Bees serve an important role in pollinating our gardens, helping flowers grow and regrow, helping trees to bear fruit and crops to yield food. However, homeowners looking to venture into beekeeping have a lot to think about long before any potential honey harvest. The checklist includes acquiring the right equipment, access to good sources for food and water, investigating the use of pesticides by neighbors, and many additional considerations.
James M. Wilson, beekeeping expert for Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension, has plenty of tips to offer about starting up and tending to a personal beehive.
Q: How can homeowners know whether beekeeping is right for them?
“The best way to determine whether to keep bees is to meet with beekeepers at an organizational meeting, not just at the farmer’s market where they are hoping to sell their honey. Local, regional, and state beekeeper associations hold meetings that cover a great deal of topics on bees and bee products. Ask about or listen to the challenges of keeping bees, because when they arise, they can be formidable. It may be that keeping a native bee house or nest in your yard might be more of what you are looking for in terms of pollination or curiosity.”
Q: Why might a homeowner want to try beekeeping?
“If you are interested in serious pollination benefits and a sweet taste of honey as a payoff, honeybees are a great place to get started. Being a beekeeper requires optimism that you and your bees can succeed, stubbornness to work through the challenges, and some realism to know that you will at times need to make some tough decisions about your bees. The rewards often do pay off, but they may not come as soon as you think.”
Q: Is every yard suitable for beekeeping?
“When we look at our surroundings like a bee would, we can see just how different, and at times how inhospitable, the designed world of green grass lawns with few flowers can be. Location is one of your top priorities when you are trying to get started keeping bees. Important factors include early morning sun in the spring, windbreaks, good air and water drainage, and nearby forage and water sources. Also, think about what having more bees in your area will look like — will you have to redirect them from foraging in a popular public park?”
Q: What does a homeowner need to get started?
“In addition to the resources provided by beekeeping associations, bee supply companies sell the basic kits of hive components, personal protective equipment, and some not-so-light reading to get folks started. We want to make sure that we are setting the bees up for success, so having equipment assembled, painted, and a location prepped will help you to install your new package or nucleus colony of bees and let them get right to work. They have a big job to do to get ready for their first winter, so we do not want to slow them down at all.”
James W. Wilson, apiculturist for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, works with growers, gardeners, naturalists, beekeepers, educators, and Extension Agents throughout the Commonwealth. He also teaches classes on bees and insects at Virginia Tech, maintains the university’s research and teaching beehives, and advises the student Beekeepers club. For even more information, follow the Bee Group at VT on Facebook.