in the simplest of terms, smaller hives. They come in small boxes and consist of bees in all stages of their lives. Additionally, there is a laying queen, food, and plenty of workers to cover several combs. These nucs can be put directly into a bigger hive or can function independently for a while. You move the bees by simply putting the nuc on top of the bigger hive with all of its entrances fully opened. Shortly after that, the bees will start migrating. Bee nuclei cost around 100-200 dollars depending on the seller and the size of the nuc.

The running costs of beekeeping are minimal, and often only amount to whether or not you want to expand. What you will be investing in, however, is time. A single hive will require 20-40 hours of work per year which isn’t a lot but it quickly adds up when you start adding more.

So, in summary, your initial costs could be the following:

  • Bee nucleus – 100-200$
  • Beginner hive box – 100-300$
  • Beekeeping tools – 50-100$
  • Protective gear – 100-150$
  • Food and other supplies – <50$

That makes for a total of around 600 dollars on average for everything you will need to set up a large hive and start producing honey!

Find and join local clubs or organizations

This step is perhaps the most important one. Many beginners consider this a solitary hobby where you spend some alone time in your backyard. However, beekeeping communities are thriving across the country and are a great place where you can share experiences and ask for advice. In fact, most regions have their own smaller beekeeping communities. These groups share experiences, important updates, and news about the region and all the developments.

Another thing for which these clubs and organizations are known is their seasonal fairs. There, beekeepers do charitable work, exchange experience, share their honey, compete for various prizes, and meet people that share the same passion for this hobby!

To find Beekeeping organizations and groups in your state, visit this article by the American Beekeeping Federation.

Choosing the hive type and other resources

One of the most challenging tasks ahead of a beginner beekeeper often proves to be hive selection. My advice would be to not overthink this step. I’ve written a very detailed article describing all the pros and cons of all of the most common types of beehives out there. In it, you will see what each hive box is good at and what its drawbacks are.

In summary, in the USA, beekeepers prefer using Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warré hives. These are the most common, have the most amount of accessories for them, and are widely studied. In every beginner’s book, you will see examples with either one of these three beehives.

Langstroth hives are affordable, can be stacked on top of each other, have industry-standard dimensions, and provide the beekeeper with easy access to the frames. However, they are hard to inspect, can be heavy, and you will need a storage place for the unused boxes.

Top Bar hives are also quite easy to work on, don’t need wooden frames, look amazing, and are great for beekeepers that want to emphasize on pollination. On the flipside, they are harder to extract honey from, the bees will need to make a new comb every year, and the box will need frequent inspections.

Warré hives are lightweight, can be stacked, offer foundationless beekeeping, don’t require frequent inspections, and are easy to manage in large numbers. They are, however, hard to stack, don’t have a full frame, and aren’t as common as the other two.

Choosing the perfect place for your hive

Hives in an apiary

When it comes to beehive location, there are virtually no limitations, as long as you follow a few simple rules:

  • The hive shouldn’t be placed in an area with direct wind
  • Make sure there is enough space between different hives
  • Keep your hives away from the ground for better moisture control and to work on them easily
  • Make sure there is a water source nearby the hive
  • Place the hive’s entrances away from where pets and people walk
  • Make the hives accessible for you to simplify inspections
  • Check with local agencies whether you need to prepare for predators such as bears or skunks

If you only have a windy spot for the hive to be put on, make sure you put a windbreak around it. Trees, shrubbery, bushes, or a fence should do the job. In states where temperatures drop below freezing, make sure you protect or isolate the northern part of the hive.

On the topic of sunlight, bees love the morning light, so if you can, place them in a place where there will be plenty of sun in the morning. In hotter states, try placing the hive under mixed or full shade to protect the bees from overheating. Beehives placed in northern climates can be put under full sun conditions but provide plenty of water for the bees just in case.

Taking these things into account, you can place a hive anywhere you consider appropriate. This can be in your garden, on the roof, or on an unused patch of land. Another option is to find local apiaries (ask your local beekeeping association) and place your hives there.

Setting up your first hive

The setup process begins after you’ve gathered all of your supplies and you have at least one beehive. Then, you need to order a nucleus and begin the transition process. Typically, it takes bees around 7-30 days for them to fully relocate to your bigger hive and start producing honey. During this process, you shouldn’t bother them much apart from providing enough food and water, depending on the surroundings.

After the bees are fully allocated, you can begin with your regular inspections. Make sure you check for common bee pests and diseases. Some hives are more prone to moisture and certain diseases than others. As a whole, the more creases and angles there are to a box, the harder it is to maintain it. This is why most conventional beehives have a simple cubic shape.

Ordering your bees

There are a few details that are involved in the ordering process. Most beginners order nucs that have everything the hive will need to settle into their new hive and start working almost straight away. However, you might want to buy queens or other accessories surrounding them. Those can be push-in queen introduction cages, queen cage holders for introduction, or other accessories. Additionally, there are different types of queen bees – Italian Hybrid, Russian Hybrid, Saskatraz Queen Bees, Carniolan Queen Bees, Cordovan Hybrid Queens, and more.

One of the benefits of local beekeeping clubs and organizations is that they will be able to point you to the exact company that handles queens in that region. The more experienced beekeepers there will also let you know which types work the best for your specific region, or better said – which types they’ve had the most success with!

Harvesting honey

The process of harvesting honey will have its own article down the line but I wanted to share the basic dos and don’ts of the process. Here are some of the best tips that I can give you that will serve you well during all of your future harvests:

  • Never rush the honey harvesting process. As you learn, take things slow and try to understand as much as you can about your colonies.
  • Try to cover larger batches at a time.
  • Carefully choose your harvesting location so that it isn’t close to the bees. Enclosed rooms indoors are ideal. Avoid common rooms in your house as honey can be troublesome to remove.
  • Make sure that there are no bees stuck. Have a light source or a window opened so that any bees left behind can escape.
  • Harvest the honey on warmer days as warm honey is much easier to work with.
  • Use the proper tools for the job. Using improvised tools will only make your life harder.
  • After you’re done extracting, leave the tools near your beehives. The bees will clean them thoroughly within a few days.

Pro Tip: When extracting, keep a bowl of water near you so that you can wash your hands regularly. This will prevent the sticky honey from getting all over you and your tools.

The Beginner Beekeeper’s Calendar

Taking everything else into account, here is a brief table on what you will need to do throughout all the seasons in terms of maintenance and care:

Mid Winter
November marks the end of the yearly cycle, while December and the rest of the deep winter are the time when you gather around the fire to stay warm. Your bees will be doing the same, figuratively speaking. Cover your hives and don't peak. Use the time to enhance your knowledge on beekeeping.
End of Winter
At the end of every winter, you will have to check with your hive and see if the bees are still alive. More importantly, you will also have to check whether the queen is still there.
Early Spring
In early spring, bees will (likely) start bringing pollen back to the beehive. This represents that the colony is healthy and that the queen has started laying.
April-July
From the middle of April until the beginning of July, the swarming season is upon us. During that time, your hives will need inspection once every 7-8 days (this represents the time it takes for an egg to be sealed).
Late May
This is the best time of the year for buying a nucleus and trying to start a new colony. The Month of May has the lowest risk of a large colony swarming you. Buying it later in the year, however, risks not having any honey for the first season.
August
As the yearly season slows down, keep doing your weekly checks. Check for diseases and pests, find your queen, look for robbers. During this month (and September) your colonies will be ramping up their population preparing for the winter ahead.
Year-round
Throughout the whole year, you will have to systematically check the hives and ensure they have enough food (in the form of sugar syrup). You should also check for any potential diseases.

Now, let’s answer some common questions regarding this topic!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much land do you need for beekeeping?

While there are no hard limitations on the land you would require, most beekeepers out there have around 2-3 hives per acre of land. Of course, you can probably do with much less, depending on the size of the hive and the nature of your surrounding region.

Can beekeeping be profitable?

If you’ve decided to go down that road, you’d be surprised to learn that a healthy colony can make as much as 80-100 pounds of honey in a single season. Knowing that local honey sells for much more than the one in grocery stores, you can see why most people turn this into a small side business. Typically, the price per pound ranges from 8 to 14 dollars depending on where you live. That can result in profits upwards of 500 dollars per season, depending on your expenses.

How many beehives can a single person manage?

One thing that most beginners fail to realize is that a single beekeeper can easily take care of more than 50 hives while still working full-time. The hard part is when the honey harvest season comes. This often requires the help of other people. Full-time beekeepers can take care of 500-700 colonies but will need quite a lot more hands when the time comes for harvesting.

Is beekeeping cruel to the bees?

This topic has been widely debated recently but most beekeepers and bee experts conclude that none of the studies show any signs of cruelty towards the bees. Out of all insects, the bees’ habits, cycles, and diseases have been studies the most profoundly. That is why we can (safely) assume that what we do with bees isn’t cruel. Bees in hives are free to go as they please and don’t generally tolerate bad treatment.

Final Words

In this beginner’s guide to beekeeping, we went through all the required steps in order to be familiar with the details surrounding that craft. Depending on how much time you want to spend on your new hobby, I really suggest buying some of the suggested book and learning materials. These will enhance your knowledge and allow you to be a better caretaker for your bees. Don’t overlook supplies and other tools you’re going to buy and use since these will make your job much easier if you spend a little extra. Ultimately, treat your bees with respect and always be grateful for the hard work they’re putting in!