BeeKeeping 101: EveryThing You Need To Know

There are about 80 million beehives and 17,000 different kinds of bees in the world. In the United States, there are between 115 and 125,000 beekeepers, and people have been keeping bees since 15,000 BC.

Honeybees are important to farming and growing food. A third of the food eaten in the U.S. comes from plants fertilized by insects, and honeybees pollinate 80% of these crops. Blueberries, cranberries, apples, pumpkins, and peaches are some foods. Animals are responsible for pollinating 90% of all wild plants. If there were no bees, these plants would not grow well. Insects, birds, and bats pollinate, but honeybees can be moved wherever they need to pollinate. Also, growing some fruits, legumes, veggies, nuts, and seeds without honeybees costs more.

BeeKeeping

The person who wants to keep bees can go in many different directions. Honeybees make more than just honey. They also make beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis, which can be used at home or sold to make money. People also use beekeeping to make money by renting out their bees and moving them to help pollinate crops in exchange for cash. Some beekeepers also sell beekeeping tools, whole colonies, queen bees, and bee gifts. Other beekeepers do it mainly as a hobby to get honey and help pollinate fields and orchards.

In 2014, President Obama set up a group called the Pollinator Health Task Force to improve the health of insects across the country. Honeybee populations were going down, so this plan was made to determine what was best for pollinators. Pollinators are essential for our business, food supply, and the environment’s health. Each year, honeybee pollination adds about $15 billion to the value of crops.

Honeybee Sales

Before purchasing bees, check your local and state rules to see if you can keep bees at home and where you can safely keep hives. The best place for packs is quiet, away from streets, roads, and people.

Once you know where to keep your hives, spring is the best time to get bees so they can do well. There are four different ways to get bees, each with pros and cons.

  • Established colony: bees, laying queen, frames, and hive from local beekeepers
    • Pros: All of the equipment is there and put together. The queen is laying eggs, so getting honey in the first year is possible. You can have your state’s bee officer check them to ensure they are healthy and don’t have any diseases.
    • Cons: Most expensive. These bees could have diseases, and strong colonies can be challenging for new beekeepers to handle. The frames could also be old and need to be replaced.
  • Nucleus colony: 4-5 frames of brood (larvae, eggs, pupae), honey, pollen, adult bees, laying queen
    • Pros: Queens are cheaper, new, and can be bought locally. They are also easier for beginners, and honey can be made in the first year if there is a lot of juice.
    • Cons: Risk of diseased bees and old frames
  • Package bees: It is possible to buy 2-5 pounds of worker bees and a queen in a cage with sugar on the internet, and the bees will be shipped to you by the postal service.
    • Pros: Cheaper, easy for beginners, little chance of disease
    • Cons: There may not be any brood in the first year, and shipping can cause stress and kill the queen.
  • Swarms: Local beekeepers who make themselves available to collect swarms typically succeed when honeybees reach the point in their reproductive cycle where a significant portion of the colony decides to relocate to a new location. At any of the fire or police stations in your neighborhood, you can put your name on the waiting list.
    • Pros: Free, easy, and fun to collect; easy for beginners
    • Cons: It is unlikely to produce a honey crop in the first year, and swarm availability is unpredictable

If you are starting as a beekeeper, you should have at least two or three colonies instead of just one. This is because sometimes you need another colony to help with the needs of the first colony. For a strong colony, it’s best to have a young queen resistant to mites and to put your hives in a good spot with many different growing plants and food sources.

Beehives

The Langstroth beehive on a stand is what most keepers use. On top of the stand is a solid or screened bottom board, followed by a set of boxes, or “supers,” that hold 8 to 10 wooden frames. The frames usually have a pattern of beeswax or plastic cells that the bees can use as a base to build a beeswax comb, made up of hexagonal cells that bees use to store honey and lay eggs. There are deep, medium, and narrow sizes of supers.

Most of the time, the colony and the brood live in the bottom deep supers. In the small hives above, extra honey is kept. You can have 1-3 or more small honey supers and 1-2 deep honey supers. On top of these different boxes is an inner cover with a hole for the bees to get out and a final outer cover. You don’t have to have a queen excluder board.

Honeybees usually get everything they need to eat from flowers. Nectar is a good source of carbs, and bees prefer fresh nectar if they can get it. They store nectar for the winter in the hexagonal wax cells of the comb. The nectar is then dried out to make honey. Pollen is also collected and eaten by honeybees. Pollen is an excellent way for bees to get proteins, vitamins, fats, and minerals. They also put extra pollen in cells, add nectar, and let it ferment to make bee bread.

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Bee Colonies

Bees are social bugs that live in big groups where they talk to each other and work together. The hive queen usually lives about 2 to 3 years, but she can sometimes live up to 5 years. She will lay 250 thousand eggs per year, equivalent to 1,500 eggs per day, and a million eggs throughout her life. She is the hive’s giant bee.

Most of the bees in a hive are worker bees. They are all female and do all the work for the pack. They feed the young, take care of the queen, protect the group, build the beeswax comb, clean out the box, cool it down, and ensure it has enough airflow. They are the bees that are the smallest in the group. Their lives last between 5 weeks and five months.

Drones are more significant than worker bees and are all male. Most of the time, they only live there in the spring and summer. In the winter, they are kicked out to save food. They don’t have stingers; their only goal is to mate with the queen and die. About two months is how long they live.

The queen lays eggs, larvae, and pupae throughout the year, except in late fall and early winter. If the hive is under a lot of stress or doesn’t have enough food, the brood might not be there right now.

Honey Farming

A bee can make anywhere from 25 to 60 pounds of honey yearly. The best time to get love is at the end of summer or the beginning of fall or when the honey cap on the hive is total.

To harvest the honey, open the top of the hive and then use your smoker, with or without the use of bee spray, to herd the bees into the lowest supers. Be sure to remove the honey supers from the hive. To get the honey out, take the frames apart and remove the wax caps. You can use a cold or electric uncapping knife, a fork, a cooking knife with serrated edges, or an uncapping tank. Then, put these frames into an extractor or spinner that spins the shelves and pulls out the honey. The honey should be put into jars or other storage containers through a sieve. The FDA has a guide for labeling honey and honey-based goods you want to sell.

Bees clean themselves, but if you want to reuse a frame from a colony that has died, you can bleach it and scrape off any waste. If you have broken because of American Foulbrood, a disease caused by bacteria that kills bees, please don’t use the pack or any of those items again.

In addition to taking honey from the hive, it is essential to check on the queen and ensure there is enough pollen and food to feed the bees every few weeks or a few times a season. This should be done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when they are most busy foraging and when the temperature is above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

You are ensuring that the queen is laying eggs correctly and the worker bees capping those cells is essential. A shotgun brood pattern with spots can indicate health problems or diseases in the hive. You should check on your hives often to make sure the bees are healthy and free of disease and other pests. If you have questions or worries about your hive’s health, you should talk to a veterinarian who works with honeybees or your state’s apiarist for advice.

Honeybees are a significant investment, whether you want them for fun, to sell bee goods like honey, or to let other people use your bees to pollinate crops for a fee.

Honeybee Supplies

Supplies for the beehive:

  • Stand for your hive
  • Queen excluder board (optional)
  • Shallow honey supers
  • Top, bottom, and inner covers
  • Supers with frames and foundation
  • Feeder
  • Varroa mite chemical control

Supplies for honey harvesting:

  • Extractor
  • Bottle tank with cover and strainer
  • Pale
  • Storage tank
  • Sieves
  • Stainless steel capping scratcher

Supplies for working the hive

  • Bee suit
  • Hat and veil
  • Gloves
  • Hive tool or pry bar
  • Smoker and fuel
  • A soft bee brush is optional and may be used to gently brush bees away from the frame to inspect the brood

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