The Time is Now to Prepare for this Delicious Hobby
Thoughts from a Bee Keeper
By: Jim Servi
“Bees are disappearing!” Numerous reports, studies, and newspaper headlines have been declaring in recent years to the shock and dismay of many. It doesn’t take an expert to know what catastrophic effects that could have on our agricultural industries and the native plants and flowers that bees pollinate. Luckily, the number of hobby bee keepers is on the rise and it’s relatively easy to get started. “I really enjoy bee keeping,” explained second-year bee keeper Kevin Staus. “I am a curious person and always looking for new, challenging hobbies. Some form of farming always intrigued me and currently this is the only farming that fits my budget and time schedule.”
To get started, the first thing is to learn as much as you can. Numerous books and articles can point you in the correct direction, as can joining a local beekeeping association, but nothing beats tagging along with a bee keeper. Chances are there is someone in your county more than willing to share their expertise. Spring is the best time to start your operation, allowing your bees plenty of time to build a durable hive, which means the best time to start planning is now. Location is an important consideration. Fortunately, with abundant agriculture here in Wisconsin and most farmers more than willing to let you locate a hive on their property, a couple calls or knocks is all it should take. There are also numerous urban beekeeping programs for those living in cities. “The most surprising thing I learned is how docile the bees can be if you handle then slowly and gently,” Staus said, explaining how getting stung is rare. “The only time I have been stung or when they have tried to sting me is when I rushed things and basically deserved it.”
“If you decide that this is really what you want to do, find a local reputable bee supplier,” Staus recommended. “This will ensure that the bees you get are from a quality source.” One hive and bees, generally a queen with a swarm of worker bees, will cost approximately $200-$400 to get started. Your local supplier can also help you with any local ordinances and state reporting requirements, along with the essential equipment. A bee suit, gloves, smoker, and smoker fuel are the minimum tools required and costs roughly $160, although you may need fencing with an electric fencer if you are in bear country.
Once your hive is established, it’s important to keep your bees healthy. Initially, bees require feed syrup in the spring and fall when there are no natural food supplies available. Monitoring occurs throughout the summer. Although rare, you may need to treat for mites, other parasites, or diseases. Late summer and early fall are a bee keeper’s favorite time of year. This is when they can reap their reward and harvest the honey. However, there is a note of caution on harvesting honey the first year. “My bee supplier always told me not to count on any honey from a brand-new hive as the bees need to make all the wax comb which takes a great amount of energy. The bees will reuse the comb year after year so once it is made, they can spend their energy on honey production,” Staus said. “This actually was true for me. My first year I did not get any honey for my consumption but was able to collect in the second year.” The last thing any bee keeper wants to do is harm their hive, plus waiting an extra year from honey only makes the taste buds grow fonder. Finally, after honey harvest, it’s important to winterize the hive properly to help the bees survive the unpredictable Wisconsin winters. With your bees tucked in for the winter, you can then call yourself a bee keeper.
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First Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on January 1, 2018.