Beginning Beekeeping

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 10:04pm

At the Rowe weekend, a number of people approached me about my experience now that I'm wrapping up my first year as a beekeeper.

Given the pace of the weekend, those discussions were rushed. And there were several folks I ended up not having time to talk to. So I thought I'd provide some helpful resources here for those considering getting into the practice.

Observations from a First Time Beekeeper

Last fall, I wrote up a summary of my reflections on beginning beekeeping as I completed my first honey harvest. It went surprisingly well, and I was amazed how fun and (relatively) easy it was to go from a knocking-kneed newbie -- sweating bullets as I poured all ten thousand of my new bees into their hive -- to smug veteran spreading freshly-harvested honey from his 'girls' onto a slice of toast.

Here's the money shot from the harvest:

I wrote the piece to be read by someone who was where I was the year before: curious what the strange art of beekeeping entailed, wondering if I could do it myself and wishing someone could de-mystify it for me a bit.

The gist of the article is: if I can do it, anybody can. Bees have been making honey for millions of years and don't really need all that much help from you to be good at it. You're just there to make sure favorable conditions are maintained.

So if you're in need of some inspiration or a confidence-booster that you can indeed succeed at this, start by reading this (it's a quick read):

The Basics of Beekeeping

Now, if you're ready to hop on the small-scale beekeeping bandwagon, you'll want to go through this primer written by reader apismillifera (the scientific name for "honeybee"):

The author is an experienced beekeeper. He does a great job of distilling down the major elements of the art, in a digestible and practical manner. Plus, he includes links to a number of useful resources that will help advance your knowledge or connect you with reliable suppliers.

After reading this, there will be few surprises for you once you receive your bees and start actually maintaining a hive.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

That said, as with every new pursuit, there are "unknown unknowns" you're vulnerable to.

The biggest one for me turned out to be: security of hive site location. I chose a location by a secluded creekside, positioning the hive high up on the bank, more than 15 feet above the creek level and well above the high water mark danger zone.

But this past year, we experienced extraordinary rains, and the creek jumped its banks - something it hasn't done since the 1990s. My hive was washed downstream and I was heartbroken. And I learned a valuable lesson: research your site's history and plan for the extreme cases to happen.

Read about my failure here (including this comment here announcing the disaster), and let it motivate you not be caught similarly unawares:

Like with many preparations, you'll find that picking the brains of experienced beekeepers will save you gobs of time by helping you avoid the mistakes they made as rookies. Most counties have a local bee guild - do a Google search for the closet one in your area and attend a meeting. It will be a very valuable resource of experienced advice. You'll likely find mentors willing to come over to your hive and walk you through the mechanics in your early days.

Good luck!

Hopefully you find these links useful. It's a great pastime and there are only good reasons for starting up keeping bees.

If you have questions not addressed here, feel free to email me or ask them in the comments below. I'll be thrilled if any of you decide to start your own hives in the near future.





DLClark91's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 4 2011
Posts: 14
Celebrate the Harvest


Your money shot of your harvest is very compelling!  Almost feel like a chump if I don't try this!


Doug's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3227

I want to buy another super or two for my hive.  On the Mann Lake website there is a variety of types of supers.  Are hives standard sized so that no matter which super I get it will fit?  There are 8 and 10 frame supers.  Are the outer dimensions of the supers all the same?  That is not clear on the site.  What features make the extraction of the frames and scraping of the honey off the frame easiest?

Thanks all,


robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 1242
8 frame

supers are more narrow and will not be able to "super" a 10 framer. we're converting our hives to 8frame foundationless or natural cell. our TBH's are of course already natural cell size.  robie

Doug's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3227

Thanks Robie.

By foundationless or natural cell, do you mean that there is just a bar and the comb develops without the plastic backing?  And, how is that an advantage?  The obvious to me after harvesting once is that you wouldn't have to scrape the combs off the plastic.  And, why do you prefer 8 frames?  Foregive my ignorance, I just ordered a book that will hopefully clear up a lot of this stuff.


robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 1242

and poor typist.  Yes, yes,no medium frames extract in a centrifuge fine, deeps are only used for brood(bees decide) some of my evidence points to hygenic behavior in a higher incidence when cells are small.

now these frames are in a langstroth without plastic or wax foundation. the bees have been drawing tjeir own comb for many thousands of years. TBH's are another matter hard to extract not as efficient in the cold, etc. JMHO. I have wax foundation,no foundation(langstroth) and TBH's. ask me next spring which is my favortie. now its natural cell in medium frame supers of 8 not 10 (winter better and bees don;t move horizontally as they do vertically.)


Robie  i think my daughter has some hive pictures here

apismellifera's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 8 2010
Posts: 61
Don't know how I missed this thread!

Just found this thread and have to jump in.  Adam, I'm glad that you took the plunge.  I somehow missed your original article last fall. It's very satisfying to start feeling at ease around ten or twenty thousand stinging insects.  Doug, natural cell beekeeping is anything done without foundation. Can be top-bar hives, or empty frames with comb guides.  My beginning beekeeping article that Adam mentions above mentions some reasons why some people feel foundationless is preferable. It's a surprisingly complicated story involving human interventions in the hive.

Eight frame hives hold regular frames of standard Langstroth dimensions, but only eight, instead of the usual ten.  Unless there is a very strong nectar flow, bees will often fail to build comb out on the extreme edges of the hive (frames 1 and 10 in a standard Langstroth hive). They tend to want to move up, rather than out.  As Robie said, the main disadvantage is that most people don't have 8-frame gear, so borrowing equipment or using existing ten-frame gear can be more difficult. I have always meant to get some eight-frame hives but somehow have never done so.

I'm getting two new packages of bees in a week, will try to post pics and an update on how my hives overwintered--not great, but neither was it a total loss.  First sign of spring for me is seeing an active hive at 50 degrees or so, with bright pollen coming on on the bees' rear legs.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 1242
this vid

last fall encouraged me to open my mind about small/natural cell in langstroth.  it is long. it was/is worth it.




Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments