About six years ago our son (who was 12 at the time) told us he wanted to start keeping bees. Beekeeping was something we were interested in starting and this was just the push we needed to get the ball rolling. To prepare, we spent the next year or so reading and learning how to set up a backyard apiary with our son. A friend who is also a beekeeper became our son’s beekeeping mentor.
3 Questions to Ask Before Setting up a Backyard Apiary
1. Our first question that needed to be answered was, “Is beekeeping legal in our area?” Fortunately, we live outside the city limits on 1.5 acres. Our county doesn’t have any laws or ordinances for beekeeping so we just needed to make sure that we knew and followed our state laws. To find out what laws and ordinances there are in your area for raising bees you can call your local county extension agent or your city’s animal control department.
2. Next we looked at our property to decide where to put the apiary. We knew we wanted the apiary to be away from the house and as far away as possible from our neighbors. Since we have such hot summers we also needed a place that would provide some shade for the bees. We found the perfect space at the end of our chicken run. When you’re evaluating your property, make sure you take your climate into consideration. If you have hot summers, you will need to provide some shade for your bees. If you have very cold winters you might need to think about how you can provide a wind break for them.
3. Another question we needed to answer was, “Do we have enough food for the bees?” One of our goals as a family is to be as sustainable as possible. So we certainly didn’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we needed to feed our bees syrup and pollen patties all the time. Of course, our property didn’t need to provide all that the bees needed since they will forage up to two miles away. But we were also experiencing a drought at the time which made the wildflowers and crops more scarce than usual. Because of this, we decided to just start with two hives. If you live in an urban area, the food issue will naturally limit the number of hives your property can support. If you live in a rural area with a lot of gardens and farms, your property can support more hives.
Now that we knew how to raise bees and were confident that our property could support a few hives it was time for us to actually start beekeeping.
Finding Beekeeping Supplies
A local friend who is also a beekeeper offered to give our son one of his hives. It was a very generous thing to do. He gave our son a deep with a thriving hive. Another friend who is a woodworker built our son a topbar hive and gave it to him as a gift for his second hive.
It was interesting to see how excited friends were for our son’s new adventure. A third friend, whose dad used to keep bees, gave our son her dad’s old beesuit and veil. This was a good lesson for us — there are many older beekeepers that have beekeeping supplies stored away because no one in their family wants to keep bees. A few months later we were able to find an older beekeeper that was willing to sell our son an extractor, several deeps and supers and a smoker for a very reasonable price.
Starting beekeeping is an investment but it doesn’t have to be super expensive. There are many places to buy beekeeping equipment but I’m going to encourage you to first ask around and try to find used equipment. Some good places to ask are your local county extension office and antique stores. As long as the equipment is clean and in good condition there should not be any problem with using it in your apiary, especially if it’s been several years since it’s been used.
We also needed another set of bees. We ordered bees in the spring and installed them in the topbar hive. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about acquiring bees and what works for us. One of the things we’ve learned is that feral bees are hardier than bought bees and that works better for us. Other beekeepers in our area don’t agree with keeping feral bees in their apiary and so packaged bees work better for them. In the spring our son gets weekly calls asking him to come get a swarm off of someone’s property. Sometimes these swarms end up in our apiary and the rest are relocated to other local apiaries. We never planned on having our apiary full of feral beehives. Plans are great, but we’ve found that they often need to be adjusted. You’ll need to decide for yourself where you get your bees but at least consider catching a swarm and relocating it.
Beekeeping has been an extremely rewarding, although sometimes frustrating, adventure for our family. It’s fun to go out to the bee yard and check out the bees. The honey is wonderful and the beeswax is useful in many ways. With some planning, most families can have a backyard apiary.
Do you have suggestions or questions for how to set up a backyard apiary? If so, leave them in the comments below.