The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping Daniel Johnson



Getting to Know Your Bees
Starting Out as a Beekeeper
Installing Bees and Routine Care
Pests, Diseases, and Problems
Sweet Rewards: Honey!
Marketing Your Hive Products

Having Fun with Your Bees

As bees in early summer swarm apace
Through flowery fields, when forth from dale and dell
They lead the full-grown offspring of the race,
Or with liquid honey store each cell
And make the teeming hive with nectarous sweets to swell.
These ease the comers of their loads, those
Drive the drones afar. The busy work each plies
And sweet with thyme and honey smells the hive.
Welcome to the world of beekeeping! We’re excited that you’ve decided to explore this enjoyable,
fascinating, and potentially tasty hobby. Our hope in writing this book is that bee-ginning beekeepers
will find some helpful tips for getting started, that more advanced beekeepers will pick up some new
ideas and further their knowledge, and that everyone will have some fun along the way. We’ll do our
best to tell you everything you need to know in order to successfully raise a hive, harvest honey, and

be a part of this rapidly growing community of beekeepers. And we’ll do our best not to overwhelm
you with bee humor and puns (although restraining ourselves will bee hard to do!).
So why keep bees? Beekeeping interests people for many different reasons, but here are a few of
our favorites:
1. Bees make honey! This one is pretty obvious. There is nothing like the satisfaction of enjoying the
sweet produce of your hives.
2. Bees make beeswax. Bees make more than just honey, you know! Additional products from your
hive include beeswax and pollen, which—along with your honey—can be used to make a wide
variety of products from candles to soaps. We’ll discuss all of this in greater detail later on.

Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and the number of beekeepers in the United States is increasing. It is becoming more and more
popular in urban locations as well as remaining very important in our rural areas.

• The top honey-producing state is North Dakota.
• To produce a single pound of honey, bees must visit as many as two million flowers and
travel an accumulated distance of 50,000 miles.
• A colony of bees can contain as many as 60,000 bees.
• In her lifetime, an average female honey bee can fly a distance equal to going 1 1/2 times
around the earth.

• According to a USDA estimate, cited by the National Honey Board, bees are responsible
for 80 percent of insect crop pollination in the United States.
• Bees fly approximately 15 miles per hour.

For many people, the best part of raising bees is the harvest of honey.

In addition to pollination and honey, beeswax is another wonderful benefit of raising bees—it’s an immensely useful product in a number
of ways!

3. Bees are fascinating. Really, until you’ve spent some time observing the habits of these little
creatures, you won’t appreciate how truly amazing they are, from their organization to their
socialization. You’ll witness the life cycle of the bees, from egg to adult, as well as their fantastic
work ethic.

4. Bees aid farmers and gardeners. While in the process of travelling from flower to flower
collecting nectar and pollen, bees boost the productivity of fruits, vegetables, and crops. If you
have a garden, keeping bees may be an excellent parallel project.
5. Bees can be kept almost anywhere. Even in locations where it is impossible for you to own any
other kind of livestock, you may still be able to keep bees and find a compact outlet for your “inner

The most sought-after and bestselling item for most beekeepers is the honey their bees produce. It’s very satisfying to care for your
hives over the year and then be able to harvest the honey at summer’s end.

You may have some questions or concerns about this beekeeping idea of yours. Let’s see if we can
help clarify some issues and perhaps ease some of your concerns.
1. “I’m worried about getting stung—maybe a lot!” While the possibility exists that you will
receive a sting or two over the course of your beekeeping gig, this usually is not a particularly
serious concern. Unlike certain wasps or hornets, which can be aggressive depending on the
circumstances, honey bees are generally passive creatures that will only sting as a “last resort” to
protect the hive. A worker honey bee that is out collecting pollen will almost never sting, because
it is not worried about defending the hive. Even those bees that are inside or nearby the hive will
have to perceive a considerable threat before they will begin to sting. As long as you do your
homework and are gentle and careful while working among your bees, frequent stings should not be
an issue for you. (In some circumstances, a bee sting can be serious; see the sidebar “Bee Careful”
on page 9.)
2. “I’m worried that this is going to be a lot of work—I didn’t get into beekeeping to do
something hard!” We’ll be honest: beekeeping is, to some extent, hard work, but the work is
different than caring for, say, a dog or cat or horse. Bees do not require repetitive chores on a daily

basis. Bees don’t have to be fed twice a day, or walked on a leash—they don’t even need to be
inspected every day. While a schedule is a good idea so that you don’t fall too far behind or miss
something important, your schedule can be loose and adaptable to your lifestyle. The times of
heavier work occur during the initial spring hive setup (which may only have to be done once), the
honey harvest, and some general preparations in spring and fall. Overall, if you’re looking for a
rewarding project that doesn’t require you to conform to a rigid schedule, keeping bees may be just
the thing you’re looking for.
3. “What will my neighbors think?” It’s possible that nearby neighbors may be (understandably)
apprehensive about your new hobby—but that is only because they are probably just thinking of
“bees” as some vicious group of stinging bugs, bent on seeking their next victim. You’ll just need
to reassure these concerned souls that a foraging honey bee is only concerned with collecting
nectar and pollen (and, incidentally, you could point out, pollinating the neighbor’s plants!) and
does not pose a significant threat. You could even invite the neighbors to watch you work with the
hives so they can gain firsthand experience with the naturally gentle behavior of your honey bees.
And, of course, a complementary bottle of honey or two can go a long way toward making your
neighbors view beekeeping in a positive light!
4. “What if I goof up?” While we certainly hope this doesn’t happen, mistakes in an uncertain world
are always possible. To that end, we’ll do everything we can to keep the instructions in this book
clear and concise. However, if something does go wrong—if one of your colonies of bees does not
survive the winter, for instance—try not to be discouraged. You can always try again next spring—

and you’ll be a wiser and more experienced beekeeper. On the other hand, there really is no one
right way to keep bees . . . there are as many methods and options as there are individual

beekeepers. So do your research, learn from your bees, and be the best beekeeper you can bee!
So, what are you waiting for? The world of beekeeping awaits!

The tremendous trifecta of bounty from the hive: pollen, beeswax, and honey!

A few tomato blossoms await pollination. Although tomato blossoms are usually pollinated by air movement, bees can be very helpful to
ensure successful pollination

And the after-effects of the successful pollination. Gardeners everywhere should be thankful for honey bees.

Even the youngest bee enthusiasts can enjoy watching and learning about our friends in the hive. Protective beekeeping gear is always
important, especially for youngsters.

As with the care of many types of animals, you may find yourself looking for help and advice
beyond what you can find through books and research. While a list of resources and websites can
be found at the back of this book, and while we will attempt to cover as much common

information as we can, you will probably enjoy the advice and company of a local beekeeper—
should you be lucky enough to have one in your area. Beekeeping clubs can be a terrific way to
meet other fellow beekeepers and ask specific questions that you may have.

This hive may look quiet from the outside, but inside it’s a-buzz with activity!

We don’t want you to move about in a perpetual state of fear that something bad will happen
while you work with your bees, because generally speaking, beekeeping is a safe hobby that you
can participate in without incident. As we discussed on page 7 (“Beekeeping Concerns”), bee
stings are not nearly as frightening as many people believe. However, we do want to caution you
on one thing: some people are severely allergic to honey bee stings and such a sting can
potentially cause anaphylactic shock in these individuals. The good news is that the majority of
people will never experience any trouble after being stung. But if you are an allergic individual,
then beekeeping is probably not a hobby that you will want to pursue. Your health and well-being
are much more important.

The Indians with surprise found the mouldering trees of their forests suddenly teeming with
ambrosial sweet; and nothing, I am told, can exceed the greedy relish with which they
banquet for the first time upon this unbought luxury of the wilderness.


In this chapter, we’ll begin to learn about the bees themselves. It’s important that you get to know the

lifestyle and behaviors of these fascinating creatures before you actually jump in and start working
with them. We’ll also cover a brief history of beekeeping—did you know that you’re about to share in
an endeavor that is thousands of years old?

This is a busy group of worker bees! Their responsibilities are varied, but include capping the honey cells once the honey is dry enough to

Beekeepers throughout the ages have enjoyed working with bees and harvesting honey, along with collecting wax, pollen, and propolis to
use or sell.

The lure of honey seems to have always been a strong incentive to people of all backgrounds across
many cultures. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Israelites, and Romans are all known to have
tended bees in locations as diverse as Africa, Europe, and Asia. The ancient Maya also kept a variety
of stingless (albeit less prolific) bees in Central America. But the bees we know and use today in
North America are descendants of Western honey bees, which were developed in Europe and carried

across the ocean by American colonists. Even prior to the 1700s, established beehives were already
in place across New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
One problem that beekeepers faced throughout all these times was that there wasn’t a good way of
harvesting the honey. Harvesting could involve the destruction of all or part of the hive depending on
the type of hive used. Smoking the hives with sulfur was also sometimes used to kill the entire colony
of bees, which would leave the physical hive intact but result in the destruction of all the bees.
All of this changed in the mid-1800s, when L. L. Langstroth of Pennsylvania developed a new
style of beehive, which is still in use today. The Langstroth hive is special because it is made of
individual components that can be easily taken apart and examined without upsetting the bees or
destroying their work. The bees in this kind of hive build their combs and store their honey on a
series of movable frames, which can be easily and nondestructively removed when it’s time to
harvest honey.
Today, beekeeping means different things to different people. For some it’s a business (of both
honey collection and professional crop pollination services), but for many others it’s a lovely,
enjoyable hobby that can give a lifetime of pleasure. Throughout this book we hope to share some
knowledge that will help you achieve that pleasure.

The Langstroth hive design, developed in the 19th century, revolutionized beekeeping and is still the most popular hive design among
beekeepers. Two other types include the top bar hive and the Warré hive, with the top bar hive gaining in popularity with organic

A beehive is made up of three distinct types of bees:
1. Workers
2. Drones
3. The Queen
Let’s take a look at each type individually:
Worker bees are female bees that typically do not lay eggs. They do, however, tend to the queen,
tend to the nursery of young bees, build comb, store food, and fly miles and miles and miles from
flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar. Wow! When people talk about “busy bees” they surely
must mean the workers. Worker bees also have glands in their abdomen that produce wax, as well as
glands in their heads that are capable of producing royal jelly, which is a nutrient-rich substance used
to feed larvae (baby bees!).
The queen is usually the only egg-laying female in the hive. For this reason, the queen is given
special treatment from the rest of the workers. She is fed, tended, and protected by the workers. In
exchange for their care, the queen supplies the hive with the eggs needed to sustain a healthy, working
colony. The queen is the largest bee in the hive, with a slender, elegant body—considerably larger
than that of a worker bee. There are only two times when there might be more than one egg-laying
female. One is when the main queen is aging and the hive is considering producing a replacement

(known as supersedure). The other time is when the queen has died, and confused worker bees begin
laying eggs. If you have laying worker bees (manifested by a sudden increase in the number of drones
in the hive, or multiple eggs laid in one cell), then you have no queen and you’ll need to take action to
replace her.
Before a queen can lay eggs however, she must take to the skies and perform a mating flight with
several drone bees, discussed next.

As an up-and-coming beekeeper, it might do you good to take a closer look at the anatomy of our
buzzing buddies.
Honey bees are insects, of course, and like all insects, they have bodies that can be classified
into three broad regions:
1. The head, which contains the bee’s mouth, eyes, brain, and antennae.
2. The thorax, a middle section with three pairs of legs.
3. The abdomen, which contains some of the bee’s internal organs and the stinger if the bee is a

Drones are male bees. They have a slightly different build than the workers, with a generally
larger body and significantly larger eyes to aid in the location of a flying queen. The drones fly with
new queen bees and mate with her, but do not contribute to the hive otherwise. You won’t see drones
out collecting pollen, since their legs have no pollen baskets, and you won’t see them defending the
hive—drones don’t have a stinger! They cannot produce wax for building, either. Still, they are
essential to the lives of bees, and a healthy colony in mid-summer might be home to 1,000 drones.

The individual, removable frames in the Langstroth hive make it easier to access the hive for inspection and make it possible to harvest
honey without damaging the entire hive.

A colony of bees contains three distinctly different bee types: the queen, the drones, and the ever-hardworking, multitalented, and
multitasking worker bees. They each have very different roles and responsibilities in the hive. The worker bee in the smallest, the drone
is larger and wider and the queen is the largest and most beautiful—or so say many beekeepers. Illustration courtesy Emily F.

A multitude of worker bees in the hive: it’s easy to see where the term “busy as a bee” comes from.

You can see that the three worker bees on the left are very different in looks and size to the larger, big-eyed drone on the right. As
autumn approaches, the drones may be “kicked” out of the hive by worker bees to eliminate having to feed them throughout the winter.

Let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the honey bee life cycle. It’s useful to you as the
beekeeper to be able to locate, identify, and understand the various stages of bees you’re looking at,
because a healthy hive and a healthy queen will be producing strong brood (baby bees). Let’s take a
look at this brood.
All honey bees begin life as an egg laid by the queen in an empty hexagonal cell. On a busy summer
day, a healthy queen might lay as many as 2,000 eggs!
Honey bee eggs are very tiny, and not always easy to find if you’re a beginner. Some people
recommend using black plastic hive frames because the small white eggs will stand out more easily
against the black and make them more visible (see the section in Chapter 2, “Anatomy of a Hive,”
page 33, to learn more about frames).
Within a few days, the egg hatches (“dissolves” might be a better word for it) and out pops a small
larva. The larvae are white and chubby and don’t really look at all like insects. They can’t feed
themselves, so they are fed instead by the workers.

Here’s the nursery! The cells you see that are filled with a white substance are actually the baby bees in the larva stage. They are fed as
often as a 1,000 times a day by nurse bees. If you look closely, you can also see pollen in some of the cells and honey in a few of the
other cells, stored conveniently for feeding the youngsters.

Worker bees have many occupations; and one is that of guard bee. This guard bee is clearly doing her job in communicating to this
stranger that he’s got to go.

Worker bees produce royal jelly out of glands in their heads. The royal jelly is a rich substance,
full of vitamins, and the workers feed this to the larvae for three days. After that, the rapidly growing
larvae are switched to a diet of honey and pollen. (If, however, the hive is replacing a queen, they
will continue to feed a handful of larvae straight royal jelly, which will spark the development of a
new queen). The larvae are fed over 1,000 times a day!
After about six days (it can be slightly shorter or longer depending on if the individual larva is to
become a drone, worker, or queen), the larva has eaten its fill and has grown quite large. It is at this
time that worker bees seal the larva’s cell over with a cap made of wax and perhaps a bit of propolis
(a sticky substance collected by the bees).
Now is where the action really gets interesting. You won’t be able to actually witness this part, but
underneath the cap of the larva’s cell, the once-larva has now become a pupa. Over the next two
weeks or so, the pupa undergoes a fabulous transformation, known as metamorphosis. The pupa
grows legs, sprouts wings, and develops eyes, antennae, and the stripes that are characteristic of a
full-grown honey bee. After about 12 days since being capped (for workers) or 14 days (for drones),
a fully-developed honey bee chews its way through the cap and is free to roam the hive. (A queen
bee, however, develops rapidly and only stays in the pupa stage for about seven days. During this
time, the growing queen bee is exclusively fed royal jelly. If it wasn’t for this, she would simply
develop into another worker bee).

The honey bee is an amazing pollinator and this job also falls on the wings on the worker bee. She makes more than 10 trips per day—

each trip taking as long as an hour—back and forth from flowers to hive, returning with nectar, pollen, and propolis; all essential to
keeping the hive fed, healthy, and strong.

The bee in the very center of this image has climbed halfway into the cell; bees are always fulfilling one of their many duties inside the
hive. It’s an amazing place.

After a pupa becomes an adult worker bee, she performs many jobs. Young adult workers clean the
hive, tend to larvae, and take care of the queen. Slightly older workers also begin to produce wax
from the wax glands on their abdomens, which they use to build comb. Older workers also act as hive
guards. It is only after about three weeks of adult life that they begin to fly outside the hive, visiting
flowers and collecting nectar and pollen.
So just what is it that your bees do all day long? Everyone knows they fly around and visit flowers—
and they somehow make honey in the process, but what really goes on in their lives? We’ve touched
on a few things already, but we’ll try to run through a more thorough description of honey bee life.
Worker Bees Outside the Hive
Outside the hive, foraging workers visit flowers to collect nectar, which they store in their special
“honey-stomachs.” While on the flowers, the
bees also collect pollen on their bodies and on the fuzzy hairs on their legs (there is a special cavity

on the hind legs of worker bees called a pollen basket where a large amount of pollen is collected),
and then they haul the pollen back to the hive along with the nectar. In the process, they inadvertently
pollinate flowers. They also collect water.
One other item that bees collect outdoors is a resin-substance known as propolis, which they
retrieve from trees buds and sap. Propolis is quite sticky.
Worker Bees Inside the Hive
Inside the hive, the worker bees build hexagonal cells made of wax. These are for storage and for
raising brood. The propolis is used as a sealant for cracks in the hive and also as a building material.
Bees are very particular about the spacing of areas inside their home. This is known as “bee space”
and is about 3/8-inch wide. If a particular area is deemed a bit too narrow for them (for instance, the
area between frames inside the hive), they will not hesitate to use propolis to fill in the cracks.
Likewise, if the bees decided that a certain area is too wide, they will make it smaller with “burr
comb” (which is just a name for comb that is not where you want it!). Propolis is something you will
certainly run into as a beekeeper—it will often stick to your clothing.

The worker bee has “pollen baskets” (corbicula) on her hind legs. The baskets are not what you might think; there is a small area on the
bee’s hind legs where she packs the pollen to carry back to the hive.

Awesome is the only word that can describe the miracle of the honeycomb inside a bee colony. The comb is made from wax, which the
worker bees make from their wax glands on the underside of their lower abdomens.

Deep inside the hive, worker bees are making comb. This comb will be used for storing brood, honey, and pollen. The wax is put into
place by mouth.

After foraging, worker bees return to the hive with their honey-stomachs filled with nectar. This
nectar is passed to “house” worker bees that hold the nectar for a time. Both the foragers and the
house bees use special enzymes to break down the raw nectar into simpler sugars. This new
substance is then placed into cells, and the bees begin fanning the air with their wings to help dry out
any excess moisture in the honey. If the bees don’t plan on using this particular honey for a while, they
will cap it with wax for safekeeping and storage.
Both honey and pollen are stored in cells near the larvae, down in the bottom of the hive in the
deep brood chambers, but when these areas begin to fill up, the bees begin to store excess honey
higher up in the hive in the honey supers, which are supplied by the beekeeper when needed (see
Chapter 2 for more information on the structure of a hive).

Bees use propolis, collected from trees and plants, to seal their hive. They fill in all cracks and holes with this extremely sticky substance
that you’ll come to know quite well. This bee is working on a strip of propolis.

Worker bees produce a pheromone (scent) from their Nassanoff (Nasonov and Nasanoff are also correct) gland when trying to
communicate the hive’s location to her fellow workers. The bees stand with their back ends up in the air to release this scent.

Smell and Communication
Smell is an important function in the life of the colony. There are special bee scents, known as
pheromones, which are used by the bees as a kind of communication system. The queen bee produces
her own particular pheromones, with which she can say encouraging things to the hive things like,
“I’m here, everything is okay,” and motivational things like, “Keep up the good work! Build that
comb! Tend that brood!” If a queen becomes elderly or dies, her encouraging messages become faint
and disappear, and the worker bees sense this and go about the business of crowning a new queen (by
feeding extra royal jelly to a few special larvae). When a young queen is on her mating flight, she
releases another smell aimed at communicating her location to any nearby drone bees.
Worker bees have their own slew of pheromones. One is produced by the Nassanoff gland on their
abdomens. You can sometimes observe a worker bee standing around outside the hive, with her
abdomen pointed upwards. She is releasing a pheromone into the air to help guide her fellow foraging
workers back to the hive. She’s saying, “C’mon—here’s the hive! Down here!” It’s not unlike a
lighthouse beacon, calling in ships on the sea.
Worker bees can also warn each other of danger with their smells. If a bee stings something, it
releases a “Danger! Caution! Warning!” signal throughout the hive, which just might make other
workers consider stinging as well.
Even the brood gets into the pheromone act, which helps the worker bees to properly tend to the
needs of the brood. The brood may signal something like “We’re three days old—time to change our
diet to honey and pollen!” The sense of smell is truly important to the socialization and productivity

of the colony.

Because of the very dark conditions inside a hive, touch is an important communication tool for bees. Take a listen to your hive every
now and then; there’s a lot going on inside.

And, of course, there are the famous bee dances, which workers use to help communicate the location
of productive food sources (flowers) to their fellow workers. Workers perform two variations of the
dance: a “round” dance and a “waggle” dance. The round dance is used to share information about a
food source that is fairly close to the hive, while the waggle dance, which is a figure-eight, is used for
food sources that are farther away. When performed, the two dances are able to convey information
about the size of the alleged food source, its distance from the hive, the quality of the food source, and
its direction relative to the sun. Bees use the sun in much the same way that a person on a hike might
use a compass.

Coated with pollen from visiting a garden’s squash plants, this worker bee will return to the hive and “dance” to communicate to the
other bees the location of the flowers in relation to the hive.

The Italian honey bee is known for its golden good looks and gentle nature.

There are a few different varieties/strains—“breeds,” if you will—of honey bees. We’ll discuss a
few common varieties here:
Italian (Apis mellifera ligustica) honey bees are very popular. They’re good honey producers,
they’re quite gentle (not aggressive), and they rapidly produce a large quantity of brood. However,
they also maintain this brood over the winter, which means they need a lot of food to see them through
—you may be needed to help supply some of that food (see the section on overwintering bees in
Chapter 3).
Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) honey bees are another common breed. Like the Italian bees,
Carniolan bees are gentle and easy to work with. They keep their numbers smaller over the winter, so
they require less food in storage. They are also quite adaptable to variations in environment; they’re
quick to take advantage of an early spring, for instance, but also just as quick to back off in hard
times, such as a drought. They are, however, a bit more prone to swarming.
Russian honey bees are gaining popularity. The Russian honey bee (technically a hybrid) shares
some traits (and genes) with both the Italian and Carniolan. One of the Russian bee’s most appealing

traits is its natural resistance to Varroa mites, a parasite that can cause serious problems for other
breeds. Russian bees are also quite hardy and overwinter well, even in harsh northern climates. They
maintain a very small colony over the winter, and this tendency helps them to make their stores of
honey last longer. One potential problem with Russian bees is that they can reproduce very rapidly
under bountiful spring conditions, and if the beekeeper is not careful, the Russian bees may outgrow
their hive too quickly and decide to swarm.
There are other hybrid subdivisions within these categories. Experienced breeders will sometimes
create crossbreds aimed at surviving well in a particular geographical location, for instance. Before
making any decision on which breed to start your hive, it’s a good idea to talk to local beekeepers
and get their opinions and suggestions before making your final selection.

The Russian honey bee, said to have a good resistance to the Varroa mite and some resistance to tracheal mites. The Russian is a darker

Look closely at this frame, near the bottom—those objects that look like peanut shells are actually queen cells. This hive is preparing or
thinking about preparing for a new queen. Raising your own queens is an activity you might wish to pursue as you move along in your
adventure with bees. The location of these queen cells indicates that a swarm may be imminent.

Professional pollination services are offered by many beekeepers/breeders. It can be a viable business, but it is quite labor-intensive.

How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From
every opening flower.

Now that you know all about the bees themselves, chances are that you’d like a few thousand of your
own. But before you don that beekeeping suit and veil, take a peek at the information in this chapter,
as there are a few things you’ll need to know and understand when you’re first starting out.

There are a lot of things that you should know prior to purchasing your first bee package. This chapter will bring you a bit closer to the
day when you’ll see the workers out and about on your local flowers.

You’ll need to check out your state and local regulations prior to setting up your apiary. Following some additional commonsense
guidelines will assist you in choosing the proper location for your hives as well.

In your initial burst of beekeeping enthusiasm, it’s tempting to want to fling yourself headfirst into the
fascinating world of apiculture. Hives, frames, queens, brood, honey—you want to immerse yourself
in beekeeping, and you don’t want to let anything or anyone stop you.
These are understandable feelings, and we’re excited that you’re excited about getting started with
honey bees. But before you rush out and invest in beekeeping equipment and order those bees, we
encourage you to take a few moments to research some important information that may have a
significant effect on your beekeeping endeavors: regulations and ordinances.
It might surprise you to learn that beekeeping—as with many agricultural pursuits—is regulated on
the state and local levels, and that your ability to get started with bees will depend upon the
regulations that are applicable to your city and state. Before getting started, you’ll want to investigate
these regulations and determine what—if anything—you need to do before setting up your beehives.
You might be wondering just what these regulations entail. Well, if you live in North Dakota, for
example, you’ll need to pay annual fees of 15 cents per colony and $5 for a beekeeper’s license.
Other states require that you have your hives inspected regularly by an apiary inspector. Still other
localities prohibit beekeeping either expressly (by prohibiting it entirely) or in an implied manner by
enacting such strict regulations as to make beekeeping impossible. For example, a city might have
legislation that requires beehives to be kept at least 500 feet from a roadway, making it impossible
for a person on an average-sized lot to have a beehive and still comply with the regulations.
Thankfully, as long as your municipality does not entirely prohibit beekeeping, it’s usually fairly
easy to comply with regulations, and the fees are generally reasonable. To find out about the
beekeeping requirements required in your area, talk to your local beekeeper’s association; they will
be able to enlighten you as to any necessary fees or registration requirements. You can also contact
your local agricultural extension office for information. Additionally, the Apiary Inspectors of
America website maintains a comprehensive list of state statutes with handy links:
Even if you discover that your city or township prohibits beekeeping, you still have options for
pursuing your apicultural ambitions. To begin with, you can petition your local government to lift the
prohibition on beekeeping. Join forces with other beekeepers, as well as gardeners and farmers who
rely on the honey bee for pollination purposes, and you’ll likely find that they will provide willing
support toward changing beekeeping legislation.
We highly recommend that you join your local beekeeper’s association. You’ll meet area
beekeepers who will be able to advise and guide you in your beekeeping adventure, and
you’ll learn about tried-and-true beekeeping techniques that are specific to your area.
Many beekeeping associations provide educational opportunities such as field days, guest
speakers, and classes. Your annual dues will be money that is very well spent!

But what if your city prohibits beekeeping and you’re simply not able to convince the “powers that
bee” to change the legislation and make it more friendly and welcoming to beekeepers? Start
investigating other beekeeping options. Sometimes farm owners and gardeners in rural areas are

eager to find beekeepers who are willing to establish and maintain hives on their property. This can
provide the best of both worlds: you have the opportunity to keep bees and pursue apiculture, while
the land owner receives the benefit of the presence of your bees in the form of pollination for his or
her plants or crops. Again, your local beekeeping association can be a great source of contacts,
information, and networking opportunities, so be sure to utilize this valuable resource.
Even if you live in an area that is completely “bee friendly” and has little or no regulation on
beekeeping, you may run into the occasional person who just doesn’t approve of beekeeping.
Sometimes area residents are uncomfortable with the idea of beehives in their neighborhood, and they
may complain or express their reservations about your honey bee pursuits. Bee phobia (known as
apiphobia) is real and some people are truly frightened by bees, especially when the bees are in
proximity to their homes. You may wish to discuss your plans with your close neighbors ahead of
time and listen to any concerns that they may have. You may be able to alleviate their fears by
explaining that bees are gentle creatures that are really only concerned with doing their jobs of
gathering nectar and pollen. By addressing these potential concerns in advance, you may be able to
avoid potential problems down the road.

Beekeeping regulations vary from state to state and town to town; some require registration of your hives, which includes paperwork in
order for you to be in line with the rules.

Be thoughtful in the placing of your bees in relation to your neighbors. This will assist in assuring that your bees will be welcome by all.
The direction you place the entrance to your hives is important due to the flight patterns of the bees.

Check local and state ordinances before selling your honey at local farmers’ markets.

In addition to the regulations and ordinances that pertain to beekeeping in general, you’ll also
want to check out any regulations that may have an effect on your ability to sell honey and honey
products. Some states will require you to file for a food handler’s permit or a food producer’s
license before you can sell your products. Even if your state does not require you to obtain a
license in order to sell honey at farmers’ markets or festivals, you may still be required to
maintain a designated area for honey preparation that meets necessary criteria of cleanliness and
For example, in Wisconsin, you don’t need to obtain a license if you meet the following
• You extract, package, and sell only your own honey from your own bees, and
• You don’t process the honey or you process it only minimally by straining, heating, and/or
making spun or creamed honey using starters from your own honey, and
• You sell your products directly to your customers out of your home, over the Internet, or from
a farmers’ market. This includes commercial customers using your honey as an ingredient,
such as a brewery.
If you are bottling or processing honey from other individuals or if you
are adding other flavors and ingredients to the honey (your own honey or
honey from others), then you will need to obtain a retail license or a food
processor’s license. In any case, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture,
Trade and Consumer Protection requires a separate room dedicated to the
production of your honey, maintained at an acceptable level of cleanliness,
as well as commercial-grade equipment.

Here’s a great question that probably has been bouncing around in your mind for a while, and perhaps
you’ve even skipped ahead in the book to find the answer: Where exactly are your bees going to come
Well, unless you plan on tracking down and capturing a swarm of loose bees (possible, although
challenging and beyond the scope of a beginner) or collecting them one by one off of dandelions and
daisies (not practical), you will be purchasing your bees from someone else—either a bee breeder
(who may live far from you) or a local beekeeper. And that’s a good idea, because this way you will
be able to do your research and purchase from an established, reputable source—and besides, that
wild bee roundup idea sounds a little too ambitious!
Most bee breeders in the United States are located in the southern portions of the country and
California (because of the warm year-round temperatures) but will ship packages of bees and queens
all over the country. If you’re not planning on buying locally, then explore bee journals and magazines
for bee breeders who will ship to your location. (A breeder that offers a package replacement
guarantee is a good thing—just in case your bees perish during shipment.)

This large truck is used in hauling package bees from California across the country to the Midwest where local beekeepers can pick
them up.

You’ll be notified upon the arrival of your bees, and you must be sure to pick your bees up immediately in order to ensure their survival.
They’ve already been on a long journey and the sooner they are safely installed into their new home, the better for all.

Picking up your bees is an exciting moment—the time has come for you to become a beekeeper! Prior to picking up your bees, you
should have your hives set up and your equipment ready. This isn’t something to do after your bees have arrived.

A package of bees typically consists of about three pounds of bees, including a queen. The queen is typically separated inside a tiny cage
within the larger cage. There’s also a can of syrup to feed the bees but its contents only last a short while.

Handle your packages with care and set them safely in your vehicle for transport to your apiary. There could be a few loose bees on the
outside of your package, so if you’re going to be placing them in your car, you might want to brush off those few stragglers.

Generally speaking, you can purchase your bees in three different ways.
1. Packages. A package of bees is a small screened box—most commonly about three pounds when
full—that contains a queen and about 10,000 rarin’-to-go workers. Ten thousand bees is just the
right amount for an up-and-coming hive. The benefits of the package system is that you can
purchase your bees from almost anywhere and have them shipped in the package right to you, either

through the U.S. Mail or by another carrier like UPS. Be aware however, that shipping through the
mail like this can be stressful on the bees. It is less stressful on them if they are hand delivered—
for example—by a local bee enthusiast who has had the packages trucked directly to his door or
has picked them up himself and brought them directly back home. In the past, we’ve purchased bees
from a local beekeeper who travels each spring from Wisconsin to California to pick up a
truckload of bees, which he then disperses to beekeepers throughout Wisconsin.
Your package of bees will be made up of the screened box, a small metal can of syrup that
provides the bees with a meal during their cross-country excursion, and a very small, separate
screened cage for the queen. She is separated from the workers because she has only just been
introduced to them. The queen is, in effect, an adopted queen, and the rest of the packaged
colony will need some time to become acquainted with her unique smell and personality. The
queen cage provides an opportunity for the bees and the queen to get to know each other,
without getting too close too soon.
Installing a package of bees into an empty hive is an exciting job that requires a bit of finesse
—so we will be spending a good portion of Chapter 3 helping you to install your bees safely
and effectively.

Bees in packages are stacked up awaiting pickup by beekeepers. Each package contains about 10,000 worker bees and the queen. The
queen will be in a tiny box within the bee package. You’ll want to be very careful with her.

2. Nucs. A “nuc” (short for “nucleus”) is a somewhat more elaborate way of obtaining your bees.
Instead of shipping the bees in a simple box, a nuc can be thought of as a tiny hive (with only a
handful of frames—see later in this chapter under “Anatomy of a Hive”). A nuc has a small group
of workers, an established queen, and some brood. When it’s time to install the bees into their new
hive at your home, all that is required is the careful transfer of the nuc frames into a new empty
hive. Ta-da! You’re ready to go.
A nuc doesn’t get shipped through a parcel carrier; instead, you will need to visit the bee
breeder yourself. It can be difficult to locate a beekeeper who offers nucs, but if you can, it’s a
good option.

3. Complete hives. It is also possible to purchase an established functioning beehive from a breeder
or beekeeper. While this option has its merits—you are immediately in the beekeeping game with a
producing queen and plenty of workers—it usually isn’t recommended for the novice beekeeper.
For one thing, you will have to be immediately prepared to deal with the upkeep and care of a
large hive, without the benefit of the learning curve that you might otherwise obtain when starting
out small. There will also be a lot of bees in an established hive, which can be intimidating to
work with, and they may be a bit more aggressive than a newly established hive from a package or
For these reasons, we recommend you go for the package or nuc route.

Remember the old tongue twister, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck
could chuck wood?”
We’d like to offer this paraphrased version: “How many bees should a beekeeper keep if a
beekeeper could keep bees?” The answer to this question varies depending on your
circumstances; some commercial beekeepers keep hundreds of colonies in their bee yard (also
known as an apiary) while a backyard beekeeper might have only one hive. Obviously, most
beekeepers have somewhere between those two extremes, and that’s what we suggest for you.
For your first year of beekeeping, we recommend starting out with two or three hives. Most
beekeepers agree that starting with only one hive is not a good plan, as that leaves you without a
way to make comparisons of your hives whenever you wonder, “Is this normal behavior?” When
you have two or more hives, you’ll be able to manage your bees in a more effective manner, and
maintaining two hives is really not much more labor intensive than caring for one. Many
beekeepers cite the importance of being able to save a queenless hive when you have a second
hive. (If your first hive goes queenless, you can move a frame of brood into the queenless hive so
that they can raise another queen and continue. If you do not have a second hive, you would have
to either order a new queen or you lose the colony.)
The truth is, you’ll probably soon discover that two or three hives just isn’t enough, and you’ll
be trying to expand your bee yard as quickly as you can! In the minds of most beekeepers, the
more (bees), the merrier!

In the wild, bees will create a home and hive just about anywhere that’s cozy, dry, and defendable.
This could be inside a tree, or log, or even in the walls of an old house. However, these locations
don’t exactly lend themselves to easy access by a beekeeper! Instead, domesticated bees are
(generally) kept in manmade hives that are both easy to work with, easy to access, and comfortable
for the bees.
Hives can be purchased preassembled, or in a kit that requires your own skill to put together.
Another option, of course, is to build your own from scratch. If you’re ambitious and skilled in
woodworking, then this makes a terrific project! Check out the sidebar, “Build Your Own Beehive,”
on page 40 for all the details.
If you’re anxious to get going with your bees and aren’t particularly interested in building things,
then you’ll want to stick with the preassembled hives, which are available from many beekeeping
supply companies. We give the names of several of these companies in the appendix under
While a variety of different manmade hives have been used throughout history, in this book we’ll
be concentrating on the very common Langstroth hive, named after its patentee. Before the Langstroth
hive came into use during the mid-1800s, it was difficult for a beekeeper to retrieve honey at the end
of the summer—in fact it often resulted in the destruction of the colony. The Langstroth hive solved
these problems by allowing easy and undisruptive access to the bees, combs, brood, and honey. It
accomplishes these by the use of frames.

Honey bees can sometimes be found in the oddest places, such as inside the attic of an old building. You can see that this colony has built
comb and needs to be removed. It typically takes an experienced beekeeper to remove such a misplaced colony and such removal
probably shouldn’t be attempted by a beginner. Photos courtesy Colin and Renee Snook

Let’s take a quick walk-through of a standard Langstroth hive, so you will be able to identify each
part and understand its function. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up:
1. Stand and landing board. This is the very bottom of the hive, which is basically an empty square
with a small ramp built on the front . . . the ramp is there to give your bees a nice landing space and
an easy way to crawl back home after a hard day of visiting flowers.
2. Bottom board. The screened bottom board is just that—just a floor for the hive with little else to
3. Next we come to the actual hive boxes—the parts that really make up the bulk of your colony’s
home. The hive boxes have no floor and no ceilings—just walls. First we have the “deep” hive, or
the “brood” hive, as some people call it. Typically, this is the deepest box, and the one where the
queen will be living, along with her growing brood. A modest amount of honey may be kept down
the deep hive, but this honey is for the care and feeding of the hive population—it’s not honey you
will be harvesting.

4. The honey that you’ll be harvesting is kept up higher in the hive—in boxes called supers (which is
Latin for “above,” or, “higher”—as in “superior.”) Typically, supers are not as deep as brood
boxes. This is to keep them easier to handle—a box full of honey can be quite heavy. The bees
don’t care one way or another if the supers aren’t as deep as the brood box.
5. Above the supers comes the inner cover, which is a rather simple lid with an oval hole for
ventilation. This inner cover is, in turn, covered by the outer cover. Outer covers usually have a
tough exterior made of metal or copper. Simple outer covers are flat, but some hives have gabled
roofs to make them more attractive in your bee yard.
6. There is one more piece of the hive that we should talk about, and that is the entrance reducer.
This is a small, long,