First of all, you have to have at least some interest in bees and beekeeping because it takes a while to inform your self about bees and it requires reading books, blogs, forums, and youtube videos. And I strongly recommend informing your self as much as you can so you can decide if you have what it takes to become a beekeeper.
You will understand what am I talking about the first time you approach your hives to work on them and numerous bees start to fly around you and sting you you will start to question your self if beekeeping is for you and it takes time before you get your first jar of honey. But if you continue beekeeping you will get very comfortable around them and then you will understand what it means to be a beekeeper.
Responsibilities around hives during the year
When the spring comes there is a lot of things to do around the hive so you can consider this period when you have a lot of work. For older hives, it is time when the colony is awaiting and starting to develop. Eggs are laid, the number of bees is increasing fresh nectar is coming to the hive. And for the new hive, it is time to start with building the colony.
So a lot of work to be done so let’s get started
Hive inspection should be done as soon as the spring starts and depending on the area you live (warmer or colder parts ) you will be able to check earlier or later in spring. Colder areas require more time to reach the desired temperature for a hive inspection.
Checking if the colony survived winter. Look for the bees grouped in one place (cluster) so if you see them it is a good sign. If not try to hear the buzzing sounds tap a few times on sides of the hive and wait for the response.
Checking the queen – it is important to locate the queen, look for the brood frame where the babies are laid and if you see new eggs it is a good indicator that the queen is present and she is not far.
For more details on how to locate Queen Bee you can check my article How to locate queen b and mark it.
Checking food supply
It is important for the hive to have enough food in this period so check if there is enough capped honey and if not start feeding them to ensure to development of your colony.
Checking for disease
This is something you do all year round but after winter you have to make a thorough inspection so you can prevent any disease from taking over the hive and collapsing it. Most important is mite inspection that you can watch if you follow this link https://youtu.be/zPzBNhcloeI
Providing enough space
Make sure you provide enough space for the bee colony to grow. If you do not make enough space they will be forced to leave and make a new colony.
It looks like there is not much to do around the hive during summer and just to sit back and wait for the honey but it is not like that. During summer you have to make weekly inspections to see how the colony is doing and to prevent potential swarming on time and split the hive your self. This is normal for 3 or 4-year-old hives.
Check the honeycomb, how it is filling up so you can anticipate when is the best time to collect the honey.
If the colony is strong enough make sure you stop feeding them they are able to get the food by them selfs.
Mite control – Make regular mite inspection: bottom board check or sugar roll test.
The sugar roll test is a bit more accurate because you can get a precise number of mites on an exact number of bees you have in the jar. Most likely you will have to do the mite treatment. And you can choose from OA method to Thymol crystals that are dispersed into the hive or using bee safe chemicals combined with vaporizing applicators
Keeping the proper hive temperature
During summer it can get pretty hot inside the hive. Your hive should have some shade in the hottest part of the day. If your hives are out in the open you could think of placing some type of tent or a sun umbrella to make some shade and help the bees cooling the hive.
Check for water supply
In case there is no natural source in the area make sure to provide water for the bees.
In this period robbing bees and wasps are active so make sure to monitor and prevent this behavior. Methods you can use to prevent robbing behavior are placing robing screen or just reducing the entrance into the hive, make sure not the open the hive too much in this period to avoid attracting outsiders (robbing bees)
Remove feeders that are close to the hive or at the entrance.
And the most exciting job in summer is collecting honey, for the new hives do not get your hopes up because most likely you will have to wait for the second year but never the less it is still an exciting period.
Depending on the nectar flow you are still collecting honey
Checking for disease
Making sure that you leave enough honey for the winter
It is a good time to merge weak colony with a stronger one so they have a better chance of surviving the winter
Treat the hive for disease and place the mice guard to prevent them from entering the hive
Make sure you have proper ventilation and that you narrowed the entrance
In colder areas insulating the hive to protect from cold wind and weather
Placing bricks or rocks to keep the lid in place when the strong winds start to blow
Checking the hive from outside if everything is in place and that there is no damage to the hive
Making sure there is proper ventilation and that the entrance is not covered with snow because if the hive is sealed moisture will build up and the bees will get wet so just can imagine your self wet on a cold-weather they feel the same. This combination is dangerous for the bees so you have to make sure that they have good ventilation.
Check for any cracks or holes on the hive and make sure to fix it even a duck tape can do the trick also check under the hive if there are any gaps for the mice to get in and fix it.
At the end of the winter checking for the food supply and if needed feed the bees
In case you plan to start new colony orders your bees in January because beekeepers have a limited amount of bees to sell and they sell out pretty fast.
How much time does it take
Regarding the time it can take as much time as you feel like spending with your bees. Depending on your experience and number of hives you will spend around 30 – 40 hours per year per hive. In case it is our first year you can expect even more time up to 50 hours per year at least it is my experience. I like to work around bees a bit slower to make my self and bees calm. These are just average hours per year but you have a period of the year when it takes more time to do all the work and for example in winter when you have a limited amount of work you can do .. Mutual for all seasons are hive inspections and spring and summer are the busiest seasons. Bellow in the article you will find what are your responsibilities around the hive for each season of the year.
How much does it cost to start beekeeping?
When you are deciding to start keeping bees one of the questions how will it cost to start.
The basic equipment you need to get are Hives, Bees, Hive tool, Smoker, Bee suit & gloves I have written about beekeeping equipment in my article What equipment do I need to start beekeeping so you can check it out.
The initial cost should be around 500 USD including one hive with bees but you should consider taking two hives with bees so it will cost an additional 300 USD. During the season you will have more additional costs like hive treatments and supplies so first for the first year costs go up to 900 USD. Second-year is less expensive because you have all the needed equipment, of course, you can decide to get more hives with bees or to get an extractor that will increase the cost and it is up to you to decide.
Estimated costs are based on getting the new equipment you can cut the cost getting used hives and tools just check with local beekeeping community for advice and info
Improving your knowledge about beekeeping
Besides actual work around best, you will have to inform your self more and read and learn. For the beginners, i recommend taking the beekeeping course to learn the basics. Be sure that you will want to take courses even when you become a more experienced beekeeper because there is always something new to learn and to improve your beehive maintenance.
A great way of learning is in direct contact with local beekeepers community and they will share their experience that is specific to the area where your bees are located. Each area of the country has some specific conditions so local knowledge is priceless. So joined the local beekeeping club you will find people that share your interests and you have a lot to talk about.
Even taking a beekeeping course first as a beginner and later to learn specific methods in beekeeping. There a lot of things to learn and to improve
Why are honey bees important?
Besides making honey bees are vital to our ecosystem because they are one of the most important pollinators and many types of plants and animal species would not be able to survive without bees pollination. They are present in every part of the world and helping our pollinating food crops so without them we would be out of over 80 % of our food. So by having bees you are thanking them for all the hard work and you are helping our ecosystem.