Want to start Beekeeping?

Maintaining beehives and daily beekeeping tasks require time, knowledge and management skills.


 

Beekeeping is not something you can just start with and hope for the best. Many new beekeepers go this route, and it usually ends in tears. Beehives require ongoing general maintenance and regular inspections throughout the year. During spring, summer and early fall, you will want to be checking that your colony has space for expansion, honey stores are being built up, and that the queen is laying eggs. You will also be checking for varroa mites and signs of disease that could lead to colony collapse disorder. During the colder months of winter, you will want to cut back on periodic hive inspections. The bees will be trying to maintain the hive temperature and opening the hive will release that much needed temperature for them to survive.

 

Of course, this all depends on where in the world you live. Beekeepers located near to the equator will most likely have to manage their hives throughout the year. In more temperate climates, inspections should only be performed when the bees are active. Everything from the type of bees you have to the hive you choose to use will play a pivotal role in your unique beekeeping experience. As a beekeeper, you can expect to get stung every now and then. Depending on the type of honeybee you have, you will most likely find them to be docile and more interested in working than stinging. Moving slowly and keeping your bees calm is key to avoiding bee stings.

 

Below are plenty of beginner beekeeper tips that you should know before getting started.

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Keeping Honey Bees

Every successful beekeeper spends time learning everything they can about the honey bees they want to keep. Education is important, as is gathering as much bee information as possible. There are many different variables that can affect a colony.

 

Every time you inspect your bees or the hive; you should be ready to put your knowledge into action. Apis mellifera are mesmerizing creatures with a well-structured hierarchy within the hive. Sometimes, your honey bees will display behaviors you are not accustomed to, so understanding be language is a useful skill to have.

 

Before you even consider buying your first nuc, get to know the different types of honey bees available. The Western honey bee is notoriously docile. However, the Iberian honey bee is famous for its short temper and swarming attacks. This post will give you a better understanding of the different characteristics each type of honey bee has.

Contact Local Beekeepers

The best way to learn about beekeeping is to get some hands-on experience. As the local environment plays a big role in influencing honey bees, helping out at a local apiary can give you a head start with your own beekeeping skills. Learning about beekeeping on the internet isn’t always the best way to go.

 

Many topics are only relevant for certain climates or ecosystems. That’s not to say that the information is not relevant. Purely that connecting with local beekeepers gives you a better understanding of what your bees will require in your area. Finding an established local beekeeper with lots of knowledge gives you your very own local mentor. Take advantage of their understanding of bees and beekeeping skills… and suck it up like bees suck up nectar.

Honeybee Overview

The most commonly kept honeybee is Apis mellifera, also known as the Western honey bee and the European honey bee. In the United States, this is the only type of honey bee that beekeepers keep. In Europe, several types of honeybee such as Apis mellifera ligustica (Italian honey bee) Apis mellifera Iberiensis (Iberian honey bee) and Buckfast bees are all popular choices.

 

Out of the 20,000 bee species known to science, honeybees are the only commonly domesticated species. Solitary bees, such as ground-nesting bees, tunnel nesting bees and carpenter bees are not kept for honey production. Neither are social bees, such as social bumblebee colonies. This is because these bees do not store excess honey.

 

It is this access honey production that has made honeybees so popular around the world. But honey bees produce more than just honey. Everything from propolis to beeswax and royal jelly have value to humans. However, their most valuable skill is pollination. Approximately 30% of global food crops rely on honey bee pollination. Which goes to show just how valuable bees are to local and international environments.

Different Types of Bee in a Colony

While a honey bee colony functions as a whole, each one contains three different social castes. These castes determine the different roles that each type of honey bee performs. Inside a colony, you will find 1 Queen, the worker bees, and the drones.

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The Queen

Each honey bee colony has just one Queen. The queen bee is the only individual within the colony that can reproduce. During her lifetime, she will only ever leave the hive in just two types of situation.


Virgin Queens leave the hive on a mating flight. When she heads out to mate, she will fly to a drone congregation area. Here, she will mate with roughly 80 drones. Once she has stored sufficient sperm, she will return to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life.


The second is when the colony needs to split. During this time and experience the queen will leave the hive with a swarm to establish a new colony. A newly emerged Queen takes control of the old hive.


The queen bee decides which eggs will be male (drones) or female. On average, the queen will live for between five and six years.


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Drones

Drones are born from unfertilized eggs and serve only one purpose… to mate with a virgin Queen and spread the colonies genetics.


Unfortunately for the drones, once they have mated they will die. When they insert their endophallus into the stinger chamber of the virgin Queen, it becomes lodged.


As they pull away, their endophallus is ripped off and tears open their stomach.


Drones who are not successful with mating will return to the hive… but not for long. Worker bees see drones as being a drain on the hives resources and forcibly kick them out to die a cold and lonely death.


Drones do not have a stinger as this is a modified egg laying organ. Once they have been evicted from the beehive, they have no defenses against predators.


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Worker Bees

Every single worker bee in a colony is female. They are all sisters, and they all work together to ensure that the hive thrives. Worker bees are further divided into house bees and field bees. Field bees are the ones that you see foraging for nectar.


House bees remain inside the hive feeding the young (nurse bees) working on honey storage, honey production and wax production, keeping the beehive clean, and defending the colony against Intruders.


The average worker bee only lives for between four and six weeks during the warmer months. A worker bee born toward the end of fall or during the cold months can live for many months until the warmer weather arrives.


These winter worker bees will maintain the hive and take care of the queen during periods of inactivity.


Honey Bee Pollination

Both native wild bees and honey bees play a pivotal role in pollination. 30% of our food crops are pollinated by honeybees and wild bees. And over 90% of flowering plants rely on bees and insect pollination to be able to produce seeds.

 

Pollination occurs when a honey bee lands on a plant foraging for nectar. Pollen sticks to small hairs on a bee’s body. The majority of this is brushed into the pollen baskets on the hind legs of the bee. As the bee forages for nectar and goes from flower to flower, loose pollen fertilizes each plant as it goes.

 

Both pollen and nectar are used as food sources for bees. Pollen is rich in amino acids and proteins and is mixed with nectar to create bee bread. This bee bread is then fed to the Queen and the growing larvae. Nectar is rich in carbohydrates and is what ultimately becomes honey. When honey bees collect nectar, they store it in their honey gut.

 

Here, it is mixed with enzymes. In the hive, the nectar is regurgitated and chewed to help dehydrate it. It’s then placed into a honey cell where the bees will fan their wings over it to further dehydrate it. The end result is a carbohydrate-rich honey used for food over winter.

 

Ultimately, humans have come to rely on insect pollination for a large portion of our most common food crops. And keeping honeybees can help ensure that gardens and farms continue to produce year-on-year.

How to Start my First Hive?

The first thing you should be aware of is your local climate. This will have a direct impact on how your honey bees behave and how well they become established. If you live in a temperate climate, you will want to wait until any risk of frost has passed. Early to mid-spring tends to be the perfect time. Early flowering plants will provide abundant nectar and pollen sources for your new colony.

 

By starting in Spring, you also give your honey bees a chance to be well established by the time winter arrives. Colony growth requires abundant food resources and appropriate temperatures. Therefore, use the colder months to brush up on your beekeeping knowledge, so you are ready to go from day one.

 

If you want to start beekeeping in the spring, then you will want to have your beehive ready by late winter. This gives you a chance to become familiar with the hive and locate all of the important parts of the internal structure. You will also want to order your bees a month or two before the last expected frosts. This will ensure that a colony is available and ready to be delivered when the temperatures start to warm up.

 

There is nothing worse than preparing your beehive and getting all of your beekeeping equipment ready, only to find you can’t get hold of any bees. If you are not sure about what type of beehive to buy, this post will give you all of the information you need.

Beginner Beekeeper Advice

As a beginner beekeeper, the more knowledge and information you have before you start, the better your chances are of becoming an experienced beekeeper. Understanding the types of illnesses and diseases can help you take care of your colony. While it is tempting to use chemical treatments on your honey bees, bee-friendly beekeeping is the way forward.

 

Focus on prevention instead of the cure. Be prepared to perform regular hive inspections. Connect with longtime beekeepers and local beekeeping organizations. Place your hive in a protected location. And know when to give your bees supplemental food.

 

The first two things you should be well-versed in are the types of honeybee that you want to keep, and the type of hive you want to use. Some beekeepers swear by one beekeeping philosophy, while others prefer different methods. Traditional beekeeping might not work for you, and likewise, hobbyist beekeeping could be the opposite of what you want. Understanding the beekeeping subculture and becoming part of the beekeeping community it’s not as difficult as it first appears.

 

No matter who you turn to for your beekeeping advice from, take it as just that! Never let another beekeeper tell you your chosen methods or hive style are wrong. The intricate world of beekeeping is something that you find to fit you, not the other way around. There are no right or wrong hive types. Nor are there right or wrong bees. If you have the right tools and knowledge for beekeeping, you’re already halfway there.

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