How to Get Started in Beekeeping

Since the introduction of the varroa mite to the US, wild bee populations have been decimated. With the recent rise of Colony Collapse Disorder, it is more likely than ever that, if you see bees on your flowers, someone living close by is keeping bees. You can too.

Bees require very little intervention from you to get their work done. They need a dry place to live that is protected from the elements, a decent source of water, and some food. Worried about getting stung? Don't be (unless you have an allergy). It's not as bad as you remember it from your childhood.


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    Buy the wood ware. You can get hive components from local suppliers, but they can be hard to locate since they are usually very small and don't usually have a website. There are websites offering supplies, however. You will need two deep-hive bodies, two honey supers, a bottom board, a queen excluder (optional), an inner cover, a top cover, twenty deep frames, twenty shallow frames, foundation for all the frames, and an entrance reducer. These will come to you in pieces and you will have to build them. This saves money on shipping, and it makes for a fun winter project. What could brighten your spirits more on a cold January day than building a beehive and thinking of fresh honey?
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    Get some clothing. The exact type of clothing that you use is strictly a matter of preference. Some like a full-length suit and others prefer something like a Bug Baffler. Some wear gloves and some don't. Some people just use a veil and nothing else. It just depends on how comfortable you are around bees. Will this equipment prevent you from getting stung? Usually. Tenacious bees can still get you from time to time, but this equipment will prevent them from flying in your ears, eyes, nostrils, and other fun places. If you are the nervous type, go for a full-length suit, gloves, and a veil. It will cost more and be warmer in the summer, but all your parts and pieces will be covered.
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    Get a smoker and a hive tool. The smoker will calm the bees, making it easier to work with them. The hive tool will help you pry apart the pieces of your hive when it's time to open it up. Bees will use a sticky substance called propolis to stick everything together. You'll need a hive tool to get through it.
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    Now build your hive. The bottom board goes down first.
    • Build the deep hive bodies. These are going to be where the bees will store their supply of honey and pollen and the queen will lay her eggs. You won't take any honey from this part of the hive. The bees will need it all to get through the winter.
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    • Build the deep frames and put the foundation in them. Hang ten of these in each deep hive body. The bees will fill these with honey, pollen, and brood (baby bees). If you are using plastic foundation, consider spraying it with sugar water to encourage the bees to draw it out. I prefer was foundation (and so do my bees).
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    • Lay the queen excluder on top of the second deep hive body. This will prevent the queen from being able to get up into your honey supply to lay eggs. Since you will be filtering the honey when you extract it, it isn't really a problem if she does, but it's a waste of her effort and doesn't help your bees at all. This piece is optional, but I recommend it.
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    • Next come the honey supers. These will not be stacked on the hive until the honey starts to flow in May and the bees have filled both deep supers. Add honey supers as the bees are ready and they will continue to fill them for you as long as the nectar flows.
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    • Build your shallow frames and hang them in the supers.
    • Finally, put the inner cover and the top cover on top. I usually put something heavy on top of that like a brick or a rock to prevent the wind or a skunk from taking the lid off and rummaging through the hive.
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    • Paint all the exposed outsides of the wood to keep the wood protected. Use white or a light color to prevent the hive from absorbing the sunlight and getting too hot.
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    Now you are ready for bees. Find a local supplier and order a package of bees. These usually include a queen and 3 lbs of bees. This is enough to get a hive started. These bees will probably come in the mail! It's a little bit nerve-wracking for your postal carrier, but it's not dangerous. They'll be screened in. When your bees arrive, they will have a little can with sugar water in it and the queen will be in her own little cage.
    • Take the queen cage out and set it aside.
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    • Open the top of your hive and pull the can out of your bee package. You now have a big hole and bees are starting to climb out of it.
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    • Turn the package upside-down and shake once of twice. Big clumps of bees will fall out into the hive.
    • Now hang the queen cage between two frames in your hive and let everyone get settled in. For an illustrated look at this process, see
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    After the bees have worked their way down in between the frames, you can place the inner cover and the top cover on the hive and let them get to work.


  • Find someone near you with experience and ask them questions. Bee keepers are never short on good advice. Try the county extension agent if you don't know were else to go.
  • When installing a package of new bees, be sure to feed them as they won't have any honey stored up and will starve without your help.
  • If your bees don't have access to fresh water, they'll find it somewhere. This may be your neighbor's swimming pool, your dog's water bowl, or some other place you didn't intend. Be sure to supply them with water.
  • Bees usually need to be fed sugar water in early spring. This will help them to get past the period of decently warm weather before the flowers really start to bloom.
  • Keep some Benadryl handy. If you do get stung, it can help reduce any reaction you might have.


  • Use entrance reducers over the winter to prevent mice and other critters from getting into the hive while the bees are less active.
  • Don't try to work with your bees on a cloudy, windy, or rainy day unless you absolutely have to. They get grumpy when the weather is bad and you are much more likely to get stung.
  • If you are allergic to bees, think seriously before deciding to keep them. If you understand the risks but want to keep bees anyway, be sure to keep an epi-pen handy in case you do get stung.

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Categories: Merge | Beekeeping