THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO
AND DANIEL JOHNSON
Getting to Know Your Bees
Starting Out as a Beekeeper
Installing Bees and Routine Care
Pests, Diseases, and Problems
Sweet Rewards: Honey!
Marketing Your Hive Products
Having Fun with Your Bees
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As bees in early summer swarm apace
Through flowery fields, when forth from dale and dell
They lead the full-grown offspring of the race,
Or with liquid honey store each cell
And make the teeming hive with nectarous sweets to swell.
These ease the comers of their loads, those
Drive the drones afar. The busy work each plies
And sweet with thyme and honey smells the hive.
—VIRGIL’S AENEID, BOOK 1
Welcome to the world of beekeeping! We’re excited that you’ve decided to explore this enjoyable,
fascinating, and potentially tasty hobby. Our hope in writing this book is that bee-ginning beekeepers
will find some helpful tips for getting started, that more advanced beekeepers will pick up some new
ideas and further their knowledge, and that everyone will have some fun along the way. We’ll do our
best to tell you everything you need to know in order to successfully raise a hive, harvest honey, and
be a part of this rapidly growing community of beekeepers. And we’ll do our best not to overwhelm
you with bee humor and puns (although restraining ourselves will bee hard to do!).
So why keep bees? Beekeeping interests people for many different reasons, but here are a few of
1. Bees make honey! This one is pretty obvious. There is nothing like the satisfaction of enjoying the
sweet produce of your hives.
2. Bees make beeswax. Bees make more than just honey, you know! Additional products from your
hive include beeswax and pollen, which—along with your honey—can be used to make a wide
variety of products from candles to soaps. We’ll discuss all of this in greater detail later on.
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and the number of beekeepers in the United States is increasing. It is becoming more and more
popular in urban locations as well as remaining very important in our rural areas.
• The top honey-producing state is North Dakota.
• To produce a single pound of honey, bees must visit as many as two million flowers and
travel an accumulated distance of 50,000 miles.
• A colony of bees can contain as many as 60,000 bees.
• In her lifetime, an average female honey bee can fly a distance equal to going 1 1/2 times
around the earth.
• According to a USDA estimate, cited by the National Honey Board, bees are responsible
for 80 percent of insect crop pollination in the United States.
• Bees fly approximately 15 miles per hour.
For many people, the best part of raising bees is the harvest of honey.
In addition to pollination and honey, beeswax is another wonderful benefit of raising bees—it’s an immensely useful product in a number
3. Bees are fascinating. Really, until you’ve spent some time observing the habits of these little
creatures, you won’t appreciate how truly amazing they are, from their organization to their
socialization. You’ll witness the life cycle of the bees, from egg to adult, as well as their fantastic
4. Bees aid farmers and gardeners. While in the process of travelling from flower to flower
collecting nectar and pollen, bees boost the productivity of fruits, vegetables, and crops. If you
have a garden, keeping bees may be an excellent parallel project.
5. Bees can be kept almost anywhere. Even in locations where it is impossible for you to own any
other kind of livestock, you may still be able to keep bees and find a compact outlet for your “inner
The most sought-after and bestselling item for most beekeepers is the honey their bees produce. It’s very satisfying to care for your
hives over the year and then be able to harvest the honey at summer’s end.
You may have some questions or concerns about this beekeeping idea of yours. Let’s see if we can
help clarify some issues and perhaps ease some of your concerns.
1. “I’m worried about getting stung—maybe a lot!” While the possibility exists that you will
receive a sting or two over the course of your beekeeping gig, this usually is not a particularly
serious concern. Unlike certain wasps or hornets, which can be aggressive depending on the
circumstances, honey bees are generally passive creatures that will only sting as a “last resort” to
protect the hive. A worker honey bee that is out collecting pollen will almost never sting, because
it is not worried about defending the hive. Even those bees that are inside or nearby the hive will
have to perceive a considerable threat before they will begin to sting. As long as you do your
homework and are gentle and careful while working among your bees, frequent stings should not be
an issue for you. (In some circumstances, a bee sting can be serious; see the sidebar “Bee Careful”
on page 9.)
2. “I’m worried that this is going to be a lot of work—I didn’t get into beekeeping to do
something hard!” We’ll be honest: beekeeping is, to some extent, hard work, but the work is
different than caring for, say, a dog or cat or horse. Bees do not require repetitive chores on a daily
basis. Bees don’t have to be fed twice a day, or walked on a leash—they don’t even need to be
inspected every day. While a schedule is a good idea so that you don’t fall too far behind or miss
something important, your schedule can be loose and adaptable to your lifestyle. The times of
heavier work occur during the initial spring hive setup (which may only have to be done once), the
honey harvest, and some general preparations in spring and fall. Overall, if you’re looking for a
rewarding project that doesn’t require you to conform to a rigid schedule, keeping bees may be just
the thing you’re looking for.
3. “What will my neighbors think?” It’s possible that nearby neighbors may be (understandably)
apprehensive about your new hobby—but that is only because they are probably just thinking of
“bees” as some vicious group of stinging bugs, bent on seeking their next victim. You’ll just need
to reassure these concerned souls that a foraging honey bee is only concerned with collecting
nectar and pollen (and, incidentally, you could point out, pollinating the neighbor’s plants!) and
does not pose a significant threat. You could even invite the neighbors to watch you work with the
hives so they can gain firsthand experience with the naturally gentle behavior of your honey bees.
And, of course, a complementary bottle of honey or two can go a long way toward making your
neighbors view beekeeping in a positive light!
4. “What if I goof up?” While we certainly hope this doesn’t happen, mistakes in an uncertain world
are always possible. To that end, we’ll do everything we can to keep the instructions in this book
clear and concise. However, if something does go wrong—if one of your colonies of bees does not
survive the winter, for instance—try not to be discouraged. You can always try again next spring—
and you’ll be a wiser and more experienced beekeeper. On the other hand, there really is no one
right way to keep bees . . . there are as many methods and options as there are individual
beekeepers. So do your research, learn from your bees, and be the best beekeeper you can bee!
So, what are you waiting for? The world of beekeeping awaits!
The tremendous trifecta of bounty from the hive: pollen, beeswax, and honey!
A few tomato blossoms await pollination. Although tomato blossoms are usually pollinated by air movement, bees can be very helpful to
ensure successful pollination
And the after-effects of the successful pollination. Gardeners everywhere should be thankful for honey bees.
Even the youngest bee enthusiasts can enjoy watching and learning about our friends in the hive. Protective beekeeping gear is always
important, especially for youngsters.
As with the care of many types of animals, you may find yourself looking for help and advice
beyond what you can find through books and research. While a list of resources and websites can
be found at the back of this book, and while we will attempt to cover as much common
information as we can, you will probably enjoy the advice and company of a local beekeeper—
should you be lucky enough to have one in your area. Beekeeping clubs can be a terrific way to
meet other fellow beekeepers and ask specific questions that you may have.
This hive may look quiet from the outside, but inside it’s a-buzz with activity!
We don’t want you to move about in a perpetual state of fear that something bad will happen
while you work with your bees, because generally speaking, beekeeping is a safe hobby that you
can participate in without incident. As we discussed on page 7 (“Beekeeping Concerns”), bee
stings are not nearly as frightening as many people believe. However, we do want to caution you
on one thing: some people are severely allergic to honey bee stings and such a sting can
potentially cause anaphylactic shock in these individuals. The good news is that the majority of
people will never experience any trouble after being stung. But if you are an allergic individual,
then beekeeping is probably not a hobby that you will want to pursue. Your health and well-being
are much more important.
The Indians with surprise found the mouldering trees of their forests suddenly teeming with
ambrosial sweet; and nothing, I am told, can exceed the greedy relish with which they
banquet for the first time upon this unbought luxury of the wilderness.
In this chapter, we’ll begin to learn about the bees themselves. It’s important that you get to know the
lifestyle and behaviors of these fascinating creatures before you actually jump in and start working
with them. We’ll also cover a brief history of beekeeping—did you know that you’re about to share in
an endeavor that is thousands of years old?
This is a busy group of worker bees! Their responsibilities are varied, but include capping the honey cells once the honey is dry enough to
Beekeepers throughout the ages have enjoyed working with bees and harvesting honey, along with collecting wax, pollen, and propolis to
use or sell.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BEEKEEPING
The lure of honey seems to have always been a strong incentive to people of all backgrounds across
many cultures. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Israelites, and Romans are all known to have
tended bees in locations as diverse as Africa, Europe, and Asia. The ancient Maya also kept a variety
of stingless (albeit less prolific) bees in Central America. But the bees we know and use today in
North America are descendants of Western honey bees, which were developed in Europe and carried
across the ocean by American colonists. Even prior to the 1700s, established beehives were already
in place across New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
One problem that beekeepers faced throughout all these times was that there wasn’t a good way of
harvesting the honey. Harvesting could involve the destruction of all or part of the hive depending on
the type of hive used. Smoking the hives with sulfur was also sometimes used to kill the entire colony
of bees, which would leave the physical hive intact but result in the destruction of all the bees.
All of this changed in the mid-1800s, when L. L. Langstroth of Pennsylvania developed a new
style of beehive, which is still in use today. The Langstroth hive is special because it is made of
individual components that can be easily taken apart and examined without upsetting the bees or
destroying their work. The bees in this kind of hive build their combs and store their honey on a
series of movable frames, which can be easily and nondestructively removed when it’s time to
Today, beekeeping means different things to different people. For some it’s a business (of both
honey collection and professional crop pollination services), but for many others it’s a lovely,
enjoyable hobby that can give a lifetime of pleasure. Throughout this book we hope to share some
knowledge that will help you achieve that pleasure.
The Langstroth hive design, developed in the 19th century, revolutionized beekeeping and is still the most popular hive design among
beekeepers. Two other types include the top bar hive and the Warré hive, with the top bar hive gaining in popularity with organic
ALL ABOUT BEES
MEMBERS OF THE HIVE
A beehive is made up of three distinct types of bees:
3. The Queen
Let’s take a look at each type individually:
Worker bees are female bees that typically do not lay eggs. They do, however, tend to the queen,
tend to the nursery of young bees, build comb, store food, and fly miles and miles and miles from
flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar. Wow! When people talk about “busy bees” they surely
must mean the workers. Worker bees also have glands in their abdomen that produce wax, as well as
glands in their heads that are capable of producing royal jelly, which is a nutrient-rich substance used
to feed larvae (baby bees!).
The queen is usually the only egg-laying female in the hive. For this reason, the queen is given
special treatment from the rest of the workers. She is fed, tended, and protected by the workers. In
exchange for their care, the queen supplies the hive with the eggs needed to sustain a healthy, working
colony. The queen is the largest bee in the hive, with a slender, elegant body—considerably larger
than that of a worker bee. There are only two times when there might be more than one egg-laying
female. One is when the main queen is aging and the hive is considering producing a replacement
(known as supersedure). The other time is when the queen has died, and confused worker bees begin
laying eggs. If you have laying worker bees (manifested by a sudden increase in the number of drones
in the hive, or multiple eggs laid in one cell), then you have no queen and you’ll need to take action to
Before a queen can lay eggs however, she must take to the skies and perform a mating flight with
several drone bees, discussed next.
HONEY BEE ANATOMY
As an up-and-coming beekeeper, it might do you good to take a closer look at the anatomy of our
Honey bees are insects, of course, and like all insects, they have bodies that can be classified
into three broad regions:
1. The head, which contains the bee’s mouth, eyes, brain, and antennae.
2. The thorax, a middle section with three pairs of legs.
3. The abdomen, which contains some of the bee’s internal organs and the stinger if the bee is a
Drones are male bees. They have a slightly different build than the workers, with a generally
larger body and significantly larger eyes to aid in the location of a flying queen. The drones fly with
new queen bees and mate with her, but do not contribute to the hive otherwise. You won’t see drones
out collecting pollen, since their legs have no pollen baskets, and you won’t see them defending the
hive—drones don’t have a stinger! They cannot produce wax for building, either. Still, they are
essential to the lives of bees, and a healthy colony in mid-summer might be home to 1,000 drones.
The individual, removable frames in the Langstroth hive make it easier to access the hive for inspection and make it possible to harvest
honey without damaging the entire hive.
A colony of bees contains three distinctly different bee types: the queen, the drones, and the ever-hardworking, multitalented, and
multitasking worker bees. They each have very different roles and responsibilities in the hive. The worker bee in the smallest, the drone
is larger and wider and the queen is the largest and most beautiful—or so say many beekeepers. Illustration courtesy Emily F.