Family & Education

How to Raise Honeybees

Those who love honey might want to consider raising honeybees at home
BY Bill Lindsey TIMEMay 25, 2023 PRINT

For thousands of years, humans have prized honey for its taste as well as its health benefits. By raising bees at home, beekeepers can harvest and enjoy their own honey.

There are two types of honey: raw and processed. Raw honey is collected from a beehive and consumed after it’s passed through a filter to remove bits of beeswax and other debris. Honey processed for commercial sale is run through fine filters to remove pollen and impurities and then treated by an application of heat to make it smoother, clearer, and less sticky, while extending shelf life by eliminating moisture and yeast.

The Beekeeper In The Field Of Flowers
Protective clothing is a must while harvesting honey, as bees can become aggressive during this process. (apple2499/Shutterstock)

While the taste is a large plus, many honey devotees also swear by its health benefits, with some claims backed by the Mayo Clinic. Mostly composed of sugar, honey also contains amino acids, vitamins, zinc, iron, and antioxidants.

Studies have shown that the antioxidants in honey may be associated with a decreased incidence of seasonal allergies and a reduced risk of heart disease. It has been used as an effective treatment for coughs, and it may be able to relieve acid reflux and heartburn.

In addition, medical-grade honey has long been used to treat burns and other wounds, with Manuka honey found to have antibacterial properties. Note, though, that the Mayo Clinic advises against giving honey to children under the age of 1.

Set Of Beekeeping Supplies On White Background
Beekeeping tools include a protective veil, a smoker, and a brush used to harvest the honey from the honey combs. (Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock)

There are two ways to get honey: buy it or collect it. You can collect honey from a wild hive or your own. There are also “bee hotels,” but these are intended to attract solitary pollinating bees rather than honeybees. There are many guides to building a beehive, but for the less mechanically inclined, there are numerous commercially made hives to choose from.

The many online forums focused on beekeeping are a good source of information on hives and most related topics. These forums provide a good way to explore the world of beekeeping and make new friends, and they’re a great place to ask questions and learn about everything from protective beekeeper clothing to how to keep bees healthy.

Honey With Honeycomb On White
Raw honey can be consumed straight from the honey comb after being filtered to remove bits of beeswax and other debris. (Dionisvera/Shutterstock)

Building a Hive

The bees will travel quite a distance to find the nectar required to create honey, but ideally, the hive should be located in or near a garden, away from homes or anywhere people may walk through the bee’s flight path to and from the hive. It should be placed where it’s protected from wind and gets sun but is shaded to prevent overheating.

Honey Bees Collect Nectar
A white-tailed bumblebee collects nectar to take back to the hive to be converted into the honey the colony uses as food. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

With the hive in place, it’s time to add the bees. Experienced beekeepers may be comfortable capturing wild bees, but for most newcomers, it might be better to purchase a colony from a local or online apiary. The apiary can provide assistance selecting the type of bee and how many are needed, based on the geographic location and size of the hive. Italian and Carniolan bees are popular choices for new beekeepers.

Children In Protective Suits Near The Beehive
Beekeeping can be a family affair and is a great way for kids to learn about nature firsthand. (kipgodi/Shutterstock)

A “starter package” can contain approximately 10,000 bees, including one queen bee in a cage that protects her while the other bees accept her as part of the colony. Over the course of several days, worker bees will eat through a candy plug in the cage to release her so the hive can become active. A second option is to purchase a nuclear colony, which is an active, producing hive, complete with a queen bee and worker bees.

Adding bees to a hive can be daunting but is a straightforward process that is safe as long as the bees are handled with care and the beekeeper wears a protective veil, gloves, and coveralls and uses a smoker. A smoker produces puffs of cool, white smoke that is used to help prevent the bees from attacking the keeper. It doesn’t harm them; upon sensing smoke, bees rush into the hive and fill their stomachs with honey, which makes them less agile and thus less likely to use their stinger on a perceived attacker.

Bees In The Beehive Honey To Honey Harvest
Fresh, raw honey is a golden delight, treasured for its taste and health benefits. (galinskiy_andrey/Shutterstock)

The hive requires ongoing care and maintenance to keep it in good condition and the bees within healthy and happy. If the bees feel threatened, the queen and her workers may abandon the hive. When wax caps are seen on the honeycombs, it’s time to harvest the honey, taking care to not take so much that the bees can’t survive. Beekeepers who plan to sell honey need to adhere to local, state, and federal rules and requirements, just as any other business must.

Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
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