Getting started in small-scale beekeeping...
A. Anyone who owns or is in possession of honey bees must register annually with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). There is no charge for registration. Beside it being the law, there are a number of good reasons to register your hives. For one, you will have the services of Ontario bee inspectors to help you assess the health of your colonies and they will also alert you to any potential threats in your environment that could affect the health of your hives. For another, reputable bee breeders providing healthy stock will not sell to unregistered beekeepers. And as well, you will be ineligible for liability insurance or government assistance programs unless you are registered. You can download your form here:
A. Although endlessly fascinating and a lot of fun, there is also a lot to learn in beekeeping. A good course or two will give you the basics, provide you with useful resources for learning on your own, and connect you with others who could be helpful. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they are starting out, but give yourself the best start you can by reducing the potential for disappointment and loss. And remember, as a beekeeper you are part of your local ecology: poor beekeeping can effect not just your own stock, but wild pollinators and other beekeepers' operations as well.
A. It used to be common to buy or inherit used beekeeping equipment, but due to the spread of diseases and pests, (spores can remain viable for decades in hive equipment) it is recommended to buy new hive equipment to start with. If you are a small-scale beekeeper, you can find good beginner kits for sale from beekeeping supply stores. With the addition of tools and protective equipment, it is foreseeable to spend $800 to $1000 for two or three hives.
A. Beekeeping is physical, outdoor work but there are tools and techniques used to overcome the strenuous aspects. People with disabilities have been known to keep bees, and a portion of beekeepers are senior men and women. Full sized honey boxes can weigh up to 100 pounds, but increasingly beekeepers are working with small to medium-sized honey boxes, which, filled with honey, can weigh approximately 40lbs. Building your own equipment is an option, however, assembled equipment is also available.
A. Yes, all beekeepers get stung eventually. When you get stung, the most important thing is to remove the venom sac and stinger as soon as possible. The most effective way to do this is to lift it out with your fingernail or the fine edge of your hive tool. Try to avoid squeezing the venom sac between two fingers, as this could push the venom into the sting site. For most people, this is a minor event, similar in pain to getting a needle. It will not leave permanent damage. You will likely experience swelling at the site, and often itching for a few days. This is a normal reaction to bee stings. Some people put ice on the sting site, or make a poultice with baking soda, but beekeepers tend to build up a tolerance to stings. The face is a sensitive place to be stung, therefore a veil is highly recommended. If you are allergic, a sting is deadly serious (see Q. 6).
A. If you or your immediate family members have never been stung by a bee, you may be unaware of an allergy to bee stings. It may be of interest to get tested before getting bees (See Q. 5 for a normal reaction to a bee sting) If you are allergic, you may experience hives and discomfort with swallowing or breathing even after the first sting. Allergies to stings tend to escalate with each sting, potentially causing anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition. Nothing is worth risking your life, or the life of those you care about, so if you are allergic, beekeeping may not be for you.
A. Beekeeping is seasonal, and therefore the time varies with the season. For small-scale beekeepers, there is not much to do in the winter except to occasionally check for physical damage or debris blocking the entrances, hindering air flow. The busiest times are spring and fall when it can be compared to managing a decent sized garden.
A. Hives need forage, light, access to water, friendly neighbours and protection from predators. You need to also consider what is growing in your forage area, as pesticides and herbicides can be lethal to bees. And don’t forget that you will need to comply with local zoning and other regulatory laws and licences. Hives within one location should be positioned at least a metre apart. Avoid facing the entrances all the same orientation as the bees may not decipher their hive from the ones next door.
A. The basic components for hives are needed, (bottom board, hive boxes, frames and foundation, an inner cover and an outer cover) but do the research to help you think about the options and find the best size and type of hives for you. For yourself, you will need protective clothing (including a veil), a hive tool, entrance reducers, winter protection for the hives, queen excluders, a bee brush, and a smoker. You will also likely want to have a feeder for each hive and, again, research the options to find the one that best suits you as they all have advantages and disadvantages. A wagon can be helpful for hauling stuff around. And a notepad and camera for learning and management. Later you will need extraction equipment and packaging materials depending on your volume and goals. Pest and disease treatments and/or management tools will also be a necessity. Look here for information on where to get beekeeping equipment.
A. If starting out with a nucleus colony (a “nuc”), don’t count on significant honey in the first year, unless it is a particularly good year and you started early in the foraging season. Bees need time to build up their population and comb, and you will want to ensure they have adequate numbers of bees and food for the winter. The average Ontario yield is approximately 70-90 pounds per well-managed, mature hive.
A. This will vary from company to company, therefore it is wise to ask your insurance agent directly; but generally speaking, if you give away or sell your honey you are likely not covered by your homeowners insurance. Fortunately, the OBA provides an affordable group liability insurance policy for members.
A. Check out this website’s Where to Buy Bees for local suppliers. Buying local bees that are acclimatized to your region is beneficial. There are several honey bee breeders in Ontario that product hearty stock, demonstrating resistance to pests and diseases. More importantly, Ontario bees are inspected and regulated and cannot be sold, given away or donated without an inspection certificate from OMAFRA. Ensure this certificate is attached to any bees and used beekeeping woodenware obtained. Should you want to import bees from outside of Ontario, you will need to apply for a Permit to Import from the Ontario Government.
A. If you are a small-scale beekeeper you can make money selling honey, but you are probably looking at break-even rather than profit-making, especially the first few years. Check out your local farmer’s markets to determine typical rates for honey. If you are an OBA member you can get preferred rates for packaging products (glassware) from Dominion & Grimm. If you are considering selling to retailers, usually 50% goes to them, and you will have to ensure you are compliant with labelling and other honey related food regulations. And don’t forget all the honey that will go to your friends and family!
A. If it’s a medical emergency, call 911. For assistance with issues related to bee pests or diseases, call your local inspector or the OBA Tech-Transfer Program. For general beekeeping management assistance, your local beekeepers association is a great resource. You may also want to bookmark a few reputable web-based beekeeping resources that you trust (such as this one) to avoid flailing around on the Internet in a panic.
A. It’s never too early to start learning about bees, beekeeping and their management. Beekeeping education is an essential tool to be a successful beekeeper. Seasonally, you will want to order your equipment and bees, sign up for a beekeeping course, and join the OBA and your local association in the winter for a late spring start. You will need to have your hive bodies constructed (if you are putting them together yourself) and painted, and your beeyard cleared by the time the bee packages or nucs are ready in late May or early June. Full sized hives can be purchased throughout the foraging season but nucs will need time to build up before winter, so late July may be the latest you would want to start a hive from a nuc. Check out 10 Steps to Start for more information.