How Beekeeping Works

By: Dave Roos

Getting Started as a Beekeeper

kid, beekeeping
Beekeeping is a hobby that even young children can enjoy. Teresa Short/Getty Images

Once you have your hive boxes, protective clothing and tools, it's time to pick a location for your hive. Make sure you follow all local ordinances about the number and location of hives. Consider your neighbors and direct bee traffic by facing the entrance of the hive away from a neighbor's property. A nearby bush or fence line will encourage the bees to fly upward when leaving the hive, which also lowers the odds of accidental stings. You want to make sure that your bees have unobstructed access to the hive entrance and that you have plenty of room to work around your hives on all sides.

The ideal location will be protected from strong winds and face south or southeast to maximize morning sun. The early sun gets the bees moving in the morning to forage in the springtime. But any spot with dappled sun and shade will do.


You'll also want a water source nearby. Bees forage for water, which they bring back to cool the hive and blend with pollen to make a special treat called bee bread [source: Bee Built]. If you don't have a pond or creek on your property, consider installing a small bird bath or putting out a large platter of water with sloped sides. Providing a water source will prevent the bees from wandering onto a neighbor's property.

Now that you have a spot for your hive, it's time to buy some bees! There are two main ways to get bees. The first is to buy a package of bees, which costs between $80 and $140 for 10,000 bees plus a mated queen [source: PerfectBee]. Packages should be ordered in the winter from a local bee supplier and picked up in late March. Always buy your bees from a local source to avoid causing your bees the stress of shipping and to ensure that they are already acclimated to your locale. You will receive them in a shoebox-sized cage with the queen separated in her own cell.

After smoking the bees to calm them, open the cage and shake the bees into your hive box. Then place the queen cage in the hive box, without setting her free. The cage is plugged with a candy cork that the bees will slowly eat away over the course of a few days. During that time, the queen will be emitting her pheromones, critical to winning acceptance from the hive.

Since the queen is pre-mated, once she's free she'll immediately start laying eggs and the colony will be on its way.

A second option is to buy a preloaded hive box that's already stocked with an active queen, eggs, brood, pollen stores and honey. That type of hive box is called a nucleus colony or a "nuc" for short. Nucs run from $120 to $200 and arrive in their own small hive box with five or so frames containing freshly laid eggs, brood, honey and pollen, active workers and an accepted queen [source: PerfectBee]. Simply transfer the frames and bees into your hive box (don't lose the queen!) and you're good to go. Most often, bee sellers will "mark" the queen with a small dot of paint, which helps the beekeeper to identify and locate the queen.

Of course, nothing is "simple" when you're a beginner working with living creatures. So next we'll talk about hive and colony management, particularly disease management.