How to Raise Honeybees In Your Backyard


Honey Bees

Beekeeping may seem intimidating, but it is actually an enjoyable and rewarding process. Better yet, raising honeybees in your backyard is another step towards sustainability and prepping. Honey is delicious, adds nutrition to your diet, and stores well. It will also be great for bartering and sharing, should the need arise. 

You can raise honeybees in your backyard with a minimal investment of time and money. Of course, you’ll need beekeeping clothing, a smoker, a few tools, hives, and bees. But, with a little bit more knowledge, you’ll be able to raise bees for yourself and your family successfully.  

In this article, I’ll talk about how bee colonies work and how you can get started raising honeybees in your backyard. Then, I’ll take an in-depth look at the supplies you need, what to wear, and how to act around your bees. Finally, we will discuss some pests that can destroy your hive and how to take care of them. But before we talk about all of that, let’s take a look at a few reasons to keep bees. 

Why Keep Bees?

There are generally four great reasons to keep bees. First and foremost is the honey! Honey is deliciously sweet and stores indefinitely.  Some keepers also choose to keep bees for the beeswax, which is used in candle-making and crafting. 

Another great reason to become a beekeeper is for pollination. So many species of bees are dying, and our earth needs pollinators. You can help secure our food future by keeping bees which will pollinate local crops and flowers. 

Lastly, bees are enjoyable and educational. It’s exciting to learn about bees and the colonies they live in. For example here is a couple of videos of myself with my first beehive.

Bee Colonies 

Honeybees live in colonies that can be as large as 100,000 bees. Most of the bees are worker bees. These infertile female bees do the work of the hive: caring for the queen, gathering food, caring for the hive, making the beeswax, and caring for the larvae. Worker bees live about six weeks. 

Every colony also has drones or male bees. They don’t do any work outside of mating.

To have honey, you need a healthy and thriving hive. A healthy colony starts with a healthy queen. You also need plenty of healthy worker bees to gather pollen, nectar, and water when the right types of flowers are in bloom. 

The queen bee is the only bee that can reproduce. Her job is to lay eggs – up to 1500 in a day. If the queen bee fails, the worker bees will choose a new queen and get rid of the old one. 

Keys to BeekeepingHow to Get Started 

Research Local Laws 

Make sure you check on your local laws before jumping into beekeeping. First, you need to make sure it is legal where you are planning to keep your bees and if you need any special permits, land size, or anything else. A phone call to your local AG extension and local government offices should point you in the right direction to find the information you need. 

What Do Bees Need? 

Bees have a few basic needs that you need to know about before you get started. The hive will need: 

  • Sunshine and shade for hot weather 
  • Fresh water near the hive
  • Wind protection for the hive
  • Privacy. Consider placing a fence or hedge around your harm. A tall hedge will keep the bees’ flight path well over people’s heads, which reduces contact and the likelihood of stings. 

Basic Beekeeping Supplies 

You’re going to need some supplies before you start beekeeping. Here are a few things to consider: 

Beekeeping Clothing

  • Veil
  • Protective Clothing
  • Gloves 
honey bee protective clothing

You can purchase beekeeping suits and jackets, but the most important thing is to have a veil for your face. Also, make sure your clothes are protective and white or light-colored (I used a dark shirt here.) Keep in mind that bees produce a yellowish-colored waste that could stain your clothes. 

Secure your clothing so bees can’t get up your sleeves or pants. Tuck your pants into your socks and tuck your sleeves into your gloves and secure them well. 

Wash your beekeeping clothing often. If you get stung, the bees will release a pheromone that alerts other bees to a possible threat. If the pheromone remains on your clothes, you might be inviting more stings!

Beekeeping Equipment

  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Frame Grip
  • Beehives
Using A Bee smoker

A smoker is an essential tool for beekeeping. Smoke seems to calm bees, which will help you to be able to work in the hive without getting stung. In addition, the smoker should create cool, white smoke. To do this, you can purchase smoker fuel or use dry pine needles instead. 

The hive tool resembles a lever and is used to loosen the boxes and frames.

Frame grips help remove frames from the hive with one hand. 

The Beehive 

The beehives used today were invented in 1851 by Rev. L.L. Langstroth. His design made it possible to work with the hives without destroying the bees or their home. A beehive looks like a small box. Inside are movable frames with about 5/16 inches of space between them, which allows the bees to move freely. The interior frames can be easily removed for inspection or collection. 

Each hive contains ten frames with a thin sheet of beeswax. The beeswax gives the bees a foundation to work from. 

Your total start-up costs for a single hive, protective clothing, and a smoker will probably cost you less than $100. You might even be able to find everything you need used for a better price. Now all you need to get is the bees. 

You might be wondering, where do you get the bees? There are a few ways to get bees, and they aren’t expensive. 

The first and the scariest way to get bees is to catch a wild swarm in early spring. A swarm of bees is really just a cluster of bees looking for a new home. You could set an empty hive under the swarm and shake them into it. Once a few get going, the rest will likely follow. However, this can be pretty scary for anyone new to beekeeping. There are easier – and less scary – ways of getting bees. 

You could purchase an established beehive from a beekeeper. Working with another beekeeper is a nice way to get started, but you need to have the colony inspected by an expert. Otherwise, you might inadvertently come home with a swarm of bees with a contagious disease. If this happens, you might have to kill the bees and burn your hives. 

A safer way to get your bees is to order them by mail. They’ll come in a little crate with the queen separate. You’ll place the queen in the hive and pour the other bees over her. They’ll be a little confused from their journey, so they won’t bother you. Instead, they’ll be looking to get into their new home. 

You probably won’t get honey your first year from mail-order bees because they’ll be busy building up the colony. But it will be easier to start with fewer bees and let them build up their own colony. 

What Kind of Bees Should You Get?

There are a few different species of honeybees that are great for beginners. 

  • Western/European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera). This popular species of domesticated bees can form large colonies. They are great for beginners because they produce large amounts of honey and are not as aggressive as other types of honeybees. 
  • Italian Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Ligustica) This type of bee is the most popular for beekeeping in North America. They are great for beginners because of their high honey production and gentle nature. However, they tend to wander off, so keep them well supplied with nectar-producing flowers to keep them close. 
  • The Gray/Carniolan Honey Bee (Apil Mellifera Carnica). This species of bee is very mild in nature and easy to work with. They survive winters well and sometimes even produce honey through the cold season. However, they can be prone to swarming. 

How to Work with Your Bees 

  1. When you visit your bees, you’ll want to choose a sunny day when the nectar-producing flowers bloom. This way, most of the bees will be out of the hive, and the bees left in the hive will be busy working. 
  2. Protect yourself. Wear white or light-colored clothing with your pants tucked into your socks and your shirt tucked into your pants. In addition, make sure you wear your bee veil, hat, and gloves. 
  3. Avoid wearing perfume or clothing that has animal or bee odors. 
  4. Use your smoker to calm the bees. You might want to cover yourself with a few puffs of smoke, as well. 
  5. Puff the smoker into the hive and allow the bees to calm. 
  6. Open the hive with your hive tool and lift off the cover. 
  7. Smoke the bees a little bit more. 
  8. Keep all of your movements slow and deliberate – jerky, quick movements will get these excited and more apt to sting. 
  9. Carefully use your tools to lift out the inner part of the hive 
  10. Continue smoking the bees at each step. 
  11. Remove the lower frames and find the brood chamber. You may need to twist the frames as you remove them to break the bees’ glue. The brood chamber will have large, oval cells, which should contain little white eggs. If so, your queen is doing her job well! 
  12. If the queen is laying well, your hive is healthy. You can keep searching for the queen or return the frames into the hive and close it back up. 

What to Do If You Get Stung 

If you get stung, the worst thing to do is to jerk your hand away or drop the frame. However, sudden movements like this will just cause the hive to get upset and cause more stings. So instead, gently put it back. 

Scrape the stinger away with your hive tool. Squeezing or pinching the stinger will release more venom into your system!

Smoke the sting. When a bee stings, it releases a pheromone that warns other bees of a threat, which may cause you to get more stings. Smoking the stink will help cover the scent and protect you from more stings. 

Feeding Your Bees

Some people choose to bucket feed their bees, especially with a young colony. Since young colonies are working hard to build their home and store pollen and nectar, you can make their early days easier by feeding them. 

Make nectar with equal parts water and sugar. 

Fill quart jars with the nectar. 

Put the feeder lids on top of the jars and put the jars into the holes. 

The bees will drink what they need. 

Over the course of a few weeks, they’ll start to find the flowers. Honey made from flowers tastes better than honey made from sugar water, so discontinue this type of feeding as soon as possible. 

Inspect Your Bees

To know if your hive is thriving, you’ll need to inspect it regularly so you can observe any problems that need to be corrected. If you are new to beekeeping, you may want to check the hive to watch and learn once a week. Then, as you get more confidant, you can begin to inspect the hive every other week. Opening the hive less puts less stress on the bees. Here is what to look for: 

  • The outside of the hive should be clean and free of ants. 
  • Look for larvae and eggs, which are signs of a healthy queen. If you don’t see signs of a health queen, you’ll need to find a bee expert to help. 
  • Look for pests and diseases, which we will discuss more below. 
  • Expand the hive when the bees have filled up 7 or 8 of the frames. 

Collecting the Honey

It isn’t unusual not to collect honey in the first season because the bees are busy building up their hive. However, if the bees have overwintered well, you’ll be able to harvest honey by late spring. The easiest way to tell if the honey is ready for harvesting is if the bees have ‘capped’ it. If they have enclosed the honey, then it is ready to go. 

 This low tech-method is excellent if you don’t have a honey extractor. 

  1. Suit up! 
  2. Open the hives and smoke the bees, as discussed above. 
  3. Pull out the frame that holds the capped honey. 
  4. Cut the wax and honey off the frame and into a bowl or clean bucket. 
  5. Replace the frame and close up the hive. 
  6. Inside, you can crush the honey and wax with a spoon.  
  7. Strain the mixture through a strainer and into a food-grade bucket or bowl. Leave it to drain for several days. 
  8. Pour the honey into clean jars and put on the lids. 
  9. If desired, render the wax to use for crafting or lip balms.

Swarming 

Bees swarm to manage their own population density. When a hive is about to swarm, the bees will fill up on honey and then leave the nest. They’ll create a temporary cluster, protecting the queen while a few bees search for a new home. 

Unfortunately, if your hive swarms, you probably won’t be able to harvest any honey until the colony that is left re-establishes itself. 

You can prevent swarming with a few steps. 

  • Keep ahead of the colony’s growth. Add more room to your beehive before they need it. 
  • Keep the hive well-ventilated. 
  • Keep a water source nearby. 
  • Replace queens every two years because a young queen is much less likely to swarm. 

Bee Pests 

Surprisingly, some pests can affect your colony of bees. 

Ants

Ants can eat your honey and the brood, preventing your colony from growing and being healthy. You can’t spray for ants, as the pesticide would kill the bees, as well.  If ants are a problem, you’ll need to create a physical barrier that they can’t cross, such as putting the legs of your hive in containers of water. 

Small hive beetles 

Small hive beetles will eat your hive, including baby bees. 

Mites

Mites are the worst type of honeybee pest. Varroa mites lay their eggs in the brood cells. The larvae will feed on the baby bees, weakening and killing them. However, there are a few ways to deal with these mites. 

  • Sugar dusting. Dust 1 cup of powdered sugar over the top of a hive, brushing it into the hives and frames. Dusting powdered sugar over the hive will dislodge the mites from the bees. They will fall onto the bottom board. If there are more than a few mites in about 10 minutes, you’ll know you have a mite problem. 
  • Apigaurd gel. This treatment is very successful in treating mites in your colony. However, it should not be used during honey season. It will cause bad flavors in your honey. 
  • Drone frames. Varroa mites prefer to feed on drones over worker bees. You can trap the mites by adding more drone frames, encouraging the bees to produce more drones. Then, destroy the drones just before they hatch to kill the mites. 

Related Questions 

How much honey can you get from one hive? 

A single hive can produce as much as 50 to 80 pounds of honey. Weather conditions, pests, diseases, and the presence of flowers can have a varying effect on how much honey your hive can produce each season. 

How often can you harvest honey?

Beekeepers typically harvest their honey two to three times per year, starting in late spring and ending in early fall. 

Can you raise bees in suburban areas? 

You might be able to raise bees in suburban areas if your jurisdiction allows it. Your local agricultural extension office can point you in the right direction to find out if beekeeping is allowed where you live. 

David

Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years have become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness. Read More

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