How to become an amateur apiarist

Maybe it goes without saying, but becoming an amateur apiarist isn’t to be taken lightly. But thousands of stinging insects isn’t the only danger for beekeepers—the biggest risk is getting hooked on your new hobby.

“The whole culture of beekeeping and how honeybees work can be really obsessive for people,” says Les Eccles, the Tech-Transfer Program Lead for the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association. That was certainly the case for Eccles; while completing an agriculture degree at the University of Guelph, he began working at the honeybee research centre on campus. Today, in addition to his role at the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association where he acts as one of the main educators, he maintains 150 colonies of his own. “It’s just so interesting, it just kind of sucks you right in,” he explains. 

For the fearless, becoming a backyard beekeeper is a rewarding pastime. Here’s how to get started:

Contact your local beekeeping association

“It’s really hard to learn about beekeeping by yourself. Get involved in the beekeeping community because that’s where you going to find most of your support to make it actually work,” says Eccles.

He recommends reaching out to local beekeeping clubs or associations, and finding a mentor. Not only will this help you work through problems, it will also be helpful when harvesting your honey. By pooling resources, you’ll save both time and money.

Take a workshop or a course

Once you’ve connected with a group of beekeepers in your area, find out if there is an introductory course you can take. The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, for example, offers course throughout the province.

A good basic course should include honeybee biology, working in the bee colony, seasonal responsibilities, preparing bees for winter and how to harvest honey. Education is an important step—as part of the local ecology, the success of you colony also has the potential to affect wild pollinators.

Get the right equipment

If, after all that legwork, you’re getting to start produce honey in your own backyard, get ready to invest. The typical home apiarist starts with two to three colonies, which cost around $250 per colony and contain up to 60,000 bees. In addition to your honey extractor (around $600), you’ll also need to purchase the wooden box, a smoker for controlling the bees and protective equipment. In total, be prepared to pay around $800 to $1000 to get a hive going.

Think long-term

Beyond the upfront costs, there’s also hive maintenance. “Bees need to be taken care of, just like any crop or livestock,” explains Eccles. In addition to treatments for pests and diseases, you may also need to feed your bees to help them get through the wintertime.

Know the laws and regulations

Check with your province’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food to determine what regulations exist for backyard honey production. For instance, the Ontario Beekeepers Act requires that all beekeepers must register their hives. “If there’s an outbreak of diseases or something like that the province can contact you to make you aware of any problems in your area,” explains Eccles. Any bees purchased must come through a registered seller with a permit, as well.

And remember—all beekeepers get stung. Yes, all.

There are lots of sweet rewards to beekeeping, but get prepared to feel the sting. “Stinging is part of being a beekeeper. It’s something that you’re going to have to get used to,” says Eccles. “If you don’t want to get stung, then you probably shouldn’t be a beekeeper.”