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It doesn’t take much to become a beekeeper—you need a bit of know-how with a dash of bravery and a whole lot of dedication. But besides the passion that goes into keeping bees, here are a few items that you’ll want to keep in your toolbox.
1. City Permit
Before you begin beekeeping in the city, it’s critical to get the necessary permits and meet your city’s regulations on hive management. Each municipality will differ slightly in their regulations: Some might have restrictions on the number of hives you may keep, while others dictate how far hives must be from buildings or residences. Do a bit of research into your town’s rules before bringing home any buzzing friends.
2. Educational Material
Once you know that keeping bees is legal in your town, make an effort to get your hands on any pieces of reading material or educational videos that you can find. While beekeeping is an incredible hands-on and intuitive practice, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to get to know these complex and unusual creatures.
Before you get into a hive, educate yourself about the honeybees’ behavior and anatomy (beyond the stinger, of course!), the hive set-up, the roles of bees, and the seasons in which bees operate. Learn about their foraging behavior, their seasonal behavior and their swarming behavior. Completely verse yourself on everything Apis mellifera, and you’ll be better prepared to step foot into their world with confidence and ease—two very valuable traits when encountering tens of thousands of stinging insects!
3. The Proper Equipment
You’ll also need some tangible tools. Peruse any beekeeping catalog and you—and your wallet—might feel slightly overwhelmed at the sheer breadth of gadgets and gizmos available. Truth be told, there are only a handful of absolute, must-have items for most beekeepers:
- a smoker (some beekeepers opt to use sugar water spray instead)
- a hive tool
- woodenware—the structure that comprises the physical hive, which includes bottom board, supers, frames, and inner and outer covers
- the bees themselves
There are many innovative and worthwhile tools aside from these four that make beekeeping fun, but many, such as a honey extractor, are available for rent or are not relevant until you are several years into beekeeping.
4. Protective Gear
There is nothing quite like having your bare hands in a hive of bees—their tiny, furry legs tickle a bit as they walk over your hands and their tiny tongues explore your skin. Their curiosity and gentleness is often in abundance, and you’re too consumed with awe to consider fear. For many new beekeepers, however, this scenario is still a slightly frightening venture and most would feel more comfortable with protective clothing.
A beekeeping veil is highly recommended. Until you’ve spent many years in the company of bees, this should be a non-negotiable piece of gear. Most veils are designed to zip onto protective jackets that have elastic at the waist and cuffs, a piece that is also recommended.
You may opt for an entire suit that covers the legs, as well, or simply wear clean, thick pants tucked into boots. Like equipment, there are endless varieties and variations of beekeeping suits, but the right one for you is the one that makes you feel comfortable.
I don’t wear gloves when inspecting my hives, but I firmly believe the most important piece of “protective gear” a beekeeper can wear is confidence. If gloves and other gear make you feel more confident, wear it! The bees will sense your ease, and you’ll have a more joyful experience.
5. Mentor Support
I’m a relentless self-teacher that has the motivation and willpower to learn everything about a subject with a few tools—mainly books and the Internet. But I’m also a visual and hands-on learner, and the best way to get safe and reliable hands-on experience as a beekeeper is to spend time with a seasoned one.
Finding a good beekeeping mentor is easy if you know where to look. First, join a local beekeeping club in your area; your county’s extension office is a great place to ask about them. Attend meetings, and get a sense of the community to see who is taking on new mentees in your area. You can also find mentor support virtually: There are dozens of online beekeeping forums and Facebook groups that are dedicated to fielding and answering new and experienced beekeeper questions.
6. A Sense of Humor
Bees will swarm, hives will die, and you’ll make mistakes. Especially throughout the first year, your beekeeping career will be on a steep learning curve. Keep a sense of humor and a good perspective on your choices and mistakes. If you’ve taken the time to educate yourself about honeybees and the beekeeping practice, and are comfortable calling on a mentor when needed, you’ll be able to feel confident about the choices you make and not beat yourself up when things go awry.
Keeping bees requires a certain amount of flexibility: in your time, your schedule, and even in the moment that you first crack open the outer cover and take a peek inside the hive. Schedule hive inspections for when you have time to spare—you never know what you’ll find—and take your time. You don’t know when you’ll need to address an issue until you’re elbow-deep in bees. Good and attentive beekeepers are also flexible in their schedule, often noting changes in weather pattern and learning their region’s bloom schedule and acting accordingly.