Is Beekeeping on a Homestead a Good Choice?

I have long had an orchard and garden at our current home, and intend to greatly expand these areas on our homestead. In recent years I have noticed a reduction in the numbers of honey bees visiting my orchard and garden and have been concerned about the potential decrease in yields due to lack of pollinators. When trying to produce even more food for sale, the issue of pollination becomes very critical to success. This concern, an enjoyment of honey, and a general interest in bees, lead us to consider beekeeping as an adjunct to our homestead.

We began exploring the concept of beekeeping only recently, but quickly discovered the great wealth of information concerning beekeeping that is available online. A good starting point for learning about bees is BeeMaster.com which presents an entry level beekeeping course with pictures, links, and information about what is entailed in the enterprise. Another helpful site has been the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research And Extension Consortium.

A major concern of mine is to produce food without using poisons. Like any other livestock, bees are subject to certain illnesses and problems. I have begun researching organic treatments for their various problems. I found what appears to be some promising research regarding the natural treatment of mites in honeybees that homesteaders considering beekeeping might want to look into. This research suggests using mite screens, grease patties, and essential oils to help prevent mite infections, and we intend to follow this course of prevention with our bees. For foulbrood, one can do what people did before antibiotics (and antibiotic resistant foulbrood): inspect hives, never exchange equipment that is not scrupulously clean, scrupulously clean feeding equipment, avoid open feeding, and select for resistance amongst bees.

The equipment needs for homestead beekeeping are not great. A hive is obviously needed, generally consisting of a bottom board, two deep brood chambers, an excluder, two to four shallow hive bodies (also called supers), and a cover. The starting tools are quite simple: a bee brush, hive tool, and smoker. While some brave people handle their bees without special protective gear, those like me with less courage will probably want a helmet, veil, jacket, and gloves. There are a number of equipment suppliers, including Dadant, Inc. and Bee-Commerce.com among others that will ship directly to your door.