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Backyard Beekeeping [Complete Guide for Beginners]

You may wonder why I’ve dedicated an entire guide to something as simple as a bee and how to start your journey into backyard beekeeping.

I’ve talked about my love of multitasking animals here before, and honey bees are some of the best. Obviously, they’ll provide you with the liquid gold we know as honey, but they can offer much more to your homestead (big or small).

This guide will give you all the information and tell you about the equipment you’ll need to start beekeeping in your backyard and send you on your path to becoming an apiculture pro. 

I’ll also teach you about seasonal care of your bees, what kind of bees to get, how to harvest honey, and how to understand your hive. Then, I’ll share some of my favorite backyard beekeeping books with you so you can get a strong start on your beekeeping adventures!

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Beekeeping In Your Backyard

the benefits of backyard beekeeping
Backyard beekeeping is a fantastic way to produce bee products, pollinate your plants, and give back to the environment.

As with anything, backyard beekeeping has pros and cons that you might want to consider before you start.

The Benefits of Backyard Beekeeping

Keeping bees is a fun and profitable venture, and it has many advantages:

  • Bees are profitable and productive. Bees will pollinate your plants, provide beeswax for countless uses, and give you unique and healthy byproducts like bee pollen and propolis.
  • Once you have a hive and beekeeping equipment, you won’t need to spend much money. Although beekeeping can have a steep initial investment, it tends to be a one-time cost. With proper maintenance, your hive and equipment can last you for years.
  • Bees are low-maintenance. Bees are wonderfully self-sufficient for the most part. Compared to other animals, they require very little space and attention, making them fit for backyard beekeeping or urban farms and homesteads.

Something I need to mention before we dive into things is that local-beekeeping associations are all over and are an amazing resource. Having a community of people to ask for advice and bond with can make starting beekeeping much more fun than it would be if you were doing it alone.

To become familiar with and get acquainted with your local apiculture community, look at this directory to find ones near you. 

The Potential Drawbacks of Backyard Beekeeping

Anytime I start my planning and preparation for any animal, I like to look at my pros/cons right off the bat. Although there are few, honey bees have some potential drawbacks. 

  • “Bee traffic.” Bee traffic is a term used to describe the movement of bees around their hive. A typical colony contains a few thousand to sixty thousand insects, so they’ll need flying room. A good rule of thumb is to give each of your hives a 5-10 ft radius, but expect a high number of bees that will greatly exceed that. If you have kids, pets, or fearful neighbors, this is definitely something you’ll need to be aware of. 
  • The initial investment can be steep for some people. As I mentioned, once you’ve started beekeeping, established your hives, and gotten all your beekeeping equipment, bees cost little money to care for. Generally, bees only cost between $20-$200 a year. However, that initial investment can get pretty steep. Depending on what kind of bees, hives, and beekeeping equipment you buy, you can expect your initial investment to cost anywhere from $200-$2,000. 
  • Honey harvesting is an ordeal! Depending on the number of hives you keep and how many harvests you plan per year (one or two), honey harvesting is quite the project. You’ll need to set aside at least a few days per harvest to extract and jar everything up. 

Beekeeping Equipment and Supplies to Start Beekeeping

OK, we’ve gotten through our small list of potential downsides, and you’ve still decided that you want to start beekeeping (I commend this decision).

I highly recommend that you collect all your beekeeping equipment before your bees arrive.  So many times, I’ve seen eager beginner animal keepers acquire creatures before necessary preparations are made.

I’ve put together an in-depth look at everything you’ll need to prepare for the best backyard beekeeping experience! I’ve broken this list up into the beekeeping equipment you’ll need for the bees, yourself, and for your honey-harvesting when you are just starting.

Much of this equipment can be purchased as a beekeeping starter kit.

Backyard Beekeeping Equipment for the Bees

Beekeeping requires some relatively specialized equipment to start. Take a look at this list for everything you will need in regards to your bees themselves. 

Backyard Beekeeping Equipment for You

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should never be ignored when you start beekeeping.

Although honey bees are generally very docile, you will be invading their homes which can provoke some understandable stings. Take a look at the following beekeeping equipment you should get:

Backyard Beekeeping Equipment for Honey Harvesting

Honey harvesting can be quite an undertaking, but it can be made easier by having the appropriate beekeeping equipment.

Don’t wait until you’ve pulled out your honey-filled frames to realize that you don’t have any way to extract the honey from them. Get your honey harvesting before you’ve started beekeeping, and you’ll be grateful later:

*Note on honey extractors: These pieces of beekeeping equipment can be pricey, $80-$200 range. Often, your local beekeeping association or other local beekeepers will let you rent or borrow extractors* 

Bee Hives for Backyard Beekeeping

The wide, wide world of beehives… It can get technical, jargon-filled, and confusing for beginner beekeepers. However, bee hives are arguably the most important equipment you’ll need to start beekeeping in your backyard.

I’ve done my best to put together a guide on the terminology, types of hives, and pros-cons for each to help guide you through your quest in how to become a beekeeper in your backyard! 

A Note On “Bee-space”

In your upcoming research on hives, the term “bee-space” will be widely used and little explained. This term is important for you to have at least an elementary understanding of because it affects how your bees move and function within their hives.

At its most rudimentary, bee space refers to how much room your bees need to move around within their living quarters. The term was coined by Lorenzo Langstroth, long considered the father of modern beekeeping, who discovered that bees need between ⅜-¼ of an inch of room to maneuver around their hives.

In hives without this range of room, the bees will fill small spaces with propolis or build excess comb in the larger spaces. As you’ll see, hives on the market today will each have their bee-space dimensions listed, and very few of them are the same as the last. 

Langstroth Hives

The Langstroth Hive is the quintessential beehive, and it’s what most beginners end up with. The design of these hives includes hanging and removable frames (with ⅜-¼ inch spacing) within rectangular wooden boxes.

These boxes (also called “Supers”) can be purchased in three depths: deep, medium, and shallow; and connect to each other in a modular fashion.

The ability to choose the number and depth of boxes makes the Langstroth Hive extremely customizable.

These hives were named after their creator, the aforementioned Lorenzo Langstroth. You can build your own Langstroth beehive too!

Langstroth Hive Pros:
  • Easily customized
  • User friendly
  • Standardized parts and sizing
Langstroth Hive Cons:
  • Weight of boxes (makes it difficult to inspect lower frames)
  • Honey harvest/inspection is very invasive and stressful to the bees
  • Reassembly often results in crushing some bees between boxes

Warre Hives

Like the Langstroth Hive, Warre hives were given the name of their inventor: a Frenchman named Abbé Émile Warré. These hives look similar to the Langstroth, but there are some noted differences in the internal structure.

The Warre Hive aimed to create a more ‘natural’ space for bees to build their hives and was designed to mimic the hollow spaces bees would fill in the wild.

Rather than having the enclosed frames found in the Langstroth, the Warre uses slats where the bees build comb from the top-down.

You can always add on boxes to a Warre Hive, but they are added at the bottom of the stack rather than the top. This is due to the top box on the hive being non-removable. This top section, or the “quilt-box,” contains material that absorbs condensation from the hive’s warmth. 

Warre Hive Pros:
  • Less winter maintenance due to the quilt box
  • Can add or remove boxes
  • More ‘natural’ space for bees to build their comb
Warre Hive Cons:
  • Must add boxes at the bottom
  • Less standardized than Langstroth Hives
  • Reassembly and inspection are invasive/stressful and can result in crushing bees

Top Bar Hives

The Top Bar Hive (TBH) is one of the more recent hive designs. It is vastly different from the Warre and Langstroth styles. There are several features of TBH that have made it hugely popular with hobbyists and natural beekeepers.

The design of the Top Bar Hive looks somewhat like a table, constructed of a single box with a lift-off top containing up to 24 slats (the “Bars”) that bees will build their comb top-down on. Many Top Bar Hives have a lengthwise viewing window that offers a quick and less intrusive way to monitor bees.

Top Bar Hive Pros:
  • Easy access design
  • Less invasive to bees
  • More ‘natural’ space for bees to build their comb
Top Bar Hive Cons:
  • Not modular like Langstroth or Warre Hives
  • Less standardized measurements 
  • Smaller bee-space results in more delicate combs and the need for precise work 

Hive Maintenance and Winterizing for Backyard Beekeeping

For the most part, your bees will be surprisingly self-sufficient after you set everything up. However, this doesn’t mean that good husbandry practices can be thrown out the window.

How and When to Inspect Your Bee Hive

Regularly inspecting your beehives is necessary to ensure health and honey production are up to par. In addition, it will allow you to keep a close eye on the state of your hive parts.

A good rule of thumb is to inspect your bee hives on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.

Even in less intrusive hive designs, inspections can be stressful for your bees. Inspecting too often can result in colonies vacating to find less disturbed living quarters. You’ll want to keep this inspection schedule up during the warm months.

During your inspections, you should be checking the following things:

  • Honey production stays at a steady rate.
  • The queen bee is still laying.
  • Make additions if necessary for your colony to expand.
  • Signs of disease or parasites (more on this in the ‘Bee Health’ section later on).
  • No broken hive parts.
  • Installing a shade structure if heat spikes occur (ideal internal hive temp is 90-95 ℉).

How to Winterize Your Bee Hive

Outside of the warmer months, you’ll need to consider what kind of winter your bees need to get through. Winterizing your hive won’t be much of an issue if you live in mild climates.

However, if you live in an area with harsh winters, you’ll need to beef up your hive a bit. The biggest concern as far as winterizing a hive goes is keeping your bees warm enough while ensuring excess condensation doesn’t build up.

Excess moisture in a hive during winter can result in issues with disease, parasites, or temperature control.

Your bees will cluster to keep the brood temperature no lower than 90℉, which means that any moisture within the hive will collect and condense.

This is where the quilt box in the Warre Hives helps immensely, as they’ll absorb any excess moisture. You can place material in excess top space of a top bar hive, and Langstroth Hives can be slightly ventilated at the top to allow moisture to escape.

In areas of extreme cold, wrapping hives with foam siding or tarps can help bees out in maintaining their necessary internal temps. For a super detailed look at winterizing different styles of hives, take a look at this article about winterizing your bee hive

Understanding Your Bees

understanding your bee hive for backyard beekeeping
Bees have a complex social structure within their hives, and understanding it is critical for backyard beekeeping.

When learning how to start beekeeping, A vital piece of ethical animal husbandry you’ll need is a detailed understanding of the behavior of the animals you raise.

As such, I think it’s important to take a brief moment to explain the social structure of a bee colony and the behaviors you’ll see from them. Having this understanding will make you a better beekeeper: you’ll be able to identify the queen and if she is laying or if the colony’s behavior is normal for that time of year.

One constant for every single bee is its life cycle.

They all go from egg→ larvae→ pupae→ adult. You will commonly see the collective term “brood” used to describe all bees in the egg/larvae/pupae stages of life.  

Social Structure

One of the most fascinating aspects of honey bees that set them apart from other insects is their advanced social structure. Colonies contain different types of bees with unique and specific jobs throughout the year. Without all colony members fully functioning, the hive will fail and collapse.

Below are descriptions of the different kinds of bees within a colony and their assigned functions.

Queen Bees

queen bee in hive
The queen bee usually has a noticeably long abdomen.

I’ll start with the most well-known of the bees, the Queen. The queen is easily identified by her greatly elongated abdomen.

She has two major functions within the colony, the most obvious being the single egg-laying member. She ultimately decides the destiny of each egg she lays, worker or drone, by controlling the number of spermatozoa she releases with each egg.

Her second function is that she emits several pheromones that act as an influence to hold the entire social structure of the colony together. In the absence of these queen pheromones, wildly radical social structures arise, and if a new queen is not produced, this will result in hive collapse.

Because she is in a near-constant state of egg-laying, the queen is looked after and fed a substance called ‘royal jelly’ by the colony’s workers. 

Worker

worker bees
Worker bees are all female and are in charge of brood and hive maintenance.

Workers are the most numerous members of the colony and, true to their name, undertake the day-to-day operations that keep things running.

They collect food, care for the brood, attend to the queen, build comb, and protect their hive. Workers are all female, and in situations where their colony becomes queenless will actually develop ovaries and begin to lay eggs in her absence.

Workers are also responsible for selecting and raising new queens. They will modify the cell of a worker larva and begin to feed her royal jelly, which results in her developing into a queen.

Another extremely important function of workers is to keep the internal temperature a steady 90-95℉. They do this in the summer by spreading water along the comb and beating their wings along the surface, which results in evaporative cooling, and in winter, they’ll cluster and vibrate to produce heat through friction. 

Drones

Drones are the only male bees within the colony and serve the sole purpose of fertilizing the virgin queen once she emerges from her cell. These bees will die once they have mated with a queen.

They are identified easily as they’re the largest bees in the colony and should only be present in early summer. As winter approaches, colonies will banish any remaining drones to conserve honey resources.  

Seasonal Activity of Bee Hives

bee hive in winter
Bees have different needs depending on the season, and much of your hive may naturally die off during winter. Winterizing your hive can help keep your bees alive in the colder months.

When you start beekeeping, you’ll also need to know how seasonal changes might affect your bees.

All honey bee colonies will have different behaviors and functions depending on the time of year. This is easily simplified into warm and cool months.

If you’re particularly keen on learning as much as possible about colony structure and seasonal activity, check out this detailed article on seasonal cycles in colonies by the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium. I’ll keep things pretty basic and beginner-friendly here, though! 

Winter Months

Towards the end of summer, your bees will struggle to find the quantities of pollen and nectar they were collecting in spring. The reduction in food will cue the queen to reduce and eventually cease brood rearing.

As the cold progresses, the bees cluster around the brood and queen and rely on their honey stores to get them through winter.

Older members of the colony will die off throughout winter. In mid-winter, healthy colonies will begin to feed the queen more to stimulate egg laying again. This will ultimately determine the population size and colony strength as the warmer months approach.

Spring/Summer Months

With increased day length and food collection in early spring, the winter brood will begin to emerge, and the queen will increase laying. As temperatures rise and colony size grows, the winter cluster will disperse, and the queen will produce drones.

In an extremely vigorous colony, a new queen will also be produced in anticipation of a colony split, or “swarming,” which is the natural growth cycle of healthy colonies.

The workers will resume their nectar, pollen, and sap collection throughout mid-spring and summer to produce honey and strengthen the hive for winter’s inevitable return. 

Honey Bee Health

Bee colonies face their own health issues, as does every living thing. So, if you want to start your beekeeping journey off on the right foot, you’ll need to understand how diseases and pests might affect your hive in the future.

Outside of environmental factors like weather exposure or lack of food, honey bees face threats from three different types of health issues. I’ve categorized these into the following sections: parasites, pests, and disease. 

Honey Bee Parasites

varroa mites on honey bee hive
Parasites like varroa mites are very contagious, and you’ll need to use a miticide to get rid of them before they spread.

I’ll start with parasites, as they will be the most common health issue you’ll encounter with your bees. Luckily a wide variety of prevention and treatments are available. 

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites are an external parasite of the honey bee. These mites feed on the blood of adult bees (workers, drones, or queens) and are extremely contagious to any surrounding hives.

Luckily, these mites are easy to spot with the naked eye, which makes monitoring them a relatively pain-free process.

If you identify varroa mites within your colony, invest in the use of a miticide treatment to rid your bees of these bothersome parasites. The best time to treat your colony is when the bees aren’t brood rearing (refer to the ‘Seasonal Activity’ section), as the mites are more vulnerable to treatments.

This article on planning for varroa article by Michigan State University is a great resource on varroa mite control.  

Tracheal Mites

Unlike Varroa, Tracheal Mites are an internal parasite of the honey bee and invisible to the naked eye. This makes them much more difficult to identify, but they should be suspected when you notice poor colony health.

Tracheal Mites are much less common than Varroa. Because they are also a mite, many of the same treatments used for Varroa will be effective against them.

Beehive Pests

larval wax moths on bee hive box
Bee hives are susceptible to diseases, parasites, and pests, such as these larval wax moths.

The security and abundance of food within a beehive make your bees’ home a highly desirable residence for invasive pests. Proper husbandry and hive maintenance are the best protection against these pesky intruders. 

Small Hive Beetles (SHB)

The SHB is an invasive species to the U.S. and Canada, particularly prevalent in the southeastern U.S.

The main threat they pose to bee colonies is the rapid destruction of the comb, as they will puncture the comb to lay eggs within larva and pupa cells. SHBs are easily observed as small black beetles during hive inspections. Honey in a hive with a large SHB infestation is deemed unfit for human consumption.

Wax Moths

Wax moth infestations usually happen after adding old, improperly stored, or unclean frames or boxes to a colony. They can be identified by a spider-web-like substance on the surface of the comb, along with small while larvae within this web.

If you identify wax moths in your hive, remove the affected combs and freeze them or simply let the moths finish their work of cleaning it out before returning it to your hive. 

Diseases That Affect Honey Bees

Several diseases affect bee colonies, and often there is no known treatment for these. They can be highly destructive and often fatal to a colony. Maintaining a healthy, strong, and stress-free colony is your best defense against disease.

Parasites like Varroa or Tracheal Mites can also carry diseases between colonies.

American Foulbrood is an extremely lethal disease of honey bees caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Hives affected must be burned to prevent the spread of the disease.

Nosema is another disease that tends to target and collapse hives during the winter months, and the Varroa Mite is a very common vector for this disease.

How to Acquire Your Bees to Start Beekeeping

Once you’re all set up, and you’ve completed your research, you’ll need to get yourself some bees! You have several options for going about this.

I recommend getting packaged bees or a nucleus hive for beginner beekeepers just learning how to start.

Once you have a little experience, you can look into capturing wild swarms (I’ll cover this in a different article)!

You can buy nucleus hives or packaged bees from your local beekeeping association. Always buy bees locally as transporting insects long distances and through different climates often results in undue stress and death. 

Nucleus Hive

Commonly referred to as a ‘nuc,’ the nucleus hive is a small-sized complete colony contained within a modular structure you can fit onto a Langstroth or Warre-type hive. Nucs are usually recommended for people who are just starting out with beekeeping. If you have chosen to go the route of a Top Bar Hive, I’d recommend getting packaged bees. 

Packaged Bees

Packaged bees are, once again, a tiny-sized colony like the nuc, but they do not come with the already attached hive.

The queen will come within her own container in the package and will be surrounded by the equivalent of about 3lbs of workers. You’ll need to open up this package, dump them into your hive, and free the queen.

Honey Harvesting

I’ve saved the best and most exciting for last… now that you know about all the equipment you’ll need and how to start beekeeping, it’s time to learn how to harvest your honey!

You may be wondering a few things at this point. How to harvest, when to harvest, and what to do with all that honey may be on your mind. Keep on reading to answer all those questions you may be fretting over!

When Should You Harvest Honey From Your Bees?

You should start monitoring the “percent of capped cells” during the late summer months to determine when to harvest your honey.

The term “percent of capped cells” refers to the number of sealed honey-containing cells. You’ll calculate this based on the number of total cells in a comb vs. the number of capped/uncapped cells.

You should harvest honey from your bees when a frame’s honey-containing cells are at least 80% capped. If you harvest too early (before 80% capped), you risk the honey having too much moisture. If it has too much water content, it will be susceptible to fermentation after bottling.

So, in summary, the things to keep in mind on when to harvest honey are:

  • Late summer months (July – September)
  • 80% capped
  • Low moisture content

How to Harvest Your Bees Honey: A Step-By-Step Guide

I’ve put together a step-by-step guide on harvesting your honey.

Depending on your number of hives, the sizes of your colonies, and the overall production of your bees, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days of work!

Each hive, on average, can produce between 20-60 pounds of honey. So, here’s how to harvest it:

  1. Open your hives. Use a smoker to placate your bees, then a hive tool to pry open your hives.
  2. Remove the frames and clear them of bees. You’ll need to clear any bees from the tops of the frames using your bee brush, then slowly remove the frames and again clear off any bees by using your bee brush.
  3. Uncap the comb. Bring your frames into your harvesting workspace, and using an uncapping knife or fork, scrape off or slice off the caps on the cells.
  4. Extract the honey. This is where having the right beekeeping equipment will be a huge help. You’ll need to use a honey extractor, which functions like a big centrifuge. You’ll slide in the uncapped frames, and it’ll spin the honey out of them. Set your honey collecting bucket up at the spigot in the bottom of the extractor and wait for the bucket to fill.
  5. Jar it up. You’ll want to make sure you strain your honey before you jar it up. Use a honey strainer to do this. Some honey collecting buckets, and even a few high-end extractors, have strainers built in. Make sure your jars are sanitized and sealed properly.

Assessing Your Bees’ Honey

One of the great things about beekeeping is that each batch of honey you get will be absolutely unique.

There are endless variables in honey production: climate, colony size/strength, geographic location, plants foraged, and time of year honey is collected. All of these factors will play a role in the taste and quality of your honey.

Honey is generally classified by its color, with lighter-colored honey tasting very mild and darker honey having a much stronger taste.

Honey can also be described by varietal, which refers to the main plant your bees collected from. This is why you’ll find things like “Dark Clover Honey” in your local supermarkets.

The By-Products of Harvesting Your Bees Honey

Alongside your honey production, bees will provide you with pretty cool byproducts.

These include beeswax, propolis, and bee pollen! Several other lesser-known bee products can greatly benefit your health and offer some income for your farm. Look at this awesome article by Word Bee Day on honey bee products!

The Best Beekeeping Books for Beginner Backyard Beekeeping

Although this guide has taught you how to start backyard beekeeping and the equipment you’ll need, books are an invaluable source for beekeepers.

A handy guide full of ideas on how to treat pests and diseases, winterize your hives, and make impromptu beekeeping equipment, to name a few skills, can help you graduate from complete beginner to pro in no time.

The best beekeeping books will be available in ebook format, but I prefer the paper version. It’s much easier to find the information you need with a paper copy, with good tables of content and chapter outlay. Plus, I don’t know how you’ll see an ebook with your suit and veil on!

The best beekeeping books that made it to my #1 and #2 really share the first position. The difference between these two is their in-depth-ness. If you are looking for a quick guide on how to start beekeeping, #2, Beekeeping for Beginners, is your book.

If you are looking for more information, including the history of beekeeping and bee biology, The Beekeeper’s Bible is your book. In the end, combining the two is probably the best approach, but have a read of my most helpful,  best beekeeping books, and let me know what you decide!

1. The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses

About the Author

This author is a contributor and scientific advisor for BBC Wildlife Magazine and New Scientist. He is an ecologist and insect expert and has written other books on bugs, including Mosquito and Wasp.

About This Beekeeping Book

The Beekeeper’s Bible ranks #2 in Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank in Biology of Insects & Spiders and #4 in Animal Husbandry (books), and for a good reason. Not only is it a fantastic resource for everything beekeeping, but it is also stunningly beautiful. I adore hardcover books, and this book has a particularly nicely illustrated hardcover.

This book doesn’t just cover beekeeping essentials. It also covers the history of beekeeping and recipes for cooking, candles, furniture polish, and beauty products.

Topics

  • Managing your hives
  • Harvesting.
  • Recipes for honey, beeswax, soap, and other bee products.
  • The benefits of bees.
  • History of beekeeping
  • Bee breeds and types
  • Types of hives
  • Understanding the honey bee

Pros

  • More than 100 recipes are included.
  • The stunning illustrations alone make this book worth its price.
  • Excellent photos showing you how to do things.
  • Beautiful, excellent quality hardcover.
  • This book offers incredible information on bees and beekeeping, including breeds and different hives.
  • An excellent gift as it is beautiful and interesting at the same time, even for people not thinking of keeping bees at the moment.

Cons

  • Does not cover beginner basics as thoroughly as Beekeeping for Dummies, for example. These two together would provide you with a great combination.
  • Covers a lot of history on beekeeping and bee biology, which may not be what you are looking for if you are just starting out and need to know the absolute basics.
  • The book’s formatting and table of contents are a little confusing and can make it a bit hard to find what you need.
  • There may be too much information in this book, and too big a range of subjects, making it difficult for some to read the whole thing.
  • As with some of the other beekeeping books I reviewed, this one also barely covers top-bar hives, or natural beekeeping methods, favoring conventional beekeeping methods. As more and more of us are interested in natural animal raising methods, this is a lacking subject.

2. Beekeeping for Beginners: How To Raise Your First Bee Colonies

About the Author

Amber Bradshaw runs myhomesteadlife.com, a blog covering off-grid living, beekeeping, and growing your own food. She lives in the mountains of Tennessee and is a natural, toxin-free beekeeper.

About the Book

This book made it to my number 2 position because it is such an exceptionally helpful, step-by-step guide on the fundamentals of beekeeping. It walks you through all the processes, from choosing the right hive to helping bees survive winter.

It didn’t make it to number 1 mainly because it doesn’t provide the same background information as the Beekeeper’s Bible. If you just want to jump in and start your hive, this should be your number 1 pick.

Topics

  • Choosing the right hive.
  • What to do when your bees arrive.
  • How to help bees survive winter.
  • Harvesting honey.
  • Bee terminology.
  • The necessities of keeping bees.
  • Equipment needed.
  • Maintaining healthy hives.
  • Information on ‘to buy or DIY’ and the beekeeping equipment you really need vs. optional equipment.

Pros

  • Exceptional guide for people who want to learn how to start beekeeping. This book is the easiest to follow of all the beekeeping books reviewed today.
  • Includes sections throughout the book with explanations of bee terminology.
  • Well written in an engaging, humorous style and very easy to understand.
  • Nicely organized with page number references, so it’s easy to find answers to your questions.
  • The right amount of detail without being tedious or giving too much information.
  • Includes natural beekeeping methods.

Cons

  • This book is aimed at beginner beekeepers. If you’re looking for an advanced book or more on the history of beekeeping, you’ll need to look at the Beekeeper’s Bible or other beekeeping books.
  • Not much information on bee products or selling and marketing bee products.
  • Too big for a pocket book to take with you, although there is enough white space to make it small enough to be one.
  • It has lots of pictures and drawings throughout the book, but it could still do with more.

3. Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping

About the Author

You’re in good hands with Dr. Dewey M. Caron! Dr. Caron has a Ph.D. in Entomology, M.S. in Ecology, and B.A. in Zoology. He has been a professor at the University of Delaware since 1981 and teaches subjects like wildlife conservation, apology and apiculture, apiculture laboratory, and elements of entomology.

He is a former chairman of the Board of Eastern Apiculture Society, adjunct advisor to the Delaware Beekeepers Association, and editor at Newsy Bee and BeeAware Newsletter.

About the Book

This is another beautiful beekeeping book, with stunning illustrations on the cover – and hardcover! This is a textbook on apiculture, used for teaching students the science and practical components of bees and beekeeping. It suits people without prior knowledge but doesn’t oversimplify the information, giving you excellent, in-depth information.

This is more of a university textbook, an academic approach to beekeeping, but it is probably the most complete. If you are only purchasing one book, this may be the one for you.

Topics

  • Bee biology
  • Bee physiology
  • Bee behavior
  • Colony management
  • Foraging behavior

Pros

  • 100’s of color photos and illustrations throughout the book.
  • Very in-depth for those serious about becoming the best beekeeper they can be.
  • Well edited and organized.
  • Easy to read and engaging.
  • Full of education that other books don’t contain.
  • Hardcover.
  • Extremely well researched, as you would expect from an author like this.
  • Combines science with practical experience.

Cons

  • Although it combines science with practical elements, this book is more academically focused than the other books covered here. If you prefer a more down-to-earth read, I recommend Amber’s book, Beekeeping for Beginners.
  • It is quite a technical book geared toward dedicated students of beekeeping. You’ll learn a lot from this book, but it’s no ‘basic beekeeping’ guide.
  • The print is not of the highest quality. It looks like it’s photocopied, and the pictures aren’t glossy.
  • Only one chapter is focused on bee anatomy. If you want to dissect bees fully, this book is not for you.
  • It is quite pricey.

4. Beekeeping for Dummies

About the Author

Howland Blackiston has been a beekeeper since 1981 and has written numerous articles and books on the subject. He has been on many T.V. shows, including The Discovery Channel, and is the president of the Backyard Beekeepers Association.

His books include Beekeeping for Dummies and Building Beehives for Dummies.

About This Beekeeping Book

This book explains everything you need to know to become a backyard beekeeper. It’s especially suitable for beginner backyard beekeepers, as it gives in-depth, thorough information from the basics of beekeeping to harvesting your honey and selling it.

Beekeeping for dummies ranks #3 in Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank in Animal Husbandry.

This book aims to demystify the beekeeping process and is a hands-on guide with helpful tricks.

Topics

  • Starting your own colony.
  • Assembling, maintaining, and setting up beehives.
  • Honey production.
  • The best beekeeping equipment.
  • Identifying the queen bee, bee behavior, and the types of bees.
  • Opening and closing the hive.
  • Types of honey and how to tell them apart.
  • Disaster management for preserving your colony of bees, including pest control prevention and treatment.
  • Harvesting and selling honey.

Pros

  • It mostly focuses on the basics of beekeeping, but it covers them thoroughly.
  • Well-written and the information is presented clearly.
  • Great pictures.
  • Suitable for people who are completely new to beekeeping.
  • It has a great table of contents, making it easy to find what you need.
  • Offers practical insights from a man who has been a backyard beekeeper himself for many, many years.

Cons

  • This book may not be in-depth enough for experienced beekeepers or beginners who want to dive deeper into beekeeping information. You will need additional books.
  • Many pages cover the marketing of bee products. If you’re beekeeping for yourself, these pages are not overly valuable.
  • This book focuses mainly on Langstroth hives. It does have some information on other types of hives, but the focus is definitely on Langstroth.
  • Rather big to use as a pocket handbook or take with you.
  • A petty concern but, as mentioned by many other readers, ‘for dummies’ is not an encouraging title. No one wants to be called a dummy…

5. The Backyard Beekeeper – An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden

About the Author

Kim Flottum has a degree in horticulture and worked at the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab for four years. He has over 30 years of experience writing articles about beekeeping published in Bee Culture and BEEKeeping.

Flottum has published several books on beekeeping, including The Beekeepers Journal (an illustrated journal for your beekeeping adventures), Honey Connoisseur, and The New Starting Right With Bees, which all make great supplements to this book.

About This Beekeeping Book

This is the 4th edition of The Backyard Beekeeper. The new edition includes tips on keeping bees in urban areas and backyards, selecting beekeeping equipment, better pest management, and new ways of keeping your hives healthy.

It provides a comprehensive introduction on how to start backyard beekeeping and includes photos and illustrations for precise information.

Topics

  • Caring for your bees.
  • Choosing the best position for your hives.
  • Top-bar hives.
  • Harvesting honey and other bee products.
  • Problems and solutions, including pest management.
  • Step-by-step explanations of what to do when you get your bees.
  • Urban beekeeping.
  • Using smokers and other beekeeping equipment.
  • What to feed your bees.
  • Bee behavior and colonies.

Pros

  • Lots of pictures and illustrations keep the book interesting and informative. There are pictures of the queen bee and how to identify her, and pictures of the different types of beekeeping tools and equipment.
  • Practical information from someone who has been involved in backyard beekeeping for over 30 years.
  • A good guide for someone who is just getting started.
  • This book is used in many beginner beekeeping classes around the country.
  • Well organized and easy to find the information you need.

Cons

  • Could do with some more photos of how to extract honey and other processes.
  • Small print, so you may need glasses to read it comfortably.
  • Some recipes for beeswax and honey are included, but not many. You’d do well to buy a different book with recipes if you need those.
  • This book won’t be enough if you want to dive deep into beekeeping.
  • The author has a strong opinion on certain things, like the size of your hives, and he tends to share his opinion very strongly. It would be a good idea to read other books for other opinions on backyard beekeeping.
  • Does not cover holistic approaches to beekeeping, so you’ll need to purchase a separate natural Beekeeping book, like Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, for that subject.

6. Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health

About the Authors

Les Crowder is dedicated to treating bee problems with organic and natural solutions and has devoted his life to studying honeybees.

He designed his own top-bar hive. He has also served as the honeybee inspector of New Mexico and the New Mexico Beekeepers Association president.

Heather Harrell obtained a master’s degree in Eastern Classics before becoming an organic farmer. Through working with bees, she moved focus to permaculture planting, growing a wide range of vegetables and herbs that offer nectar and pollen.

About the Book

This beekeeping book focuses on the top-bar hive. Top-bar hives resemble hollow logs, allowing bees to build honeycomb naturally rather than using the remade foundation frames in other hives. They might harvest less honey, but you’ll get more beeswax.

You’ll learn about top-bar hive management, with information coming from a natural, low-stress aspect. It has a lot of information on a natural and organic approach to beekeeping.

Topics

  • Bee breeding
  • Keeping a hive
  • Bee capture
  • Bee selection
  • Honey processing
  • Queen rearing
  • Top-bar hive management

Pros

  • Includes stories about the author’s successes and failures for you to learn from.
  • Lots of diagrams, illustrations, and pictures for everything from the design of the hive and bar rotations, to good plants for pollination.
  • Strong focus on organic beekeeping.
  • Easy to understand and logical.
  • Great book for a minimalist approach to beekeeping on a low budget.
  • In-depth without information overload.

Cons

  • This is not a complete guide for the beginner beekeeper, so you’ll want additional books to complement it. It focuses on top-bar hives, so if you are interested in other hives and the beekeeping equipment you’ll need to use them, this is not the book for you – unless you are interested in comparing the two.
  • Not as many how-tos as in some of the other books.
  • Its focus is on chemical-free beekeeping, and some readers mentioned they would like to see more information on top-bar hives in particular.
  • Other readers mentioned that the information in this book could be deceptive for the beginner beekeeper, as you can take similar chemical-free approaches to Langstroth hives. The author’s drawbacks about Langstroth hives come from a commercial perspective, and you can apply organic practices to Langstroth hives as much as top-bar hives.
  • It may contain too much info for people just wanting basic beekeeping info. There is much in-depth information on breeding queens but not enough on top-bar hives.

I hope you enjoyed this review of my favorite backyard beekeeping books! Let me know which one you chose and what you thought of it. You can never have just one book, and you might find some gems here to add to your collection!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve come to my side after all of this in realizing how amazing bees can be.

Learning how to start beekeeping may seem daunting, but then again, so is starting any new project! The benefits a few beehives can bring to your homestead or small-scale farm absolutely make them worth your while. Plus, after you learn the basics, you’ll be a pro in no time!

So, when you’re ready, grab some equipment and a book or two and come back so we can start beekeeping together!

More Reading on Homesteading and Raising Animals:

backyard beekeeping a complete guide for beginners

Authors

  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

  • An enthusiastic fiber artist, woodworker, and experimental archaeologist, Aimee LaFon loves spending time spinning fiber from invasive plants, foraging for dye materials and medicinal herbs, snuggling with her two dogs, reading up on historical crafts, crocheting, caring for her large brood of indoor and outdoor plants, and dreaming up her next project. She has tall dreams of becoming a professional yarn maker and herdswoman and will never stop writing about her experiments. No matter where she is, Aimee would rather be crocheting in a field right next to a cow.

Maurice S Chakwakwama

Wednesday 4th of May 2022

Very informative and motivational