Honey Beekeeping (Oh Lord, part one)
by Petticoat Prepper writing For one of the many sites MD Creekmore runs
A while back MD said he needed posts from all of us to help keep things moving along. My thought of offering to write about honeybees was encouraged and so get out your salt shaker and bear with me. Beekeeping is an inexhaustible subject. I haven’t a clue how many parts there will be to this but I know it can get very overwhelming and I’ll try to keep the parts shorter rather than longer.
First let me say, I am no expert. I have been keeping bees for the past year. It’s been fun, frustrating, interesting and challenging. I’ll share what I’ve done and hopefully those interested will find a bit of help. Just keep in mind; it’s rather like herding cats.
I am setting up to add 3 more hives to my backyard this year. I just placed my order for two more starter kits as I have one empty which I got for a swarm that left before I got back with it and then I’ve the original one (bees are still there). Once I have all of them set up I will have 4. The maximum number allowed by my city is 5. By law, if I have 5 or more I am required to register them with the State Agriculture Department. I don’t care to have the government in my back yard so I’m stopping at 4. The fee is very small and they check for diseases to help keep all the honeybees healthy. I am prohibited from selling any of the bees, honey, etc. as that would make them ‘live stock’ and I’m not zoned for live stock…gotta love ‘em!
I would strongly suggest you look for a local beekeeping club to join. I would also suggest getting a decent book. My club suggests Beekeeping for Dummies. There are lots of YouTube videos that are very helpful and tons of web sites too.
The first thing you need to understand is that it’s December 30, 2012 as I write this and that means you’re almost behind if you want to get going this coming year. Even if you don’t have a hive set up and clothes; get your bees ordered. You have no idea how hard it is to get them if you wait. My bees will come in April but I have to order them now.
Bees come in 3 pound boxes. Yes, that’s 3 pounds of bees and one mated queen shipped with a can of food. 3 pounds of bees will be about 11,000 bees. Yes, 11,000 that’s a lot of bees and you’re going to let them out of that box! My bees are Italian; they are yellow brown in color with dark bands. They are gentle, produce a good amount of comb and large brood which results in quick colony growth. They winter over a large amount of bees so they need a good amount of food storage. Italian bees are the most popular followed by Carniolan.
Ok, you’ve ordered your bees and now you need to start looking at a home for the ‘girls’ and a place to put them. There are a several options for homes but I’m only talking about mine. I use the Langstroth method named after the ‘Father of Modern Beekeeping’. I order my supplies from Ruhl bee supply as they are about 45 minutes from me. You can see their products at www.ruhlbeesupply.com depending on where you live you may want to order closer to home.
I order their PNW starter kit assembled. I have no desire right now to put this stuff together and I pay them the extra $50 figuring it’s worth the loss of frustration. Plus I don’t have to make a second ‘oh crap!’ trip to get something I broke. This gives me everything I need to get the girls going. I also get a second medium super (terms are coming up hang in there), a queen excluder, mouse guard, and plastic feeder.
Terminology on hive parts:
‘Super’ this is the box sections.
‘Deep Super’ this is where the girls live or stock pile food.
‘Medium Super or Shallow Super’ is where they make YOUR honey.
‘Frames’ this is the wood or plastic part that hangs from the super and to which foundations are attached.
‘Foundations’ this is a flat plastic or beeswax form that is held in place on the frames. They are stamped with a honey comb pattern and the girls will draw comb on this.
‘Draw Comb’ this is where the girls make wax honeycomb.
‘Queen Excluder’ a plastic grate that keeps the queen from reaching the medium supers so you don’t get brood in the honey.
‘Brood’ baby bees.
‘Entrance reducer’ a small board with notched section. This gives a new hive a smaller area to defend.
‘Plastic Feeder’ this is a small flat dish if you will that a canning jar of syrup fits into to feed the girls.
Ok, the kit will/should have:
1 screened bottom board with sloped front (don’t get the solid flat ones)
1 entrance reducer
2 deep supers
20 frames (10 each super)
1 medium super
1 inner cover
1 telescoping or English garden cover
I also get cinder blocks from the lumber yard for the hive to sit on. I want them off the ground to help keep them dry. I want them up so any invading animals will have to stand on its back legs thus exposing their tender tummy’s to painful stings.
When you site the hive you want dappled shade. The sun will wake them so you want them to get some but you also want to protect from the heat of the day. A wind break is important too as is a water source. I’m on a creek so the girls have plenty of water and the shade from my fruit trees helps keep them cool when we get hot. A 5 gallon food grade bucket with a line of holes drilled a couple inches from the top and filled with water and a couple inches of packing peanuts will work fine if you don’t have water within half a mile. Peanuts give the girls something to stand on so they don’t drown and the holes let rain water drain out so you don’t lose the peanuts.
Wet bees are sick and unhappy bees. Take care to adjust the blocks or pallets so the hives lean forward a bit to help drain out any moisture. In the valley here we get lots of rain so I worry about drainage a bunch.
The last I’m covering for this part is clothing and hand tools. Look through the style and types of beekeeping clothing and pick out what appeals to you. I bought a one piece pull over jacket with hat and veil. I like it as there is no zipper opening for a bee to find. The ‘hat’ part slides around a bit and I’m sewing a ribbon inside to tie under my chin to see if it will be still on my head. I find a bandana helps to keep my long hair contained and sweat out of my eyes while working the bees. I added painter’s coveralls for my pants. It’s a disposable one and I found it hot to work in during the heat of summer. I like it because the pant cuffs have elastic and I wear them outside my boots. I may look for just pants. I bought bee gloves with mesh at the wrist to help cool me off. The thing to think about when trying on the official outfit is being able to bend and stretch. AND how many openings are there? Bees will search you while you work and I for one do not want one inside with me!
Get a good hive tool. Don’t scrimp here you use this for just about everything. A smoker and fuel is a must. Learn to keep the smoker going. You want cool smoke for the girls never hot. A bee brush is nice. I used a small fresh branch with leaves before I got my brush and it worked fine, but I like the brush. A frame holder is great to have. This hangs on the side of the super and you remove the first frame and place it there while you work your hive. This gives you a bit of space to move the remaining frames forward. A frame grip is one of those things you think is stupid to have until later in the season when you’re trying to pull up a frame filled with pounds of honey and bees. Trust me you never want to drop a frame of bees. This stupid little tool is a must!
In part two, I’ll explain how to get bees from box A into box B. Hopefully, this part wasn’t too long!