Backyard Beekeeping: Getting Started

Backyard beekeeping how getting started in your own backyard can be so much fun!

I’ll never forget the first day I decided to become a beekeeper- I had just attended a half day Beekeeping 101 seminar given by James and Cheri Elam of Bluebonnet Beekeeping in Conroe.  I came home brimming with knowledge and excitement about these tiny insects that had always fascinated, but mostly frightened me my whole life. Backyard beekeeping how getting started in your own backyard!

“We’re gonna get bees!” I told my incredulous husband, KHOU Meteorologist David Paul,  who had probably hoped the half day seminar would only serve to overwhelm my growing curiosity.  

“Where in the world are we going to put them?” he asked. “How are we going to take care of them? We live in a subdivision with kids and dogs and cats!”

The reality is, I quickly learned, backyard beekeeping is not only possible, it is a very natural and an efficient place to nurture bees.  Our backyard is particularly suited as our property backs up to the White Oak bayou water shed which is really just a ravine with shallow water that runs year-round.  Something is always blooming in the creek and the bees love the sloping shoreline for gathering water to bring back to the hive.  Because bees forage for pollen and nectar in a 3-5 mile radius around their hive, our neighborhood’s landscaped yards help provide a constant flow of resources.  The bees would leave their little home and immediately fly about twenty feet high over the fence and were gone.  Bees don’t swarm around their hive so there is no danger to kids or dogs as long as they don’t hang out by the hive swinging sticks.  

We placed our bee hive about two feet from a backyard fence facing east so the warm sun would hit the hive first thing and they could start their foraging day.  The fence acts as a wind break and a nearby tree keeps the hive cool in the hot summer months.  

The day I picked up my nucleus box from Bluebonnet Beekeeping felt like bringing a newborn home from the hospital, a newborn that if unsealed, could kill you.  The cardboard box sat like a caged tiger in the backseat of my truck and I drove home more carefully than I ever have driven anywhere. The nucleus, or nuc, is a small version of a normal beehive containing five frames with a mated queen and enough worker bees in various stages of their life cycle to cover the frames.  Beekeepers install the nuc into a larger ten frame hive.

I placed the nuc box on the lid of the hive I had already set up at home and opened the entrance expecting a cloud of bees to attack me.  I had suited up and lit my smoker but instead they lazily poked their little heads out and buzzed around the box in slow figure 8 patterns, calibrating their internal GPS so after foraging they could find their way into their home again.  Bees are amazingly exact with their ability to find their home.  If you move a hive 3 feet in any direction during the day, bees returning from foraging will circle the original location until they starve to death. 

I installed the frames into the wood hive box and said a little prayer that my baby hive would like its new surroundings.  One of my favorite activities became taking my morning coffee out to the hive and watching bees fly in and out with their pollen baskets on their hind legs filled with pollen of every color…white, red, orange, yellow, even black. When you see that amount of pollen going into a hive it’s a good sign because it means the hive is “queen right”; the queen is happily laying her 2,000 eggs a day and the workers are using that pollen to feed baby bees “bee bread”. In other words, your hive is growing and you are about to need another brood box on top to grow the worker population to an optimal double brood box hive containing 25,000- 40,000 bees per box.   That’s when the magic happens, because a filled double brood box hive is ready for a honey super box to be put on top.  A honey super isn’t as deep as a brood box and it basically serves as a warehouse for honey bees to store honey in the ten frames after they have already filled the vital brood box honey frames that will keep the hive alive over the winter months.    

I needn’t have worried.  Apparently, my yard is bee nirvana. The first year we harvested 80 pounds of the most amazing honey and honeycomb I ever tasted and we experienced very few stings.  In fact, the only time my ladies stung me (workers are all female and only they have stingers) was when I had screwed up in some way, skipped the smoke, poked my nose too close when they were agitated or allowed their sugar water to run dry when they were really hungry in the spring.  

Honey bees visit and pollinate 5,000 flowers per day.  Bees are so important–some crops like watermelon require seven visits by bees to properly pollinate.  A one-pound jar of honey requires bees to visit 2 million flowers.  So what are you waiting for? Buzz into beekeeping this year and enjoy a pet that finally pays you back and helps the planet at the same time!

Bee Factoids: The Heroes of Our Planet 

  • One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination.
  • The value of bee pollination worldwide is estimated at over $125 billion. In the United States, pollination contributes $20–$30 billion in agricultural production annually. 
  • Bees fly an average of 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey, but they don’t know how to make honey when they are born. They learn it in the hive.
  • Honey is the only foodstuff that contains all of the necessary nutrients to sustain life
  • Bee honeycombs are perfect hexagons, each angle at 120 degrees. 

Resources:

Outfit your apiary: texasbeesupply.com

  • Cost to get started:
  • Classes and books:  $150 
  • Beehive @ $250
  • Bee suit/gloves: $240
  • Smoker/tools: @ $120

By: Miranda Sevcik