Is backyard beekeeping for you?
Well some 30-40 people at a workshop at Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply in April were pretty sure it suited them.
According to beekeeper Brent Sarchet that’s been a pretty typical turnout for his spring workshops over the past five years at Murdoch’s.
Some people get into backyard beekeeping because they want to help save bees, while others want to boost pollination of their garden or crops.
But a lot of people do it because they love honey.
And I must admit, there’s something distinctively tasty about Montana honey that makes most commercial honey taste bland.
The Montana flavor has been credited to the wide variety of flower and weed sources the bees forage on.
There are a few basic things to consider before you jump in.
First, read any local ordinances about keeping bees and what the latest regulations are.
Here’s a link to Helena’s ordinance: https://sterlingcodifiers.com/codebook/index.php?book_id=401&chapter_id=14237#s891460
And here’s a link to the application form for backyard beekeepers:
The ordinance specifies the distance the hives must be from neighbors, the need for access to water and a few other minor requirements.
Sarchet recommends not placing your hives in an area that you will be mowing regularly, or where children will be playing or where you will be entertaining guests.
Some people keep their hives in their garden, says Sarchet.
Wherever the hive is, you don’t want a lot of noise or activity that will disturb the bees.
Make sure if you spray chemicals on your lawn, such as herbicides or fungicides, that your hives will be away from the lawn sprays.
If you live adjacent to agricultural land or near roads that are sprayed with chemicals, you’ll need to figure out how to protect your hives.
Another aspect of placement is picking a sunny location or partially sunny one, just avoid total shade, says Sarchet.
Make sure it’s also protected from wind.
Another factor is money.
Your initial investment will run about $400 to $500 for one hive, says Sarchet. He estimates $120-$130 for bees, $50 for a bee suit, and about $200 for the basic hive set up, and an inexpensive smoker.
He recommends finding someone who might want to share the cost of an extractor, which runs $300 to $400.
You won’t see a big return on your investment the first year, he advises. “For most beekeepers the first year there’s not much harvest because you’re building up the hive.”
While some beekeepers take most of the honey and feed the bees sugar water over the winter, Sarchet recommends leaving about 60 pounds of honey for the overwintering bees.
For beginning beekeepers, he recommends starting with Carniolan bees because they’re easier to overwinter. Thus you will see more success in your first year.
“After a few years of experience, you can introduce some different genetics into the hive,” he says.
A few other tips: when setting up your hive make sure it is out of reach of skunks, either through fencing or having it raised out of their reach. However, keep in mind that a box full of honey can weigh 80 pounds so that it will be in a position you can easily lift it.
A typical hive structure would be a hive stand, a bottom board with an entrance, two hive bodies (‘deeps’), one or two honey supers, an inner cover and an outer cover.
This article is merely intended to pique your interest in the sweet possibilities of beekeeping.
For more detailed information about how to set up your hives, Sarchet recommends finding another beekeeper as a mentor and also checking out extension publications online.
He particularly recommends Minnesota publications because its climate is similar to ours. See https://www.beelab.umn.edu/bee-squad/education and for free publications visit https://www.beelab.umn.edu/resources-beekeepers/free-bee-information.
There are some excellent websites with photos and videos to guide you, and also
online forums and facebook pages, including some by Montana and local beekeepers.
Although even experienced beekeepers can face challenges in Montana, it’s still a great place to raise honeybees.
Montana typically ranks in the top five states in the U.S. for honey production, according to the Montana Department of Agriculture.