Anyone can be a bee owner. A successful beekeeper will inspect the hive for a queen, brood, pollen, honey, diseases, pests, and adequate room. If the hive is not healthy you will not have to worry about it for long. In cooler climates for the first inspection of spring it must be over 55F. If it is too cold the cluster will not survive. It is enough to check a hive every few weeks under normal circumstances. Calm, sunny days are best.
The hive will need more frequent checks when there is a honey flow. If bees are clustered on the front of the hive, they are probably overcrowded. In the evening, starting at sundown, bees will cluster near the entrance to fan the hive when it is warm or there is nectar to process. This is normal behavior not overcrowding. Seven of ten frames filled is time to add more room.
If the new hive is from a swarm or package of bees wait 14 days before opening the hive. The bees need time to settle in to their new home. Every time the hive is opened or disturbed sets them back a little, so it is also important to wait 7 days after requeening, and 7 days after dividing or splitting a hive into two hives.
Placement of the hive is important for two reasons. The bees need some shelter from strong winds, direct sun in winter, flooding or heavy dampness, and protection from other animals. Never place a hive near leashed or corralled animals. Vandalism is the greatest threat to any hive. Place the hive out of sight and away from traffic.
It is also important to be good neighbors. The hive should be out of the way, inconspicuous, adequate supply of water, windbreak, and morning sun. A fence, hedge or plantings of over 6 feet height will force the bees to fly above the heads of anyone nearby. The water will keep bees out of neighbors’ pools, ponds and anywhere water collects. The hedge, plantings, fence and inconspicuous placement provide the “out of sight – out of mind” at least until everyone knows the hive is not a menace to society.
A gift of honey at the first harvest may help, but the hive may go unnoticed for years. I kept four hives in downtown Orlando for many years and one in Tampa for several years too. I would reserve the honey until they notice the hive. Check local ordinances for restrictions in residential areas. Most restrictions model the good bee neighbor guidelines provided.
It really is not that difficult to get past the fear of being stung. I have gone quite some time without being stung. There is enough protective clothing and equipment to protect you and make you look like a nuclear scientist if desired.
When looking at beekeeping suppliers, the beginner kits offer items that are not necessary. A basic hive is one bottom board, one cover (also an inner cover if the cover is telescoping not migratory), and one deep or medium (Illinois) brood chamber (also called a super) with ten frames. The bees will draw the frames into comb faster and more controlled if each frame has foundation. Besides the hive, a veil, smoker and hive tool will suffice for a long time.
After a few weeks or months when they start gathering nectar and crowding the brood chamber, get another super with ten frames, foundation and probably a queen excluder. If you see some other tools you cannot live without, get them with the second super. A list of beekeeping suppliers is provided with web sites.
I offer beginner and intermediate beekeeping training and mentoring at the University of South Florida Botanical Garden in Tampa. The two day class teaches the essentials of beekeeping or apiculture with practical, hands on experience. Please contact me or the garden to schedule a class. If there is enough interest, I can teach the class in Spanish.