Choosing Your Hive
Choosing the right beehive can be a little intimidating, because of the sheer amount of choice. It does require a great deal of thought because, once you commit, you will have spent a lot of money and invested a lot of time in learning so you must take your time over this bit. Learn about the different hives and start small – that way, if you want to change at a later date, you haven’t invested too much.
Langstroth Hive – Ten-Frame
You will have seen these everywhere – white boxes that are stacked to form a hive. The bees will build their brood nest at the base of the hive, and the top frames will be filled with honey.
Most common of all the hives
Easy to find as most suppliers have them
Bulky and you will end up having to store spare parts everywhere else
Because of the size of the artificial cells, you can expect health issues in the colony
You have no choice but to smoke the bees before you can work with them
Highly disruptive to the hive when you come to work with them
Langstroth – Eight-Frame
These work similar to the ten-frame, but the boxes are a little smaller. The difference is easily noticeable, though – when you lift the medium super to get the honey it will weigh just about 30 lbs.; heavy enough but the ten-frame weighs double that
The same as the ten-frame
Equipment is not interchangeable with the ten-frame
Not a standard hive and may be harder to locate, also harder to find help and support
These are a very popular choice for the backyard beekeeper because, instead of a vertical hive, you can go horizontal, making it so that the brood nest is at the back and the honey to the front
No artificial cell sizes – the bees make natural ones
Lighter and easier for working with
Don’t need to use a smoker or wear a bee suit, less disruptive to the hive
Easily operated by those who have disabilities
Bees are more likely to die off in colder weather
Combs may not form properly and can break off
Poor ventilation if not constructed properly
The Warre (pronounced War-Ray) is not used in commercial beekeeping organizations anymore, but it is making a comeback for backyard beekeepers now. It is constructed of small hive bodies, square in shape, and top bars. It has no foundation and no frames. The hive cover is also unique in that it consists of an angled vented roof and a quilt. This is designed to provide a high level of moisture management because the quilt is filled with sawdust that absorbs the moisture, which then escapes out through the vented roof.
The Warre hive is designed so that beekeepers don’t need to do much in the way of inspections. The frames cannot be removed in an ordinary way because the comb is built and attached to the insides of the hive walls. The size of the cavity means that winter stores are consumed in a much more efficient manner and the bees stay warmer through the cold months.
More natural design for the bees
Top bars cannot be removed for inspection
Not legal in every State
Uncommon which means support is also minimal
Equipment cannot be interchanged with other hives
Now you know about the three most important types of hive, it’s time to make your decision. As a beginner, do not attempt to build your hive from scratch Instead, you can purchase hive packs that come with full instructions on how to assemble them and get them ready for the bees.
The Right Equipment
The next step is to make sure you have the right equipment for beekeeping. This is important – you cannot just approach a hive and handle it without the right gear.
At the very least you should have a protective veil. You could also go for a smock, which has a built-in mask or a full-on bee suit.
While you can use your bare hands for most things, you must make sure you wash your hands in between hives as you can easily transfer disease from one to another. Surgical or disposable gloves are ideal but, again, wear a different pair for each hive. Do make sure you use the unpowered variety – you don’t want that floating around in your honey!
Wellington boots or galoshes are advisable so that bees cannot crawl up your trouser legs (don’t wear skirts, ladies) or into your shoes.
Smoker – a stainless steel one is best. Be sure and get a big one. Make sure you by one with bellows that are replaceable and has a cage surrounding the body to cut down on the risk of accident
Fuel – anything that burns! The best materials are cardboard, rotten wood, dry leaves, egg boxes or sacking. It must not have fire retardant on it nor must it have insecticides o it. You can also purchase smoke pellets. Whatever you use, you want a cool smoke, not a hot one, and it mustn’t smell bad
Hive tool – again, get a stainless steel one, a “J” shape if you can. Go for a big one as you will be using it lever the boxes apart.
Plastic tub – old food containers that used to hold cooking oil or mayonnaise (caterer size) or large ice cream tubs will do. It just has to be large enough to hold the hive tool and have a tight fitting lid
Kitchen scourer – this is just for cleaning your hive tool with so any scourer will do – not a brillo pad though or anything with soap on it
Washing soda – you can get this pretty much anywhere, and it’s for cleaning your stainless steel hive tool with, in between hives
Feeder – there are several different types of feeder, some taking a liter or two of syrup, others holding several gallons. Start with a small rapid feeder
Queen marking tools – at some time, you will have to mark your queen so purchase a marking cage and a marking pen.
Notebook – for keeping records of your hives in. Law dictates that you record all the treatment that you give your bees; especially if you are going to be selling the honey so, from the very first day, start using a notebook. Mark down what you do and what you see when you look at your bees or do any work in the apiary.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you need to keep bees but these are the most important pieces of equipment. As a beginner, don’t be tempted to save money by buying second hand -always go for new. Second-hand equipment is often broken in some way and may even have traces of bee diseases or insecticides on it– the last thing you want to introduce to your hive.
Some Extra Advices
Keep a Healthy Hive
Beekeeping chores have no break. You will have to work with your bees on a daily basis all year long. Only the time duration and intensity of the chores varies from season to season. For example, in winter, there will hardly be an activity so your work will be just to check if your bees are alive and healthy and also that the hives are in good condition. However, during spring and summer, the bees will be very active; foraging pollen and nectar. At this time, you will have a lot of work. Besides inspecting the hives and keeping the bees healthy, you will also have to collect honey; nectar and any other bee product that you plan to sell or use. The busiest times of the year will be spring and fall, just before winter starts, when you need to prepare the bees and the hive for the cold weather.
A beekeeper has to constantly inspect his hives and make sure his bees are hale and hearty. When you examine the frames of your hives, you will be looking for the queen to see if she is laying eggs. You will then check the eggs. You will then check the storage space in the hive to see if the bees have enough nectar, food. Then you will make sure that they have the necessary medication, ventilation, swarm control measures and so on.
You will also need to take precautions against parasites, pesticides, predators and diseases. You will need to medicate the hives with antibiotics and miticides at least twice a year, preferably in spring and fall. You can put up physical barriers such as barbed wire to prevent predators from attacking the hives..
Honeybees are usually harmless insects that do not unnecessarily harm anybody. The only time they sting is when they feel that their hive is being threatened. However, being a beekeeper and working with a large number of bees is bound to lead a sting at some point of time. Most people only have mild reactions to bee stings. The sting site swells up, feels itchy and turns red. However, there is a small portion of the human population that has a fatal allergic reaction to bee stings. These people need to stay far away from beekeeping and bees in general. However, seasoned beekeepers say that
they develop immunity to the bee stings over a period of time because they are stung so often that the body does not consider it a threat anymore. There are a number of ways through which you can reduce the possibility of you getting stung. The most important thing to prevent bee stings is to use the right beekeeping gear and use it correctly. You need to make sure that your veil is completely zipped up and that your gloves cover your hand fully. If you wear a full body suit, you need to make sure that all the zips are zipped up properly and that there is no gap for the bee to fly into.
Before you begin any work with the hive, make sure to have your smoker going. First, send in one or two puffs from the bottom of the hive. Then, let out few more puffs from the top. However, make sure that you do not over smoke your bees or else they could die. Once you are sure that the bees are sufficiently knocked out you can work on the hive.
Another useful tip about inspecting hives is to inspect them when the sun is out and shining. The bees will mostly be out foraging. This will allow you access to the hive with hardly any bees in it. Also, make sure that you take your time while inspecting hives. Any movement you make has to be gentle not rushed and in a frenzy. This will get the bees all worked up. Try to avoid swatting since bees see this as a sign of attack and will swarm towards you. Try to get a good grip on the frames so that you do not drop the hives. You should also avoid moving the hive around since this disturbs the equilibrium of the bees. Wear clean clothes since bees seem to hate foul odors. They also do not prefer dark colors, so wear light colored clothes. Also, do not keep honey or sugar anywhere near the hives. This will drive the bees crazy and they will go into a feeding frenzy.
If you do get stung by a bee, remove the stinger immediately. This will prevent the venom from entering your skin. The stinger does not always remain lodged in the skin, but if it does the best way to remove it is to scrape it out with the edge of a credit card. Using tweezers is not advised because squeezing it could release even more venom. Bee stingers emit pheromones that attract other bees to the same or nearby site. So, if you want to prevent further stings, puff smoke onto the sting site to mask the smell. Wash the area and put an ice pack to help with the redness and swelling. If by chance you are stung in the mouth, this can be soothed with a cool drink or even an ice pop. Antihistamines can also be used to reduce the swelling. If you get stung on your throat or mouth and find it difficult to breathe because of the swelling, call emergency services immediately. If you want to be on the safe side, you can carry around an EpiPen for emergencies. There are several signs and symptoms of a more serious allergic reaction. These are not common but include the following: difficulty breathing, feeling faint, feeling dizzy, hives, and swelling of the tongue. If someone in your household is allergic to bee stings and prone to an anaphylactic reaction, he or she should always have their emergency epinephrine readily available and up to date. (Like all medicine, it does expire and lose its effectiveness.) Even after an injection of epinephrine that has reduced symptoms of the reaction, the person who had the reaction should still be taken to the hospital.