When I am coaching new beekeeping clients, I always start off by asking the question, “Why are you keeping bees?” Actually, it’s one of many questions I ask at the very beginning. I ask other questions like “What is your purpose?”, and, “What are your goals and objectives?”
Knowing the answers to these questions allow me to help my clients prepare to be successful beekeepers. It allows them to know what kind of equipment to get, what kind of bees, how much to obtain and so on.
For example, I show you my answers to this process.
Why are you keeping bees? Primarily to to obtain products of the hive for use in the home and the sense of satisfaction I get from working with bees. One word to describe this is “Homestead” beekeeping. It describes contributing to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
My secondary purpose is to make a living as a professional service provider working with bees. Many people make a living or contribute to how they make a living to some degree with beekeeping. Not always in the same way. Most are “Producers” of hive products. Honey and beeswax being the most common with pollen and propolis coming in after that. They sell those items or they use them to make other items such as candles, health food supplements, baked goods, soaps, lip balms, lotions, etc…
Other ways to make a living is as a pollinator of gardens, orchards and crops with gross honey production as a secondary. Yet another way is to sell the bees themselves. Making queens, packages, nucs, etc… to sell to other beekeepers. Then there are those who make and sell beekeeping supplies and equipment. There are those who are involved in live removal of bee swarms and bee nests in structures.
As you can see, there are many inventive and creative ways to make a living, part or even full time as a beekeeper.
As for me, I see myself as a Conservation beekeeper in that sense. I work to accumulate and build up strong genetic lines of locally adapted bees in which to use in my homestead purpose and to make available to other local beekeepers.
The next major consideration in beekeeping for me is How do I want to do my beekeeping. As I have already decided that I want to bee a homestead beekeeper and a conservation beekeeper, it seems to stand out most strongly to me to use “organic” and non-toxic methods of hive management and hives that facilitate that approach.
So now here I am, a combination “Homesteading/Professional, Conservation, Organic” beekeeper.
This tells me that I am going to want to use hives that are most conducive to a “bees first” approach. So I mostly use Warre “type” and horizontal top bar hives in my Homesteading and horizontal and 8 frame Langstroth hives to suit my Professional/Production objectives.
I use methods that put the bees first, don’t include toxic products and allow for Natural selection as part of the overall IPM program I have in regard to hive management.
I tend to build and assemble my own equipment as much as possible because these types of hives typically aren’t mass produced or low cost in general.
This is all information I now have going in to help me figure out what purchases to make, and how to get started and how to sustain my beekeeping once I have reached my goals as to how many hives I want to have.
Of course, this is just the planning for one beekeeper. There are a variety of purposes and gals and combinations of them as there are beekeepers. The point is, by identifying your purpose, goals and objectives at the beginning, it will help you be more decisive going forward.
One more thing to touch on in relation to forward planning is how far forward.
I typically advise my “Producer” oriented clients to make an outline of a 5 year year plan. Kind of like this very abbreviated example;
- Purchase and assemble equipment for (in this example) 4 complete hives (account for honey super boxes as part of each hive).
- Purchase 4 nucs of bees to get sooner start on honey production.
- Locate hives in forage rich environment near farm, orchard, gardens, etc.. with blooming flowers throughout the season. Make sure this first apiary has room for growth to accommodate organic (making splits of surviving hives) expansion in year 2. ie.. apiary should be able to provide adequate, ample forage for at least 8 hives
- At Fall prep in late Summer, identify hives looking “weak” that can be combined to better survive Winter.
- Based on Previous Fall assessment, in late Winter, early Spring, based on overwintering observations, assess hives that have died or likely to die out. Make plans to purchase splits from surviving hives to replace those.
- Expansion plans call for doubling of colonies. Based on plans for organic growth to replace losses, make plans to purchase nucs to increase number to get to 8 hives.
- Based on expansion plans, prepare to obtain hive equipment for at least 4 more hives similar to Year one plan.
- Current apiary accommodates up to 10 hives, start seeking a second apiary location or 2 more apiary locations to accommodate growth for doubling total hives into year 3.
You can see where this is going. By having a forward looking plan in place, your “on-the-spot” decision making has been minimized and you will find yourself better prepared as you go forward and being surprised or out of necessary equipment or resources will be reduced.
If you plan to pursue “Conservation” focused beekeeping, this type of forward planning becomes even more important, even necessary, toward your success.