Beekeeping 101

I guess the first question is Why Keep Bees? 

I think you will find keeping bees is a fascinating and fulfilling pastime with benefits not even imagined. Maybe we should begin with the Benefits. Here is a quick list of things I get out of Beekeeping. 

Sweet Rewards – The delicious treat that can come out of your backyard: Honey. The best attraction for new beekeepers is the ability to extract your own honey. A single colony can produce a surplus of 60 to 80 pounds of honey

The Pollinators – One third of our diet comes either directly or indirectly from bee pollinated crops. The person with just a few hives in their backyard is playing a vital role in agriculture. Even the backyard hives begin to create a noticeable difference in personal gardens.

Other Outputs – The reward of honey is just one outcome of your bee hive that you can collect. Other products bees produce that can be put to good use include:beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. These other products can lead into other hobbies or can be sold as a profit of your investment. Not many hobbies can have a profitable return like beekeeping.

What to expect:

  • A window on nature that is unprecedented
  • A hobby that is challenging and tremendously rewarding
  • Honey for family and friends
  • A few stings to brag about
  • Material to produce candles and other crafts
  • An ongoing attempt to understand the honey bee and learn from them
  • A pollinating army for your crops and all the wild plants around you
  • Joy when you produce that first crop of sparkling sweetness

As you tend to your prospering hive, the field force of workers will come and go as they pollinate your garden or small orchard. Returning to the hive laden with nectar or pollen, they fuel the growth which ultimately translates into honey for themselves and you. The pollen has been dusted from flower to flower to ensure fertilization. One third of our food is a result of insect pollination. Due to your hard work and care as a beekeeper you are helping the honey bee and thus our food supply.

So where do I start your probably asking

  • Purchasing equipment and bees
  • Picking the right location to place a hive
  • Hiving a package
  • Best management practices for keeping bees in urban and rural settings
  • Honey production
  • Successful strategies for the first winter
  • Pest Control
  • Strategies for keeping your bees healthy using medications only as a last resort.

Lets begin with the parts of a Hive and what you should purchase.                           (See the resource page for places to purchase locally)

  • Modern Bee Hive
    “The Langstroth bee hive”, patented on October 1852, is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for beekeeping. It can hold a total of 10 frames inside the hive body. A start up hive typically begins with only one hive body that you will insert your packaged bees into. This hive body (also called a brood chamber) will be for brood rearing, honey and pollen storage for food. As the bees multiply and begin to fill the frames, then you can add another hive body on top for the bees to expand into and begin to store honey. This second story is usually added when 7 out of 10 frames are full. We have nicknamed these two deep boxes the brood and food chambers. The hive bodies added on top of the brood chambers are usually called a honey super.
  • Hive Stand – The entire hive sits on a hive stand. This can be built out of wood, cinder blocks or even placed on a stump.
  • Bottom Board – This is the bottom floor of the hive and creates the entrance to the hive. Many beekeepers will use a screened bottom board. This helps with mite control and improves ventilation.
  • Hive Body/Super – Hive Body/Supers are the boxes that holds the frames in place. They can be a brood chamber or honey super.
  • Brood Chamber/Deep Super – This is where all of the eggs will be laid, bee pollen and honey stored for maturing bees. A deep brood chamber is a 9 5/8″ super. I use two 9 5/8″ supers, everything in these two supers are for the bees and can weigh up to 100+ lbs each when full.
  • Western Box/Honey Supers – This is where the bees will store the honey and this is where I extract my honey from. A typical honey super is a 6 5/8″ super. The reduced size allows easier handling when full. A full honey super can weigh up to 40 pounds!
  •  Inner Cover – An inner cover is used so that the outer cover is easier to remove. Also used as an escape board for removing honey and as an entrance for top feeder.
  • Top/Outer Cover – An outer cover will protect the bees from the harsh weather. A metal telescoping top will better protect the bees from the elements and will last longer.
  • Queen Excluder – Available in plastic or metal. Used to allow workers to pass through but not the queen. Queen excluders can be placed in between the brood chamber body and honey super body to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey you will extract.
  • Frames and Foundations – A super can hold ten frames and foundations in each box. An empty frame is made of wood (think of a window frame) the foundation is made of beeswax (similar to the glass pane in the frame.) These two items create the finished frame that hangs in the hive. Standard wood frames have to be assembled and then have the foundation wired to the frame. This is where the bees will build honeycomb to store honey and pollen, and where the queen will lay her eggs.
  • Pre-Assembled Frames and Foundations Combination – The ultimate convenience; a frame and foundation in one unit. Popular pre-waxed plastic frame and foundation called Pierco. No assembly required.
  • Painting The Hive – Use a Latex waterbased paint. Use two coats and paint all the exterior surfaces. Never paint the inside of the hive. Avoid dark colors because they will make the hive too hot in the summer.
  • Other Beekeeping Equipment
    • Bee Smoker – A smoker is a near necessity in handling bees. This smoking causes bees to rush to the cells of nectar and honey and gorge themselves. This results in them becoming less apt to sting. Materials used for smoker fuel can be burlap, dry leaves, pine needles or cotton. Make sure the smoke is cool, If it feels fine on your hand it is cool enough. (You don’t want the singe the bee’s wings!) Puff smoke first at the entrance and secondly as you are lifting the hive cover with a few puffs now and then. Always stand to the rear of the hive. Move quickly, but not with jerky movements and never swat at bees.
    • Bee Veil – Always wear a veil when visiting your bees. Bees love to explore and your ears, mouth and nose are very tempting. Your head is very sensitive and a sting can cause more intense swelling than when stung in a fleshier part of the body.
    • Bee Gloves – Thick long gloves will protect your hands.
    • Hive Tool – A hive tool is a necessity in handling bees. Used in removing the cover, cleaning off burr comb, propolis etc. It is especially helpful in removing frames.
    • Bee Brush – Use your bee brush to gently remove bees from undesired areas.
    • Frame Grip – A frame grip allows you to get a better grip on the frame.
    • Clothing – Wear light colored clothing so that the bees don’t mistake you for a bear or other predator. Avoid wool or other materials of animal origin. you can purchase a jacket or suit with built in veils..
    • BEEHIVE FEEDERS Feeders are necessary when the following conditions apply:
      • Feeding medicine in liquid form
      • Winter and Spring Feeding
      • Starting with or bringing in Packaged Bees
      • Bringing in a Swarm
      • Divisions
      • Nuc’s

Where should I place my beehive?

There are several factors you should consider when selecting a site to place your hives. One of the most important factors is: will there be a sufficient food source near the bees? Bees can forage usually 1-1.5 miles away from the hive fairly easily, so make sure there are food sources within that radius. Open fields with clover are excellent sources as well as near fruit trees and berry bushes. Take the time to examine your area to see what kinds of plants are available. Spring sources of nectar and pollen from willow, fruit trees & dandelions are very helpful for colony build-up during the spring.

Next, you want to inspect the actual land where the hives will be placed. First, make sure there is adequate wind protection for the hives. Second, don’t select an area that is in the shade too much. Long dead grass around the hives can add warmth to a hive and allows for faster colony development. When the weather gets really hot later in the summer it can be necessary to move the hive into a partially shaded area so the bees don’t overheat. Third, place near a water source 25-30 feet away is perfect.

When actually placing your hive on the site you have chosen there are a couple of things you should do. First, the entrance should be facing the morning sun. Second, the hive entrance should be leaning forward just a bit.

Other factors to consider when selecting a site are:

  • Avoid Flood areas
  • Can animals get to the hives (ie bears or cattle)

Hiving a package

Packaged Bees And How To Care For Them

Packaged bees are produced in the southern states to be shipped into your state in the spring. The 3 lb. size is the most popular and it is said that 1 lb. of bees represents approximately 4,000 bees. Packages of bees are usually ordered in the winter to insure timely delivery.
Delivery
  • Traditionally packaged bees were shipped parcel post.
  • Today, they are trucked to your region by local beekeeping supply dealers. This is your best guarantee of timely delivery and better handling. They will be delivered on whats called a “BEE DAY”

Protection

  • If temperatures are below 45 degrees, packages should be covered with burlap or paper.
  • Bees should be kept cool with temperatures between 50-60 degrees.
  • Never leave packages of bees or queens sitting in direct sunlight when it’s very warm. If bees are restless and they are too warm, sprinkle them with cool water.

Condition on Arrival

  • Drones usually die in shipment and normally you will see a few hundred dead workers.
  • Expect shipper to give overweight of 1,000 bees.
  • If queen is not alive upon inspection, your local package bee dealer will replace the queen.

Have Your Equipment Ready

  • Have your brood chamber super ready with only 4 frames in the middle and a frame feeder on the right side with sugar water.
  • If you can obtain 2 or 3 combs of drawn comb from your hives, your packaged bees will do better.

How to Handle and Hive Packaged Bees

  • Immediately upon receiving the package, check to see if there is enough syrup in the feeder can.
  • The best time to hive your package of bees is in the late afternoon, when the weather is moderately cool and bees will not want to fly.
  • It is best to mist bees with sugar water (50/50 sugar and water) before removing them from the package. Simply spray the bees using a spray bottle.
  • Remove the feeder can and the queen. Check the queen to see if she is still alive.
  • Place her into the hive hanging between the two middle frames. The queen bee comes in her own package with one hole in the end that has cork in it and a screen on the top. While in the box, the bees feed the queen through the cage.
  • When you take the queen and place her into the hive, be sure to replace the cork in the hole with a gummy bear or marshmallow. When your bees get into the hive they will eat the candy and the queen will be able to get out. This timed release is crucial for a stable introduction and pheromone adjustment to the new colony.
  • Shake the bees from the package over the queen. The reason we only have 4 frames installed is so the bees can fall to the bottom of the hive very easily. Be sure to also mist the inside of the hive with sugar water.
  • Once the bees have been transferred, put in the remaining frames and immediately close up hive and reduce entrance of hive. It is important that the bees get their orientation of the new hive before they fly out so they know where exactly their hive is and will return safely.
  • After three days, check to see if the queen has been released, if not, release her.
  • Continually feed bees sugar or honey syrup until they draw out all foundation in deep super. (25 lbs. of sugar will be needed.)
  • Place second brood chamber super on the hive when 7-8 frames are drawn out.
  • When adding another brood chamber with Carniolan bees, take a frame or two of drawn comb from the first chamber or super and place in the center of the second super. This will make it easier for the bees and the queen to begin laying eggs in the second brood chamber.