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How to start keeping honeybees . . .

A really hot topic that’s been flying around the last few years has been pollinators. From butterflies, to native bees, everyone in the last five or ten years has heard about their decline and importance. Every first grade class between here and Athens has been raising Monarchs to release like its going out of style and almost everyone knows someone with honeybees. The mentality and respect we have for our pollinators has really changed and I hope this continues. Many people have asked me how to get started beekeeping, and luckily it is a lot like many hobbies, you can spend however much you want.

There’s the “free” way, by catching a swarm. Honeybee colonies usually swarm in the Spring time and chances are you’ve seen or heard of one near you. This swarm will contain the queen, nurse bees and worker bees and will start making their new home just about anywhere. If you have the bravery to handle a swarm, you can start a colony with these bees. You’ll need a complete hive set, which you can get online and I will elaborate on later, and a safe place to set them up. Although the cheapest option, this will take more sweat and grit to start, but many people are successful with swarms each year, including myself. These bees may or may not make enough honey to survive the first year, so feeding may be necessary.

If you are willing to spend a little money, you can start a colony at your home that is already semi-established on demand. Each Spring, beekeepers all around will start selling nucleus colonies. These typically run between $150-$185 and are a little easier to begin with than a swarm. These “nucs” come with five frames of bees. There should be multiple stages of bees, the queen, and a frame of honey and a frame of pollen. These are a good way to start because when you get them into your hive, they have everything they need to be successful. These typically will make enough honey for themselves only the first year.

The final way to start beekeeping is to buy an entire colony. Beekeepers typically sell these between $250-$350, which when you consider everything included, is not a bad deal. You receive a complete hive (one or two boxes tall, depending), an established queen, and an entire colony ready to make honey. Although this may be the most expensive route, you are taking a (slightly) lower risk by working with an already working hive versus trying to grow a full colony your first year. 

Between these choices, I think there is an option for everyone. If you are interested in beekeeping, feel free to call the extension office any time to learn more. 

Keep pollinators in mind when you spray your yard and remember how important they are to agriculture and our way of life. Be safe out there. 

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