How to get started with beekeeping
Story by Sarah Allen
With spring still weeks away, the annual rebirth of nature seems like nothing but a dream: the sunshine, the flowers … and the bees.
But, according to Gary Keuffer, coordinator of education for the Brown County Beekeepers Association, it is never too early to start making beekeeping plans. In fact, he said, the best time to get started is not in the spring, but in the winter — which is especially true for the beginner beekeeper, as it will allow time for research, as well as ordering and assembling equipment.
For someone just starting out, Keuffer said, there is a plethora of information available. Libraries, he said, have a variety of books, though the one he would recommend is “Beekeeping for Dummies.”
The internet can also be a valuable resource, though Keuffer advised being cautious and aware, as not everything is accurate. However, there are several reliable resources, such as the Ohio State Beekeeping Association, which has several helpful YouTube videos.
Keuffer added that joining a local bee club can provide fellowship and mentoring, as can bee schools.
Around the southwest Ohio area, there are two schools offered in the winter. The 10th Annual Northeastern Kentucky Beekeeping School will be held on Feb. 23 at the Maysville Community and Technical College in Maysville, Kentucky. Then, on March 23, the 2019 Southwestern Ohio Beekeepers School will be at the Oasis Conference Center in Loveland.
Bee schools require registration and fill up quickly, Keuffer added.
Once a new beekeeper has finished her or her research, a bee catalogue can provide them with the different tools they need — and, of course, also with the bees.
Keuffer said there is “generally a price break” with a package, rather than buying all equipment individually. He added that the first year costs between $350 and $400, which covers the protective gear, the tools and the hive.
He added, “If you take care of the equipment, it lasts forever.”
There may be some occasional items to purchase “as you go,” Keuffer said, but most of beekeeping is a “one-time expense.”
The bees are usually an additional $100. If a beekeeper purchases a “nuc” — or nucleus of a beehive — it will be more expensive (at about $170), but it will also provide a “jump start” for a beginner.
Keuffer explained that a nuc “consists of five frames of fully developed comb.”
“It will contain numerous bees along with a queen who is laying eggs within the comb that also contains honey and pollen to sustain the bees,” he said.
For the first year, Keuffer said, it is “encouraged to do some additional feeding,” along with what the bees will gather on their own.
He added that there will be no honey the first year of beekeeping, as the bees need “all their resources to sustain themselves.” However, if a beekeeper starts with a nuc, there is a chance he or she may get honey, as the bees are already established.
The amount of honey a beekeeper will collect all depends on “location, location, location,” Keuffer said. “Honey bees forage on numerous flowers for nectar and pollen. They do best on native flowers in the area.”
Their busiest times, Keuffer said, are during the spring and fall. “In mid-summer, we usually experience a dearth with few flowers to forage on.”
He added, “When creating habitats for bees, it is wise to select plants that are beneficial to bees throughout the growing season, including summer.” A few examples would be: Black-Eyed Susans, purple coneflowers and sunflowers.
Keuffer also said that, while honey may be the most famous bee by-product, it is only one part of beekeeping. Others by-products include: pollen, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.
As explained by informational material provided by Keuffer: Pollen is a rich and pure natural food that is high in a variety of minerals and vitamins. Beeswax can be used in everything from cosmetics to furniture polish. Propolis is something bees collect from trees and use to seal cracks in their hive — it can be used by humans as a health aid and in fine wood varnishes.
“I suspect we may hear more about (propolis) in the future,” Keuffer added.
Royal jelly, he said, can be used a dietary supplement. Provided information material further described it is a substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee and is “made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee’s head.” It is rich with every B vitamin.
But the many and varied by-products from bees are only part of the surprises that come with beekeeping, Keuffer said.
As an example, he said bees have personalities.
“Over the years, my experiences have taught me that some are very docile, others are very mean,” he said.
Keuffer also said that most people aren’t aware of the diverse history of bees.
“The honey bee is not a native bee of the continental United States,” he said. They were brought over by settlers in 1622, and native people at the time referred to them as “the white man’s fly,” he added.
Just within Ohio, Keuffer said, there are 500 varieties of bees — and, within the continental U.S., 4,000 varieties.
Keuffer added that most people don’t know that hives have a 99.9 percent female population. The drones, or males, have only one function: mating. In the winter, they are ejected from the hive due to limited resources.
He also described the importance of bees, as pollinators, within the ecosystem.
“When you go to the produce department and you see that wide array of fruits and vegetables, you owe that in large part to the bees,” Keuffer said.
He added that roughly one in every three bites of food humans consume is the result of pollinators.
“But it’s not just us,” Keuffer said. Bees also contribute to “beauty in nature,” as well as helping to provide food for other animals.
“Even though some of them are a nuisance, every single one of them has importance in the ecosystem,” he said, adding that many bee clubs, such as the Brown County Beekeepers Association, have people who can remove bees humanely without extermination.
Because of their role in the environment, Keuffer said, beekeeping is “something that is really important right now.”
“The bees need all the help they can get,” he said.
And offering that help, he said, is a reward beyond the honey and other products that come with beekeeping. The experience, Keuffer added, is ultimately about “working in partnership with nature.”
To learn more about the Brown County Beekeepers Association, visit browncountybeekeepersassociation.org.