Beekeeping is a hobby that is gaining in popularity in recent years. However, it is best to be aware that beekeeping in Kansas presents some unique challenges. The good news is that most of these challenges have fairly simple solutions.
This can be a problem anywhere. Beekeeping equipment is not cheap. Purchasing enough supplies to make a full-time living from bees alone can require an initial investment of millions of dollars.
Ideally, you will plan to have multiple streams of income from your farm, reducing the number of hives you will need to keep to make a living. Pecans and alfalfa are examples of crops that are extremely complementary with a beekeeping operation due to their need for pollination. Alternatively, you could think in terms of other products your honey customers might like to buy, such as butter or jelly.
Kansas is not one of the leading beekeeping states, which can make it difficult to find a mentor or information tailored to our unique conditions.
However, finding the knowledge you are looking for is by no means impossible. Experienced beekeepers are scattered across the state, as are a number of groups and organizations dedicated to apiculture in Kansas. Just be aware that some mentors may not have experience with the most cutting-edge beekeeping techniques, although most will have no problem walking you through the basics.
City ordinances restricting honeybees can be a hindrance if you want to go into large-scale beekeeping. However, most cities in Kansas allow residents to keep up to two hives (but please check with your city to make sure).
Kansas is subject to sudden late freezes in the spring. These conditions can wreak havoc on a colony of bees that has not yet been adequately established in their new home.
Be careful to wait for ideal weather before splitting a hive. Likewise, if you are just starting out, purchase an already established hive instead of a “package.” The disadvantage of this approach is that you won’t be able to receive your new bees as early in the year, but it will be much safer for the bees themselves.
Cold winters can be a challenge even for established hives. For this reason, top-bar hives are not recommended in Kansas. Top-bar hives were developed for use in tropical countries. The horizontal design does not permit honeybees to follow their natural instinct to climb upwards and cluster together at the top to survive the cold. Also, some designs are too small to permit the bees to store sufficient food for the winter.
Finding Crops to Pollinate
If you plan to rent your hives out to farmers for pollination purposes, you may have a hard time finding interested customers in Kansas. Most farmers who rent bees grow alfalfa, nuts, vegetables, and orchard fruits. These crops are not the most common in Kansas on a commercial scale.
One solution is to ship your bees seasonally to other states where these crops are more commonly grown. But even if you don’t want to go to these lengths, your bees will not suffer as long as they have access to other plants that they can forage from, such as native wildflowers. Renting out a hive is done primarily for the purpose of obtaining extra income from your bees.
Pests of honeybees in Kansas include:
- Varroa mites (probably the single worst threat to bees in Kansas).
- Small hive beetles.
Managing beekeeping pests involves monitoring, prevention, and treatment. Preventing mites and other pests often comes down to attention to good sanitation practices, such as disinfecting equipment thoroughly between hives. Raising bees resistant to the mites is also frequently recommended.
Lower Honey Production
The forage plants that bees typically have access to in Kansas are usually rich in pollen but poor in nectar. This means that Kansas bees will produce less honey than those in other states, and may even collect enough pollen to inhibit their ability to raise a brood.
The upside? Bee pollen is an incredibly high-value product right now due to its potential benefits for the immune system. At the time of this writing, a pound of pollen can sell for five times as much as a pound of honey.