IS BEEKEEPING FOR ME?
The maintenance of beehive can be taxing on ones time and knowledge as this requires a keen sense of management and good stewardship. It goes without saying that bees are far more demanding that a goldfish but you can breathe a sigh of relief as they are less demanding than a dog.
The regular venting and inspection of your beehives in the summer time is a must. You need to ensure the continued good health of your bees, a good supply of honey and a spacious hive for their population regeneration. Minimal interaction with the bees in the colder months is highly advised as the colony huddles together and feeds on its honey reserves, only to re-emerge once the temperature warms up again.
Hives need not be neglected during the rest of the year with varying degrees of frequency in management being determined by the climate, your style of hive and your bees themselves. In warmer regions of the country, for example, bees will forage much longer that those in the northern states. It is imperative therefore to understand the beekeeping norms in your region or part of the globe and this includes local laws and seasonal requirements.
Getting stung comes with the territory, a bee might get caught in the creases of your garment without you even seeing it, let alone getting it out. It is normal! Rule of thumb though, is that bees generally die once the sting so they will only sting when they feel it is absolutely necessary.
WHAT ARE HONEY BEES
If you have made up your mind and want to start beekeeping, there are vital thing that you need to know about honeybees. Books that have useful information about bees are a dime a dozen, so settle on one that you like and start soaking up every word until you get a hang of the elementary about bees, including; the honeybee lifecycle, their diet, predators, seasonal changes, etc.
HOW SHOULD I KEEP BEES?
A more in-depth understanding of the maintenance of bees is necessary in order to compliment your understanding of what honeybees are. You will be met with countless literature on the methods that you can use, all of which are no different to the next. Many of these books endorse the use of wax foundation, frames, top supering, medicating and micromanaging the honeybee colony. Save for a few findings on various platforms, contrary methods to the above mentioned methods are rare. This is where we come in.
WHERE TO GET BEES
You will be spoiled for choice with the number of options available. The best time for populating your hive is in the spring time (from around April to late May in Portland, Oregon). Timing is key as any attempts at populating your hive later than the spring time (especially in Northern weather) will leave the bees with very little time to stock up on food reserves (honey and pollen)that they will feed on through the winter time.
- Swarms/Feral Bees – It is best to have an expert catch a swarm of feral bees for you, or you could catch them yourself (FUN!). Past evidence has proved feral bees to be of good health and are easily prone to thrive due to a lack of artificial intervention from humans. What’s more is that a swarm will have broken off from a colony meaning that it was strong enough to offset another swarm. To add to this, the bees and indigenous to your area and will be well acclimatized to the weather. This method of bee population is highly recommended. You may be wondering what a swarm is, well swarming is the method with which bees use to multiply, thus populating throughout the earth’s surface. It is completely natural and all colonies are prone to this. You can view this as the bees reproductive method but on a larger scale such a whole colony. There are countless clips on youtube depicting what the swarms look like and how to capture them. To know more about swarming you can read this on How to Catch a Swarm of Bees or How to get bees and should you still wish to know more you can contact us directly.
- Bait & Trap– You might feel intimidated when you hear about swarm traps and bait hives, but past evidence tells us that this need not worry you as we know many new beekeepers who attempted to trap a swarm and discovered that as soon as the trap was erected a colony would adopt the hive without any coercion. The internet has provided many with directions on how to build swarm traps and bait hives. McCartney Taylor also penned a book called Swarm Traps and Bait Hives that offered a wealth of information of great strategies for this method. The positive is that you are once more likely to attract hearty bees that are indigenous to your area.
- Packages– You can also get bees by buying a package from a breeder. These usually originate from warmer parts of the country such as California or Texas and will be shipped to you via USPS who will give you a call when they arrive. Packages often have a queen in them that has already been open mated or artificially inseminated. The package will also contain 10 000 bees that have been gathered from several colonies. They are placed in a box that has a can of sugar water syrup which is their provision for the journey. The queen hangs in a small cage at the center of the box, while the bees around her familiarize themselves with her scent. We offer only the best packaged bees to our customers in the Portland Metro Area in April and in May. If your reside outside of Portland you can obtain package bees from a number providers sought from the internet.
- Nucleus Colonies– If you are using a Langstroth hive, your best bet is to populate your hive with nucleus colonies. This is a completely established colony in a 5-frame box and is in a position to be transferred into 8 or 10-frame boxes. Due to the fact that they already have combs, eggs, larvae and honey stores, the nucleus colonies usually build up much quicker than packages. Networking with other beekeepers in your area, particularly foundationless beekeeper, will be of great assistance to you. Go online and search for “foundationless beekeeping” along with your towns name, nearest city or state and you will most definitely source great information on resources. You can also search using the hive types name as well as your community or town, such as: “Top Bar Hive, Houston, Texas”. You will be in the position of meeting some awesome people with a myriad of experience levels. Nothing beats the ability to always have your questions answered, or to observe and commiserate with should your bees fail to cooperate.
WHAT IS THE BEST BEE HIVE?
Some of the most frequently asked questions that we get are “what hive type should I go for?”. There is no easy way to answer this question which can perhaps be answered by the question: what do you want to get out of beekeeping? Do you just want to pollinate and support honeybee populations? Or perhaps make some honey? Or a lot of honey? Once you have taken these questions into consideration your will know the type of hive that will best suit your needs. We always consult with our bees on what they prefer but it is always to no avail. Bees will be bees in whichever type of hive you choose.
The Langstroth, Horizontal Top Bar and the Warre Hives are the most common hives in America. They are the ones that we sell and use in our own apiary. There are pros and cons to each design and none of which are perfect for every situation. This handy table will help you determine which hive type is right for you.
WHERE SHOULD I PUT MY HIVE?
Allocate a space that works for you taking into consideration ease of access, early morning sun and the concealment from your neighbor should you be an urban dweller. Make ample accommodation behind your hive in order to properly inspect the or peep through the window if you are using a horizontal top bar hive.
The perfect beekeeper’s checklist includes the following pre-requisites: Southern exposure, early morning sun, afternoon shade, wind barriers, dry, flat ground, near a water source, easy access and protections from neighbors. These requirements have proven difficult to meet for many beekeepers – not to worry though, honeybees are incredibly adaptable insects. We have witnessed a number of feral colonies that thrived in places that did not meet these requirements.
If you live in an area that does not fully condone beekeeping, it would be highly beneficial for you to have your hive fenced. To prevent your bees from wondering into your neighbor’s yard, you will need to position the entrance to the hive to face a tall object like a fence, hedge or the wall of your house. This will teach your bees to fly upwards and high above your neighbor’s houses.
Finally, you will need to position your hive close to a water source (preferably not your neighbor’s pool). Bees are highly efficient insects – they will not fly 50 yards to your bird bath if your neighbor’s pool is 5 yards away – much to the frustration of your neighbor. Your water source needs to be at least 50 – 100 feet of your hive and always ensure that it has gently sloping sides. This will ensure ease of access to water for cooling and a mix with pollen to create bee bread.
7 IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS FOR HIVE PLACEMENT
1. EASY ACCESS
While the traditional “hive placement checklist” requires a number of things, one of the most important factors in my opinion is your ease of access as the beekeeper. The bees adapt easily to their surrounding and will adjust to any situation they are put in. It would be a problem if the location of the hive makes it hard for you to work on them or even enjoy them. You will need to find a location that is clear at the back of the hive therefore, with at least 2-3 feet of space for you to maneuver comfortably. I guarantee you though that you will spend more time on your knees with your loved ones with eagerly peeping through the window to see the progress of your bee hive. Try and make an accommodation for at least 2 or 3 people to fit comfortably while peeping through the window.
2. LEVEL GROUND
Horizontal top bar hives are foundationless and the bees build their comb in a 90 degree angle to the ground, this means that if your hive is on a slope, the comb will also be sloped. You need to make sure therefore that you place your hive on a flat surface, or place garden tiles, rocks or scrap wood under the legs to make it as level as possible. This will also give you greater ease of access to the hive without having to go up and down the hill.
3. EARLY MORNING SUN
Rule of thumb dictates that hives thrive the most in warm weather than in cold weather with the exception of extremely hot climates. If it comes down to a choice between early morning sun and afternoon sun, you would be better off with early morning sum as this will get the hive active earlier in the day, giving them more time to gather resources.
If you feel that the area that you live in, be it urban or suburban, may not be fully conducive for bees due to a potential danger to your bees of people then always ensure that your hive is tightly secured – preferably with a solid demarcation. A number of beekeepers who also happen to be city dwellers will often direct their hives towards a fence or hedge.
Wind: The best is to position your hive where it is safe from harsh winds that could blow into the entrances during the winter months. Our hives are very secure thanks to the leg and weight configuration making them able to withstand high winds.
If you live is a particularly dry region where pools are few and far between then ensuring a steady supply of water will be your highest priority. Water is important for bees when it comes to constructing the hives and be efficient gatherers, they will frequent the nearest water source, irrespective of how your neighbors may feel about this. So if your neighbor’s pool or bird bath is the closest, your bees will not pass up the opportunity. This means that you will need to provide a water source for them, construct one is you have to, a shallow-sloped one or bird bath will do just fine.
If you decide to keep your bees in your back yard then you will most probably have very little control over the nectar and pollen sources available to your colony, but an aspect well worth considering. We have measured greater success with our urban and suburban placed colonies, mainly due to the rich collection of flower plants available in parks, gardens and yards. Rural areas involved in intense agriculture are most often poor in the availability of forage largely due to the use of mono crops, pesticides and fungicides.
Lastly, but certainly not least is the legalities involved in keeping bees in your area. Many cities have regulations against deliberate beekeeping or even structure the licensing process to frustrated the beekeeper. Familiarize yourself with your city, county and state laws before purchasing or building a beehive and bees, and then decide knowledgeably. Bear in mind that many areas have outdated laws that clearly ban the use of any other hive except for Langsroth or frame beehives.
While I cannot think of anyone who has been called out for violating such a silly regulation, it’s still worth noting.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
Once you have decided to go into beekeeping, you will need some equipment. For your convenience you can get all of the essential beekeeping equipment from our store.
We recommend the following equipment for all new beekeepers:
Hive tool: Perhaps the most important tool your will need, it is the difference between you being able to inspect your colony or not. Without it you will find it also difficult to add new boxes if you are using a Warre hive. Bees glue everything in the hive together with their resin-like propolis.
Smoker: We firmly believe that owning this piece of equipment is imperative to all beekeepers even though we hardly use it on our own apiary. This equipment is used to overwhelm the bees making it difficult for them to relay messages amongst themselves and also compel them to over-feed on their honey reserves in anticipation of a fire. Honeybees are feisty creatures, otherwise docile hives may have days where they are overly agitated. It is advisable to avoid the hive during those days but on days where you may need to inspect or move the hive then a smoker will come in handy.
Jacket with Veil and Gloves: We anticipate your lack of confidence as a new beekeeper, especially if your hands and face are bare with the possibility of owning up to 40 000+ stinging insects at first. In order for you to gain confidence around your bee, we recommend that you use protective equipment. Bees can sense it when you either lack confidence or have as most beekeepers who showed signs of fear are prone to making mistakes would often get stung which is a quick way of putting you off your new hobby. The more you gain confidence when working with bees you can then start reducing the number of times you wear your protective gear (if you are comfortable with this). You will start to learn your bees’ mood even before you access your hive – they’ll tell you if you need protective gear or a smoker or not!
Bee Brush: Equally important, the brush can be used to gently ward your bees off of the comb and other places where they are not needed. Keep in mind that the bees HATE the brush and you will find them stinging it mercilessly as you use it, so use sparingly.
Starter Kit: For all the beginners, there are starter kits that include all the tools and protective equipment you need to get started as a beekeeper:
WHEN SHOULD I START MY HIVE?
Your new hive will either grow or decrease depending on the climate in your areas as bees’ behaviors are dependent on the weather. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, I will use that as an example, but you will need to research on your local beekeepers and beekeeping groups.
The most opportune time to start here in Portland, Oregon is early spring between late March and early May, this is because frosts less if at all during this time, flowers and forage plants will be available giving your bees the opportunity to collect nectar and pollen. This is why we advise our customers to use do all their research and planning in the autumn and winter months. So by the time spring comes along your hives, bee source, equipment and location on your property are all ready. You will want to feel confident and knowledgeable about the impending task.
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Since you are still new your learning will not stop. If you stop learning, there is something wrong that you are doing. As a natural beekeeper you will become part of a forever growing and changing beekeeping subculture that is still misunderstood by many in the beekeeping society at large. You may receive great criticism for your type of hive design or methods, but you can rest assured in the fact that there will come a time for treatment-free, bee-friendly beekeeping, even among long-time traditional beekeepers.
Involve yourself in a beekeeping organization regardless of their varying opinions on methods or beekeeping philosophy. Strive to enlighten them on your methods and you may get to convert a soul. Long-time beekeepers can also offer a wealth of knowledge despite their lack of interest in top bar or Warre beekeeping.