How to get started as a Beekeeper
Are you interested in keeping honey bees? Excellent! You might want to consider a few things first…
- Honey Bees are stinging insects.
Undisturbed, european honey bees tend to be gentle and manageable, but there are situations when the colony becomes agitated and the workers behave defensively. The protective equipment beekeepers use will prevent stings, but all beekeepers are stung eventually. Occasional stings are a part of the trade, a mild nuisance no different than splinters are to carpenters. As a new beekeeper, understand that you likely will get stung at some point, and the frequency depends on how well you use your protective gear and how gently you handle the bees.
**WARNING** Insect stings cause allergic reactions. For most people stings cause localized pain and swelling, but about 5% of people in the US are at risk of developing anaphylaxis after being stung. Anaphylaxis is a serious acute medical condition where the body has a severe allergic reaction that leads to cardiovascular distress or even death in severe cases. Anyone suffering from the condition should consider carefully their decision to become a beekeeper and should consult with a medical professional before starting.
- Do your homework.
The honey bee is the most widely studied insect. There is a tremendous wealth of knowledge about them, so much so, that deciding where to start can be overwhelming. There are numerous authors as well as a tremendous catalogue of videos and blogs that are available online, but many of these free resources have not been scrutinized scientifically and may be misleading. The Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program suggests starting first with recommended reading before exploring online videos and blogs. Also, many universities have apiculture programs and provide useful information to the public.
Recommended reading for new beekeepers:
- First Lessons in Beekeeping, Keith DeLaplane
- Beekeeping for Dummies, Howland Blackiston
- Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping, Dewey Caron
- The Beekeepers Handbook, 4th edition, Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile
- Subscribe to the Clemson Apiculture Facebook page and CAPPings newsletter.
On facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ClemsonApiculture/
Subscribe to CAPPings, our monthly email newsletter. (See left column of this webpage)
- Join a local beekeeper association.
South Carolina has a network of local beekeeper associations dispersed across the state. These groups meet regularly, often monthly, through the year and provide support, guidance and education for beekeepers. Many clubs have educational speakers and informational forums at their meetings. Some clubs have mentoring or onboarding programs for beginning beekeepers. Local associations offer training and certification courses for beginning beekeepers. To find a local beekeeper association, visit the SC Beekeepers Association website https://scstatebeekeepers.com/about/local-associations/.
- Take the Beginning Beekeeper Short Course.
The Beginning Beekeeper Short Course is developed by the South Carolina Beekeepers Association and taught by local clubs and associations. It provides classroom and field instruction on the basics of beekeeping. It covers honey bee biology, beekeeping history, equipment, honey and other hive products, pest and disease control, and other common colony management issues that beginning beekeepers will face in the first few seasons of keeping bees. For ambitious beekeepers, the short course is the first step in becoming a certified beekeeper in South Carolina.
- Apprentice with an experienced beekeeper before getting your own bees.
Beekeeping is a significant investment of time and money and requires dedication to be successful. Shadowing a practicing beekeeper is an excellent way to get a feel for the labor and expenses required to maintain an apiary. This will help a beginning beekeeper avoid costly mistakes and failures and determine if the investment is reasonable.
- It is better to not manage than to mismanage.
Managed honey bee colonies require attention. There are a number of pests and diseases that take advantage of weak colonies. Pests and diseases proliferate in poorly managed colonies and spread to surrounding colonies where they impair honey bee health across the region. Controlling pests and diseases in your apiary is good stewardship for honey bee health statewide and is the best way to be a good neighbor to your fellow beekeepers.
Beekeeping is a very rewarding passtime and occupation. Honey bees are dynamic creatures that intrigue inquiring minds. Honey bees provide services and produce products that make beekeeping a respectable and productive trade, and beekeepers find pleasure in working with bees. The Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program is happy to provide guidance for beekeepers of all levels, so please contact us if we can be of assistance.