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How to Start Beekeeping For Free
Beekeeping, which had been in decline for more than half a century, suddenly became popular again.
Honeybees have been in the news for all the wrong reasons: colony collapse, pesticide poisoning, and parasitic mites—and all of this bad news seems to have sparked an almost primitive desire in humans to want to help and nurture this vital insect that despite all our scientific achievements, we still do not fully understand, but we know that we cannot live without them.
For as long as I can remember, beekeepers have been viewed by the media as harmless, silly old men (mostly) who do mysterious things with strange wooden beehives while dressed in fashionably questionable clothing. However, this image is beginning to change as more women and young people are attracted to the idea of learning this ancient craft, and there is a new urgency in the air to preserve our bees for their important role as pollinators, as well as for their own sake.
When people first consider beekeeping, their most likely first port of call is their local beekeepers’ association. Here they will almost always find a friendly welcome and lots of technical chat between the ‘oldies’, which will mostly sound like a foreign language at first. When we translate the jargon, it turns out that buying a ticket to this mysterious world will cost a lot of money: glossy catalogs full of shiny equipment are tempting, but the accompanying price lists can come as a real shock.
Many reject the idea at this point.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s entirely possible to become a beekeeper—even a pretty good one—without blowing a good chunk of your hard-earned savings. In fact, as I’ll show you, you can even do it practically for free!
The next hurdle that a future custodian faces is the heavy weights they are expected to lift and carry. You need to be able to lift at least 50 pounds (about 25 kilograms) of your own weight off the floor using normal equipment – not something you should attempt if you’re light and not used to shifting in this class.
Again, it doesn’t have to be this way: I’m going to show you how the least capable person can become a beekeeper. In fact, using my system, I could even work hives from a wheelchair.
Another hurdle that can ruin a newbie’s enthusiasm is storage space. Using regular hives, you can’t afford to accumulate all kinds of “extras” – oddly shaped crates, frames, roofs, extractors – all kinds of things that the “oldies” forgot to mention at that first, exciting meeting – and you’ll need storage space . We’re talking garage space, folks. Again, I have good news: follow my system and you won’t need extra storage space, because you can store everything in the hives themselves.
So what does it really take to become a beekeeper?
Essentially, it’s simple enough: a beehive of some sort, a hat and veil, an old white shirt and – at least to start with – some gloves – and the agreement of the people who share your living space. It doesn’t matter if you are a city dweller or a country dweller, as long as the flowering plants are abundant and varied from early spring onwards. In fact, bees often feel better in urban areas with good gardens than in the ‘green desert’ of modern industrial farmland.
Like many new beekeepers, I started with a regular frame hive – the kind with outer boxes with slanted sides familiar from children’s books. I soon acquired a few more and began to realize that if I continued down this road I would have to build a large shed to store all the spare furniture and other paraphernalia that had quickly accumulated – and I would have to find a way to pay for all the ‘extras’ he would soon need.
At this point I asked myself – does it really have to be this way? – and this innocent question led me on a research mission of reading, studying and experimenting that showed me conclusively that no – it doesn’t have to be this way: beekeeping doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or dependent on machine-made parts and equipment.
My search for an alternative approach led me to the above hive – one of the oldest and simplest types of bee hive – which requires little skill and few tools to build. A good start on the road to sustainable simplicity, but is it a practical hive for modern beekeeping?
After a few years of experimenting and trying different designs, I believe I now have the ultimate hive design that is easy to build, practical and productive while being comfortable and easy to use for both the bees and the beekeeper.
So what are top bar hives?
The principle is simple: a box with sticks on top, to which the bees attach their comb. Mine have central, side entrances, sloped sides and a pair of ‘following boards’ that close off the colony. There are many variations on this theme and all have the essential guiding principle of simplicity of construction and management. No bezels, no nut extractors, no keys, no mouse guards, no supers, no foundations and no need for extractors, settling tanks, filters, cap removal knives… in fact no need for any other equipment or. storage space other than that available in the hive itself. And if you’ve just spent an hour flipping through supplier catalogs wondering how you can even afford beekeeping, this will be a relief!
Building a top bar hive is no more difficult than putting up shelves and can be done using hand tools and recycled wood. Top bar beekeeping really is “beekeeping for everyone” – including those with disabilities, backaches or an aversion to lifting boxes: there’s no heavy lifting once your hives are in place, as the honey is harvested one hour at a time. From the bees’ point of view, premium hives offer weatherproof shelter, the ability to create honeycombs of your own design – without the limitations of artificial wax foundations – and minimal disturbance thanks to a leave-it-well management style. .
So where do you get bees from?
You can buy them or catch them, or if you’re lucky, they’ll adopt you! Catching or luring a swarm is by far the most fun – and a lot easier than you think. Bees swarm in response to their reproductive drive – mostly in the spring and early summer – and the sight of a swarm during the year is certainly impressive. However, contrary to popular belief, that’s when you’re least likely to be stung: their only concern at that moment is finding a new place to live. So if you offer them the right type of accommodation at the right time – for example, a pleasant-smelling and comfortable beehive – they are very likely to move on their own. Many people become beekeepers by luring a passing swarm with a few drops of citronella oil or lemongrass oil, or better yet, by rubbing the inside of the hive with pure beeswax.
Catching a swarm isn’t difficult either – hold a basket or cardboard box under their football-sized cluster on a tree branch and give it a good shake! It’s not always that easy, but it’s rarely as difficult as getting a cat out of a tree.
If you think you want to keep bees, I suggest you first meet a local beekeeper who will be willing to let you visit and care for their bees. Most beekeeping societies have “meet the bee” days in the spring, which give newcomers a chance to see the inside of a hive and test their responses to the bee environment.
And dots? Yes, you will get stung from time to time, no matter how careful you are. Local swelling, redness and itching are normal reactions: fainting, difficulty breathing and collapse are true allergic symptoms and are potentially life-threatening. Most beekeepers eventually become less sensitive to stings, but sometimes the reverse is true, and occasionally an experienced beekeeper can suddenly become allergic. So if you have any reason to believe you are sensitive to bee venom (only one in 200 people are), be sure to have Benadryl or an Epipen (adrenaline injection) with you, or make sure the person you’re with is adequately equipped to deal with poison. necessity.
Whether you pursue it for conservation, entomology, crop pollination, or simply the love of honey, beekeeping is an interesting pursuit and a fascinating look into the natural world.
Bees are in trouble right now – from pesticides, industrial farming, pollution, parasitic mites and viruses – and we need all the “natural” beekeepers we can get to increase their numbers and give them a chance to solve their problems. So, if you want to keep bees, build your hive before the swarming season and you can already taste your honey by the end of summer!
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