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Think of Them As Your New Pets

And other tips for bee companions.

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1. Start in the spring.
Ideally, you want to install a hive by early May, as flowers begin to bloom, but you can still make a go of it now. Though the bees do most of the work, this is still a months-long commitment: Owning bees is “like getting a dog,” says Andrew Coté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association. Expect to spend at least an hour a week tending your hive through October.

2. Pick a permanent hive site.
Choose your hive location wisely: A slight shift from one side of a rooftop to another will wreak havoc. You want a rooftop, community garden, terrace, or yard that’s not too windy, has good air circulation, and faces southeast so bees wake up to the sunrise and get to work early. Place the hive entrance ten feet from the nearest obstruction, giving the bees plenty of room to take off and land. There should be a fresh, shallow water source nearby—a hose-fed mister, say, or a wet sponge on a plate— for constant hydrating. Bees forage for three miles in every direction, but the closer the flower source (parks, planters, garden plots) the better.

3. Don’t scrimp on equipment.
The Georgia-based Gabees.com is a respected seller of live bees (a normal hive requires a purchase of 10,000 to 12,000 bees; the hive eventually grows to about 75,000). Betterbee.com can supply the gear, including a hive box, smoker, gloves, feeder, bee brush, and centrifuge. Prices vary, but you can expect to drop around $350 your first season.

4. Be patient.
It’s not out of the question to harvest honey as early as July, but don’t count on anything the first year. New bee colonies need time to build their hive and honeycomb, and most of their resources go toward that the first season. If the bees survive their first winter—feed them sugar water in October to increase your odds—you should have honey the second year.


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