It's always a really exciting, and nerve wracking decision to finally go for it and become a beekeeper. It's a great hobby to take up and really seems to have something to offer for everyone. From woodworking to animal husbandry, gardening, painting, crafts with hive products and interacting with Mother Nature, we all find out quickly that taking up beekeeping is really more involved than just playing with bugs!
Before you get started however, there are a few questions to think about.
Seems like a no brainer to ask, but it is an important question. The worst thing that you can do is start keeping bees and quickly realize it's not for you and then begin to neglect the colony out of a lack of interest. Inevitably, the colony will succumb to stressors like pests and diseases and you run the risk of spreading some of these issues to your neighbouring beekeepers. It may be worth having a bee experience before hand to make sure you are the right fit. Beekeeping tours are one option, or meeting a beekeeper at a local beekeeping club and spending some time with them may be great places to start.
Need and want are two very different things. Most beekeeping supply stores are great resources and are willing to educate new beekeepers on all the equipment available and they will understand the pros and cons of the products. The University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Center also produced a video showing some of the standard equipment used throughout the province (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbG7uFoS-10). Whether you start with one hive or multiple, you will need all the equipment to take the bees from opening them up in the springtime all the way through to insulating them in the late fall.
Simple, contact your local beekeeper. Nowadays you can find beekeepers online, but calling your provincial beekeeping association would be a great way to be directed to a reputable beekeeper closest to you.
Minimum of two. You can keep one hive, but it tends to limit your ability to catch issues and rectify them. Beekeeping inspections at the core really comes down to gross pattern recognition. The idea being that bees are very well organized, and when the pattern inside the colony of things like food storage, the brood pattern, adult population dispersion, variety of adult bees age and behaviour is well within normally the inspection doesn't have to be incredibly laboursome. When patterns are off, that is when beekeepers typically dive deeper and look at things in greater detail. With one hive, it is very easy for that pattern to begin to shift (for the worse) and without another hive's pattern to compare it to, it can be difficult to catch. Comparisons are key!
As much as we as beekeepers love to see you, we also love to see you and your bees be successful. You are better able to split and patch up weakness in hives and losses with a greater number of hives - ie use your strong healthy hive to split and make up for an overwinter loss.
The hobby world of beekeeping is much larger now than it was 15 years ago. With all the media attention that bees are getting we have seen a spike in small scale beekeeping as more and more people have gotten involved. With the community growing, local beekeeping groups became more and more popular and useful as resources for information and honey bee dialogue. The Ontario Beekeepers Association has a page with all the local groups listed (https://www.ontariobee.com/community/local-beekeepers-associations) and the groups are very easy going and approachable for all levels of beekeepers. You are not in beekeeping alone! The 'hive' is continuing to grow!
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