Swarming

Beekeeping basics: Swarms, Baiting and Nucleus Colonies

Are you ready to be a Beekeeper?

This is the very first question every person should ask themselves before they start beekeeping. You need to know whether you are ready for it or not. And not only that, your family and even your neighbors should also be open to the idea of living around bees.

Before you get started, you need to make sure nobody in your family is allergic to bees. Most people are aware of these allergies if they have them, but some are not. Finding out is easy, however. Just go to a doctor and get a simple allergy test conducted to know whether anybody is allergic. Honeybees are not known to be very aggressive because they die after stinging someone. But you still need to be sure so that you can avoid any complications later.

Another thing you need to make sure of is that you have enough space for your bee colony. There should be some extra space to be safe so that your bees do not escape in case of an impromptu swarming. They need adequate space to build another hive in your field.

You will invest both your time and money into beekeeping, so consider how much of both you have to commit to it and whether that will be enough. The good news is that there is a range of time and money that can yield success in beekeeping.

Source of bees

You can obtain bees from a variety of ways, but some are more popular than others. The most popular ways are effective, safe, and will provide you with a healthy hive. They include the following: taking advantage of a swarm, baiting bees, buying from a breeder, nucleus colonies, and splits. It is a good idea to learn about each one and decide which you would like to try to begin your hive.

Swarms

Sometimes bees leave their hive along with their queen in search of a new home. This is called a swarm, and you can use these swarms to start a colony of your own. Since you will be catching natural bees (also known as feral bees), you will have the added advantage of having healthier bees. You will also have better prospects of splitting the colony because the bees will be healthy and strong. Only healthy and strong bees consider splitting. If they are weak, they will always stick together. Bees who are not at optimal health cannot survive away from their familiar hive. Since you will catch the bees from your local area, you can also be sure they will be acclimatized to your locale. This is considered the best way to start a colony.

Process of Swarming

Baiting

This is a relatively new technique being practiced by beekeepers. They bait boxes with old honey comb or with pheromones. They set these us near hives and make traps to capture bees. The feral bees are tricked into swarming and are then captured in the traps. Baiting is also a very effective method of obtaining bees and has similar advantages as swarming.

Packages

If you want to take the easier route, you can also buy bees from a bee breeder. These come in packages and the package usually contains one queen bee. This queen bee has been artificially inseminated and comes with ten thousand other bees from various colonies. The queen sits in a cage in the center so that the other bees in the box get used to her scent. They are shipped in a box that contains a can or bowl of sugar syrup. For the duration of shipping, this acts as their food supply. Finding bee breeders should not be a hard task. You can easily find some who are located near you or ship to your location. Most breeders do not take the risk of shipping long distances because the bees might not survive such a long time in a box. It is also a torture for the bees and no breeder wants to subject their bees to that.

Nucleus Colonies

Nucleus colonies can be a superb way to start your bee colony, depending on the kind of hive you use. It is a fully developed colony that comes in a box with five frames. You can then transfer them to eight or ten frame boxes. Since they already have the eggs, larvae, nectar and honey inside them, they develop much faster than your average packages or swarms. The bees do not have to start from scratch. They just need to expand on what they already have. You can find a nucleus colony at any reputed bee breeder’s farm. Do an Internet search to find the ones nearest to you and take your pick.

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Splits

Many beekeepers that use the top bar hives or Warrehives use a method known as the split. This is a method for those beekeepers that already have a bee farm. As the name suggests, the beekeepers take some bars that include brood, honey, and bees from a full colony and add it to a new hive. They can choose to take the queen or leave her behind. Whichever hive is queenless can raise a new one as long as some eggs are available in that hive. Some beekeepers even buy a queen bee and then put her in the queenless hive, but this method is frowned upon by the community because of the methods used in raising and inseminating queen bees.

A beekeeper’s year

Once you have found bees and set up your hive, it is important to gain an understanding of what a beekeeper does at different times of year.

If you expect your bee colony to thrive, you will have to invest some time into it and be patient. Regular inspection of the hives during summer and other warm times will be crucial. In the warmer regions, like southern US, bees have longer foraging season. The ones raised in north do not enjoy such a long season. Winters hardly see any activity so your responsibilities to the hive will be at a minimum during this time. The bees are dormant and will not surface or do very much. During the rest of the year, however, you will have to constantly manage their hives. Let’s look at the year in detail.

Spring

Spring is an important season because it is the time the queen starts laying eggs. You will have to constantly inspect the hive to check the progress of this. Another thing you will need to check is the proper storage of honey. If something is amiss with how the bees are storing the honey, your harvest will not be successful. Your inspections should also include looking for signs of disease in your bees. If you notice that your bees do not have enough honey to last till the first harvest, keep corn starch syrup or sugar ready. It will act as supplementary nutrition for them.

You will also need to get some medicines for your bees to help prevent any diseases. Medicate your bees every fortnight and continue to do this until a few weeks before summer. You should stop during the summer to make sure the medication does not get mixed in the honey.

Summer

Summer is a busy time for bees. They will have a larger supply of honey since they produce it at a higher rate. Put some extra sets of frames in your colony just before summer to make sure the hive does not collapse from all the extra honey. As their numbers grow and remain high, the hive could become crowded. Bees do not operate in cramped spaces. They will need their space, and if they feel the hive is congested, they will swarm and find a new place to build a hive. You do not want that to happen, so monitor your hives closely and add honey supers when you see the existing frames are filled up. You can remove the honey supers and extract the product once all the frames are filled with honey and more than half the cells are covered in wax. The bees will start needing less space once the season starts turning to autumn.

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Fall

Once the honey is harvested, it is your decision whether you want to keep the bees or not. If you want to buy a new package in the next spring season, you can get rid of your bees. Most people do not do that, however. They keep their bees throughout the winter and then use the same bees in the next summer. If you plan to do so, make sure you have everything prepared for the winter. Examine the hive for any diseases and medicate the colony appropriately. Make sure they have enough food to pass the winter. If they do not, you will have to feed them water and sugar. Most people feed them by September to make sure they have enough food supply till the winter ends. The total weight of the hive should also be above one hundred twenty five pounds. This includes the bottom, honey supers, lid, pollen, bees, and the honey. If your colony is not too big, move it indoors. If you cannot do that, wrap it to protect it from the harsh winter.

Winter

If you have decided to leave the bees outside with protection, you have done your job. There is not much else that you can do. Even when completely covered in snow, they can survive, so you need not worry. If you have kept them indoors, make sure the room temperate does not fluctuate. Keep it at about five degrees Celsius—it is what they are used to during this season. In addition to the temperature control, the bees have other needs. The room should be well ventilated too.

A beekeeper’s starting kit

Like any other job or hobby, there are certain tools that help you do the work of beekeeping well.

Higher quality products will last longer, but may be more of an investment than you are willing to make when you first start beekeeping. Shopping around, researching different brands of each piece of equipment, and even asking more experienced beekeepers about their own preferences will all help you to find the right tools for you and your needs and plans.

Hive Tools

Hive tool

It is the absolute “must have” tool for any beekeeper. The hive tool helps you inspect the hives and add new boxes to them. It is used to detach the sides of a have. It can also scrape off excess wax. In a bee hive, everything is glued together with propolis as we have already discussed. The hive tool is used to break open the gum gently, and scrape off the propolis if necessary.

This tool looks is a flat piece of metal about ten inches long. It curves at one end like the letter J and flares at the other end.

Smoker

The smoker is what we use to subdue the bees. The smoke can mask their alarm pheromones so that the guards’ response does not alert the rest of the colony and the bees allow the keeper to inspect the hive.

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Honeybees are not aggressive creatures, so they will be calm most days. But sometimes, you will find that they are very agitated. It is better to avoid the hives on such days, but if you really need to inspect the hives, you will have to use the smoker.

This piece of equipment is available in many different sizes. It looks like a can with a funnel on top. On the side of it, it has what looks like a bellows that helps pump the smoke into the can and out of the spout.

Jacket with veil

Beginners are not very comfortable with the idea of their bare hands and face so close to the bees. They can get stung any time, and that prospect makes it harder for them to enjoy beekeeping. So as a beginner, it is better to buy yourself some protective gear and wear it until you become confident around bees. This includes a jacket, a veil and a pair of gloves at the very least. If you want to go all out, buy a full body suit. There is nothing better than that.

Beginners are usually nervous around bees, and bees can sense it. They are more likely to sting you if you are nervous or worried because you will make more mistakes in that state. You do not want to get stung in your early days, as it will only deter you from pursuing this hobby. So wear protection and stay comfortable around your bees. You can continue to use the veil for however long you want.

Bee brush

If you do not want the bees to be around a particular part of the honey comb, you can use the bee brush to gently brush them away. Be warned, however, because the bees do not like the brush. In fact, they absolutely hate it. So they will always try to sting the brush, and in that, you can lose a lot of bees. Use the bee brush sparingly.

One technique that has been useful and has, at least anecdotally, proven to be less distressing to the bees is this. By using only the top two inches of the brush with slow, light strokes, the bees are less disturbed. It should also be noted that the beekeeper describing this method also recommended moving the brush from the bottom up. This made the smoker unnecessary and stopped the bees from stinging.

Honey bee colonies

When should I start a bee colony?

This is another important question that you need to ask yourself. There is no right answer for this question because the pattern followed by the bees greatly depends on the climate in your region. So the hive activity will vary depending on where you live. The best way for you find out a suitable time is by contacting other beekeepers and bee breeders in your area. Talk to them about the habits of bees in your area. Once you have learned about the most active months and when the bees in the area are generally mating and hatching, you will be better prepared for your future bees’ cycles throughout the year. You can then spend the winter planning how you will go about starting your bees and what each time of the year will require of you. Take note of all the details, they can provide you with the knowledge needed to be prepared for whatever the year throws at you.

There are other ways to meet and pick the brains of more experienced beekeepers. You can also join a local beekeeping club or organization to help you learn more about bees and current trends in apiculture. You can socialize and share tips with other beekeepers. Trust me, beekeepers love to talk bees.