For those who love honey and have a garden their own, the step to their own beehive and thus to beekeeping is not a big step. This is how beekeeping succeeds in your own garden.
Honey is delicious and healthy – and beekeeping in your own garden is not that difficult. In addition, bees are among the best pollinators in the insect kingdom. So if you want to do something good for the capable insects and benefit yourself, having your own beehive in the garden and a beekeeper hat on your head are the right choice. We explain to you what you need to start as a beekeeper and what you should consider when beekeeping in the garden.
How do you become a beekeeper?
You could now say: becoming a beekeeper is not difficult, but being a beekeeper is very difficult. Because all that is really needed for the activity is a garden, a beehive, a bee colony and some equipment. The legislature’s restrictions on keeping are manageable. If you acquire one or more colonies, according to the Bee Disease Ordinance of November 3, 2004, these must be reported to the responsible local authority immediately after acquisition. Then everything is recorded and a registration number is issued. If beekeeping is only used for private purposes, that’s actually about it. If several colonies are acquired and commercial honey production takes place, it becomes a little more complex and the responsible veterinary office is also involved. However, you should still – for general peace in the neighborhood – ask whether the residents agree to the beekeeping.
We also advise you to go to a local beekeeping association and get training there before you buy it. The beekeeping associations are happy to pass on their knowledge to newcomers and in many cases also hold regular courses on the subject of beekeeping in the garden.
Material and tools for the hobby beekeeper
After a look behind the scenes and equipped with the necessary specialist knowledge, nothing speaks against buying the necessary materials for beekeeping in the garden. You need:
- One or more beehives
- Beekeeper protective clothing: hat with net, beekeeper tunic, gloves
- Beekeeper pipe or smoker
- Stick chisel for loosening propolis and dividing honeycombs
- Long blade knife
- Bee broom for gently brushing the bees off the honeycomb
- Water pollinators
- Means for treating varroa mites
Further equipment is then necessary for the later harvest. As you can see, however, the cost is relatively low and is in the range of around 200 euros.
The most important thing is of course the bees or the queen, who is the living heart of the swarm. Many beekeepers breed their queens themselves, so you can either buy them from the local beekeeping association or order them online. A swarm costs around 150 euros.
It is particularly easy to work on the beehive in the early morning, as the bees are still very sluggish at this time. Protective clothing should be put on before approaching the stick. This includes a light, mostly white beekeeper jacket, a hat with a net – so that the head is also protected all around – and gloves. The white color of the clothing has nothing to do with the bees, by the way, but with the sun: In summer it can get really warm in full gear and light-colored clothing reflects the sun instead of putting it on. In the next step, the smoker or the beekeeper pipe is prepared.
The smoke also calms the bees so that they can work in peace. The difference between a smoker and a beekeeper pipe is how it is handled: With the smoker, the smoke is driven by a bellows. With the beekeeping pipe, the smoke is – as the name suggests – driven by the air you breathe. However, smoke often gets into the respiratory tract and eyes through the beekeeping pipe, which is why the smoker is becoming increasingly popular among beekeepers.
Honey harvest from your own garden
Depending on the species and weather conditions, the bee colony begins to leave the hive at around ten degrees Celsius and collect nectar and pollen. As a rule of thumb, one can say that the start of the collecting season is around March. The season ends in October. The honey is “harvested” twice a year. Once in early summer (June) and the second time in summer (August). As a beginner, it is best to ask local beekeepers when it is time for harvest in your region.
The full honeycomb is harvested – but not more than a maximum of 80 percent. The people need the rest to get through the winter and have enough workers again in the following year. The busy bees are active all year round and do not hibernate. Instead, they pull together in November to form what is known as a winter cluster. Here the bees generate heat – among other things through their wing movements – whereby the insects regularly change their position. To warm up, the bees sitting on the outside always swap places with the bees on the inside.
During this time, the beekeeper only has to check his bees once and check for any diseases and pests such as the varroa mite. As soon as the temperatures are continuously back at around eight degrees Celsius, the bees begin a spring cleaning. In doing so, they clean both themselves and the beehive. In addition, the first pollen is already being collected, which is mainly used to raise the new larvae. By the end of March, all the bees of the so-called winter generation have died and the spring bees have taken their place. These work around the clock, which is why their life expectancy is only two to six weeks, so it is quite short.
At the same time, the beekeeper’s intensive work begins: the combs have to be checked for new queens every week. You can recognize their whereabouts from a significantly larger and cone-like shaped cell. If such cells are discovered, they have to be removed to prevent so-called “swarming”. When “swarming”, the old queens move away and take half of the flying bees with them – which means less honey for the beekeeper.
The beekeeper can then harvest for the first time in early summer. After the harvest, the honeycombs are broken open in a honey extractor by means of flying power. This creates the actual honey and beeswax that make up the honeycomb. A honey yield of ten or more kilograms per bee colony – depending on the location of the hive – is not uncommon. After the harvest, the bees are given sugar water (please never feed someone else’s honey!) As a feed substitute and are treated again against possible diseases and pests.
When feeding, however, you should always be careful not to leave anything open and only to feed in the late evening. If there is a smell of sugar water or honey, strange bees are quickly on the spot to rob your own stock. From September the entrance hole will be made smaller: On the one hand, the bees should slowly come to rest, and on the other hand, the guard bees will be able to defend the entrance hole better. To protect against other predators such as mice, a grid will be placed in front of the entrances in October. In this way the beehive is prepared for the next winter.