Beekeeping 101: Quick Guide To Starting A Hive

Beekeeping is perhaps more important than ever now. Colony Collapse Disorder has destroyed more than 30 percent of the honeybee population since 2005. The causes of the drastic population drop are still hotly debated, but the need to preserve the essential pollinators is something anyone who enjoys eating food every day, typically agrees upon.

Beekeeping was on the decline since World War II, but a renewed interest in cultivating hives has occurred since 2009. A growing number of Americans have started their own apiary over the past several years. Homesteading families, preppers, organic farmers, and backyard farmers have all begun to learn more about not only building and maintaining their own hives, but why saving the bees is so important to the continuation of civilization. Even urban “farmers” are taking advantage of vacant rooftop space to cultivate their own honey. Bringing bees back to metropolitan areas aids the growth and health of urban community gardens which teach city dwellers how to raise their own food – which can be preserved for use during an economic downturn or disaster.

Why is Beekeeping Important?

According to a report by the USDA, two major multi-year studies have been undertaken to better determine the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. Varroa mites is one significant problem many government researchers believe is plaguing honeybees in not just the United States, but on a global scale. More research and trials to help combat bee population loss remain ongoing.

Best-selling author and survivalist gardener Rick Austin is among the massive group of beekeepers and growers who believe GMO crops and agricultural chemicals are at least a significant factor in the sharp decline of bee populations.

“The real problem is GMO corn and soybeans that are spreading poison pollen everywhere through the wind. The only way that the use of GMOs will stop, is to force companies like Monsanto to stop using it. However, regulations won’t happen because of Monsanto’s incestuous relationship with the government,” Austin said during a previous interview with the Inquisitr before going on to note the number of Monsanto staffers who were appointed to posts at the USDA, FSA, and EPA during the Obama administration.

Buying Bees

Bees, including queen bees, can be purchased from commercial online stores or ordered from brick-and-mortar farm and garden stores. Beekeepers and breeders often advertise the bees and beehive equipment they have for sale, both new and used, on social media location-based groups and on Craigslist.

Bees are typically sold, at least commercially, in three-pound packages – complete with a queen bee. For an extra few dollars, the queen can usually come marked – which is definitely helpful. The bees are almost always shipped through the mail when purchased from a commercial supplier. Be diligent when monitoring shipment tracking information so the bees are not left outdoors in the cold or lingering at the post office too long and perish.

Types of Bees

  • Queen Bee – The sole function of the queen bee is to lay eggs. She is treated like royalty within the hive, and doesn’t even have to feed herself – the worker bees take care of that mundane chore. The dutiful worker bees even remove the queen’s waste for her. During the peak of the laying season, a healthy queen bee can lay about 1,000 eggs per day.
  • Worker Bees – The workers are sterile female bees. They do not lay eggs but spend every waking moment of their existence working to preserve the hive and serve the queen’s every need.
  • Drone Bees – All drone bees do is eat and think about sex. Their work day consists of trying to mate with the queen. While this might sound like a fine job to have to some men, it’s truly not. A drone bee who is fortunate enough to successfully mate with the lady of the hive has his sexual organs ripped out during coitus – and obviously dies a painful death moments later. The queen bee saves and stores the drone’s sperm for future use. If a drone bee has not mated with a queen by winter, the worker bees force him to leave the hive because he is no longer considered a useful member of the colony.

Hive Placement

  • Position the hive in an area that is both dry and sunny. Bees kept in shady areas tend to get too cold and also get a bit fussy about the temperature. Angry bees are absolutely no fun to work around.
  • The hive entrance should face a wall, trees, or tall plants. Bees tend to like flying up and over something and the act fosters healthy flight patterns.
  • The beehive should be placed near crops, flowering plants, or shrubs which need pollinating. Bees seem to be extremely attracted to the color purple and enjoy spending time on lavender. They also dive right into buckwheat and seem to consider it a menu favorite.
  • A nearby water source is mandatory. Bees prefer standing water to flowing water. Bees cannot swim, not the least little bit and drown quite easily if forced to strain to reach into deep water for a drink. A bird bath with marbles or rocks is ideal for a bee waterer. A very shallow pond with rocks or pieces of stationary wood is also a viable option for providing water to members of the beehive.

Beekeeping Tools

  • Bee Hives – Proper hive boxes are essential to successful beekeeping. Having an extra box on hand is advised just in case the need for additional or new living quarters suddenly presents itself, which can and does happen. Keepers never want to queens in a single hive.
  • Hive Tool – A flat bar is needed to open the hive top and for other essential beekeeping tasks. Just about any flat bar will work but a flat head screwdriver is likely the cheapest and most handy option.
  • Bottom Board – The wooden stand the beehive box is placed upon should comprise of concrete or bricks to prevent the board from rotting on the ground due to moisture.
  • Smoker – Smokers come in various sizes and can be chosen to best suit the size of the hive built or purchased. Larger smokers tend to be easier to keep lit for novice beekeepers.
  • Queen Catcher – Angering the queen bee is never a pleasant experience. Using a queen catcher may speed up the process and make the entire experience less dramatic for everyone involved.
  • Queen Muff – After the queen is caught, carefully put her inside a muff for safe keeping and to prevent her from flying off.
  • Top Feeder – A standard gallon jug, can, or jar with holes drilled into the cap is fitted into a hole drilled into the cover of the beehive. A mixture of two parts water and one part sugar is poured into the container to be consumed by the bees to give them the energy they need to build the wax honeycomb inside the beehive box.
  • Bee Brush – The brush, which is essentially a glorified soft wire brush, is used for scraping of the trays during cleaning.
  • Extractor – The tools helps to quickly, safely, and fairly easily get honey out of the hive. This may be the most expensive aspect of beekeeping. But, the tool is well worth the money due to the time and agitation saved when harvesting the bounty from the beehive.
  • Protective Gear – A veil, suit, and gloves are strongly recommended to prevent bees from stinging, especially if they decide to swarm. Most beekeepers never experience a swarm, but it can happen and could be deadly if the keeper has any type of allergic reaction or is stung by a massive number of bees.

Beehive Maintenance

The beehives require periodic inspection throughout the late spring and summer months to make sure the queen is laying eggs, the bee colony has adequate space to expand, and the workers are doing their job and building up stores of honey, Beethinking notes.

During the cold weather months of fall, winter, and early spring, make sure the clusters within the colony are eating their honey stores and are only flying outside when the temperature is above freezing in order to eliminate waste. Opening the hive box should be done only when necessary and with caution during cold weather months to prevent necessary heat from escaping from inside.


All beekeepers, sooner or later, get stung. Honeybees are extremely docile by nature and only sting when they are panicked and as a last resort. Once a bee stings, it dies. Approaching and working with the hive in a calm manner will not only help protect the keeper from being stung but also avoid the unnecessary loss of bees who feel forced to go into attack mode to save themselves or their queen.

[Featured Image by Nemanja Tesic/Shutterstock]