Beekeeping: for the fainthearted?
August 8, 2005 5:34 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know to become an amateur apiarist/beekeeper?

I (will soon) have a block of land in the country, and the idea of having my own honeybees (Apis mellifera) appeals to me. But I am a babe in the woods regarding the practicality of this idea. I wouldn’t be able to tend them that frequently (weekly to monthly) and I know nothing about bee diseases and parasites. I would do a course if I progressed far enough, but I want to know from some experienced hands, is this a hobby one can undertake part-time, or do you have to show a bit of dedication? What are the main traps for new players?
posted by wilful to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Some additional info that may be relevant: I live in temperate sothern Australia, with midwinter lows of about zero degrees. I believe there would be a reasonable amount of flowers nearby, with extensive eucalypt forests and a few gardens within 5 km.
posted by wilful at 5:55 PM on August 8, 2005

Best answer: I'm a few months into my first hive and am realizing that it can be as much or as little as you want to make of it. They don't require a lot of attention (and in some ways are really better off if you leave them alone), but there are plenty of aspects that you can busy yourself with if you want to make it a bit project. Your best bet is to find a local person with a hive or two and spend a couple of hours shadowing them when they're in their bee yard. All of the books and websites won't do much to help you figure out how comfortable you really are. They can also tell you how much you need to worry about parasites in your area (because that can vary from town to town, even).

Start with just one hive. Get the veil (at the very least -- two bees got into my veil yesterday and stung me on my head. If I had been wearing the full suit they never could have gotten in). Don't forget the electric fence around the hive (if there are any sort of predators around, like bears).

Bees can handle the cold, if they had a decent summer and built up their colony enough. They'll find flowers wherever you are -- they can travel about 2 miles each way in their search, and there are far more flowers than you realize, I'm sure. Don't expect to get any honey your first year, though -- whatever they produce will go toward sustaining them for the winter.
posted by Framer at 6:14 PM on August 8, 2005

Response by poster: if there are any sort of predators around, like bears

Only drop bears (Ursus gravitatus) here in Australia!
posted by wilful at 6:32 PM on August 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

You may want to read Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey by Holley Bishop to get you in the mood. It's a wonderful read, and there are scads of links and other resources in a section at the end of the book to get you started.
posted by Vidiot at 7:23 PM on August 8, 2005

This thread my be worth reading wilful - you may want to search around about the parasite(s) mentioned as I don't know if they are here in Oz at all. Whereabouts wilful, just by the by?
posted by peacay at 2:04 AM on August 9, 2005

The Beekeeping for Dummies book is a good beginners reference. You can also get full beginner's kits that contain everything you need to get started, from hive to suit to smoker to bees, though I don't know where you'd get one on your side of the world (I got mine from McMurray Hatchery).

I've had my hive for three years, and was just about to harvest my first batch of blackberry and wildflower honey when my river flooded high enough to wash them away (thanks to the hurricanes that came through a few weeks ago). I recovered the hive bodies, but all of the bees were drowned. So, on top of everything else you learn, I'd suggest keeping them on high ground.
posted by ewagoner at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2005

Response by poster: Peacay, between Mansfield and Benalla in NE Vic. Close to the Strathbogie state forests.

Though I'm a Footscray urbanite - that will be my rural retreat.

Vidiot, that book looks great. Have now bought it.
posted by wilful at 5:18 PM on August 9, 2005

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