Sometimes you make a decision to do a thing, and despite the rumbling in your brain about how it might be a crazy thing you're too stubborn not to do the thing. That's what getting bees was like. Once I'd decided I wanted bees, I was already following through -- hitting "Buy Now" on an order of 20,000 bees back in December before I even had a plan in place because I was told the bees would sell out for the next season if I didn't pre-order right then. That's not exactly true about the lack of a plan, because I did take a beekeeping class before online ordering thousands of bees. That seemed like the responsible thing to do. And that class was where I was really hooked. (Shout out to Tanya at Bee Friendly Austin who teaches hands-on Intro to Beekeeping classes). Here's me at bee class, sweating in my suit:
If you're thinking about getting bees, here were some crucial parts of my education:
- Take a beekeeping class. You'll get hands on experience inside a hive, where you can decide if it's something you're comfortable taking on.
- Join a local meetup group or club. I started attending the Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup every month. They even set me up with a Bee Mentor who can come over to help me when I'm in over my head (shoutout to Jean, who still picks up the phone everytime I call to ask "Is this normal?!"). And the Travis County Beekeepers Association also offers membership benefits. It's always good to feel like you're not all by yourself, so local groups are a great resource.
- Watch YouTube. I watch a video online almost anytime I'm doing something new with my hives, which is pretty much everytime since it's my first year. I'm big on The Fat Bee Man's channel. Just remember that every beekeeper does things differently and don't be intimidated by the variations of advice. Which brings me to...
- Don't Overthink It. Bees have been around for awhile. They've got their whole thing down pat.
- Finally, I read a couple of books. This one was VERY practical and it was easy to put the content into practice: The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. This one is thicker, and I won't lie, it makes a gorgeous coffee table book: The Beekeeper's Bible
I ordered my hives unassembled from Mann Lake. It wasn't more than a few hours work to put them together and paint them. Here's a before and after shot:
The actual bees came from BeeWeaver Apiaries, which lucky enough has a pickup site in Dripping Springs so I didn't have to get the bees through the mail. I got two packages (approximately 10,000 bees each) back in April for two hives. Here's a photo of their progress about a month after I got them, with larva at every stage visible:
I'd say they've been doing well. They didn't die or swarm, so points for that. I took a passive approach to beekeeping, not taking measures to expand the hives for maximum population and honey production. One of the hives has really rocked, and I'll get to harvest honey from it in the next week. The other is slow but steady, they seem healthy they just haven't put away half as much honey. This is the reason it's recommended newbies get two hives. It's helpful to be able to compare one to the other to gauge 'normal'.
Overall, this has been a pretty low maintenance endeavor. The most work is upfront -- getting an education, spending money on the stuff, and getting set up. Then it's about an hour a week maximum that I spend beekeeping. There have been ups and downs, which I'll list for you now:
DOWN'S (because bad news first, always):
- $$. The bees and their bee stuff ain't cheap. If you're handy or have more time on your hands to DIY, you can do it for less.
- Stings. Yeah, they suck. No amount of zen makes them not suck. I got a few on the chin through my veil and looked like a James Van Der Beek/Jay Leno mashup. Even Ryan gasped at my monster neck.
- Bee loss / things going wrong. Halfway through this summer one of my hives got very cranky, or 'HOT' as they say in the biz. I could not get one minute into an inspection without them attacking me (yes I always wear a bee suit and I still got stung a bunch). This was about as bad as it got for me, but others have had their bees swarm, spontaneously die, or just not really thrive this season. All of that sucks.
- The gratification of doing something challenging/scary.
- Learning about bees and being constantly amazed at them.
- Doing good for the bees & for nature.
- Meeting other hobby beekeepers, who are a cool bunch of folk.
- Having your friends think you are cool.
Beekeeping has been one of the coolest experiences, and worth every challenge. Now is a perfect time to start reading up or taking a class if you're thinking about getting bees next season (you typically start a new hive in the spring). That way, if you take a class you'll be able to see some action inside a hive before they go to bed for the winter.
I'm working on some videos, and plan on capturing the honey harvest process next week. More beekeeping content to come!