So you want to be a beekeeper? What you need to know

Photo: Peggy McLaughlin

by Richard McLaughlin

Beekeeping is a fun and fascinating hobby. Honey bees live and work together in large, complex societies that captivate our senses and curiosity. Many people are drawn to beekeeping for the science and others enjoy the products of the hive such as honey, wax, and pollen.

In recent years beekeeping has become an increasingly popular pastime. Honey bees and other pollinators face numerous challenges today – habitat loss, pesticides and parasites, to name just a few. Some people take up beekeeping as a way to “do their part” to help the bees, but there are those who simply enjoy the connection to nature.  In either case, there are a few things to keep in mind before you begin.

It is best to take a ‘Bee School’ first since there is a lot to know about running your own apiary and keeping healthy bees. There are many offered around the state. In class you will learn all about honey bees, how to manage them throughout the year, local ordinances that may apply, as well as the costs and time commitments involved in owning bees.  You will also meet others with the same interest.

If you decide to become a beekeeper, you will need a location for your bees and equipment in which to house them. The bee hive is comprised of several wooden boxes, a bottom, two top covers, and internally mounted frames that support the wax comb on which the bees live and store honey. Additionally, every new beekeeper needs protective clothing including a veil, gloves and jacket to guard against stings, along with assorted tools to use when inspecting the colony. The bees themselves can be acquired in packages or nucleus colonies.

Numerous beekeeping clubs around the state provide a friendly network for sharing information about bees, classes, mentors, and where to buy equipment. Books and websites devoted to beekeeping are helpful but the best information will come from experienced local beekeepers. A good place to find classes and clubs is through the UMaine Cooperative Extension and at www.mainebeekeepers.org.

Although no license is required to become a beekeeper, colonies must be registered annually with the Maine Department of Agriculture. It’s also a good idea to stay connected to a larger community of beekeepers such as the Maine State Beekeepers Association to further your education and stay up-to-date on beekeeping topics.

Beekeeping can become an addictive hobby. You’ll find yourself regularly talking about all things bees with your friends, and even strangers. And with the right foundation, you can become a successful beekeeper, make new friends, and enjoy some honey along the way.  

Richard McLaughlin is a Master Beekeeper and the President of the Maine State Beekeepers Association. He has been keeping bees since 2009 and maintains approximately 25 colonies across York County with his wife.

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