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Communications May 8, 2019

How to Create a Backyard Beehive

It takes hard work and dedication to grow fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, most gardeners have help from one of nature’s most efficient providers: bees. Even with the proper lighting, soil, and climate, some plants won’t produce without these little guys. In fact, 30% of the world’s crops depend on pollinators, including bees.

Beekeeper Jerry Maxwell learned this lesson the hard way. Maxwell watched for years as his fruit trees cycled through the seasons without producing a single piece of fruit. Seeking a solution, Maxwell added plants known to attract bees and butterflies. When the trees still hadn’t fruited by the following spring, Maxwell took his efforts to the next level by ordering beekeeping equipment and a shoebox-sized package of bees.

“Beekeepers like to say if you can garden, you can raise bees, and that’s absolutely true,” said Maxwell. “I started researching beekeeping online, bought books, and talked to as many beekeepers as I could find. Now I have fresh fruit every year. My neighbor’s orange tree just exploded with oranges. She had no idea it was even an orange tree.”

Since then, Maxwell has added five beehives to his collection and opened Maxwell Family Honey from his suburban backyard.

Maxwell isn’t alone in his backyard beekeeping enterprise. While starting his business, he stumbled upon the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association, a local beekeeping organization with members ranging from backyard beekeepers to multimillion-dollar business owners.

As a member of the association and beekeeping mentor, Maxwell now educates others about the benefits of beekeeping. Check out some of his tips for getting started below.

Getting Started

First, do your research. If you live in a subdivision, find out if your homeowners association allows beekeeping before investing your time and money. Identify the equipment you will need and decide what kind of beekeeper you would like to be. Some beekeepers prefer to let their bees live naturally while others take a more proactive approach. Deciding how you would like to approach beekeeping early on will help you select equipment.

An important consideration is the type of hive your bees will need. Ideally, hives should be comfortable for the bees and convenient for the beekeeper. Maxwell recommends a 10-frame Langstroth hive, which is a vertical structure with multiple levels for honey storage. These hives feature removable panels that serve as structures on which the bees can build honeycombs.

Protective gear is also recommended if you intend to harvest your honey. Although bees usually do not harm passers-by, they will sting in defense of the hive. Most equipment is available online or from local bee apiaries.

Once your gear arrives, it’s time to order the bees. Most apiaries ship bees in the spring. Look for bee apiaries with improved breeds for the most success. Families with children should consider purchasing bees bred to be docile, although all beekeepers can benefit from bees with this behavior. Navasota-based apiary, Beeweaver, features bees bred to be docile and parasite resistant.

When to Harvest

Bees create honey from nectar during spring and fall for one reason- to sustain the colony through winter. Because new and weak colonies may not have any honey to spare, it’s important to allow the colony to build up honey stores for at least a year before harvesting.

For established colonies, it’s safe to harvest honey in spring and fall, although you should leave enough honey to last the colony through winter.

During harvest time, check on the colony’s progress and note how much honey they are producing. In a Langstroth hive, look for frames that are filled with cured and capped honey, which is honey that has dried and is covered in a layer of wax. Avoid uncapped honey, which hasn’t dried enough for long-term storage.

Fall honey, which is darker and denser than spring honey, should be harvested in November before it’s too cold.

Since bees cannot forage during the cooler months, check on your colony periodically to ensure they have enough honey stores. If they are low on food, you may need to feed them sugar water or a commercial bee food.

By late winter or early spring, the bees will begin waking up to forage and spread pollen, a task vital for food production. As your hive grows, take pleasure in knowing you’re helping the environment, not just your own garden!