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Learn about honeybees before buying them

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB FALCONER - This honey bee forages on a kale flower after the popular home garden vegetable flowered at the end of the season. So, you are thinking about getting honeybees.

Honeybees are fascinating creatures. The more you know about them, the more you’ll love them — and the more successful you’ll be when it comes to keeping hives thriving and the honey pouring.

Before getting started, it’s important to ask yourself a few important questions to make sure beekeeping is the right fit.

What do you expect from the bees?

People keep bees for various reasons. A lot of beekeepers want to be able to harvest honey and beeswax. Others even harvest pollen and other hive products.

Many people keep bees for pollination. Honeybees are excellent pollinators and can help with the pollination of your fruit trees and vegetable garden. Many plants grown in the home garden certainly benefit from pollination including squash, cucumbers and peppers. Tomatoes are mostly self-pollinating but even they benefit from pollination help from honeybees and bumblebees.

Hosting a honeybee colony is also a good fit for those who simply want to observe the honeybees. They’re fascinating to learn about and watch as they function as individuals and collectively as a super organism, obtaining all the raw materials they need from their surroundings.

In addition, as pollinators struggle in the midst of pesticide use, disease and lack of surrounding plant diversity, it’s a good time to jump on board and help bees thrive.

But beekeeping isn’t for everyone.

It’s important to first assess your health and physical strength. Are you allergic to bee venom? No one enjoys getting stung, but about 10 percent of the population is allergic to bee venom. Believe me, you will get stung, but practicing good beekeeping habits reduces this to a rarity. For those who aren’t allergic, stings are uncomfortable, but not serious.

Are you able to lift hive boxes filled with bees and honey that weigh 30 to 80 pounds? If not, you’ll have to find someone to help you out.

You’ll also need to follow the law.

Consult your local government and homeowner association about laws, permits, limitations and restrictions.

Beekeeping does take some time; your job as beekeeper is to anticipate the bees’ needs and act accordingly.

Finally, beekeeping is not cheap. New equipment can run upwards of $300 per hive. That does not include protective gear, tools and extraction equipment if harvesting honey is desired.

Getting started

If you’ve decided to keep bees after an honest discussion with yourself, it’s time to get started.

First, read as much as you can about honeybees. Humans and bees have a history going back thousands of years. There is a lot of literature out there.

It’s also important to find a local club. Search for some in your area at orsba.org. Clubs are filled with passionate beekeepers who are often willing to answer questions and share their knowledge.

Consider attending local bee classes (see sidebar) that are designed to help new beekeepers understand bee behavior, equipment, diseases, treatments and more.

Get your equipment before April 1. Most hives come unpainted and most people want to protect their investment with a simple coat of paint. New packages of bees from the commercial beekeepers usually arrive by mid-April, and the last thing you want is for the bees to arrive to find you haven’t prepared a proper home for them.

Package bees are worker bees shaken from existing hives by a commercial beekeeper and packaged by weight. Usually they are approximately three to four pounds apiece. A separate queen is included in her own box with the workers and must be introduced to the workers with instructions provided by the seller.

A great option for new beekeepers is purchasing a nucleus hive. These include four to five frames of workers, brood, stored honey and a queen that is already accepted by the workers and actively laying eggs.

It’s possible to buy a complete and well-established hive, but these are harder to find. It’s less common to find an established beekeeper selling complete hives, but perhaps there will be someone looking to unload their hives and get out of the business.

This is very expensive, though, and the bees could carry disease.

Beekeepers can also always catch swarms, which include workers and a queen. This can be intimidating for new beekeepers, however.

The better prepared you are, the more you’ll enjoy caring for these fascinating creatures.

The buzz on bee classes

- The Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association meets the last Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in a classroom on the first floor at 225 S. First Ave. in downtown Hillsboro. The club is also holding a “bee school,” open to the public, in the same location. Classes areMonday, March 21 from 6 to 9:30 p.m.;Wednesday, March 23, from 6 to 9:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 26, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.The class is $50 and includes club membership for the year and a textbook.

Contact them at facebook.com/tualatinvalleybeekeepers or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

- Bob Falconer will teach a class for the Washington County Master Gardener Association about gardening for bees and considerations before becoming a beekeeper. Demonstration Garden at the Washington County Fair Complex, Northeast 28th Ave. in Hillsboro, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 16.

- Recommended reading: “First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Keith Delaplane; “Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping” by Dewey Caron; “The Beekeepers Handbook” by D. Sammataro and A. Avitable.

Bob Falconer is a Hillsboro resident in his second year in Oregon State University’s Master Bee Keeping Program. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Learn more about the program at extension.oregonstate.edu/mb.