They are not as many supplies needed to start beekeeping as one might think. A hive for keeping them in is an important first step. Additionally, a beekeeper will benefit from protective clothing, a smoker, a hive tool, and a bee feeder.
Choosing a hive is a significant way to start the beekeeping experience off on the right foot. While there are a lot of different types of beehives on the market, the two most common are the moveable frame beehives and top bar hives.
Moveable frame beehives were an important invention made by Reverend L.L. Langstroth in the 19th century. There are variations of the Langstroth moveable frame hive on the market but they all follow the same basicprinciples. What makes moveable frame hives so effective is the amount of“beespace”they provide. The proper amount of space within the beehive is between ¼ inch (6.35 mm) and ⅜ inch (9.35 mm). Any more space and they will build honeycomb; any less space and they will fill it with propolis.
Top bar hives are another option. Unlike the move-able frame hive, which has four sides and a foundation made of wax, the top bar hive is made up of bars that the bees make honeycomb off of. It is less expensive. Other perks are the honey is easier to harvest and more honeycomb is produced. Disadvantages of the top bar design over the move-able bar design are they produce less honey and the honeycomb is shaped irregularly. They also require more hands-on management than a move-able bar hive.
Protective clothing is another important tool of the beekeeping trade. Ideally, a beekeeper will have a full bee suit and gloves. This is especially important if he or she has a bee sting allergy. How much protection is needed is a personal choice. There are gloves, suits, boots, jackets, helmets, and veils on the market to customize protection.
A smoker is a tool designed to make a beekeeper’s life easier. It is generally a metal cylinder with an attachment so that smoke can be bellowed where it is needed. There are several theories on what exactly smoke does to a bee, ranging from making them believe there is a forest fire so they gorge themselves on honey and become full and more docile to simply disorienting them enough that they cannot organize an attack. The smoke dilutes any pheromones being released to warn the other bees. A smoker can be used to help move the bees to different areas of the hive, which can be useful when adding to it or when it is time to harvest the honey.
The hive tool is an essential possession for any beekeeper. It is used to pry open the hive, among other things. Many include a nail-pulling slot somewhere in the middle. They range in size from 7 inches (17.78 cm) to 14 inches (35.56 cm). On top of using it to get into a beehive, most beekeepers find many other purposes for their hive tool. Many beekeepers recommend painting the hive tool a bright color so that it can be easily found when it is needed.
Bee feeders come in a variety of types, all with their own unique pros and cons. The following bee feeders are designed to feed sugar-syrup.
- Division board feeders are plastic pieces inserted instead of a piece of the frame. They are useful because they are completely on the inside of the hive, hold quite a bit, and are easy to fill. The biggest problem is that bees tend to drown in them, despite numerous attempts to avoid the problem such as adding ladders and rough sides.
- Entrance feeders go half in and half out of the hive, right at the entrance as the name implies. This makes it easy to fill it and see how much feed is left. However, they do not hold much and are prone to freezing in cold weather. They are also hard to defend from other bees because they are right at the entrance.
- Internal hive-top feeders go on the top of the brood box but underneath the cover. Due to their location, they are very easy to fill and can hold quite a bit of syrup. Like the division board feeder, they tend to drown some of the bees they are meant to feed. They are also extremely difficult to move if full because of their considerable weight.
- External hive-top feeders are upturned over an entrance hole. They can be completely exposed on put under a cover of some sort. Covering it to protect it from the elements and animals is a good idea. They are large containers so they can hold a lot of syrup, but this can make them heavy and awkward to move.
- Baggie feeders are a spacer rim in which a Ziploc baggie can be placed. This baggie is filled with syrup and has a slit cut into the bottom for bees to drink out of. They are easy to use and generally do not result in many bee deaths. On the downside, once a bag is placed it cannot be moved and the bags are a one-time use product, which is not environmentally friendly. Despite these drawbacks, this remains one of the most popular methods of bee feeding.
Finally, once all other supplies are in place, bees will need to be acquired. One option for this is to order them online or from a local supplier. Packaged bees will generally be shipped and usually include a queen bee as well as three pounds (1.36 Kg) of bees, which will be enough to establish the hive. The queen bee will come in her own container, separate from the other bees.
It is also possible to purchase a Nucleus colony, also known as a Nuc. These are basically miniature colonies, and come with bee larvae in all stages as well as an egg-laying queen. They have 3-5 frames in them with enough pollen and honey to sustain the small colony. These Nucs can make it easier to start out, but their sales are not regulated and it can be hard to know the quality of the colony being sold.
The third option for populating a new hive is to catch a swarm. This is by far the most dangerous option, but on the positive side it is free. Many also believe that these“feral”bees are heartier and more eager to make honey than the bees that have been interfered with by humans and shipped across the country. Swarms generally leave their hives in late spring or early summer, when hive overpopulation becomes an issue. Many areas have swarm lists and beekeeping clubs that can be joined to stay connected to the latest local information. A novice beekeeper should get the help of someone more experienced before attempting to collect a swarm.
Bees generally land within 20 feet (6.1 m) of the ground and stay within 50-100 feet (15 m–30m) of their original hives. They then wait there for the scout bees to find a suitable location for their new home. This can take anywhere from one hour to three days. The bees are very patient. While these bees are waiting there is an opportunity to collect them.
When it is time to collect a swarm, the materials needed are a box, a light colored sheet, pruning shears, protective gear, and a bee brush. It is important once a swarm is found that it is relatively safe to work with. If not, other swarms are likely to occur around the same time and it best to wait for one easier to catch. Climbing high off the ground on a ladder is not recommended due to the somewhat unpredictable nature of swarm collecting.
The easiest swarms to catch are those located on a branch. Place the sheet under the swarm on the ground and place the box on top of that. If the swarm looks like it will fit in the box, wonderful. If not, use pruning shears to cut off a few branches and place them in the box. Then shake the branch and the majority of the bees should fall into the box.
Swarms can also be found on fences or walls. This will make the task more difficult but not impossible. It is still important to place the blanket underneath the bees as best as possible. Mist the bees with a sugar or syrup and water mixture and then use a bee brush to gently move them into the box. The sheet underneath allows for brushing in any bees that missed the box.
Once the bees are in the box, it should be mostly closed and placed as close as possible to where the swarm was. The box should be open enough for bees to still come and go. If the queen bee is in the box, the stragglers and scouts will eventually join her. If not, the bees will exit the box rather quickly. If this is the case, another attempt can be made after a few minutes when the bees have calmed down. Once the majority of the bees have been captured, the box can be sealed for transport. Many ventilation holes should be poked in the box, and the bees should be transferred to their hive that same day.
Setting Up a Hive
After deciding to become a beekeeper and gathering the necessary supplies, it is time to set up a hive. The first step is finding a location. There are many factors to keep in mind when choosing where to place a beehive. Bees need access to pollen sources, fresh water, and sunlight. Ideally they will not have to travel more than 300-500 yards to find their pollen, although they will travel much further if need be. They need to be protected from the wind, rain, and harmful pesticides. If the location does not have a natural source of fresh water, a bird bath or small kiddie pool can be used as long as it is kept fresh and clean. The ground should be level, but if possible tilted slightly forward to allow rain to run out. Neither direct sunlight or full shade are desirable for bees so find a spot with dappled and irregular sunlight.
To set-up a moveable frame hive, it is important to have a strong base. A productive colony will create a lot of honey and honey is heavy. Cinder blocks or bricks are both good base options. The first thing to be laid down will be the base of the hive which should be made of screen to allow ventilation. Next, a deep super to serve as the brood chamber should be placed. A honey super is simply the part of the beehive used to collect honey. Any number of frames can be placed in this super, usually between eight to ten. On top of this another super, known as the upper deep, should be placed and filled with the same number of frames. This is the food chamber where honeybees will store the majority of their food. The frames are generally factory made and include a thin layer of wax imprinted with hexagons, on which the bees will make their comb. Next, the inner and hive covers go on top. Using a large rock or something heavy to prevent it from blowing open is recommended. The beehive may seem small at first but it will be added to as the bees start their production.
Top bar hives can vary greatly, but in general they are completely self-contained under one protective roof. They have 24 wooden bars across the top from which small starter strips are hung for the bees to start their honeycomb on. The wooden bars are removable. No matter which type of hive being used, it should come with its own specific instructions to ensure proper set-up.
Using a Move-able Frame Hive
If starting the hive off with packaged bees, there are two methods of moving them into their new home. The first is to simply allow them to do it at their own pace. The entrance will need to be plugged with something such as grass so that the bees do not simply fly away. Remove the queen cage and pierce the candy blocking her exit. Remove the cork on her cage. She should be placed directly on the wax foundation. Shake a couple of handfuls of bees near the queen so that she starts out with enough attendants. Next, unplug the package and allow the rest of the bees to find their queen.
The second option for using packaged bees is shaking them all out. In order to prevent them from flying away, first they need to be sprayed with sugar-syrup. The queen should be inserted in the same manner as discussed before. After the bees have been sprayed, they can be gently shaken into their new home.
When using a Nucleus colony, the first step in introducing the bees is to simply put the Nuc on top of the hive and remove the screens. This allows the bees to have an“orientationflight”where they learn their new location relative to the sun. This will help them navigate back to the hive in the future. The bees can be left like this for 24 to 48 hours as long as they are acting healthy and do not start hanging off the box. This is called“bearding”and when it happens they need to be moved into their new hive and given more space to expand. When integrating the Nuc with the beehive, remove three to five frames from the center of the hive and open the Nuc. This would be a good time to use protective gear and a smoker. The frames from the Nuc can then be placed into the new hive. It is important to double check the Nuc box to make sure the queen was not left behind. Once that is established, the hive can be closed. The Nuc box should be placed in front of or on top of the hive so that any stragglers can find their new home.
Using a Top-Bar Hive
Once the bees have arrived, it is best to put them in a cool, dark place to allow them to calm down. Spray them with either plain water or a mixture of 1:1 sugar syrup and water.
Next it is time to prepare the top-bar hive. Arrange and remove both the bars and follower bars so that only the part where the bees will be is open and put the entrance reducer in place. Late afternoon is the best time to introduce the bees to their new hive. A bee feeder should be placed inside.
First, the queen will be put in. Arrange two bars on top from which her cage can be hung. After prying the queen cage free from the rest of the package there may be a hole that needs to be plugged to prevent the other bees from escaping. Some bees may come off with the queen’s cage, they can be brushed off into the hive. If the cage is already attached to a wood piece it should be removed as it will not work with the top bar hive. Cut a piece of wire and attach it to the top of the cage. Next, remove the cork. Ideally, put a piece of candy in the hole to prevent the queen from escaping. If not, having a piece of marshmallow on hand can do the trick. The queen is now ready to be hung in her cage by the wire a couple of inches below bars four and five. Be sure it is securely attached.
After securing the queen, the rest of the bees can move in. If the package fits inside the top bar hive, simply remove the feeder can and place the entire package inside the hive. The bees will come out and find the queen on their own. If the package will not fit inside the hive, they will need to be very gently shaken out through the feeder can hole. If all of the bees do not come out, place the package near the hive. They will follow the scent of their fellow bees and head for the queen eventually. Replace all bars and close up the hive.
In three days, if the queen is still trapped in her cage by the candy or marshmallow, free her. This is also the time to remove all of the packaging the bees came in, even if it means destroying some honeycomb they may have formed on it.
If the bees were acquired by collecting a swarm, there is always a chance that they will leave, or abscond, from their new hive. Many people recommend waiting until the evening to move them in so that they can settle in overnight. Method one for getting a swarm into a hive is“chucking them in”and is not as violent as it sounds. It involves turning the box upside down over the top of the hive and giving it a firm thump to dislodge the bees and disorient them enough that they do not fly up and away. The hive should have its middle frames removed and this is where the bees should be aimed. Once they are in, gently place the frames on top of them. The frames will settle down as the bees disperse, and the lid can be placed back on. The other method is to construct a ramp from the box to the entrance of the hive. Using a sheet on the ground that covers the bottom of the ramp will help prevent the bees from simply going underneath it. This is a good method for those who want to try to mark the queen as she should be easy to spot going up the ramp.
No matter what type of hive, after moving the bees the only work necessary for the next five to nine days is to feed them and make sure the queen is alive and thriving. The best way to tell that is happening is to check for new eggs being laid.
From here, feeding the bees is the most important job. In a perfect world, the bees would produce enough honey to feed themselves, but they sometimes need help, especially when just starting out. This is particularly true of packaged bees, who need a boost until they are producing honeycomb. Pollen patties are a good option for early spring when the colony is just starting out. Otherwise, sugar syrup or even dry sugar can be used to help the colony survive.