When I started seriously thinking about becoming a beekeeper, I had no idea what was involved. I took the beekeeping course offered by the Boulder County Beekeepers Association (BCBA) which was a great introduction to the craft. However, they focused primarily on Langstroth hive beekeeping and I was planning on using a top-bar hive. While some concepts carry easily between the two styles (e.g., basic tools, clothing and bee biology), there are differences in managing the hives that are significant.
To anyone starting out on this journey, here are some tips:
- Take a beekeeping class – preferably in the fall before you start so you have time to do more research. You can learn on your own, but you can build a network with the other newbies in the class and the seasoned instructors. There are many one-day courses offered that can help you get started as well.
- Once you decide on the type of hive you want to use, spend time reading books and scouring the internet for information. (see below)
- Talk to your neighbors about your plans and make sure your city codes and HOA laws allow you to keep bees. If you neighbors have kids, try to teach them about bees and bee safety so the next generation will be well informed.
- Join your local beekeepers association and attend its meetings. This is a great way to network with experienced beekeepers who are usually willing to give free advice.
- Don’t get discouraged when things go wrong. If you talk to other beekeepers, you’ll find that they’ve all experienced the same problems at one time or another.
- Prepare yourself for failure, but rejoice in successes. Bees are under a lot of pressure from the chemical world around us, but they are sometimes more resilient than you might think.
- Eliminate your use of pesticides and encourage your neighbors to do the same. There are plenty of non-toxic ways of dealing with weeds and the internet is awash with information on them. Dandelions are the first food source of the year for bees and can easily be managed by hand after they bloom.
- Share the wealth of your hives (honey, wax products) with your neighbors. They are less likely to have a problem with your bees if they benefit from your endeavor.
- Not everyone needs to become a beekeeper – it takes time and money. Instead, consider supporting native pollinators – native bees (e.g., mason bees, bumblebees), butterflies, beetles (e.g. ladybugs), moths and hummingbirds. Plant flowers native to your planting zone and put up native nesting blocks (see resources below).
The internet is a valuable resource for finding information about bees and bee related issues. As with everything else on there, some information is better than others. Books are also great resources and make passing the time riding the bus to work enjoyable. Here are some things I’ve found useful and I will update as I find new ones.
- The Beekeeper’s Handbook – Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile
- The Backyard Beekeeper – Kim Flottum
- Top-Bar Beekeeping – Les Crowder and Heather Farrell
- Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping – Wyatt A. Magnum
- The Beekeepers Bible – Bees, Honey, Recipes and other Home Uses
Web Resources for honey beekeeping:
- OutOfaBlueSky YouTube channel – great videos on Top-bar beekeeping
- The Practical Beekeeper – Michael Bush’s website
- The Barefoot Beekeeper – Phil Chandler’s website (good for top-bars)
- The Appropriate Beehive – Marty Hardison’s philosophy and plans for top-bar hives.
- Photos of Marty Hardison building a hive.
- Boulder County Beekeepers Association – includes Tom Theobold’s Corner where you can learn about the issues behind and fight against large scale pesticide use.
- Colorado State Beekeepers Association – great resources on bees, how to help them, kid activities and recipes.
- Root Simple – not specifically about bees, but lots of good stuff on urban homesteading
Web Resources for Native Pollinators:
- The Bees Needs (CU/Boulder) – a citizen science projects that is no longer funded, but has some resources including plans for building a native bee block.
- People and Pollinators Action Network (PPAN) – Colorado based advocacy group for protecting pollinators and humans. Sign the Pollinator Safe Pledge!
- Xerces Society – Great info on Pollinator Conservation.
Bee Suppliers in the Boulder Area:
- Highland Honey Bees – Tim Brod
- Mountain Warrior Honey – Miles McGaughey