Nowadays, people are looking beyond having cats and dogs as pets. In fact, insects like cockroaches, tarantulas, & millipedes are currently on the list of top exotic pets, but can you keep bees as pets?
Whether you own a farm or live in an urban area, bees are absolutely an option for a pet. However, having bees as pets will differ from having an ordinary pet in many ways.
Before diving into the beekeeping world, there are some things to consider first. The most important considerations will be time, space, and neighbors.
Although bees do not take a lot of time, it is essential to consider if you have enough time to care for a living creature. Even the smallest creatures deserve our attention.
Mostly, all care will be around a half-hour per week, which adds up to less than 30 hours a year. So, all in all, bees are definitely on the lower maintenance side of things.
However, you also need to consider the time required for maintaining the vegetation surrounding your beehive(s). Bees require pollen & nectar to produce honey, so they will need flowering plants nearby.
Whether you live on a rural farm or in the city centre, there are options for you. It will be necessary, however, to consider where the bees will live. Where you place the beehive will depend on neighbors, other pets, & the areas you use often.
Of course, if you’re living with a more extensive garden or on a farm, a smart area to put your beehive would be close to the plants. However, it’s crucial to also think about your neighbors. If they use pesticides on their crops, you may want to place the bees on the opposite side of your property to avoid exposure. Not only will pesticides possibly kill your bee colony, but they can also contaminate the honey.
If you are in an urban area with no viable outdoor space, you still have options. Companies like BEEcosystem have created small, hexagonal observational hives that allow you to have a hive INSIDE your house. They will take up much less space than a traditional hive and are very beginner-friendly.
Neighbors are a crucial element to think about, given that some people are allergic to bees.
If you live in a suburban area, beehives can be a little trickier. Often, suburban neighborhoods will have Home Owner Associations that have specific rules about beekeeping that you will need to review.
Furthermore, you will need to think about how your hive placement will affect your neighbors. Do they have animals that may come into contact with the bees? Do they use pesticides on their vegetation? Will your hive interfere with a high traffic area in their yard or yours?
Neighbors are a vital detail to consider in your thought process as they will have a large stake in the success of your beekeeping endeavor.
Having bees as pets, like any other pet, takes time and preparation. After you’ve considered everything from hive placement to whether your neighbors are allergic or not, it’s time to get started on prep.
Although not cumbersome, it is important to get the necessary tools for beekeeping. These tools will not only keep you happy & safe, but will also do the same for your bees. Below is a list of the necessary tools for keeping bees as pets.
There are various types of hives to choose from, with some being more beginner-friendly than others. As mentioned previously, miniature beehives like the BEEcosystem are very beginner-friendly and don’t require much space. Other common types of beehives include the Langstroth Hive, Top Bar Hive, & the Warre hive.
- The Langstroth hive is by far the most common type of hive. This hive consists of components that stack on top of each other and removable comb frames (from which you will extract the honey). Once the bees fill a frame with honey, you can easily remove it by unstacking the other portions of the hive.
- The Top Bar hive, by comparison, is the oldest hive design in the world. The advantages of this design include the removal of combs without any heavy lifting. In addition, because of its smaller size, some beekeepers use this design for pollination purposes alone.
- The Warre hive is similar to the top bar hive but differs in the positioning of the frames. This hive mimics the design of wild beehives and can be more natural for bees.
All beekeepers get stung a few times a year. However, a full-body bee suit will protect you as you learn more about your bees’ behaviors. As you become more & more comfortable, there are also options for suits that cover just your upper body or your face. Gloves are also a significant part of the suit as your hands will have the closest contact with your new pet bees.
Beekeepers use smokers as a device to calm the bees. Because the smoke disrupts their sense of smell, they won’t react to some of the other bee’s alarm pheromones as you perform hive inspections & honey removal.
Besides the beehive, a hive tool is probably the most versatile and valuable tool a beekeeper uses. Bees produce a resinous substance to fix cracks & holes in the beehive. They do this to protect the hive from predators and natural elements. However, since it is pretty hard, it can prevent you from reaching layers of the hive. A hive tool allows you to open the hive, loosen hive parts, & lift frames. In the event of a sting, the hive tool can also remove the venom sac from your skin.
Notetaking will be an essential part of your beekeeping journey, so a notepad will be an essential tool. Notetaking will help you learn more about bee behavior, bee seasons, & other important aspects of beekeeping.
Taking time to think about which bees you want to acquire is important as not all bees have the same temperament or even produce honey.
Obviously, if you are looking for honey, you will want to look into acquiring honeybees. If you live in a tropical or subtropical region, you even have the option of looking into the unique, stingless genus of bees.
One consideration when purchasing your first colony of honeybees is size. Buying a nucleus, or small working colony, is the easiest option. The small size of this colony will allow you to ease into the hobby. However, if you feel especially prepared, you can also purchase an established colony of ~50,000 bees from your local beekeeping association. While definitely being the quicker option, it can feel overwhelming for a novice.
If, however, you are looking for pet bees just to pollinate your plants, you also have the option of hosting solitary bees like carpenter or mason bees.
Other Important Elements
The American Beekeeping Federation is a national non-profit that serves to provide resources to beekeepers. Finding one in your area before starting your hive can be helpful as they often have beginner beekeeping courses. Additionally, they often offer lectures and community events throughout the year that can aid in the learning process and help you meet other beekeepers in your area.
Like many other insects, animals, and plants, bee behavior changes throughout the season. Therefore, it will be pertinent that you perform specific duties through each season.
Spring is the start of the beekeeping season. At this time, the colony starts to become more active as plants begin to bloom. Spring will be the best time to create a new colony of bees.
Past your first year, this will also be time for some regular maintenance duties.
Since most flowers bloom in the summer, your hive will be busiest during this season. Your biggest activity will probably be extracting honey. Your biggest concern during summer will be swarming and requeening.
Because the activity starts to dwindle during this season, so will your bee population. Now will be the time to check for excess honey supply. It will also be the time to start prepping your hive for winter.
Now is your time to rest and plan for the next beekeeping year. Since the bees will not be doing much activity, there isn’t much maintenance or checking during this time.
One thing to think about is what vegetation will be surrounding the bees. Since bees produce honey by collecting nearby nectar, your vegetation will alter your honey’s properties and flavor.
Nectar consisting of fructose will produce the sweetest honey, while honey made from maltose will be the least sweet.
Additionally, many people utilize honey for its antihistamine properties. Therefore, planting vegetation that cause you seasonal allergies may produce honey that alleviates those symptoms.
Furthermore, not all plants produce flowers or nectar at the same time. Having a variety of plants with different flowering times will help keep your hive’s honey production regular and ample throughout the summer.
Keeping bees as pets inevitably leads to stings every once in a while. Although bees give warning signs, it is not always possible to avoid a sting. When you get stung, you should take proper care of it to prevent infection or further pain.
After you are stung, first remove the stinger using the hive tool or a fingernail. Squeezing the sting will inject more venom into your body, so it’s helpful to avoid this. Once you remove the stinger, all you need to do is put an antihistamine cream and bandaid on the sting. Oftentimes, beekeepers only experience a mild burning sensation and mild swelling after being stung.
If you start to feel other sensations or severe swelling after a sting, seek immediate medical attention.
Having pet bees is an exciting and fun alternative to the average pet. Although they don’t take much time, there are many considerations and prep to do before getting your first hive.