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 Getting Started

Is beekeeping really for you? Please click on this if you're thinking about getting into beekeeping.

This part of the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Beekeeping Association website is intended to provide advice to people thinking about getting into beekeeping.  Please note that while the Association is eager to expand the beekeeper community and stocks of honey bees in NL, we caution newbies about the challenges of taking up the beekeeping craft.  There’s more to it than meets the eye!  Beekeeping is not simple so beware of your romantic impulses.  Before you jump into beekeeping, make sure you have the time to learn about honey bees, the craft of beekeeping and its responsible application.

Also, please note that NL is currently free of a variety of parasites and diseases that are plaguing honey bees elsewhere in the world.  You can help keep it that way!  If you are thinking about acquiring honey bees and getting into beekeeping, please DO NOT import any honey bees directly from outside of NL.  DO NOT have packaged bees mailed to you.  DO NOT bring in nucleus colonies. Obtain them ONLY from established, NL beekeepers.  Also, DO NOT bring any used beekeeping equipment to NL.  Used supers, frames, foundation, honeycomb, bee suits, gloves and other items could be contaminated with any number or parasites and diseases. Pollen patties and honey from outside NL could also spread diseases when fed to local honeybees.  Purchase new equipment only, and from reputable beekeeping supply companies, or make your wooden hive parts yourself.

Here's a pamphlet regarding importing honey bees, used equipment and honey bee products.

Remember that all beekeepers in NL have a responsibility to manage their honey bees well, for public safety, and to preserve and protect our honey bee stocks.

You don’t have to know everything

While there’s a steep learning curve involved in novice beekeeping, you don’t have to know everything in order to get started. In fact it’s the kind of craft you have to learn by doing; book learning will only get you so far.  Also, there’s often more than one way of doing something when it comes to beekeeping; more than one hive design, method of feeding honeybees, etc. So, you will encounter more than one opinion on any topic. Over time, as you get more experience, you will be better able to evaluate the opinions, observations and advice of others.

Mentorship

Before you acquire one or more colonies of honey bees, it’s best to associate with established beekeepers.  Find a mentor if you can, participate in workshops, apiary visits, etc.  Do lots of reading.  If you had only one book to read to help you get started, a good one is Sammataro, Diana and Alphonse Avitabile. 2011. The Beekeeper’s Handbook.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press. http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100473240

Also, be sure to join NL Beekeeping Association for good access to your community of beekeepers and Association resources, and participate in the Association Forum (BBS). We also have a public Facebook group where you can ask questions, get advice, and contribute your own growing knowledge and experience.

Where to obtain honeybees

The best way to start your own apiary is to purchase a nucleus colony (a “nuc”) from the Newfoundland Bee Company (nfbeeco@gmail.com) or G&M Family Farm (gandmprojectmgnt@hfx.eastlink.ca). Call in early January to order your nucleus colony because they may be in short supply depending on winter and early spring conditions. Please be patient as our honeybee suppliers may not know until June whether they will have any nucs for sale, and if so, in what numbers.

Some people get “splits” or swarms from other beekeepers, but we don’t advise this for beginners because the characteristics of the honeybees, especially Queens, from such sources may be problematic (e.g., the Queen may not have been mated).

 

Locating your apiary

Given the climatic challenges we face in NL, finding a good location for your apiary is important.  It should be sheltered from cold and strong winds, preferably in a sunny location, and not in a depression where cold, damp air will collect.  Good forage in the way of pollen- and nectar-bearing plants is essential, which means that apiaries should not be established in forests. Also, the apiary should be accessible by vehicle so that you can transport hives, supers and other items to and from the apiary.  Remember that a deep super full of honey can weigh close to 45 kg (100 lb).  The hive entrance(s) should face the southeast. See also "Where is the best place to put a beehive?"

Urban beekeeping issues

Given that beekeeping is very new to almost all of the City and Town Councils in NL, they haven’t had time to think about honeybees, the benefits of beekeeping, and the relative safety of the craft.  Therefore, until such time that Councils develop Beekeeping Ordinances and otherwise become educated about beekeeping, it’s best not to provoke regulatory responses in reaction to negligent beekeeping practices.  If you’re thinking about establishing an apiary in an urban setting, follow the guidelines recommended by the NL Beekeeping Association.

  • put bee hives a minimum of 4 metres (12 feet) from property lines,
  • fence apiaries or grow hedges adjacent to them to establish flyways that direct bees away from adjacent properties,
  • provide a local water source for the apiary to prevent bees becoming a nuisance to users of local pools or hot tubs,
  • limit the number of hives to six colonies,
  • while hives with removable frames are permissible in urban beekeeping contexts (e.g., Top Bar Hives), use only Langstroth type bee hives in higher density urban areas to limit the swarm risk.

Equipment strategy

We recommend that you work out a good beekeeping equipment strategy well in advance of obtaining your first nucleus colony.   It is generally recommended that you start with a Langstroth hive because they are relatively easy to inspect, and facilitate good hive management through frame manipulation, and other ways of building colony strength.  Also, Langstroth hives allow proven swarm control methods.

Beekeeping equipment can be obtained from the following Canadian sources.

Seasonal beekeeping strategy

We also recommend that you work out a good seasonal beekeeping strategy. You need to figure out when best to feed sugar syrup to your honeybees and in what ratio of sugar to water. When should you wrap your hives for winter?  When should you do your first inspections in the spring?  Have a look at our “Seasonal Tips” section for more information about beekeeping practices as they progress throughout the year.

There’s much more

There’s much more to think about than what we’ve provided in this brief introduction. We leave it to you to get more details through your reading and interactions with experienced beekeepers.

Remember to join the NL Beekeeping Association. In joining, you’ll benefit from the experience and wisdom of many other beekeepers while helping to protect NL honeybees, and build our beekeeping community at the same time.