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Welcome to the wonderful world of bees. If you’ve been undecided in the past about becoming a beekeeper but are ready to get your own hive, now is the perfect time to do it. For new beekeepers, winter is the time to take the first steps. While most of the hands-on work doesn’t begin until spring, there is much preparation to do. Without the right timing in the winter, you might lose a chance to get started for the year, and the building of your apiary might be delayed. In the first of this two-part series, let’s look at some of the things you can do right now to get started.
1. Read Books
Before you go any further, head to your library and check out a few books on keeping bees. While the internet is a vast and seemingly endless resource, it can be challenging for the new beekeeper to separate solid advice from opinion. There are great books available on practical beekeeping, and you can always use the internet as a backup resource to continue investigating a topic that piques your interest.
2. Go to Bee School
For six weeks during the winter before our first year with bees, my husband and I attended a weekly beekeeping course hosted by our county extension office. To this day, it remains the foundation of our work with bees. Local bee schools or classes offer immense value that a book simply can’t: individualized advice and recommendations based on your region. Beekeeping is so geographically specific that any opportunity to work with local beekeepers is a precious one indeed.
3. Visit Your Allergist
Reading and researching bees and beekeeping can be a lot of fun, but before you commit much more time or money, confirm that you are in good health and consult an allergist. If you do have an allergy to honeybee venom (which is different than that of other bees and wasps), there are ways you can still be committed to beekeeping you can discuss with your doctor.
4. Join a Beekeeping Club
If you’re looking up a local beekeeping class or school, chances are the same people you meet belong to local clubs. Beekeeping club meetings usually run through the winter, and this slow time is an ideal chance to ask beginner questions, before professional beekeepers are swamped with the busy season.
5. Find a Mentor
A good mentor is priceless. Ask to shadow a fellow beekeeper early in the season. The slow pace of winter is a great time to ask the heady, intellectual questions, spend time handling empty equipment (it’s less intimidating when there aren’t thousands of bees inside) and develop a relationship with the person who will be available throughout your first year to answer questions and guide you through everything.
6. Order Bees and Supplies
If you’ve read the books and taken the classes, and you feel confident in your health and ability to keep bees, go ahead and order your bees and supplies. Winter is the time to reserve your nucleus colonies and packages of bees for spring startup. Often, beekeeping suppliers and catalogs will be fully stocked in the winter, but come spring, they sell out quickly. Plan ahead so you’re not left behind.
Are you still undecided? Not sure what it means to be a beekeeper? Check out the second part of this series next week.
Beekeeping is an immensely rewarding activity, and its benefits affect the very fibers of our environment. But it must be done thoughtfully and with quite a bit of planning. In next week’s column, we’ll further explore the details of becoming a responsible beekeeper and honeybee steward.