Getting started with beekeeping in Michigan

Resources and information for new beekeepers.

A group of people standing around an open beehive.
Beekeepers participate in a workshop at the Michigan State University Pollinator Performance Center. Photo by Ana Heck, MSU Extension.

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 honey bees 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.

Decide if beekeeping is right for you

Igraphic of a laptop computer with a beekeeper on the screen

Michigan State University Extension’s free online course Is Beekeeping Right for Me? will guide you through the many considerations of getting started with beekeeping. This online course introduces you to beekeeping and suggests ways you can help honey bees and all pollinators. It also covers the physical, time, and financial demands of beekeeping, so that you can make an informed decision before getting started. Testimonials from real beekeepers, past and current, are included in the course for you to learn from their experiences. The course is full of resources for you to support pollinator health, decide if beekeeping is a good fit for you, and identify steps to get started with 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

Check out educational opportunities from Michigan State University Extension

Michigan State University (MSU) Pollinator Initiative compiles resources for beekeepers. Each year, MSU provides webinars, in-hive workshops and presentations to beekeeper audiences, which are listed on MSU Extension’s page of upcoming pollinator and pollination events. You can sign up for MSU Extension’s Pollinator & Pollination email digest to receive emails about upcoming events and recent articles. You can also visit MSU Beekeeping’s YouTube channel to see videos and recordings of past webinars.

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. 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.

People seated in a conference room.
Beekeepers listen to Paul Kelly from the University of Guelph present at the Michigan Beekeepers Association Spring 2022 Conference. Photo by Ana Heck, MSU Extension.

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 honey bee biology

Honey bees 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 honey bees 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 honey bee colonies in Michigan and spreads diseases between honey bees and colonies. One of the biggest challenges to keeping honey bees 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!

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.

MSU recommends beekeepers begin with two or three honey bee colonies. Keeping just one colony can be difficult for the beekeeper to troubleshoot and resolve issues as they arise. Beekeepers often move brood or food frames between hives to address queen issues and other colony needs, and colonies in the same yard can be used to support each other.

New beekeepers should be aware that healthy colonies grow in population in the spring and summer. Beekeepers should be prepared to manage large honey bee colonies unless they make splits or do other hive manipulations.

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.

Stay connected with MSU Extension and Michigan Pollinator Initiative

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