I've been keeping bees in central Indiana for twenty two years. In 1990, I got my first hive from the Banta Bee Store, just south of Indianapolis, and a few weeks later, my first package colony (I think it cost around $30.00). I didn't have much money in those days and my bee suit consisted of a hat and veil from Kelly's, and a pair of leather welding gloves to which I had sewn cloth extensions with rubber bands sewn into the end seams. My smoker was made from a metal coffee can with a bellows made from two small boards and a piece of old vinyl. I wish I still had that home-made smoker, it was pretty cool. Later, I upgraded with a smoker that I bought at a flea market for $5. It was from Roots, in Medina Ohio. It looked every bit of 80 years old, but it still worked great for the season that I used it (now it sits on a shelf in my garage). Another good flea market find was a 1908 copy of "The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture". Being a biologist, I was fascinated by the detailed and in-depth information in that old book, and I read it cover to cover.
That first package colony moved right in to the hive that I had carefully assembled (including, like, ten coats of white paint), and set up at the back end of our big yard. They drank up the sugar syrup that I provided in old mayonnaise jars, drew out the foundation, and filled up two deep boxes before the end of the first year, just like it said in the "First Lessons in Bee-keeping" book that came with my hive stuff. The second year, I followed the book, successfully built up a booming colony with no swarming, and produced several shallow supers of some of the best honey I've ever gotten from a hive. In later years, I discovered that there are several large groves of Black Locust trees near me, and when the timing is right, I get wonderful light colored honey. I had taken some of the comb honey, put up in clear plastic boxes from that first year in to work to show the friend who had gotten me started keeping bees and he said it was the finest comb honey he'd ever seen and that I should enter it in my county fair. I ended up giving most of it away. I still give more honey away than I sell.
Over the years I've learned a lot about keeping bees. The most important thing I've learned is that I keep bees for pleasure, and the only way to do it wrong is to stress out about it. Another thing I've learned is that you can't make bees do anything. You can only give them options and let them decide. I've also discovered over time that I've killed as many bees and watched more swarms fly away because I "did" something as I ever did by "not doing" something. Except for a couple of bee-less seasons, I've had bees ever since that first package of pretty yellow Italians. I've gotten quite a few packages in years past from Hardemans Apiary in Georgia. Right now, all three of my hives originated from a wild swarm that I collected twelve years ago or so. I've gotten away from medicating my bees and I never purchase queens. I make my own splits, let them raise their own queens, and I haven't used any chemical treatments in probably 8 years. I love my scruffy little feral bees. They over-winter really well, although I can't figure out why the smaller colonies from the previous years splits always out-perform the older colonies. I can't remember the last time I've even seen Veroa mites in my hives. I think it's a combination of the way I make splits every year, which interrupts the brood cycle when they have to raise their own queen, and using only a small strip of foundation at the top of my frames, letting them build smaller-cells.
I love talking about bees, and after all these years, I still feel like a novice at times, and I've never gotten over the sense of wonderment I always feel when I see a beautiful fat young queen, just starting to lay in a new nuc, or frames filled with golden honey in July.