Homemade Honey: How to Keep Bees in Your Own Backyard

There’s been a lot of buzz around backyard beekeeping recently. Here’s must-know info and helpful tips to help you enjoy this sweet pursuit!

Backyard Beekeeping

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How to Keep Bees

Backyard beekeeping has been on the rise in the last decade or so, with many folks doing what they can to help pollinators during tough times. Sadly, honeybees and other pollinator populations have been on a decline due to widespread pesticide use and loss of habitat among other reasons—some mysterious! Scientists are investigating whether increased cell phone use is a factor. Without these pollinators, we’re likely to lose roughly 70 percent of food crops worldwide. Having an apiary is an environmentally helpful hobby that yields sweet rewards in terms of homemade honey. You can’t just buy a bunch of bees and get busy, however—there are rules, risks, and research involved. So start clicking to learn the secrets of beekeeping success.

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Do your research.

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Beekeeping research

There are few topics as well covered and documented as beekeeping, so you should have no issue finding material to read. YouTube is also full of great video content. Do as much research as you can before you order your bees and thereafter as well. Even experienced beekeepers learn new things from their hives. Still, there are a few topics you should have a strong foundation in before your bees arrive.

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Order high-quality equipment.

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Beekeeping equipment

Beekeeping isn’t as expensive as hobbies like golf or boating, but there are varying grades of equipment. If you’re not building your own hive, purchase hive bodies with finger joints for extra strength. You can also buy equipment—such as the hive tool, gloves, and smoker—in a kit, so you don’t needn’t bother tracking down everything you need individually.

Related: These 10 Flowering Plants Boast the Biggest Blooms

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Find the best site for your new hive.

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Where to place your beehive

A hive doesn’t require a ton of space, but it’s best to provide bees an area to themselves, so designate a corner of the yard for them. They aren’t likely to bother children or pets unless provoked, so it needn’t be a huge lifestyle change for anyone.

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Pretty up your hive.

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Decorate your beehive

To make your hive can a focal point, paint your them in a fun color, staying away from dark shades that soak up heat from the sun. Include cool designs or pictures, which will help get kids and excited about their 30,000 new family members.

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Give the weed whacker a rest.

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Don't use weed whackers near bees

Before place your hives, roll some landscaping fabric on the ground to keep the weeds at bay and save yourself from clearing weeds around your hive. Bees don’t like weed whackers (especially gas powered ones), and pests use these tall grasses as highways into a hive.

Related: 8 Reasons Not to Use Pesticides in Your Yard and Garden

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Deter bees enemies.

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Bugs that eat bees

Bees have some natural enemies, but you can protect your apiary with some forethought. Cover the landscaping fabric you put down with cedar mulch to help repel pests like ants and spiders (ants will eat the honey, while the spiders will eat the bees). Yellow jackets also prey on honeybees: If one gets a taste of a weak hive’s honey and tells his buddies, that hives is as good as gone. Help your bees defend their hives with an entrance reducer, making it smaller and easier for guard bees to protect. Once the hive builds up its ranks, you can remove the reducer, as your bees will be better able to fend off yellow jackets.

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Thump the box.

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How to open box of bees

The first time you install a package of bees, you’ll probably be inclined to handle it like a powder keg at a fireworks show. Yet most experts agree that thumping the box on the ground a few times is necessary to harmlessly get bees away from the feeder can so you can install them safely. This may go against everything you learned about stinging insects but trust the pros.

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Give the weed eater a rest.

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Keep weeds for the bees

While bees get most of their pollen and nectar from trees, leaving some natural habitat in your yard is a great way to encourage a healthy hive. Many of the indigenous plants folks call weeds are actually extremely helpful for honeybees and other pollinators. If you can stand it, let some dandelion, milkweed, Joe Pye weed, and even poison ivy to grow here and there around your yard.

Related: Keep, Don't Kill: 9 Weeds to Welcome

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Let them be!

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How to care for bees

Newbies are notorious for bugging their bees! Yes, you’ll have to feed the insects every five days or so when you first get them, but every time that you dig into your hive to check the progress of their comb-building activity, you’re setting them back a day or two. A healthy colony won’t have trouble rebuilding, but weaker hives might not recover so well. Once your hive establishes itself, check on your bees for misaligned comb (known as cross-comb), pests, and to be sure that your queen is laying eggs, but only once every seven to 10 days.

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Resist honey greed.

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How much honey to leave bees for winter

Bees rely on their honey to make it through the winter. Honey’s thermal mass helps keep them warm, and they eat it when they can’t forage for pollen. A strong colony will make loads of honey, far more than they can consume over a winter. That said, you should resist the urge to take too much the first year. Keeping a frame or two for your family is acceptable, but leave the rest for the bees. If they don’t eat it all through the winter, you’re welcome to it in the spring.

Related: 12 Bugs You Should Never Kill

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Take heart if your bees don’t make it.

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Will my bees survive?

Despite your best efforts, there’s a chance that your bees won’t survive the winter. Even the most experienced beekeepers lose between 25 and 50 percent of their hives over the winter. Colony collapse is currently unexplained, and cold winters can be brutal on even a strong hive. If your bees don’t make it through the winter, clean out your hive and start again. On the bright side, you get to claim all the unused honey for your own.

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