Here’s what you need to know to get started:
Is it legal? A good number of cities and towns along the Front Range have changed their ordinances in the last 10 years to allow beekeeping. Check to make sure yours is one of them before making an investment.
How do I know what to do? Taking a class is the best way to learn how to keep bees. Learning from a pro also gives you a resource to turn to if you run into problems.
What equipment do I need? Basic beekeeping requires hives, a bee jacket or bee suit, gloves, a smoker, hive tool and a bee brush. Also, you’ll need roughly 50 pounds of organic sugar to feed the bees, says Greg Rye, the owner of Dakota Bees in Wheat Ridge,
Hives typically come in two types — top bar and Langstroth — though there are variations. Top bar hives are arranged horizontally over a foundation with a bar over the top. Rye describes them as shaped “like a coffin” to offer a visual frame of reference. He does not sell top bar hives, because he regards them as harder to work with, especially for beginners. He recommends and sells Langstroth hives, in which the boxes or “hive bodies” are stacked on top of each other on top of a foundation. Inside each hive body are frames that support the bees.
A bee jacket is to protect the beekeeper from the bees. Rye recommends a jacket, rather than a full suit. Gloves also help prevent stings and protect the beekeeper. A hive tool is used to pry the frames out of the boxes and pry the boxes apart. Smokers are used to introduce smoke into the hive to calm the bees when the beekeeper is working with them. Rye uses burlap coffee bags to fuel the smoker. He gets the bags from coffee roasters by the pallet load. A bee brush is used to brush the bees off as the beekeeper works.
The bees: Rye and other beekeeper suppliers sell bees in what are known as “packages.” A bee package contains approximately 3 pounds of bees that include about 10,000 worker bees and a mated queen. Rye’s bees, which are shipped from a family-owned business in a climate-controlled truck, arrive on April 28. Other bee suppliers’ bees arrive at a similar time, since this time of year is when bees swarm and form new hives. It’s wise to reserve bee packages in advance.
How much does it cost to get started? Rye says the cost is roughly $400 to $600.
At Dakota Bees. the three-hive box, fully assembled, is $250. He sells the bee jacket, smoker, hive tool and bee brush together for $115. The bee package is $125.
“The first year is when you spend the money,” Rye says. “After that, beekeeping is pretty inexpensive. The worst case is if you’re ordering new bees for $125 (if the bees don’t make it through the winter.)”
Is there still time to get started? Bee season is here, but if a would-be beekeeper is interested, it is still possible to find classes and equipment. Bee packages, however, do frequently sell out.