Knowing that keeping honey bees was the next endeavor my family and I wanted to take on our homesteading journey, it was time to start learning! I watched YouTube videos, got some beekeeping books, and looked for classes. Of course, Lehman’s had a beekeeping class coming up, so that was a perfect opportunity for me to look at actual equipment, talk to an experienced beekeeper, and take a novel’s worth of notes!
Beekeeping for Beginners
If you’ve been reading my entries here for very long at all, you know that A. I love Lehman’s, of course, and B. We are new to homesteading. Up until two years ago, we lived in a typical suburban neighborhood outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. We had kids, a fenced in yard, and some dogs. All my friends teasingly called me Martha Stewart because I liked to cook from scratch, grow my own food (aka raised bed gardens in my backyard), and had an increasing passion for buying food local.
After my husband got transferred to northeastern Ohio by his job, we fell in love with the area and the possibilities. Now we live on just over 5 acres, have expanded our garden, and started raising chickens (fresh eggs are the best!). Next we got some dairy goats and this year we decided we should get some bees. I mean, who doesn’t love raw local honey? Yummy, valuable enzymes, allergy fighters, the list of benefits is long! But also, we are planning to plant fruit trees and grow a greater variety of bee-pollinated crops in our garden this year, so having our own pollinators is huge!
But remember, I’m a suburbanite. I don’t know the first thing about keeping honey bees, so I had a lot of questions:
- What’s the best way to set up a hive?
- Do bees really need to be fed?
- How concerned do I need to be about the city spraying for mosquitoes?
- How do I light a smoker?
- I have an empty hive from a friend, do I have to do something to it, or can I just pop the new bees in?
- Where do I even get bees in the first place?
Attending Lehman’s Beekeeping Class
The class was held at Lehman’s store in Kidron, Ohio in their education room (also known as the Buggy Barn). As I walked in, it was immediately apparent it was going to be good. The room was full, and the associate was adding more chairs and putting together more welcome packets.
Aaron Weaver, an Amish bee expert, was our speaker. He is a grower of organic vegetables and a mentor to young beekeepers. Aaron has kept bees for years and is a wealth of information. He first shared with us some statistics on the increase of blooms and berries with bees compared to without….my mouth was watering just looking at his pictures of gorgeous blueberries.
What I Learned About Keeping Honey Bees
I learned the importance of not just the location of my hive, but orientation as well. They need to face the sun so they can get warm early in the day and get the most of their time foraging. The hives need air circulation, but not too much direct wind, and they need to be about 18″ off the ground to avoid skunks (who apparently love bees!). A package of bees includes 15,000-20,000 bees and must be installed just so. Checks need to be done every few weeks until you start seeing that the queen is laying eggs.
My pen was racing across the page of my journal, and my questions were mounting. Was I really going to be able to do all of this? It sounds like they are super particular, and I was worried I was never going to be able to keep them alive. However, as Aaron kept talking, my worries subsided. He answered every question before I had a chance to ask it.
He had a few different types of hive set ups to show us. We saw what eggs look like and the difference between a worker, a drone, and a queen. Did you know a telltale sign you’re looking at a frame with the queen is the perfect circle of attendant worker bees around her? Find the circle, and you’ll find the queen!
Aaron had amazing tips for winterizing bees, too – from using popsicle sticks under the inner cover to keep air circulation going without letting in too much cold to putting mouse guards at the front door to keep those critters from using the hive as a nice heated home in the winter (with free food!). Aaron also shared his favorite tools for mite control. After all, varroa mites are a huge cause of colony collapse now.
Once class was finished, I asked one or two questions about how to best arrange my specific hive for the package of bees that was on its way in mid-April. Remember, I had gotten a hive from a friend? It has some built-out comb and even a little honey already. He told me to put the built-out frames in the center and the empty frames on the outer edges. He also instructed me on what to watch for to make sure the bees are really taking to the hive well.
I left the class with confidence, resources, a contact of someone to call if I ran into trouble, and a place to get the last of the beekeeping supplies I needed (in this case, a bee brush, and a feeder) to set up my hives. While the best teacher is experience, I feel like I’m well prepared to take on my first bee colonies. I now know what to look for to measure how well my bees and I are doing! I’m so grateful to Lehman’s for offering such amazing resources and educations to help me meet this year’s homesteading goals!
Editor’s Note: Lehman’s offers in-store classes year-round about various topics from beekeeping to butter and cheesemaking. Find the full list of our upcoming classes here.