become a beekeeper
This page is intended to give you some of the basic information you will need to know if you are interested in becoming a beekeeper.
The Utah County Beekeepers Association strongly encourages you to read all you can and to speak with several beekeepers in your area BEFORE you commit to becoming a beekeeper so that you fully understand the commitments you will need to make to bee successful. The Utah County Beekeepers Association offers a beginners beekeeper course in the early spring each year. Watch our Upcoming Classes page for more information. The association also offers the opportunity to latch onto a mentor for your first year; this is a free service. For more information, email the association.
Please visit the sections below or feel free to browse the entire page.
COMMITTING TO BEEKEEPING
The information below assumes you are starting with 2 hives in Utah County. You will need to adjust accordingly if you are beginning with more or fewer hives or if you are living somewhere other than North/Central Utah.
To begin, you will need to set aside a day early in the year to assemble and paint your hives and frames. Typically, a day in mid to late March is good although you can order and assemble your equipment any time of the year.
Next you are looking at about an hour or two a month for checking your hives and performing basic maintenance between April and September.
Finally, you will need to set aside a day or two to harvest and bottle any surplus honey the bees may have produced; typically this is done in Early to Mid September. Once your hive is established, you may have the opportunity to harvest several times a year.
You must have a temperament that includes patience. You will need to be patient and let the bees do the work at their pace - you will NOT have honey overnight. It is a process that can take several months.
Also, once it is discovered that you are a beekeeper, you will be flooded with questions, some that will border on the idiotic. It is important that you learn to take the time to answer these questions as the person you are talking to could very well become a customer or a fellow beekeeper.
Non-Bee Related Materials
There are some basic tools and materials that you should have before getting into beekeeping. Most of these are fairly common in every household, however, it is better to know up front so you have everything you need to be successful.
Hammer, wood glue, wood square, ratcheting straps, paint (outdoor), painting tools (rollers, brushes, trays etc.), spray bottles, notebook, pencil, pen and markers, means or method for moving hives, bees and supplies.
It's no secret, beekeeping costs money to get into. Currently (2006), you can figure on about $150-$200 per hive for your first year. Add another $50-$150 for protective gear, tools and other needs. These costs can vary depending on the supplier and the amount and kind of tools/supplies you choose to purchase.
BASIC PARTS OF A HIVE
There are two main types of covers: telescoping (shown) or migratory. Migratory covers seem to be popular among the association members. Consult some beekeepers for their opinions as either cover is fine.
Sits on top of the hive under the main cover and helps provide ventilation and spacing. Honey Supers - come in three sizes: deep, medium and shallow. All are great and the difference is in weight. Medium and shallow supers are much lighter when full than a deep so if the heaviness of a honey super is a concern go with medium or shallow. There are also comb honey supers used to produce comb honey - you should wait until after your first year before attempting to produce comb honey.
These are used between the brood boxes andhe honey supers to prevent the queen from laying eggs. Some beekeepers also call these honey excluders as they report smaller honey crops. Opinion varies about the need, but a first year beekeeper will probably want to use one until you learn management techniques that allow you to produce honey without an excluder.
These are the boxes in which the queen lays eggs and the brood (young) is raised. Typically, you will have two brood boxes per hive.
This piece is what the rest of the hive sits upon; it also serves as a landing board for returning bees.
These are used to make the opening of the hive smaller for various reasons. You will use one in the winter/spring to help maintain colony temperature.
There are many types of prefabricated hive stands such as the one shown. You can also stand your hive on pallets, cinder blocks, bricks, etc. The point is to raise your hive off of the ground to avoid pests.
These are the parts that go into the brood boxes or honey supers and they hold the foundation that the bees build their wax upon to house brood, pollen and honey.
There many types of foundation that can be utilized in your hive. Start with either permadent or duragilt for your first year; experiment after that.
You will need to acquaint yourself with frame nails (staples can be used as well) and the types of nails used to build the supers/ brood boxes. Nails for boxes are fairly standard while frame nails are best purchased from the beekeeping supplies supplier.
Feeders are used to supply the colony with either honey, sugar water or high fructose corn syrup. You will need to feed a new colony as they have no honey stores to consume. Some feeders are used internally, some at the entrance, some atop the hive and others outside in an accessible spot; consult some beekeepers for their preferences or do some online research.
selecting an apiary site
When selecting a spot to place your hive(s) you should consider the following:
Sunlight- full sun or dappled sun work best. Remember, bees need the sunlight to warm up and get going in the morning. If you keep a hive in a shaded area, they may not get started working as early in the morning and in the winter, they may not have the opportunity for cleansing flights.
Water- bees need water. They need water for basic biological process and to make honey. Bees will go to the easiest source of water - this is where you may run into problems with neighbors. Your bees may go to their swimming pool, dog water or leaky faucet; ensure that you have a ready source of water near your hive that is clean and available for the warm months of the year.
Wind- you want to protect your hive from exposure to winds that will blow INTO the hive. Therefore, most hives face south/southeast in Utah County. Keep this in mind when selecting your site.
Protection- you need to protect your hive from several key items: flood, fire, snowdrifts, predators and vandalism.
Most hives are raised off of the ground at least 6" to prevent over exposure to water due to rain or irrigation. Keeping your hive off of the ground will also help keep some predators such as mice and ants out of your hive (more on these later).
You may not be able to fully protect your hive from fire, but you can minimize the chances by not putting your hive around stacks of old wood or in dry grass fields where a fire could spread quickly. Raising your hive off of the ground will help minimize the build up of snow in the winter; the bees need to be able to exit the hive on warm days in the winter for cleansing flights.
Predators such as skunks and birds are to be considered and there are steps that can be taken to combat them if you live in an area where they are present; there are many methods and most can be found in beekeeping books or by talking with other local beekeepers.
Ants can be kept at bay using ground cinnamon, ashes,
diatomaceous earth or some other means - consult book, journals and beekeepers.
Vandalism, although rare, must be considered; are you considering placing you hive where the general public may have access to it? Try to put your hive somewhere out of the way or out of sight to reduce or remove the temptation. Make sure your hive is on private property that you either own or have permission to utilize.
Laws & Licenses
There are laws and licensure requirements for the state of Utah if you want to keep bees. Below is a SUMMARY of these laws/rules. If you want to read the laws/rules, you can follow the links in this section.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food License - Utah Rule R68-1 requires that each person keeping bees register and obtain a license from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. This same requirement is repeated in Utah Title 4 Regulations. The license required costs $10.00 per year.
Utah Title 4 Regulation - this title gives the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food the right to make and enforce rules as they deem necessary. Some of the items covered under this rule are:
Registration of beekeeper
Appointment of a County Inspector
Requirement of hives to have removable frames
Duties of the appointed County Inspector
Requirement of the Inspector to completely disinfect tools and equipment before leaving any apiary (to prevent the possible transmission of diseases)
Queen raising specific information
Authorization of County Inspectors to visit properties where hives are kept and provision for obtaining warrants should inspection be refused
Importation requirements - bees and equipment are required to be inspected before being allowed entry to the state
Authorization for quarantine against infectious disease
Unlawful acts are specified
Maintenance of abandoned apiary equipment to prevent nuisance
Wax salvage operations and county inspector supervisor for compliance
Utah Rule 68-1- this is the rule that is known as the bee inspection act.
It governs the following key items:
Reinforcement of the need for registration as specified in title 4.
Requirement of beekeepers to identify their hives which must include the owner's licence number on at least one of the hives in the apiary and must be in letters no less than 1 inch high.
Assistance to County Inspector in locating hives.
Salvage of diseased equipment and wax - procedures identified.
Food Handlers Permits - it is recommended that if you intend to process your honey for sale,that you obtain a food handlers permit from your local county health department (or similar government body having jurisdiction).
Pesticide Control - Utah rule 68-7 contains the following information which will be useful to you as a beekeeper should someone near your hives apply pesticides. From Utah rule 68-7-11 "Unlawful Acts". Any person who commits the following is in violation of the act.
"(16) Applied pesticides known to be harmful to honeybees on crops which bees are foraging during the period between two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset; except, on property owned or operated by the applicator."
There are three ways to get started with bees. Each is detailed below.
New Packages - bees are sold in packages which are sold in sizes indicated by pounds. Typical sizes are 2lb, 2-1/2lb & 3lb. There may be other sizes in other areas; 3lb is the most common in Utah County. The advantage of a new package is that you start with all new hive equipment (bodies, frames and foundation) which greatly reduces the incident rate of disease and parasites. The disadvantage is that the bees have to work to draw out the foundation and this will consume large amounts of honey (bees excrete the wax from special glands on their abdomen when their stomach is full of honey, hence the need to eat to produce wax).
Young queen of known genetics Lower honey yield due to new foundation and wax requirements
Lower incident of parasitism and disease (specifically for the first year) Hive is not installed until mid to late April, missing early spring pollen and honey flows
New beekeepers have the ability to learn easier from new packages/hives versus established hives (fewer problems) Hive needs to be fed for the first month or so (to produce wax)
Swarms - many beekeepers begin by capturing a swarm of bees. This process is quite simple, provided the swarm lands in a convenient spot, and you have boxes. If you have equipment (new or used)
Potentially, a swarm will be larger than a new package (number of bees) Queen of unknown age or genetics
Swarms create/draw out wax very quickly. Unknown parasite or disease history
Depending on the equipment used (new or old), you will either have to feed the bees (new equipment) or you may have residual pesticides or disease loads such as foulbrood (old equipment).
Complete hive purchase
Fully established hive with drawn foundation and typically strong colony Queen of unknown age or genetics (it is possible for the selling beekeeper to know for sure)
Larger potential honey harvest Unknown medication, parasite or disease history unless beekeeper has kept records
Equipment - this is a pro and a con: a new beekeeper should assemble equipment to fully understand how to prepare and repair all hive parts. Older equipment used on an existing hive may need maintenance sooner (at a minimum a paint job); conversely, you may get some great equipment.
In the United States, beekeepers work primarily with the Western Honey bee, otherwise known as Apis mellifera (there are four species of honeybees in the world) . There are many BREEDS (or subspecies if you prefer) within the A. mellifera family to choose from and work with. Each better known type is listed below with some brief notes about their characteristics. We recommend you research each to find the type you are interested in BEFORE you purchase. The breeds below are presented with the most commonly used first. (The following information was compiled from many sources but primarily from Wikipedia.com)
Golden Italian - Apis Mellifera Ligustica
The Italian honeybee is the default bee that beekeepers use. The Italian is generally considered the best general-purpose bee, and thereby is what is most often recommended to the beginner. Italian bees are also the most common stock bee, and likely are the race to be found in packages.
Pros and Cons of the Italian Honey Bee honey bee
Good beginner bee
Readily builds comb
Light color worker, with dark queen makes queen locating easier
Only moderate tendency to swarm
Relatively easy and calm to work with
Resistant to European Foul Brood
Strong cleaning behavior
Lower range propolis producer
Brood rearing continues after honey flow ceases
Builds a great deal of brace and burr comb
Highly prone to drifting
Head buts beekeeper as defensive action
Short distance foragers, causing tendency to rob
Slow spring buildup
Susceptible to Disease
Carnolian - Apis Mellifera Carnica
The Carniolan honeybee (Apis mellifera carnica) is a subspecies of Western honeybee. It originates from Slovenia, but can now be found also in Austria, part of Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
Pros and Cons of the Carniolan honey bee
Earlier morning forager
Forages on colder and wetter days than most other bees
Overwinters well on small stores, as queen stops laying in the fall
Rapid build up in early spring
Exceptionally gentle and easy to work
Brood production is dependant on availability of supplies, hence more food more forages, less food smaller population
Less susceptible to brood disease
Creates less brace and burr comb
Swarms easily when no expansion room is available
If pollen is scarce brood rearing greatly diminishes
Caucasian - Apis Mellifera Caucasica
The Caucasian honeybee originates from the high valleys of the Central Caucasus.
Pros and Cons of the Caucasian honey bee
Large and Strong population
Calm when on comb
Overwinters well by stopping brood production in the fall
Forages earlier and on cooler days
Has a longer tongue than most races and can thereby take advantage or more nectar sources than most.
Slow spring startup
Produces an abundance of propolis, which may be beneficial to propolis collectors, but makes the overall hive more difficult to work.
Makes wet capped comb, which is poor for honey comb sale
Once brought to a level of alarm they are difficult to calm and easily stings.
Susceptible to nosema
Prone to rob
New Minnesota Hygenics - Apis Mellifera Ligustica Hybrid
Developed by Dr. Marla Spivak at the University of Minnesota Bee Lab. These bees show a strong tendancy to be resistant to American Foulbrood and Chalkbrood.
Russians - Apis Mellifera
The Russian honeybee have evolved traits of natural mite resistance due to heavy selection pressures. They have lived for more than 150 years in a region that is home to the varroa mite and the tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi).
Pros and Cons of the Russian honey bee
Thought to be naturally resistant to Varroa Mites
Resistant Tracheal Mite
Quick Spring buildup
More prone to swarming (likely every year)
SMRs - Apis Mellifera Hybrid
SMR stands for "Suppression of Mite Reproduction" and this trait was discovered by John Harbo and Jeffery Harris. Apparently, bees with this trait seek out brood cells that contain mites and open them up and then remove the developing brood and mites. The trait, which may be controlled by only two genes, can be bred into any population of bees.
Buckfast - Apis Mellifera: hybrid
The Buckfast hybrid was produced by Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey. Brother Adam crossed many races of bees (mainly Anatolians with Italians and Carniolans) in hopes of creating a superior breed. The results are what is now know as the Buckfast Bee. While the European variety of Buckfast are considered very gentle, the American variety is far more defensive. There is a debate among beekeepers if this defensiveness is due to breeding for varroa resistance or partial hybridization with the AHB (Africanized Honey Bee) of the Buckfast line in America. The issues are further clouded in that the two leading American queen breeders are breeding for varroa resistance and are also located in AHB territory. AHB are usually considered by most experts to be more resistant to varroa than the European Honey Bee.
Pros and Cons of the Buckfast honey bee
Highly Tracheal Mite Tolerant
Extremely gentle, with low sting instinct
Resistant to Chalkbrood
Low swarm instinct
Builds up slowly in spring
Poor early spring pollinators
Starline- Apis Mellifera: hybrid - The Starline is an Italian hybrid known for its vigor and strong honey production.
Pros and Cons of the Starline honey bee
Good brood producers
Creates large honey crop under correct conditions
Minimal propolis buildup
Fast spring build up
Poor at overwintering due to large population
Offspring queen often do not have same traits as mother, may require common requeening
Yugo Honey Bee - Apis mellifera
Pros and Cons of the Yugo honey bee
Low swarm instinct
Not highly tested as it is a newer breed
Long term keeping effects unknown
Cordovan Honey Bee - Apis Mellifera
Closely related to the Italian race, cordovans are used mainly for tracking the genetic makeup due to the wide variance in color.
Feral Honey Bees - Apis Mellifera
While not technically a race in its own, feral honey bees are more likely to be acclimated to the area in which they are found.
Pros and Cons of honey bee
Likely acclimated to the area they are present in
Often free to acquire
Must be captured (or allow for known species to breed with feral drones)
Unknown background, may be Africanized
Not bred to be disease or mite resistant, but may hold some resistance to local conditions
German Black Honey Bee - Apis Mellifera Mellifera
The German Black bee, also known as the European dark bee, was the first honeybee imported to the Americas. This distinctly marked bee is brown and black in color and over winter well.
Pros and Cons of the Cordovan honey bee
Slow Spring build up
Difficult if not impossible to buy in the US
Midnight Honey Bee - Apis Mellifera: Hybrid
The Midnight hybrid is a combination of both the Caucasian and Carniolan races.
There are many excellent books on beekeeping, bees and honey. As a beginner, we strongly recommend that you read at least one of the top two before you begin keeping bees; the others are for further or more detailed information. More books and articles can be found on the Suggested Reading page.
Title Author Published By Comments
Beekeeping for Dummies Howland Blakiston Hungry Minds
One of the best books for beginners
First Lessons in Beekeeping C. P. Dadant Dadant Publishing A very good and detailed book for beginners.
The Beekeepers Handbook Diana Sammataro Peach Mountain Press Magazines - there are two main beekeeping themed magazines available: American Bee Journal and Bee Culture. Neither of these magazines has a primary focus on beginner; instead they cover a broad spectrum of topics of interest to beekeepers of all sizes and levels of knowledge. If you join the Utah County Beekeepers Association, we can help you get a reduced subscription rate for either or both of these magazines.
A beginner’s class is strongly recommended. The Utah County Beekeepers Association offers a beginners class early in each spring; typically it is 6 hours long and covers all of the information presented here in detail as well as further information with hands on manipulation of hive parts and tools.
There are other associations of beekeepers out there! If you don't live in Utah County, you can find a listing of beekeeping groups by using a search engine for your area. Keep in mind that there may not be a group right in your area, if that is the case, join the nearest association. If there isn't an association in your area/county, consider starting one! They are very helpful and can be a lot of fun. You can also visit the Who's Who of Beekeeping In America page sponsored by Bee Culture Magazine to find associations in other states.
Finding a Mentor
For beginners in Utah County, the Utah County Beekeepers Association offers a mentoring program that allows you to work with one specific beekeeper as your mentor. They can give you lots of practical information on keeping bees that you may never get out of a book or may not fully comprehend from just reading. There are times when learning is doing. If you are interested in latching on to a mentor, please email the association.
If you are going to be a beekeeper, you are going to get stung; it is not a matter of if but when. You can greatly reduce your chances of getting stung by working smart and wearing the protective gear mentioned above. In time, you will learn the triggers that set off YOUR bees; not all triggers affect all bees in the same way and those triggers may only cause defensive behavior at certain times of the year. Keep note of when the bees seem to be reacting defensively and what you are doing, the weather, honey flows currently happening etc. and learn from these notes (mental or written).
So, when the inevitable happens, what do you do and what are the normal symptoms of a sting versus the symptoms of an allergic reaction? Read on!
Removing the Stinger - recent research indicates that you should remove the stinger from your skin as soon as possible; in the past, it has been recommended that you use an edged object to avoid pinching the venom sack and thereby force more venom into your system. Either way, get the stinger out of your skin ASAP! This will reduce the amount of venom injected into your system and will help speed your recovery.
Types of Reactions to Stings - read and understand these symptoms BEFORE working your bees; memorize them so you know when you might be in trouble.
Normal - localized pain, minor swelling, a weal (raised red area with a white center), itching all of which should diminish and generally go away within hours or at most a few days.
Large Local - this starts similar to a normal reaction but after 24-48 hours the swelling can spread over an extensive area, sometimes the entire extremity (whole arm, leg, face etc.). This type of reaction can be quite painful due to the swelling and the itching can become unbearable; usually this type of reaction can take anywhere from 4-7 days to resolve itself. Treat with antihistamines and ice packs.
Systemic Allergic - this is the bad one. Hives, angioedema (massive facial swelling), a metallic taste in the mouth, nasuea, vomitting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, light-headedness, dizziness, fainting, and tremors. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, IMMEDIATELY call for an ambulance. Fortunately, a truly severe reaction occurs in less than 1% of the population.
Treatments for Stings - everyone has heard of at least one way to help reduce the swelling and pain of a bee sting. Some of the best are antihistamines (such as Benadryl) and ice. Others are vinegar, meat tenderizer paste, and calamine lotions.
Epi Pens - are prescription items that contain a dose of adrenaline to overcome the allergic reaction to a sting so that the "victim" can seek medical attention. Some sources will recommend that as a beekeeper, you carry an epi pen. However, they are expensive, require a prescription (more expense) and expire quickly (typically only good for a year) so that the carrying of one "just in case" can be quite expensive if you are not allergic.
kinds of beekeepers
What Kind of Beekeeper do YOU want to Bee?
We challenge you to research all the methodologies involved in beekeeping, treatment methods for disease and parasites, extraction process and selling techniques to that you can determine what kind of beekeeper you want to be. We cannot tell you which is the right way - you must decide for yourself. Each individual must determine their own path and others in the beekeeping community can only act as guides sharing experiences and information so that you, the novice, can make informed intelligent decisions.
Never hesitate to question; remember there is no SINGLE RIGHT WAY to keep bees successfully - anyone that tells you otherwise is misinformed. Read, research and question and you will be able to determine what kind of beekeeper YOU want to BEE!