Basics of Bee Keeping and what you need

Buy the Bees

First of all don’t hesitate to get your bees ordered before you do anything else, gathering bees takes time and by spring there might not be any for sale. Have a look around local bee-keeping associations, you will need to decide if package bees, nucleus colonies, catch swarms, or a hive already setup is the right decision for you. These options all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Choose Your Hive

Let’s take a look at the two best systems used in beekeeping today. Firstly we have the Langstroth hive, consisting of boxed stacked up on each other, with frames which are used to establish their comb and gather honey. The boxed are removed like drawers enabling access to the bees, to harvest honey, or carry out regular maintenance of the hive.

Secondly we have the top bar hive, in this system the bees’ frames are setup horizontally. The comb is made without the help of a foundation. Each bar that contains the comb and honey is pulled out from the top of the hive.

The majority of bee-keepers choose the Langstroth due to it’s capacity to produce high volumes of honey.

Choosing a hive shouldn’t be a daunting task. However it does need a fair amount of thought because once the commitment is made on the type of hive, you will need to focus all your research and investment into that specific method of bee-keeping. So don’t rush, gather as much information as possible either through meeting experienced keepers or reading. It’s also important  to start small.

10 Frame Langstroth Hive


These boxes stack together to form the hive. The bees build a brood nest at the bottom and fill the top boxes with honey.

Pros
Most common hive it is considered the global beekeeping standard
Most “old-school” beekeepers and commercial beekeepers use it
Supplies and support are easy to find

Cons
Quite large, end up storing extra parts elsewhere
Heavy, each frame can weigh around 30kg
Smoking the bees is necessary to calm them enough to work with them
More disruptive to hive to work with them

8 Frame Langstroth Hive

Eight frame hives work the same as the ten-frame Langstroth hives in terms of structure; it is only slightly smaller, which holds only eight frames instead of ten. So basically when you lift a medium super full of honey, it will weigh only about 15kg instead of 30kg for a ten-frame medium super.

Pros
Same benefits as a ten-frame Langstroth hive, familiar setup as far as boxes and frames
Lighter to work with

Cons
Not interchangeable with ten-frame equipment
Not as common as the ten-frame

Gather Beekeeping Supplies

In order to keep bees an upfront investment is necessary to gather all the initial supplies.
Once the decision is made on the hive you will use you will need to buy it, there are also various bee keeping tools you will need, which will include some protective clothing, and feeding supplies. It will also help to purchase some beekeeping books to help gain further knowledge. The list of supplies you will require may vary depending on the which hive you opt for, as well as your DIY skills and your budget that you are willing to invest.

Beehive

Choose either a Langstroth hive made up of boxes and frames, or a top-bar beehive.

If you choose the Langstroth hive, the most common type used by beginning beekeepers, you will either need to by the hive kit or else you could buy all the individual components which include boxes, frames and foundation.​

Foundation is used to guide the bees making it easier to draw out the comb. You can either use plastic or rolled natural beeswax. The bees seem to do much better with the natural bees wax so it is the preferred choice.

Honey Bees

The most important and the reason you are taking on this venture is for the bees themselves. To acquire bees look to your local beekeepers for supply or else it is becoming common for folk to order there package honey bees and queens online. It is recommended however to buy local as the honey bees will already be optimized for the particular climate and beekeeping conditions ensuring a healthy colony with sufficient production.

Protective Gear

Bees sting and that is part of nature however if you attain the proper protective gear you will get stung a lot less frequently and less seriously. Let’s take a look at what you will need. When working with a Langstroth hive, you may need all of these items. When using the Top-bar beehive it tends to disturb the bees a lot less when you work with them, so a veil and gloves may be enough for you.

Veil. A veil protects your head and face from bee stings and is the most important bee protection gear to own.

Gloves. Gloves are often used by beginners – however more experience  bee-keepers often do without them.

 

 

Bee suit. one-piece or jacket, and pants. A bee suit protects your entire body from bee stings, but wearing full-length clothes is often enough.

Bee Tools and Smoker

A smoker calms the bees before you check on them or remove honey.

A few basic hand tools are sold by beekeeping shops to assist you while working with the bees. There are many tools available out there but these are the most common.

Hive tool. A hive tool is a small, crowbar-like tool used to break apart the boxes that make up your beehive, which gets stuck together with beeswax and/or propolis.

Scraper. A scraper can help you remove the buildup of wax and/or propolis on your hive components.

Uncapping scratcher. Helps to uncap your comb to release honey.

Honey Extractor
Used to take the honey off the frames. They come in different sizes and types, some are worked by hand and others use a motor system. It is key to size the extractor to how many hives you have. It it suggested to either rent or borrow one while you are still starting up as they can be costly.

Introduce Bees to the Hive

as a beekeeper, one of the first steps is actually placing your bees in their new hive. Don’t rush this stage. It is common for the bees to be docile and cooperative. Make sure you become familiar with the steps until you are comfortable. Do a dry run before they arrive.

It’s best to place your bees in, in the late afternoon on the day that you pick them up, or the next afternoon. Preferably a clear, mild day with little or no wind. If theres rain and the temperature is cold rather wait a day.

 

To hive your bees, follow these steps in the correct order as stated below:
  1. Spray your bees quite heavily with non-medicated sugar syrup approximately thirty minutes before hiving. Be careful not to overdo it with the syrup. With a bit of common sense your bees should be fine.
  2. Pry the wooden cover off with your hive tool the pull the nails or staples out of the cover, and make sure you keep the wood cover handy.
  3. Ensure your bees fall to the bottom of the package by jarring the package down sharply. It won’t hurt them. Take the can of syrup from the package and the queen cage and replace the wooden cover quite loosely.
  4. Make sure the queen is in the cage with a few attendants. Check if she is alright, in some cases she might have not made it through transit. If she died just go through with the installation as planned but be sure to have another queen ordered from your supplier (they shouldn’t charge you.). The rest of the colony should manage without the queen until she arrives.
  5. Slide the metal disc on the queen cage to the side slowly. Slowly slide the metal disc on the queen cage to the side. Be very careful. To see the white candy in the hole, remove the cork at one end. If there is no sign of candy just re-plug the hole with a piece of marshmallow.
  6. Next fashion a hanging bracket for the queen cage out of two small nails bent at right angles.
  7. Jar the package down so the bees drop to bottom and spray them again.
  8. Remove five of the frames for hive preparation but make sure you have them close by.
  9. For now you will only be using the lower deep hive body for the bees. Hang the queen cage with the candy side facing up between the middle frame and the next frame facing the middle. The screen side of the cage needs to face towards the middle of the hive.
  10. For the last time spray your bees. Jar the package down. Get rid of the wood cover andpour half of the bees above the hanging queen cage. Then pour the remaining bees into the opening area where the five missing frames are.
  11. When the bees spread out a bit, carefully replace four of the five frames.(Very carefully) we don’t want to crush any bees. If the bees are all huddled up in one place gently spread them around with your hand be sure to use gloves.
  12. Place the inner cover on the hive. If a hive-top feeder is used, placed it in direct contact with the bees without the inner cover in between, and skip to step 12. The inner cover is used only when a jar or pail is used for feeding. The outer cover is placed on top of the hive-top feeder.
  13. Place the hive-top feeder on top of the hive. Otherwise, invert a 5 litre feeding drum above the oval hole in the inner cover; add a second deep super on top of the inner cover; and fill the hole around the jar with crunched up newspaper for insulation.
  14. Close off the inner cover’s half moon air hole with some grass (many inner covers do not have this hole. Its important to close off this entrance so the bees get comfortable in their new hive.
  15. Now place the outer cover on top of the hive. Nearly there!
  16. Add your entrance reducer, make sure the bees have at least a one-finger hole for them to defend. Keep this opening like this till the bees raise their numbers and are able to protect a larger hive entrance against vandals. The time it takes is approximately four weeks. If you choose not to use a reducer just add grass to close it up leaving about 2 cm of the entrance.

 

Keep Your Bees Healthy and Happy

Bees will need regular care, but won’t need a lot of your time. Make sure though that they are checked on frequently, but your observation of them is a good percentage of the work you will do keeping them happy. It is quite therapeutic and informative just watching the activity in the hive. Organise all your tasks by season, from when you have set them up in spring time to when the honey is harvested and then the preparations for winter time.

Bees follow a seasonal pattern through the colder climates meaning the tasks for you as a beekeeper also follow a calendar rhythm. You can divide your beekeeping tasks by the season however seasons in your region could vary from calendar dates.

Keep checking on your bees through the course of the year but do not overdo it. It’s common for beekeepers to disrupt the bees hive building and daily activities.

Spring Tasks
  • Spring is the time to get started and get new bees going. Do your research in late winter, plan your process, buy your hive and get into support clubs that offer all sorts of bee-keeping advice.
  • Carry on feeding the bees if necessary. It’s possible they would have used up all their collected honey over the winter, so it’s very important to make sure they have food until blooming starts to provide nectar.
  •  Check on the queen frequently making sure she is kept well.
  • Make sure you have extra hives available in case some swarms start looking for a new home. Position an empty hive or two in case some of the bees swarm and are looking for new homes. If you don’t do this you might lose bees that move somewhere else. It is Spring time when the bees do their travels.
  • Harvest honey from an established hive: when flowers are blooming, only harvest honeycomb not used over the winter.
  • Always Inspect your hive for a strong brood pattern, and if you notice the queen has died, replace her immediately.
Summer Tasks
  • Summer months are when bees look after themselves, a check up every few weeks is sufficient just to tackle any issues before they escalate.
  • Do not feed bees now as they will be out gathering nectar.
  • Always make sure there is ample enough water near your hives for the bees.
  • Also check that stronger more developed hives are not taking over weaker hives.
  • CheckCheck for Varroa mite infestations.
  • Ensure combs are hanging straight if you’re using foundationless or top bar methods.
  • Harvest honey.
Autumn Tasks

  • It’s now peak time for honey harvesting and to prepare your bees for winter.
  • When harvesting honey make sure there is enough for your bees to get through the winter.
  • Check the pattern of the combs, we are looking for good brood patterns.
  • Check for diseases; treat or dispose of diseased combs.
  • Combine weak hives with stronger ones, as long as they are disease free.
  • Make the hive entrance is smaller, also make sure there is enough ventilation. It’s time to finish up with any treatments for diseases and pests.
  • Start feeding bees once there are no more flowering plants and nectar.
  • Winter winds are cold so protect the hive however ensure there is enough ventilation.
  • It is possible for hives to tip over so weigh them down just incase.
Winter Tasks
  • Help get your bees settled in for winter, it is very crucially that they are cosy for the cold spell.
  • Ensure you have completed all the treatments.
  • Shelter the hives from the wind.
  • When winter comes, check your hives for any wind damage, and ensure the ventilation is adequate. As winter hits, monitor your hives for wind damage frequently, and check openings to make sure there is ventilation. Bees can handle cold, however if you seal the hive up completely it could have drastic effects that can create problems for your bees.
  • As we start approaching spring check on the bees on warmer days by opening the top to make sure there is enough honey for food. If there is no food, add pollen patties or another form of food to the hive.
  • It’s time now to order new equipment and bees, make sure you give yourself enough time before winter ends.

 

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