I just can't say enough good things about honey. We actually evolved as a species eating honey, but now we miss out on the full spectrum of a close relationship with the bees. Not only is the honey healthful, but also the wax comb, the pollen, and the propolis (a waxy substance bees make to seal holes). And getting stung by bees also has its share of health benefits as bee venom is shown to lower blood glucose and be of use in arthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis.
This post isn't meant to be a dissertation on honey, but a starter guide to beekeeping.
There are hundreds and hundreds of beekeeping books, and it seems every beekeeper has his own set of "hard and fast" rules for handling bees. Me, I like simple. Most bee books have you endlessly messing around with your bees, but they also tell you that every time you open your hive, you stress your bees. So my goal is simple and stress-free bees.
Over Winter, I bought a starter beekeeping kit for around $200 on Amazon. I also bought Beekeeping for Dummies, a really awesome book on the low-down for keeping bees. After reading the book, I realized I'd need more hive pieces, so I ordered a "honey super" ($69) and another "hive body" ($79) to go with the starter kit.
If you go the Amazon route, the starter kit, hive body, and honey super I linked above are all one needs to get a batch of honey. Collecting the honey will require more expenses, but since that won't happen until later in the summer, I figured I wait and watch Craigslist for honey extraction tools and equipment.
I'm also finding now that "Beekeeping Supplies" is big business! There's no end of websites willing to sell you all you need to be the "hippest" beekeeper on the block. But, as a tightwad, I don't buy everything I see and find that most of these nifty devices can be made for next to nothing.
The Hive Setup
Here is the "starter kit." I read it was a good idea to put everything together and place it outdoors to breathe a little and get rid of any weird smells.
|A typical "Langstroth" hive|
This hive consists of two "hive bodies." The hive bodies are where the bees will live and raise baby bees. Inside the hive body are 10 "frames" where preformed honeycomb "foundation" hangs and gives the bees somewhere to start building their combs on. These are called Langstroth hives, to be precise.
The starter kit only comes with one hive body, but everything I have read says you'll want two. This gives the bees a great big place to call home and a better ability to rear many healthy worker bees for pollen and nectar collection.
Once the bees fill the two hive bodies with nest combs, you can install one or more "honey supers." The honey super is just a hive body, but they come in smaller sizes so they are easier to handle. You could use a third hive body as a honey super, but it could weigh nearly 80 pounds when full! A shallow honey super will hold about 40 pounds of honey.
You'll want the hive off the ground to keep mice and water out. Place in an out-of-the-way spot that gets good morning sun. Mine is situated near a treeline and surrounded by wild roses. The only real concern I have is that a bear might try to get some honey, but there's not much I can do to keep a bear out if he wants in.
You'll need to order your bees well in advance and be prepared to get started in March or April in most parts of the country. There's still time if anyone wants to try this year!
I received my package of bees today. I ordered them from a local beekeeper who gets a big shipment every year and drives around the state in a beat-up old Ford van (with BKEEPR plates!) delivering them when they come in.
|Van full of bees|
|3 pound bee package (approx 9000 bees)|
To transfer the bees to the hive body, the default method is to remove the syrup and the queen (easy to do) and then slam the box hard against the ground so that all of the bees are unlodged and fall in a heap. Then the cage is inverted and the bees shaken and dumped into the hive.
I read another method where the entire cage is simply set into the hive body with a few frames removed so that the bees will simply exit on their own. I took that route.
The queen's little cage is easily removed from the top of the cage, the queen is held captive in this cage with a small cork. You simply remove the cork and put the queen cage inside the hive where she will wander out when she's ready.
Here's what it all looks like:
|Bee package inside hive body, syrup can on top of frames, queen cage hanging between frames|
|Bees exiting cage nice and peacefully|
The baggies are filled with sugar water for the bees to eat until there are flowers around. Normally they'd be eating the honey they stored the year before, but as this is a brand-new hive, they will have to settle for sugar...this is a standard beekeeping method. The baggies are a cheap alternative to feeders that you can buy from beekeeping supply stores. Simply fill the bag with sugar, add some water and cut a slit in the side. The bees found it right away, but here is the cool thing...they didn't go crazy and swarm all over the bags of sugar. Instead the bees all lined up along the top of a frame and a handful of bees started going back and forth from the sugar feeding the rest of the bees! I was not expecting that. Can you see?
|The "feeding line"|
Well, that's it for today. Tomorrow I need to get the shipping cage out of the hive body and put all the frames in place. Once the bees get a belly full of sugar they will start building wax comb. I'm told that as soon as the first cell in the comb is complete, the queen will be there to lay an egg. Soon she can lay up to 1000 eggs per day!
This first year, the bees will be busy building up wax for their nest and honey storage, but next year the hive will be well-established and the bees can just get to work making honey and raising babies.
I'd rate this hobby an "8" out of 10 for the initial complication and a "5" out of 10 for what I had to do today. Timing is probably the biggest factor in getting things right. Most places have beekeeping clubs and co-ops where you can learn all about keeping bees where you live, or just stop by a beekeepers house, they are some of the friendliest people I have ever met!
Fun Fact of the Day
All these bees you see will be dead in about 5 weeks, replaced by newly hatched bees. The eggs take exactly 21 days to hatch, the same exact time it takes for a chicken egg to hatch.
Any other beekeepers out there, or wanna-bee beekeepers?