Thinking of starting a backyard or rooftop beehive colony in Austin, Texas? With all the talk of bee Colony Collapse Disorder and the recent emphasis on eco-friendly living, backyard beekeeping is the latest ATX trend in earth-friendly DIY circles. Homemade honey is not only nutritious, but antibacterial, and offers medicinal properties. More importantly, bee pollination is excellent for backyard gardens, or on a bigger scale, for agricultural areas. It really is the bee’s knees!
Dana Stahlman is a retired commercial beekeeper and master beekeeper. “Beekeeping is a fantastic hobby,” she said. “Those who get into beekeeping often get what is called ‘bee fever!’” A question often asked of Stahlman asked is, How and when do I get started in keeping bees? “My first response is anytime is a good time to begin learning about honey bees. Knowledge is power, and having a good understanding of beekeeping is almost as important as having some bees.”
So, start by educating yourself. Beekeeping, in some form or another, can be traced to 13,000 BCE. That means there’s a lot of collective human wisdom to garner and many different ways to raise a colony. Make the time to figure out which methods work best for your situation before jumping in headfirst. There are a number of good internet and book sources out there, and your local bee equipment supplier will have a good selection. You also can download a guide from the National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service for about three bucks.
Our favorite ‘beek’ book right now is “The Thinking Beekeeper” by Christy Hemenway. It makes a convincing argument for the use of the bee-friendly “top-bar hive”, and is a perfect beginner’s guide for green-minded folks interested in a more natural style of beekeeping.
Done your homework? Now it’s time to get your knees dirty! Get hands-on preparation by investing in a beekeeping class or two. For 50 to 100 bucks, attendees not only get to rub elbows with other bee-crazed amateurs in a supportive learning environment—they also come home knowing if they just had a bee in their bonnet, or if they’ve got beekeeping in their blood!
Round Rock Honey offers beginning beekeeping classes year-round, and local beekeeping suppliers like Treehouse offer seasonal lectures and classes as well. If you’re willing to travel, universities like Cornell offer a one- or two-day Master Beekeeping Program.
The next step would be making tangible plans for the coming bee season. “Individuals usually begin keeping bees in the spring when packages of bees are available,” explained Stahlman. “Equipment can be purchased much earlier and put together before bees are available.”
By ordering bees, hives, and equipment in the fall, you will have all winter to assemble the hives and place them on the site you have selected for your apiary. Then you will be ready to go when the box of bees arrives in March or April!
Jason Ballard is the president and co-founder of TreeHouse, which makes its home in South Austin. “We offer both box and top-bar hives, smokers, gloves, hats, veils, and all the other equipment you would need to get started with a small back yard operation …. everything except the bees.”
Before you make a beeline to the store, however, consider building your first hive from scratch. As a beekeeper, replacing worn out parts of your hive will become an annual task, so you might as well become familiar with the nuts and bolts if you can.
Hemenway and other well-known beeks offer plain-Jane and top-of-the-line Do-It-Yourself kits. Pre-fabricated parts also are available online or at supply stores. The less handy among us can purchase a decent, ready-to-use hive online or in stores starting around $300.
Now, where to locate your sting operation? According to the American Beekeeping Federation, an apiary should face south or southeast, have deciduous tree shade (cool in the summer, warm in the winter), and a windbreak behind it (like a hedge or a fence). If your property is large, the south face of a hillside is ideal.
The hives should be close enough to be accessible, but out of the way to reduce the chances of bees coming into contact with pets, family members, or neighbors. Also, bees get thirsty, too. Make sure to have a clean water source if there are no bodies of water close by.
Last on the list? Join your local apicultural organizations! They’ll be an important source of support when spring comes and questions arise. Here in Austin, we have Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup Group and Central Texas Beekeepers.
Join the Texas Beekeepers Association and attend the seasonal meetings for additional help. Also, consider subscribing to national magazines like American Bee Journal ($16/year) and Bee Culture Magazine ($25/year).
Karl Arcuri is a member of the Austin Urban Beekeeping group that meets the third Monday of every month at the Austin Old Quarry Library. “We try to have both beginning and advanced lectures so that beekeepers of all levels can learn something new. Whether you are in central Austin or somewhere on the outer edge of Travis County, we’d love for you to swing by and introduce yourself.”
To bee or not to bee? Bee! And happy honey-making!
Brian Talley applauds recent trends toward eco-friendly home improvement and sustainable living. As a top Austin REALTOR®, he also welcomes new homebuyers entering the ATX real estate market. For a downtown condo, a beautiful home in Belterra, or a waterfront home in Rob Roy, choose Regent Property Group. We know Austin!