Getting started with beekeeping in Michigan
Many people are interested in getting started with beekeeping as a way to spend time outdoors, participate in agriculture, dive into a new hobby or connect with a local community. However, before you buy honeybees and hive equipment, take time to learn about beekeeping and connect with a local beekeeping community. While beekeeping can be fascinating and rewarding, it also has a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, it’s common for new beekeepers to struggle to keep colonies alive and healthy. It’s also common for new beekeepers to underestimate the time, physical demands and financial costs of getting started in beekeeping.
Learn about beekeeping before you buy bees and equipment.
Join a local beekeeping community
Michigan has a statewide beekeeping organization, the Michigan Beekeepers Association, and is home to about 30 local beekeeping clubs. While each club is different, many offer monthly meetings with educational presentations and opportunities to network. The Michigan Beekeepers Association compiles a list of beekeeping clubs in Michigan (https://www.michiganbees.org/michigan-bee-clubs). Beekeepers outside of Michigan can review the American Beekeeping Federation’s list of state and local beekeeping organizations (https://www.abfnet.org/page/states).
Attend Michigan Beekeepers Association spring and fall conferences
Every year, MSU Extension collaborates with the Michigan Beekeepers Association (MBA) to plan and host beekeeping conferences in the spring and fall. These conferences are attended by hundreds of beekeepers statewide and they include speakers on a variety of topics ranging from bee health to using hive products. The spring conference is held at MSU during Agriculture and Natural Resources Week and the fall conference moves around the state each year. MBA sends emails to its contact list with quarterly newsletters and other announcements from the association. MBA members are automatically added to the email list and non-members who do not already receive emails from MBA can sign up for MBA’s email list.
The first step: Buy a veil and learn from other beekeepers
MSU strongly encourages people who are interested in beekeeping to spend their first year learning. Purchase a beekeeping veil or suit, join your local club to meet area beekeepers and spend a year getting in-hive experience before purchasing your own bees. You can volunteer to help other beekeepers in their apiaries. You may also be able to get in-hive experience through a beekeeping class or in-hive workshops offered by local bee clubs and university extension.
Set realistic expectations regarding mentorship
Traditionally, many people learned beekeeping by apprenticing with a mentor. A mentor who has years of experience successfully keeping bees alive can be a wonderful resource. Due to the large number of beginning beekeepers, however, many new beekeepers find they are not able to find a mentor. Often a good approach to working a mentor is to offer to help the mentor in the bee yard by lifting, taking notes or whatever task needs to get done.
Read at least one beginning beekeeping book to understand basic honeybee biology
Honeybees are complex creatures that respond to environmental changes. In order to manage them well, you have to have a grasp of the basic biology and all of the beekeeping terms and jargon. While you will continue to read and learn about bees after you become a beekeeper, you should know the basics of their care before you start.
Learn about varroa mites
Unfortunately, our honeybees are currently experiencing an epidemic of varroa mites, which are deadly, parasitic mites. Many people who start beekeeping lose most or all of their colonies to this parasite every year. This parasite is present in all honeybee colonies in Michigan and spreads diseases between honeybees and colonies. One of the biggest challenges to keeping honeybees healthy is learning how to monitor and manage varroa mites, and right now, successful beekeeping requires a good pest management plan. The Michigan State University compiles resources on varroa mites and the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s Tools for Varroa Management guide offers a comprehensive overview of the parasitic pest and management options.
Become familiar with Michigan rules and regulations for beekeeping
MSU helps beekeepers by consolidating beekeeping related rules, regulations and guidelines in the state. Every year, MSU updates the Michigan Beekeeping Rules and Regulations document. In this document, you will find information related to beekeeping and the Michigan Right to Farm Act and Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs), organic beekeeping, transporting hives to and from Michigan, honey processing rules and regulations for selling honey in Michigan, and more!
Options for purchasing bees and equipment
Since beekeeping has a steep learning curve, it’s best to learn as much as you can before you purchase bees and equipment. MSU doesn’t endorse vendors, but local beekeeping clubs may provide recommendations. Beekeeping clubs may also make bulk purchases of bees and equipment, or bee club members may sell bees to each other. MSU has short videos that explain options for purchasing honey bees and how to get started with installing package colonies and installing nucleus (nuc) colonies.
Reach out when you need help
By the time you begin keeping bees of your own, hopefully you will have a local beekeeping community that can provide local and seasonal information. MSU answers beekeeping questions through monthly webinars during the beekeeping season and questions sent through its Ask Extension form (https://pollinators.msu.edu/questions).