CHAPTER 4 : THE BEEKEEPING PROCESS
After setting up your hive structure in the position of your choice, now begins the actual beekeeping process. We have assembled the hive and positioned it correctly; the next step is to introduce the bees into the hive.
Acquiring the Bees
Getting the bees for your colony can be done in various ways. Many experienced beekeepers catch their own swarms to install in a new hive. Alternatively, bee associations get called for relocating bee hives that have populated a residential building, a house or an office. This is fairly common, however strange it sounds. These organizations supply these caught bees to other beekeepers looking to install a new bee hive. There is no guarantee that bees caught during swarming or such relocation procedures would assuredly have the queen bee. If the queen bee is missing the bee organization would supply a caged queen from a different hive to go along with the captured bees. One can opt to buy a swarm of bees from a beekeeping association, alternatively one can get a swarm of bees from a neighboring beekeeper. Several beekeepers maintain small swarms of bees to be able to sell to those who might be interested in introducing bees in a new hive. Under regular circumstances, this initial bee package comes for not more than one hundred dollars.
The introductory bee package consists of a few male drones, a few worker bees, and one queen bee along with a sugar syrup to feed the bees enclosed in a feeder can. The can has extremely tiny holes that allow only a very small amount of the syrup to drip through, which the bees feed themselves. The queen bee in this package comes inside its own cage. Usually this queen cage is closed with a plug made of a candy or some such sugar confection.
Apart from ordering the bee package you can also opt for to buy a nucleus hive. The nucleus hive is half of a basic colony. It usually consists of five frames of combs. These comb cells will contain bees, eggs and larvae(the brood), honey, and the queen bee. Using a nucleus hive helps give an easy start to your own colony as the nucleus contains half of an established bee colony.
Feeding and Installing Your Bees
After buying your bees, you will now have to introduce them into the hive. At the time of ordering the package, the beekeeper usually instructs on how to introduce the bees into the hive. Mostly, you would place the queen cage in the center of the brood box after puncturing the candy. This helps the other bees to slowly get familiarized with the queen as they eat away the candy. After you place the queen, place the provided sugar syrup in the box too on some kind of a stand or frame, and cover the lid.
Take care to wear protective gear or suit while introducing the bees. Ideally, the queen bee should be out and about around the hive by the end of the seventh day. If even after seven days the queen is not out of its cage, you could either open the cage, yourself taking care so as to not let the queen fly away, or puncture the candy with a larger hole to help the worker bees interact with the queen efficiently. In rare cases, the queen could also be dead. In such situations, as the bees are yet unable to rear a new queen bee, you must get a new one for them.Alternatively, if you are using a nucleus hive, then you should simply place the given frames along with the remaining top bars, and place the lid.
Monitoring the Hive
Honey bees are unique in that they do not require constant feeding and care. They work for their food and protection, leaving other particulars for the actual beekeeper to take care of until the time honey is to be harvested. But there are certain issues that a beekeeper must constantly take care of, like being on the lookout for diseases and pests in the colony. Overproduction of bees is also to be monitored as this can result in the colony breaking up(s warming). Though predators are not that big of a threat, yet if the area houses animals that hunt bees for honey, then they must be kept away from the hives, like bears, skunks, raccoons, etc. Protecting the hive from rain and providing adequate ventilation is also vital. Also, at the time of surplus honey production, the beekeeper would want to place additional supers and introduce queen excluders. Though the bees would usually take care of any repairs or such within the combs, any repair or replacement within the hive structure must be supplied by the beekeeper. Using teakwood reduces one aspect of maintenance in that wood lice or termites are not to be found in a teakwood hive. If the wood is not pure teak, then you would want to be on the lookout for termites too, and get rid of them as soon as they appear to protect the hive from them. Providing constant water resources for the bees, if no natural water bodies are present is equally important
Making sure the bees live in as favorable conditions as possible ensures that you have a thriving bee colony. And a thriving bee colony means a highly productive bee colony.
Monitoring a Top Bar Hive—From Spring Through Winter
For installing the bees in a Top bar hive of around thirty top bars, you need to make an installation cavity of about ten bars wide, and leave the twenty bars to use for expansion purposes.
For an end entrance hive, you will place a single follower board with a hole after ten top bars, counting from the entrance. The first ten bars are where the bees will be installed. The area after the follower board will have your feeder.In a center side entrance hive, there shall be two follower boards, one solid and one with a hole. You place the follower boards in the center with a space of ten bars between them and on either side of them. On the side with the follower board with the hole, you should place your feeder. An upturned jar with sugar syrup is the most common way to feed the bees. Some would also opt for a small dish with a sugar syrup with a few ‘bridges’ or ‘ladders’ for the bees to step on while feeding.
Initially, your top bar hives will have only ten bars in use. You need to do inspections regularly so that you can add more top bars when these ten are full.
After you have installed your bees into the hive and placed the feeder, now you must wait for the worker bees to release the queen. A few beekeep¬ers also opt for placing a starter comb in the hive. This is nothing but a top bar that has empty comb on it, to give the worker bees a head start in making the comb.
Your first inspection must be to see if the queen has been released yet You can wait up to a maximum of seven days for the queen to be released. Sometimes, a queen is released quite quickly, and by your seventh day in¬spection, would have also started laying eggs.
By the first ten days, the worker bees would be busy building fresh combs. Take care to see that the combs do not touch the sides of the hive. If they do, then you can slowly scrape the sides of the hive to release the comb.
It is also extremely important to maintain a bee log. This is your book of bee events. You must note any event of any worth that you observe during your inspections. It is an extremely useful way to keep track of what goes on in the hive. Mark all your notes or observations with date and time.
You can see larvae too at around the tenth day. The eggs are like a small white hyphen, whereas the larvae are fat, short and worm-like. You can easily spot the larvae, but the eggs would take very keen observation to be spotted. Even if you can’t spot the queen, the eggs and larvae are an indica¬tion enough of the presence of queen.
At around the one month mark, you must also be on the lookout for cross combing the hives. This is when the combs touch one another so the top bars are crossed interlacing the combs. This is not ideal, as two interlocked combs would make inspections and harvest difficult. Not to mention, that these can also introduce diseases and mites from one comb to the next quite easily. If you fear that your combs are getting wider and there is a chance
of interlocked combs, then you can use spacer bars to space out the top bars so that the combs do not touch. This is the time when you will see an abun¬dance of capped brood combs. The worker brood is capped with flat caps whereas the drone brood is capped with raised dome-shaped caps.
At around the second and third month, the first ten bars would be more or less full of comb. Now you can add a couple of top bars and move the fol¬lower board along on one side. Several beekeepers, while adding additional top bars for expansion, add a bar each on either side of the initial ten bars. This is not recommended as then the bees would have to build the combs at two far away ends with the already full ten in between. It is instead better to add two at the same end so that the bees are making new combs in only one direction. This makes it easier on the bees building the comb to have adja¬cent new bars to build on.
Around ten to fifteen bars are used for the brood comb, and then the honey storage begins. If you have been adding bars on a single side, then you will see that the combs progress linearly, with the first ten to fifteen brood combs, then a few capped honey combs and the newer uncapped nectar combs. It will also make it easier for you to harvest honey in the end and keep track of how many honeycombs are present to better decide how many to harvest and how many combs to leave behind for the winter. It is also around this time that you can see varroa mites living in the brood cells. You must take necessary action if you spot them to control their population and reign in their spread. Around this time you shall also see the hives preparing to swarm if at all. To discourage swarming you can add a few more new bars between the brood combs to encourage them to use the new combs instead. Providing fresh space for the brood combs is usually enough to stop any swarming impulse. Please refer to the section on swarming to know more about the process.
In a side center hive, you will have begun the colony in the center of the hive. If you have been adding bars to one side of the colony, then it is under¬standable, that at some point you will have to utilize the unused other side of the hive. One could argue and you could simply add more bars on that end and adjust the follower boards like you did on this end. But, this would defeat the purpose of why you started to move the colony in one direction in the first place. For that matter you will have to move the whole colony to one side so that you can continue to add bars in the same direction.
To move the colony on one side, remove the feeder (if any) and the fol¬lower board. Place the solid follower board to the extreme end on one side, and place the filled combs after the follower board one after the other. Once you have completed moving all the filled combs, add two empty bars and place the second follower board with the hole. You can place the feeder or the remaining empty bars after the second follower board in the remaining area.
Continue expansion as before, moving the holed follower board and adding empty combs when all the bars in between the two follower boards are filled. Do not add more than two empty bars at a time.During summer or in mid fall, check to see if all the combs are filled, from one end of the hive to the other. By this time, you would have removed the feeder as the bees wouldn’t need it So chances are, all the bars from one end of the hive to the other would be filled with combs, both brood combs and honeycombs. If this is the case, you can feel free to remove not more than two bars of honey to harvest at this time and adding a couple of new empty bars. Do not harvest any honey after mid fall and all winter. The bees need the honey to survive the cold, so make sure you leave them a good sup¬ply of honey.
As winter is set to begin, make your winter preparations. Stop your inspections throughout the winter. You wouldn’t want to risk exposing the bees to cold by opening the hive. During winter, cover your observation windows if made of glass or netted hardware cloth, as these would let cold drafts of air into the hive.
As temperatures rise and the days begin to warm, you will observe the bees venturing out of the hive for small durations. You can open the hive now to inspect the bees. If the bees are all well and moving about the combs, then you can safely say that you have survived the winter. For the first few days after winter, as the days slowly begin to warm, you can provide sugar syrup or bee fondant for the bees. This is because the bees would have mostly ex¬hausted their reserves of honey. As the frost begins to thaw and new leaves emerge around you, you can pat yourself on the back for successfully com¬pleting one year of beekeeping.