Beekeeping used to be a rather arcane and mostly male practice, handed down from father to son or neighbor to neighborhood kids. But these days, you can find out everything you need to know by firing up the ole Google.
You can buy everything you need online, including the bees themselves. And the public is better informed about the value of bees as pollinators, helping gain acceptance for bees in cities and the suburbs.
Even the White House is home to a beehive.
Honey will taste like the plants the bees visit while foraging, according to New York City College of Technology'sClaire Stewart. So your backyard honey will be a distillation of your neighborhood's unique floral mix. Although there's no scientific evidence of this, many people swear that eating a teaspoon of local honey each day prevents hay fever and pollen allergies.
Beekeeping is also easy and fun. You get to enjoy your personal herd of 30,000 or more bees without the hassle of shoveling manure. The swirling of bees as they circle around the hive entrance adds interest to the garden, and you can paint the wooden hive to make it even more decorative.
Now, in early spring, is the time to prepare for a new beehive. Here's what you need to know:
Location: People keep bees on roofs, balconies, and decks, as well as in yards and gardens. The ideal space is at least five feet by five feet, to allow room to work around the hive. The location should get sun and, ideally, face east so the bees wake up early and get to work. Although bee colonies are self-sufficient, you will want to open the hive a minimum of twice a year.
The neighbors: If you know and have a good relationship with your neighbors, consider talking to them before you install your colony. Also check with your city to see whether there are regulations prohibiting beekeeping or determining minimum distance from the hive to your property line.
Time commitment: As a friend told me, some people are beekeepers and some people have bees. Many beekeepers like to manage their hives by inspecting them as often as once a week. Others simply open the hives a couple of times a year to extract honey. So, this hobby can be as labor-intensive or mellow as you want.
Equipment: You should have all your equipment in advance of installing bees. This includes wooden boxes with frames that make up the beehive, and a veil or full bee suit to reduce stings. There are several online catalogs that sell supplies, and an increasing number of stores serving urban farmers. Be prepared to spend around $250 for your initial setup and one hive.
Learning: Taking a class or joining a bee club and attending meetings will help you and your bees get off to the best start.
Honey: The rule of thumb is that, for the first year while your colony is getting established, you shouldn't harvest honey. After that, you can harvest the hive's surplus, making sure that the colony has enough stores to last through the winter. Expect anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds of honey if your bees thrive.
Getting advice:The interest in urban and suburban farming has led to the formation and expansion of beekeepers' associations throughout the country. Even after you've read some books and perused online resources, nothing beats getting advice and help from more experienced beekeepers.