I remember the feeling of trepidation I had when I decided keeping bees was going to be part of my farm plan. What I really needed was a beginners guide to keeping bees. Instead I found some piecemeal information and went for it.
There are variety of bits you need to know about keeping bees so I’m going to divide this up into sections.
Clothing For Keeping Bees
You are going to want to make sure you have the proper gear for keeping bees. You can either purchase a bee keepers suit or wear light colored clothing that is thick. Duct tape will do the trick for sealing seams. Wear boots and tuck your pant legs into them. If you are worried about getting stung duct tape around the boots.
Next you will need gloves and a hat with a veil. The gloves do need to fit in a way that you can still operate your fingers. If they are too thick it will be a problem. Too thin and you will get stung.
The Bee Hives & Equipment
There are several types of hives or boxes that you will use for keeping bees. There are the two “supers” and then there are the honey boxes. Into the hives go frames with foundation. This was confusing to me in the beginning. Think of the hives like file cabinets and the frames are the hanging folders.
Sometimes these are sold separately. They also come in two sizes. One for each of the types of hive; supers and honey hive. Okay so I’ll tell you the truth. I didn’t know that there needed to be foundation when I first got bees. I couldn’t understand why they were building their comb across the frames! Sometimes I’m a dork.
The Supers are bigger boxes that hold the year’s supply of honey for your bees. It is important to make sure that they have at least two full boxes for the winter before you start adding honey hives to the top. When you set up your bees you will only use one super at a time to get them established. They will build their comb and fill it from the inside frames out.
How To Set Up The Bee Boxes
To begin with you will only need one or two supers. These come with a top and a base. They should also have a “door” which is that little piece of brown wood that you can see in the basic beekeeping starter kit above. This door will keep out mice and other varmints. When it comes to setting up your hives you can put them on cinder blocks or on some pallets to at least get them off the ground and make it more challenging for critters to get in. Skunks and mice are notorious for wrecking hives.
Getting and Setting Your Bees
When it comes to getting your bees you might want to check your local farm and country store or extension office. Or look for beekeeping groups in your local area. We actually have a bee club here in Cache Valley that is quite active and very helpful. My friend Charlotte has some more handy tips about buying bees over here on her site Carolina Honey Bees
My method is somewhat different because quite frankly I was a little terrified of getting stung. So what I would do is put the queen in as he shows. Then I would put the box upside down on top of the frames and put the second super without any frames in it and then cover the whole hive. After a day or so I would go and take the second box off and put the lid back on the bottom super. This way all the bees got down in the frames.
Feeding Your Bees In The Spring
Ideally you will have your bees installed just as the honey flow starts. Where we live it is when the dandelions start to come out. Bees love dandelions. Before they can get nectar they need to have a supply of sugar water. Your bees will need a source of water and access to a variety of plants that blossom. These recipes for making sugar water for your bees to encourage different forms of behavior is from beekeepers Guild.
1:2 One Part Sugar to Two Parts Water:
Used in the spring to stimulate egg laying. Use only when enough honey is available for feeding the brood:1 pound sugar to 1 quart wateror5 pounds sugar to 5 quarts water
Stir sugar into warm water until dissolved.
1:1 One Part Sugar to One Part Water:
Used in the spring and summer to encourage comb building:1 pound sugar to 2 cups wateror5 pounds sugar to 2½ quarts water
Bring water to a boil and turn off heat. Stir in sugar until dissolved and cool.
2:1 Two Parts Sugar to One Part Water:
Used in the fall to increase food stores in preparation for winter:1 pound sugar to 1 cup wateror5 pounds sugar to 5 cups water
Bring water to a boil and stir in sugar. Continue stirring over heat until all crystals dissolve. Remove from heat and cool. Each gallon of syrup increases the colony’s reserves by about 7 pounds
What About Swarms
In my youth, the thought of swarming bees was something out of a Hitchcock movie, but today, they are a welcome source of bees. If you are fortunate enough to find a swarm you can brush them into a hive. The important piece of information is to make sure you get the queen in there too.
One year some of my bees actually swarmed. I was fortunate enough that they only traveled a short distance to one of my baby fruit trees. This picture is of us setting up the hive to drop the cluster into. We did manage to get the queen. The hive did thrive that year.
Maintaining Your Bees Health
You want your hive to look like this guys. Lots of healthy happy bees making honey and laying eggs. If he separates the hives then the one hive without the queen will make a queen out of one of the eggs. The queen cells look like peanuts. That is how to tell your getting a new queen.
Guarding against Verolla Mites. This video will explain what they are and how to protect your bees.
Harvesting The Honey
This is the part we have all been waiting for! Harvesting the honey. Here are several ways to harvest. Some using machinery and some the old fashioned way. Before you can harvest honey, however, you need to add a queen excluder above the second super. You will then put the honey hives on top of that. This is how you get only honey in the honey frames instead of the brood, honey and pollen.
Large Stainless Steel Electric Honey Uncapping Knife Beekeeping Scraper Hot KnifeStainless Steel Double SieveUpdate International NJP-1004 24-Gauge Stainless Steel Anti-Jam Steam Table Pan, Full, 14.5-Quart
Should you be part of a larger group of beekeepers you might want to go in together and purchase a honey extractor. Or perhaps you decided to get a bunch of hives going at one time.
2-Frame Stainless Steel Honey Extractor, Honeycomb Drum Bee Honey Harvest w/ Uncapping Knife2-Frame Stainless Steel Honey Extractor SS Beekeeping EquipmentLarge Stainless Steel Electric Honey Uncapping Knife Beekeeping Scraper Hot KnifeStainless Steel Double Sieve
Preparing Them For Winter
Probably one of the most important aspects of keeping bees is to prepare them well for winter. There are several things you should keep in mind.
- They don’t like wind
- They need a food source
I put straw bales around my hives to protect them from the cold and draft. Here is a good video about preparing your bees for winter.
Some Final Thoughts on Keeping Bees
Like most things in life, you just got to get in there and try it. Keeping bees in a wonderful adventure. There is nothing like watching a bee come back with pollen on its legs. Or watching a bee hatch from its cell. Amazing little creatures these honey bees.
Here is one last video about mistakes this guy made. I find that if I am aware of some mistakes at least I won’t make those – I will find different mistakes to make.