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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.
Honey bees are in the news for all the wrong reasons: colony collapses, pesticide poisoning, parasitic mites—all of which seem to spark an almost primal desire to help and nurture this vitally important insect, Although we still don’t fully understand all of our scientific progress, we know we can’t live without it.
For as long as I can remember, beekeepers have been seen by the media as harmless, ramshackle old men (mostly) who do mysterious things with wooden boxes containing strange bees and wear questionable attire. However, this image is beginning to change, with more and more women and young people being drawn to the idea of learning this ancient craft, and a new urgency in the air to protect our bees as they The vital role of pollinators, and for their sake.
When people first consider beekeeping, the most likely first port of call is the local beekeepers association. Here, they are almost always greeted with a friendly welcome and plenty of technical exchanges among the “old hands”, much of which at first sounds like a foreign language. When the jargon is translated, it turns out that in order to buy a ticket into this mysterious world, it costs a fortune: the glossy catalog full of shiny equipment is fascinating, but the accompanying price list can be shocking.
Many people put off the idea at this point.
But it doesn’t have to be. It’s entirely possible to become a beekeeper — even a reasonably good one — without blowing through a chunk of your hard-earned savings. In fact, as I’ll show you, you can even do it for almost free!
The next hurdle for would-be beekeepers is the heavy loads one has to lift and carry. With traditional equipment, you’ll need to be able to lift at least 50 pounds of your own weight off the ground—if you’re light and not used to doing box moves on this course, you don’t need to try.
Again, that doesn’t have to be the case: I’m going to show you how the most unfit people can become beekeepers. In fact, with my system, you can even work from a wheelchair.
Another hurdle that can kill a newcomer’s enthusiasm is storage space. With traditional beehives, it’s impossible not to accumulate all kinds of “extras” – oddly shaped boxes, frames, roofs, extractors – all those “old hands” who forgot to mention in their first exciting meeting – you will need space to store it. Guys, we’re talking garage space. Once again I have good news: following my system, you won’t need any additional storage, since everything can be stored inside the hive.
So what does it really take to be a beekeeper?
The necessities are simple: some kind of hive, a hat and veil, an old white shirt and – at least at first – a pair of gloves – and the consent of the people you live with. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a town or country dweller, as long as there’s a rich and varied supply of flowering plants starting in early spring. In fact, bees tend to do better in well-gardened urban areas than in the “green deserts” of modern industrialized farmland.
Like many novice beekeepers, I started with a traditional framed hive—the kind with the sloping outer box familiar from children’s books. Soon enough, I bought some more and started to realize that if I was going to continue down this road, I would have to build myself a large shed to store all my spare woodwork and other rapidly accumulating utensils — and I’ll find a way to pay for all the “extras” I’ll need soon.
At this point I asked myself – is this really necessary? – This innocent question set me on an exploratory quest of reading, research, and experimentation, which ultimately told me, no – it doesn’t need to be like that: Beekeeping doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive, or dependent on machine-made parts and equipment.
My search for alternative methods led me to top bar beehives – one of the oldest and easiest types of beehives – which require very little skill and 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 testing various designs, I believe I now have a design for a top bar beehive that is easy to build, functional and efficient, while being comfortable and easy to use for both bees and beekeepers.
So what is a top bar hive?
The principle is simple: a box with a stick on top to which bees attach their combs. Mine has a central entry, side entry, sloping sides, and a pair of “follower boards” to surround the colony. There are many variations on this theme, all with basic guiding principles that simplify construction and management. No frames, no queen excluders, no ekes, no mouse guards, no super, no foundations, no extractors, settling tanks, filters, decapping knives… really no need for any other equipment or storage space, rather than the space provided by the hive itself. If you’ve just spent an hour poring through a supplier’s directory wondering how you can afford to keep bees, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief!
Building a top bar hive is no harder than putting up a shelf, and it can be done with hand tools and salvaged wood. Top bar beekeeping is truly “beekeeping for everyone” – including people with disabilities, backaches or those who don’t want to move boxes: once your hives are in place, there’s no heavy lifting as honey is once Harvested from a hive. From the bees’ point of view, top bar hives provide weatherproof shelter, the opportunity to build combs to their own designs – not limited by an artificial wax base – and minimal disturbance thanks to ‘keep out of the way’ management .
So where do you get bees?
You can buy or catch them, or if you’re lucky, they’ll adopt you! Capturing or luring a swarm of bees is by far the most fun — and a lot easier than you might think. Bees flock here according to their reproductive instincts – mainly in spring and early summer – and the sight of a swarm in flight is sure to be impressive. However, contrary to popular belief, this is when they are least likely to sting you: their only concern at this point is finding a new home. So if you provide them with the right housing at the right time – such as a pleasant-smelling, comfortable hive – they will most likely move in willingly. Many people lure passing swarms into becoming beekeepers by using a few drops of citronella or lemongrass oil, or better yet, rubbing the inside of the hive with pure beeswax.
Catching swarms isn’t hard either — put a basket or cardboard box under the football-sized swarm on a branch and give it a good shake! It’s not always easy, but rarely is it as difficult as rescuing a cat from a tree.
If you want to keep bees, I recommend getting to know a local beekeeper first who would be willing to let you visit and handle their bees. Most beekeeper associations host “Meet the Bees” events in the spring, giving newcomers a chance to see inside the hive and test their reactions to being surrounded by bees.
And stings? Yes, no matter how careful you are, you will get stung from time to time. Local swelling, redness, and itching are normal reactions: dizziness, difficulty breathing, and collapse are symptoms of a true allergy that can be life-threatening. Most beekeepers become less sensitive to stings over time, but sometimes the opposite is true, and experienced beekeepers can suddenly develop allergies. So if you have any reason to think you might be sensitive to bee venom (only one in 200 people is sensitive), be sure to bring Benadryl or Epipen (epinephrine injections) or make sure anyone traveling with you has the proper Equip for emergencies.
Whether you come from a conservation, entomology, crop pollination perspective, or simply a love of honey, beekeeping is a fascinating pursuit and a fascinating window into the natural world.
Bees are in trouble right now – from pesticides, industrial agriculture, pollution, parasitic mites and viruses – and we need all the ‘natural’ beekeepers we can get to increase their numbers and give them a solution to their problems Chance. So, if you want to keep bees, build yourself a hive before hive season and you’ll be tasting your own honey by the end of summer!
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