Getting into beekeeping
Honey bees can be kept nearly anywhere, and acreage owners may find the hobby of beekeeping also makes good business sense. For obvious reasons, beekeeping isn't the type of activity one should get into without doing plenty of research first. Working with bees requires a gentle touch and calm disposition. You also need an understanding of the honey bees' behavior during handling and moving. And probably most importantly, know what your reaction is to bee stings.
Lee Heine is a honey producer, and says you’d be surprised how many little stingers you can stuff into one hive. "There are people that operate as few as 10 or 20 hives, you know, just for their own locale. Depending on the strength of the hive, a normal hive would run somewhere from 30 to 50 thousand bees."
In the U.S., beekeepers work primarily with the Western honey bee, otherwise known as Apis mellifera. Within this species, the most commonly used breeds include the Golden Italian, the
Carniolan, the Caucasian, the New Minnesota Hygenics, the Russian, and the Buckfast. Each breed has specific characteristics that you need to know based on your location and goals.
Honey bees can be kept almost anywhere there are flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen. Choose a site for bee hives that is discrete, sheltered from winds and partially shaded. Your county extension office can give you names of local beekeepers and organizations for information.
It’s wise to start out small and expand the beekeeping operation as time, experience, and finances permit. Initially, expect to spend about $200 per hive. Other equipment such as a smoker, protective clothing, feeding equipment, and a honey extractor will add to the expense.
There’s definitely a market to tap into. There’s a shortage of bees for crop pollination around the U.S. "There’s a lot of interest at the hobbiest level but in most cases they don’t help the pollination factor," Heine says. "I mean they do in their locale a little bit but they aren’t gonna be able to move their bees to like pumpkins, apples, cranberries, whatever. We need more people that are willing to have at least a few hundred hives."
Learn more about beekeeping:
- Penn State University offers a comprehensive Mid-Atlantic guide to the basics of beekeeping.
- Purdue University provides information for 4-H beekeeping projects.
- Sonoma County, California, has an extensive resource library.
Radio interview source: Lee Heine, honey producer
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