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Beginning Beekeeping

By Bennu, Aug 25, 2015 | |

  1. Introduction to Beekeeping

    Beekeeping can be an interesting hobby as well as a possible source of income. The initial cash outlay may range from $300 to $500; however, most of the materials and tools purchased can be used over several seasons. Before spending any money on beekeeping supplies or investing much time in the hobby, some preliminaries need to be done. Beekeeping is regulated in many parts of the United States and Canada. Aspiring beekeepers should check with local government agencies to avoid breaking any laws, codes or standards.

    Physical and Health Considerations

    The beekeeper should assess his or her physical condition next. A small beekeeping operation is not as labor-intensive as some other agricultural interests are. However, there is some heavy lifting involved during hive inspections and honey harvesting. Having a partner can be quite helpful.

    The beginning beekeeper enthusiast must also assess their physical reaction to bee sting venom. While the beekeeper will usually be wearing protective clothing, it is inevitable that he or she will be stung. Most people only experience mild discomfort from the venom. Even so, about 0.4% of the population can experience severe reactions, including severe swelling, shortness of breath and anaphylactic shock. A physician can assess the hobbyist’s allergic reaction to bee stings and recommend methods to treat it.

    Personal protective gear will prevent most stings. This usually includes a full-body coverall or jumpsuit and a bee veil that can be used in conjunction with a wide brim hat or helmet. Most beginners will also wear leather gloves with canvas cuffs that fasten or seal near the elbow. Rubber boots protect the feet, with any gaps between the boot tops and clothing sealed to prevent bee entry.

    Tools of the Trade

    The beginning beekeeper needs to gather the tools and supplies necessary for successful beekeeping. The tools include a hive tool, bee brush and a smoker. The hive tool is a multifunction tool that assists in separating and working on components of the hive that are often stuck together by bee glue. Bee glue is a substance used by the bees to seal the hive and is made from tree and plant sap. Sometimes this tool can be purchased with a hook that is used for lifting the comb frames.

    The Langstroth hive is the most common and most recognized hive configuration. It consists of two hive boxes, called deeps, and two or more shallower boxes that are called supers. All of these boxes are open on the top and bottom. The hive boxes are 9-5/8 inches deep and supers are 5-11/16 deep. Both the hive boxes and the supers are approximately 16-1/4 inches wide and 19-7/8 inches long. Hanging comb frames are placed in these boxes for the comb building process. The frame is rectangular with either a beeswax or plastic insert. The bees build their combs on the insert for three purposes: water, nectar and pollen storage, brood growth and honey storage. A protective cover is placed on top of the hive.

    Apiary Location

    The location of the beehive, called an apiary, is important for successful beekeeping. The apiary should be located near adequate food and water sources. Flower gardens, flowering trees, vegetable gardens and patches of wildflowers will give the bees an abundant source of nectar and pollen. There is a double benefit from hives situated near flower and vegetable gardens because the bees will also pollinate the flowers and crops. If there is no nearby water source, the beekeeper should place shallow containers of water near the hive. Rocks should be placed in and around the water pans for the bees to rest on. The entrance to the hive should be towards the sun.

    Starting the Hive

    The hive should be started in the early spring. Bee packages can be purchased to start the hive and will include a queen bee. The bees are introduced into one of the large deeps, called the brood chamber. Workers will build combs in which the queen will lay eggs. The combs are sealed with wax while the eggs hatch and the brood grows. A queen will often lay up to 2000 eggs a day.

    A second deep will be added as the first one becomes full. The two deeps are strictly for the bees use. The honey produced in the deeps will be used for nourishment during the winter. When the deeps are filled, the supers are added one at a time. A queen excluder screen will be placed between the top deep and the first super so that only the worker bees can enter the super for honey production. The larger queen cannot pass through the screen to lay eggs in the super. The super is where honey for human consumption is made.

    Honey Extraction

    The honey can be extracted as soon as the supers are filled. Production will slow down during the late summer and early fall as the nectar flow slows down. Special tools, such as hot knives, comb scrapers and honey extractors, make honey extraction easier.

    There are many resources available for the beginner. An experienced beekeeper is a valuable resource for information and hands-on training is possible. Many beekeeping clubs and associations hold meetings where knowledge is shared among members.

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