• Stupid-Easy Beekeeping: Part 1

    Steph’s Note: Today’s post is from the lovely Diana Rodgers, author of the soon-to-be-released gorgeous book, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook: Over 100 Delicious, Gluten-Free, Farm-to-Table Recipes, and a Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Healthy Food. Diana pitched me the idea of raising bees, and my answer was a resounding yes. I’m a nature-lover at heart and this fits within the confines of not having enough space to keep any other typical backyard critters. I’ll be updating you on my adventures as I go along! I’ve already purchased my hive components, ordered my bees, and taken some classes from local experts. Stay tuned for Part 2!

    Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com

    I love finding out that my Paleo friends are into homesteading-type hobbies, like that one time Steph mentioned on my Instagram feed that she really wanted to keep bees. You just never know who loves to get their hands dirty!

    So when I included a chapter on beekeeping in my new book, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook, which is all about connecting with our food, I thought about Steph and wondered if she’d be interested in getting her very own colony and then telling me about her experiences.

    I sent her a text and got an immediate and excited reply that yes, she was very, very interested. I sent her a digital copy of the book so she could read the chapter on beekeeping (the book lands at stores in March) and suggested she check out the San Diego Beekeepers Association, which has some great links to local beekeeping resources, including a beekeeping supply store right in San Diegolocal place to get a new colony of bees, and lots of online tutorials. How cool is that?!

    I’m getting Steph all set up with a hive, bees, and all the gear so that she can have her very own backyard beehive. Not only is honey a delicious and healthy sweetener, but because of pesticides and mosquito spraying, bee populations across the country are in danger, and we need more beekeepers!

    If you’d like to join Steph in becoming a backyard beekeeper, read on for an excerpt from The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook. Before you buy any bees or equipment, make sure you have any licenses your town requires, and chat with your neighbors first to tell them about your plans to keep bees. Check out the book for more on beekeeping, such as how to harvest honey and common issues beekeepers face.

    Bees FAQs

    How far do bees fly? Bees forage in a two- to three-mile radius from the hive.

    How many hives should I get? Start with two. There will be losses every year, and having two increases the chance of at least one hive making it through the winter. Also, if one hive is low on honey, the second can help make up the deficiency.

    How much honey will I get? You can get up to about 100 pounds of honey from one hive, not including what you need to leave for the bees, but in the first year it’s likely to be less.

    How often do beekeepers get stung? Every hive has its own personality; some are more passive or aggressive than others. The hive’s aggressiveness also depends on the weather and the state of the hive. If a hive is healthy, it’s a sunny day, and the bees are busy foraging, then the beekeeper may not need any protection from stings at all.

    Do bees really die after stinging someone? Yes, if a worker bee stings you, it will die shortly after. A queen bee may survive after stinging, but it’s extremely uncommon to be stung by a queen.

    Ordering the Bees

    There are several types of bees, all with different characteristics. If you’re new to beekeeping, I suggest starting with Italian, Carolina, or Russian bees. They are all gentle, productive, and hearty.

    Just like chicks, bees arrive in the mail. (Steph’s note: I ordered some that I’m picking up locally.) Place your order in January so that you’ll have them by the time you’re ready to start the hive in the spring.

    Your initial order of bees will be about 3 pounds, or 15,000 bees, which is just right for a new hive, and will come in a package that’s about the size of a large shoe box. Be sure to order a marked queen—the dot on her back will help you easily identify her when you check on your hive.

    There are many online bee suppliers, but I’ve found that the best way to find one is to ask at your local bee club, which probably has a “new beekeeper” program. Let your post office know that you’re expecting a package of bees about a week before they’re due to arrive, and give them your phone number so that they can call you to pick them up. Make sure you have your hive fully put together before you get the call from the post office.

    Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com

    The Equipment

    The most important piece of equipment, of course, is the hive. I suggest you start with the most common beehive, the ten-frame Langstroth, which sort of looks like a chest of drawers. You can put it together yourself or buy it preassembled. Look for the higher-quality wood versions instead of the ones made from plastic or other materials; they’re built better and will last longer.

    Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com

    A hive is made of the following parts:

    • Screened bottom board: The bottom board is the floor of the beehive. A screened bottom board, rather than a standard one, helps control mites: When the mites fall off the bees, they can’t crawl back up into the hive.
    • Deep hive bodies: Each contains ten frames of honeycomb. The lower deep is the nursery and the upper deep, which is added later, is the food chamber, where the bees store honey and pollen. Inside the hive bodies sit frames.
    • Frames: The bees build their comb onto the frames, which usually come with a sheet of beeswax foundation to help the bees build uniform honeycomb. Despite the name, beeswax foundation is also available in plastic. Bees are slow to accept a plastic foundation, though, so if you really want uniform comb, use natural beeswax instead. But bees will also create their own beautiful honeycomb without foundation, and the process supports a healthier, stronger hive, so consider buying frames without it.
    • Honey super: This looks like a shallower version of the deep hive bodies and is where the bees store surplus honey. You won’t need it at first; add it to the hive around the end of the second month. You can purchase medium or shallow supers, but keep their weight in mind: when full of honey, a medium super weighs about 50 pounds and a shallow super weighs about 40 pounds. As the bees produce more and more honey, you can add more and more supers to the hive, stacking them on top like Legos.
    • Inner cover: This cover sits directly on top of the super and has a ventilation notch on the front. It’s optional, but it can help insulate the hive.
    • Outer cover: This sits on the inner cover. It is often reinforced with galvanized steel, which protects it from the elements.

    You’ll also need to have some other equipment on hand before your bees arrive:

    • Entrance reducer: This is placed between the bottom board and the lower hive body to limit movement in and out of the hive and control hive temperature and ventilation. It can also help bees defend against yellow jackets and robbing bees, since it reduces the size of the entrance. Use the entrance reducer in a new hive and during cold months, to keep the hive warm while allowing bees to come and go. Once the hive is established and when the weather is warm, you can remove it.
    • Queen excluder: Used only during the honey season, this keeps the queen from laying eggs in the honey super.
    • Hive-top feeder: This small box sits directly on top of the upper hive body, under the outer cover—no inner cover is used with a hive-top feeder. Adding sugar syrup to the feeder is an easy way to keep your bees fed.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com
    • Smoker: Produces cool smoke that helps calm the bees, so it’s easier for you to inspect the hive.
    • Bee brush: It’s optional, but this can help you gently brush bees off the hive in order to access the frames.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com
    • Hive tool: Use this tool to scrape beeswax off the hive and loosen the parts of the hive, so they’re easier to pry apart.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com
    • Protective gear: At the minimum, you’ll need a veil and protective gloves. You won’t need the gloves early in the season, though; they’re primarily for honey harvesting, and without them it’s easier to be gentle with the bees. Coveralls are optional and range in price and thickness. If you opt not to wear coveralls, make sure you wear light-colored clothing and tuck it in, so bees don’t crawl inside.

    After you purchase your hive and equipment, you’ll need to know how to introduce the bees to their hive, how to check on the hive and what to look for, and how to feed the bees before they are producing their own honey—it’s all covered in The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook.

    Even if you’re not in a position to raise your own bees right now, learning about them is fascinating. I’m so excited that Steph is on the path to becoming a beekeeper, and I can’t wait to hear about her experiences.

    Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

    Pin this for later!

    Stupid-Easy Beekeeping | stupideasypaleo.com

     

    Photographs courtesy of Diana Rodgers.

     

    Steph Gaudreau is a certified holistic nutrition practitioner, weightlifting and mindset coach, and the author of the best-selling Performance Paleo Cookbook. Her recipes and expert advice have been featured in SELF, Outside Magazine, Elle, and Greatist. Steph loves barbells, cats, and anything Lord of the Rings. She lives in San Diego, CA.

    28 thoughts on “Stupid-Easy Beekeeping: Part 1

    1. This is so awesome!! I was wondering about keeping bees near farm land, I would love to have bees, but live next to a corn field.b I have heard that bees have been losing numbers due to pesticides. Would living next to farm land kill these bees?

      1. Natalie, Being next to farm land doesn’t mean you can’t keep bees. We have acres of corn around our bees yet they still find lots of wildflowers to feed on. We have yet to have any issues with all the corn fields but time will tell. Corn pollen is less nutritious so bees will feed on it but will most likely feed on something else first.

        As to Stupid Easy Beekeeping…I wouldn’t say it’s stupid easy but it’s not stupid hard either. You just need to be open to learning and some heavy lifting when the honey starts coming in. And yes, you will get stung more than once but you get used to it.

        1. Bees will fly up to 3 miles to forage…unless the area where you live is extensively covered in corn, I probably wouldn’t worry.

          Dave, I named the post as a play on my blog name. There was no offense meant.

    2. I love your website and have used a few of your recipes which are GREAT! However, I’m a beekeeper and kinda’ take offense at the “Stupid Easy Beekeeping” post title. Beekeeping is something I’m passionate about. I love these little insects – they are living beings and I take great care in managing my hives.

      Beekeeping is also a very expensive hobby which I’m sure you have already found from ordering your woodenware, suit, smoker, package etc., also, I didn’t see any mention of the various medications, integrated pest management systems, pollen patty/substitutes, supplemental feed or the cost of a honey extractor. It’s easy to spend over a thousand dollars to start – that is a big investment considering you won’t be able to collect any honey the first year; also assuming your bees don’t swarm, abscond or die from disease.

      Beekeeping can be a very rewarding, wonderful experience, but after you’ve been stung a dozen times I’m sure you will agree that its definetly not stupid or easy.

      1. Hi Jessica,

        There was no offense meant other than a play on my blog title. I’m sure you are passionate about it, but I think you are implying that Diana / me are taking this lightly. We are not. I think you misunderstand where we are coming from. Diana runs an organic farm with many animals, and I used to be a biology teacher and have always had enormous respect for nature and living things. Obviously bee-keeping is neither stupid nor easy. Stupid-easy means something different. My aim in this post is to make it less intimidating for people, and give them a jumping off point to learn more.

        I’m going to be posting more about bee-keeping in future installments including things you have mentioned, but it was too much for one post. This one post was not meant to be a complete lesson, and I highly encourage people who are interested to do as much reading as possible and take classes offered by local associations. I’ve been reading voraciously and taking classes.

        I am well aware of all the things you posted about here. (Also I don’t think a honey extractor is a necessary purchase considering you can share / rent them.)

        Yes, I am aware it’s not cheap and not something that someone would get into lightly.

        1. This is my first time reading up on learning about bees. I am planing on starting them. Thank you for the info. I needed the title stupid easy so I don’t get intimidated with my new adventure. I look forward to more info.
          Angela P.
          Utah

          1. I tend to agree, the title did pull me in as I have been doing lots of research and reading and have been feeling a little overwhelmed. This gave me a little boost of motivation to tackle beekeeping!

      2. Hi Jessica,
        To add to Steph’s reply – I’d like to point out that this was an EXERPT from the beekeeping chapter, meaning it is not the ENTIRE chapter. I tried to make that clear but I guess it wasn’t completely clear that this post is just a PIECE of the information. My book includes much more information and then, of course, there are resources in the back of my book for further information. Like most homesteading books, it covers many topics in an overview format. I don’t think Steph considers herself literally stupid or easy – I’ve met her several times and this is not the impression she gives off 🙂 Please consider this phrase to be taken in the figurative sense.
        Diana

    3. Thanks so much for this! I’ve always been fascinated by beekeeping, and this is such an informative post. I’d definitely need to do more research before getting into this, but it seems more attainable now!

    4. Fascinating! I am not able to set up my own bee hive (I live in a residential neighborhood and, well, I’m kinda afraid of bees :), but I’m a HUGE proponent of beekeeping (by others, LOL) and have been buying only raw, local honey for a few years now. Keep up the good work!!

    5. Hi there, did you know that one of your advertisers is for a herbicide!?? I can’t imagine that a beekeeper would want such endorsement.
      Sincerely, Suzanna

      1. Hi Suzanna…the ad space is filled based on user search history so unfortunately there’s not much I can do to prevent that. It’s definitely not what I’d like to see happen but I am not able to control it.

    6. I am 75. The boys and I raise bees but I was wondering if I could make a smaller version of a bee hive if the bees would take to it. The big ones are just too heavy for me.

      1. Hi Jeanne…you may want to look into a top bar hive! The frames are a lot smaller and there’s no lifting of supers 🙂

      2. Hello. I am 77 and I have 2 top-bar bee hives. These are MUCH easier to handle and look after for us, as we get older. I got about 10 pounds of honey last year and that is a LOT of honey for your table. I like the top bar hives because the focus is on the bees, not the beekeepers. There is quite a lot on the internet about Top bars; maybe they would be something you could think about. They are really for backyard beekeepers who don’t want to use a lot of chemicals, and want to help the bees live as naturally as possible. Good luck

        1. Hi Sharon! You’re still keeping bees…that’s amazing. One of the women I learned from has some TBH so I’ve had a chance to see them in action and they’re quite lovely. If I ever move to a place with more room, a TBH is top on my list! Right now we’re a bit cramped for space, but I think they’re fascinating indeed <3

    7. Would like to know if I was to set up a small hive, does the honey have to be harvested? I ask because I wish to support the bee population but not 100% I want to mess around with the bees (at least not yet). Thank you.

      1. It’s tricky, Jennifer. Most beekeepers won’t leave a large surplus hanging around but you do need to leave enough for them. For example, in our climate, we have to leave at least one medium super full of honey for them to overwinter. It’s best to check with your local beekeeping association to find out what other beekeepers in your area are doing since climate can have a huge impact on beehive management.

    8. I am interested in starting a hive next year. I have seen ( and read ) many reports of a new device that allows you to ” tap ” the honey right out of the box without disturbing the hive. What is your take on this?

      1. I’m personally not a fan because I feel it encourages beekeepers to not open and inspect the hive. If you want a less invasive option, check out a top bar hive.

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