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Agricultural News

Beekeeping for Beginners with OSU's Courtney Bir

Wed, 31 Aug 2022 09:20:36 CDT

Beekeeping for Beginners with OSU's Courtney Bir Farm Director, KC Sheperd, visited with OSU Extension Specialist, Courtney Bir, about how to start your own beekeeping operation.

“We have a really great fact sheet that is available online that goes through all of the items and the average costs,” Bir said. “There are some really great kits that can help you get started that have everything that you need, but really it is a deep box that has the frames, some wax, a hive tool, a bee-keeping suit of course so you don’t get stung, a smoker if you choose, the bees, some feeders and sugar water- there is a lot of different options.”

There are a lot of items that are optional depending on your preference, Bir said, so taking a look at that fact sheet and finding out what works for you and your finances and how you want to raise bees is a great place to start.

It is also important to make sure that your Home Owner Association does not have any restrictions on bees, Bir said, and that you are a courteous neighbor and keep your beehive off of your neighbor’s fence and let them know what you are doing.

“Promising them some future honey also really helps,” Bir said. “Municipalities cannot stop you from having bees but that doesn’t mean that neighborhoods cannot.”
There are three different registration levels, Bir said.

“There is a free sensitivity one which means they are not going to come to spray if the city sprays,” Bir said. “The typical registration you need is ten dollars and then that puts you on the sensitivity list and if you decide in the future to sell at a farmers’ market, they may require that. If you are a farmer that has other livestock and other items and you are already working with the FSA, if you ever have to apply for ELAP, you have to have that hive registered, so with that 10-dollar registration, you give yourself a lot of flexibility.”

Bees are counted as livestock, Bir said, and are not native to the United States. Although a lot of honeybee conservation practices also benefit other native pollinators, Bir said they are not native pollinators.

“It is our job as beekeepers to take care of our bees, make sure they are free of disease and that they are healthy, so we don’t start impacting the other pollinators in the area,” Bir said. “The USDA does keep numbers on the number of colonies, the health of the colonies and average honey production for certain states, so is just like cattle, except cattle won’t decide to just leave you one day and bees have that option.”

It is recommended to inspect the hives at least every two weeks, Bir said, and sometimes once a month to make sure everything looks good, make sure there is a queen, and the bees are healthy.

“Record keeping and finances and everything like that are just as important and we are here to help everyone with farm financial planning and anything like that,” Bir said.

In the state of Oklahoma, beehive registration is currently on a voluntary basis. Beehives can be registered at kellysolutions.com/OK/beekeepers/newapplication/applynow.asp. There are three types of registration as outlined in the apiary act: migratory beekeeper ($100), voluntary beekeeper ($10) and sensitivity registration ($0).

The basic list of items required to start a hive is estimated to cost $400 to $500. While a basic package of bees ranges from $80 to $100, a nucleus, like what Bir purchased, costs between $150 and $250. As the hive grows, additional wooden frames and boxes, treatment for mites and other supplies can rise to $700.
“There are three main options,” Bir said. “One is a package, they come with fewer resources they are a little bit slower to start but they are cheaper. You have a new core nucleus that is larger, and it does come with frames and some honey brewed for the bees, and baby bees are in there. Then of course there is a swarm. The swarm is free bees, other than your time and the fact that you don’t know their temperament, their health status, etc.”

A nucleus is what most people start out with, Bir said, and you work with a beekeeper near you because you cannot ship a nucleus. When you are buying a nucleus, you are typically buying local, Bir said, which is good for bees because they are used to your climate.

“Most swarms are very calm and so that is the one issue with catching swarms is you catch a swarm and they are very calm, and then maybe they go through the winter as they build up their population they start to show their true temperaments,” Bir said. “So as a beekeeper sometimes you can be surprised because that nice calm swarm in the spring can turn out to be a little bit nasty, but there are ways to combat that like switching out the queen and getting some different genetics in there, but it is something you have to be mindful of if you are catching a swarm.”

Just like in other types of livestock, Bir said genes are important no matter what.

“I think it is important to do your research, find a mentor, go to a workshop or join a beekeeping club,” Bir said. “All of these different things, especially if you find a mentor and you can go out and see what an inspection looks like and make sure that you are okay with that and you are not scared of the bees and that you are not allergic to the bees.”

There are some physical elements to beekeeping, Bir said, because the boxes are heavy and they do stack high, so making sure that you have the kind of setup that works with your physicality is also important.

Information is available through OSU Extension,” Bir said. “We have really great budgets that help you work through this. It is not the most expensive ag enterprise, but it is also some money.”

Bir said it will cost around $1000 to buy all the necessary equipment for one hive.

“They suggest you start with two,” Bir said. “It can get expensive right away and you typically do not get honey that the first year, so you are having a lot of expenses upfront, you are going a year without any income from the bees, and so it is something you need to think about and plan for and not take lightly.”

Click the LISTEN BAR below to listen to KC Sheperd and Courtney Bir talk about how to start your own bee operation.



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