Backyard Beekeeping 101 - All Your Questions Answered

Curious about starting your very own beehive? We sat down with one of our expert Comvita beekeepers, Lindenberg Gomes, to bring you some of the key foundational information you’ll need to start your own. While we recommend shadowing an experienced beekeeper for hands-on experience before you begin, read on for beekeeping 101 tips & tricks, including what to know before you start, basic materials needed, best practices, do’s and don’ts to help the bees thrive, and how to harvest honey.

First, meet our Comvita beekeeping expert, Lindenberg Gomes:

Bee keeper: Lindenberg Gomes
(Photo by @linden_gomes)

Since 2016, Lindenberg has tended Comvita bee hives at our New Zealand headquarters, but his beekeeping roots began across the ocean in his home country of Brazil.

“I first started beekeeping in Brazil as a beekeeping assistant at the local university (assisting my now father-in-law). I had nine hives in my backyard in my hometown on our family land. We started a co-op in Brazil to help the nearby community learn the art of beekeeping.”

“In 2008, I went to Hawaii to learn how to rear queen bees, and spent one year as a trainee on scholarship. In 2015, I came to New Zealand for a wedding, and I fell in love with the country. During that trip, I happened to pass by the Comvita headquarters, just by chance, and learned a bit more about their beekeeping practices. In April 2016, I followed my passion and made the move to New Zealand with my wife and child. I began beekeeping for Comvita in August 2016, and have been raising queen bees for them ever since “

Bee on Manuka Flower

So, how do I get started?

First and foremost, before you begin beekeeping, it is important to educate yourself thoroughly about bees and beekeeping. You may have the curiosity to beekeep, but before you dive right in, it is important to learn everything you can about bees first– their behavior, their needs, their roles. Once you have a solid foundation of education, here are a few tips to begin:

  • Follow a beekeeper who is experienced, and ask to shadow them. The best education is hands-on experience with a mentor, and it will be most helpful to learn each step of the process in person. Some things you can’t learn simply from reading about it.
  • Start small. Start with one hive. Two hives is ambitious.
  • Here are some of the essential supplies you’ll need:
    • The hive - Buy a small hive that already has brood, bees and a queen from a registered beekeeper (or a beekeeper that you know and trust), and transfer it to your new hive.
    • Extra hive frames to use as the hive grows
    • Protective clothing to prevent being stung. If you protect yourself you can be more efficient. I strongly recommend protective gear for beginners :
      • Vented beekeeping suit to protect your body
      • Veil to protect your face, head and neck
      • Gloves to protect your hands. Gloves also allow for more efficiency. No matter how resilient you are to bee stings, it is still painful to be stung, especially if you’re stung a bunch. It takes time to remove stingers, and will slow down your beekeeping process.
  • A bee smoker (learn more below)
  • A queen excluder - a perforated screen that allows worker bees to pass into higher sections of the hive where the honey super is, but not the queen or drones. This allows for easier honey removal.

How does one set up a sustainable hive that helps the bees thrive?

  • Prepare in spring / summer for best results
  • Know the area - pollinators need nectar from flowers or flowering trees.
  • Place the hive in a sunny area (keep away from shade). Early sun is best. If you can, try to avoid an area that will have hot sunlight all afternoon.
  • Do regular checks every two to three weeks to be sure the queen has enough space to lay her eggs in the frames. Remove any frames that are entirely full of honey comb, and replace with empty frames. You always want to make sure you have empty frames so the queen has room to lay new eggs, and that the hive always has the sense it can expand within the space. The hive can grow so fast during the spring. If the hive gets too strong, the bees will swarm, and the queen will leave with the bees for a new nesting location.
  • Once late spring and summer comes, and bees start to bring lots of nectar into the hive, you may need to add a second section on top of the hive so the queen has more space to lay eggs. However, you can insert a ‘queen excluder’ screen between the lower and upper frames to be sure the queen stays in the lower section of the hive and doesn’t continue laying brood in the honey supers. This makes certain that the worker bees can turn the nectar into honey in these sections without the queen continuing to lay more brood in the honey supers. It makes the honeycomb removal easier for the beekeeper.

Are there any safety tips to avoid getting stung (besides the protective clothing)?

  • Yes, use a bee smoker during hive inspections. The bee smoker does not harm the bees if used correctly. The smoke distracts the bees, muting their sense of smell and communication, and helps ease aggression when you’re approaching the hives. The smoke tricks the bees into thinking a fire is near, and that they’re going to need to bring their food to a new location. This causes the bees to concentrate on eating as much of the honey in the hive as possible, instead of being preoccupied with the beekeeper. Full of delicious honey, they are less apt to sting.
  • Additionally, be gentle when you’re interacting with the hive. Be respectful of their home. You’re dealing with living creatures, so move slowly so as to seem less predatory.

How do I harvest the honey?

Bee keeper harvesting honey

1. Once your upper frames are full of honey comb and you’re ready to harvest, place the bee escape below the honey frames you plan to extract, so it is between the honey supers and the rest of the nest. Do this about 24 hours before. This is the best process to be sure you don’t kill any bees during the honey harvest.

2. Go the next day and pull the frame(s) full of honey.

3. To enjoy the honey without the wax, uncap the combs, tilt the frame on its side, and the combs will drain down into the container of your choice, which may take some time to fully drain.

4. Enjoy this gift from nature!

Bee keeper inspecting hive

What are some of the DON’Ts when it comes to sustainable beekeeping?

  • Do not be harsh (be gentle)
  • Do not put them in shade
  • Do not spray anything like herbicides or pesticides. If you think you need to spray at all, spray them with white vinegar.
  • If a swarm happens, do bee rescue instead of extermination

Hives in country side
(Photo by @linden_gomes)

How do I prepare the hives for the winter months?

Hives can die in the winter. It’s important to treat the hives well after harvesting the honey in the summer. Before winter comes, make sure your hive is well-fed and has enough bees to take care of the queen during the winter. The bees will need to create stores of honey so that they have enough food to survive the winter. Their job during the winter is just to protect the queen. In the 2-3 months leading up to hibernation, you can feed them in an internal feeder (which is the size of a full frame), providing water & sugar for the bees to eat. If you don't need to harvest all the honey from the hive, leave it there for the bees, they will use it during the winter so you won’t have to worry about feeding them anything extra.

Bee keeper working with hives

Enjoy the process:

My work as a beekeeper is inspiring, because I get to see the beginning of everything; I see the full life cycle– from eggs to larvae, to the journey of the queen. My favorite part is raising the queens– it’s a magical process.

Every day I go out with the feeling that I don’t know more than the bees. They’re incredibly intelligent, industrious creatures, and they have so much to teach us. Everyday you can learn something new, and everyday you have to be humble enough to know “they know better than me.” If we, as humans, could do 10% of what the bees do collaboratively, we would be in a good place as a society. They really know how to work together.

Bees flying to hive
(Photo by @linden_gomes)


We wish you luck on your beekeeping journey, and remember:

- Find a skilled beekeeper you trust to show you the ropes; a guided, hands-on education is the best way to learn beekeeping before you begin.

- Keep in mind the wellness of the bees, making sure that before you start this endeavor, you can commit to an attentive, sustainable practice of beekeeping to help the bees thrive.

Here’s to creating more bee-friendly environments for these necessary pollinators! Enjoy more educational bee content from Comvita on our blog:


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