Is Beekeeping for You? An Introduction to Backyard Beekeeping with Sofia and John Witzenbocker

March 30, 2018

By Yvette DeBow-Salsedo


Beekeepers Sofia and John Witzenbocker’s breezy style and rapport made an introduction to beekeeping workshop on Saturday morning, March 24, 2018, one all wanted to go on for the whole day!

The Witzenbockers, new to beekeeping –- establishing their first hive at their home in Sag Harbor 6 years ago –- gave an in-depth, and question inspiring, talk on everything from the anatomy of bees to how to select the right area of your property to place your hive(s), to the tools you need to get started. They also talked about seasonal variations, coping with and addressing disease, and the resources you can consult to get yourself started.

“If we could do it, so can you,” said Sofia.

Reading, checking out YouTube videos on beekeeping, attending a class (or classes) … finding a mentor – these were the steps Sofia and John took to start their beekeeping. From 1 hive to over 30 hives (and growing) in multiple locations, the Witzenbockers are enthusiastic and passionate about caring for and raising honey bees on Long Island. Their advice: learn as much as you can and take advantage of the tremendous resources available for those really interested in learning more.


Why Learn Beekeeping?

As Sofia and John discussed on Saturday, all beekeepers have their special reasons for doing what they do. Only you can decide what draws you into beekeeping, but here are some common reasons:

  • To help with pollination of your garden (and to help the planet!).
  • Because you like to watch the magic of nature taking its natural course.
  • Because bees rock! They are amazing creatures that work together in ways that sometimes put humans to shame.
  • Because honey is awesome and having the potential for gallons of it every year is super awesome!
  • Beekeeping is a scientifically stimulating hobby.
  • It’s a fantastic way to involve children directly in nature.
  • Beekeeping promotes critical thinking as you face and address issues with your bees. 

The book they most rely on: The Beekeeper’s Handbook, published by Cornell University Press (

… and another great resource for beginners, The Perfect Bee website:

Not sure if beekeeping is for you, but want to support local bees? Tips from Sofia and John include:

  • Plant bee friendly flowers and herbs (native).
  • Avoid pesticides or choose non-chemical solutions to combat insect problems.
  • Provide clean sources of water for bees to drink.
  • If you need to use pesticides use them early or late in the day to avoid harming pollinators.
  • Support local beekeepers, buy local honey!

Thinking about beekeeping in your backyard, a few considerations:

  • Check restrictions for beekeeping in your area.
  • Good Neighbor Policy:
    • Be upfront with your neighbors,
    • Site your hive in a good place: Out of sight, out of mind – helps with vandalism too,
    • Honey, honey, honey – providing your neighbors with honey is a good way to keep in good favor.
  • Working space around your hive: you’ll want the hive protected, but you also need to have space to easily navigate around the hive to check on your bees and maintain the environment.
  • Site your hive near dependable source of nectar and pollen (2 mile radius).
  • Water source: provide and maintain a water source so your bees are not in a nearby pool or birdbath (e.g., mason jar, bucket, their own birdbath – floating corks is also helpful so the bees can drink water without drowning). Watering should begin as early in the year as possible otherwise by the time you provide bees with water they may have discovered other sources and as a consequence it may be too late to redirect them.
  • Full sun or dappled sun works best:
    • Early sun will get bees foraging earlier in the day,
    • Afternoon shade is a plus in the summer so that bees don’t spend valuable time cooling hive,
    • Southern exposure.
  • Shelter from wind: No direct wind. Provide a windbreak at the rear of the hive (fence, shrubbery, trees or bushes).
  • Consider bees flight path – make it easy for them to get to their foraging source.

Learning all you can, caring for your bees, checking for disease, and generally being a good neighbor – are all important aspects of backyard beekeeping. It is important to recognize early on that what happens with your bees will impact all the bees in your neighborhood.

Let’s all be bee friendly this year and make our honey bees happy!  

More Resources:

Places to buy beekeeping supplies, a few suggestions from Sofia and John:

Support the Peconic Land Trust
Peconic Land Trust needs your support to protect the working farms, natural lands, and heritage of Long Island.