When I first became interested in keeping bees, I tirelessly searched the trying to learn how to start beekeeping. I wanted simple answers, but found out quickly that I would need to make some decisions. A lot of those decisions were made more complicated as I fell victim to many of the beekeeping philosophies and opinions of others.
I wanted to write this post to help new beekeepers learn how to start beekeeping, without the complications. It is not a step by step tutorial, but more of an informative guide to help you on your journey as you learn how to start beekeeping.
How to Start Beekeeping- Choosing a Hive System
The very first decision you need to make is what type of hive system you want to use. This post will be geared towards helping you decide which system is best for you.
While reading this post, I want you to remove all of the sensational beekeeping ideologies that can be found everywhere else online. I don’t believe that any of these systems are better for the bees than the others. I really don’t think the bees care what box they are in. What I do believe, and what is most important, is that a beekeeper can effectively manage and care for his/her bees.
Each one of the systems below will allow you to properly manage your bees and are all good options. The three biggest beekeeping systems are the Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre systems. I will briefly outline each of them below.
Langstroth Hive System
This is the most common and most universal. This system is the easiest to get into because all of the hive components are standardized and can easily be purchased. The majority of beekeepers use this system so there is a wealth of Continue reading…
I wanted to do a quick post on what I am using this year for swarm lures. So far I have 5 swarm traps working for me. In the past I have only used Lemon Grass oil in my swarm traps. This year, I am testing the Swarm Commander Lure in combination with Lemon Grass oil. I have had good luck with Lemon Grass oil and feel that it does a fine job on its own. However, if there is something out there that is inexpensive and increases my odds of catching a swarm then I want use it.
I set out 5 hives. Two of them were baited with Lemon Grass oil and Swarm Commander. I placed several drops of Lemon Grass oil inside and outside of all five hives. I then sprayed two of the hives with the swarm commander lure on the inside and outside. If you are interested in trying it out for yourself use this link to Swarm Commander’s Amazon Store.
The type of Lemon Grass oil that I prefer to use is from Young Living. I use this brand because the companies headquarters are close to where I live, and it seems to be a lot stronger than other brands I have tried. You could certainly dilute it if you would like it to go further, but I have never done this. It works really well the way it is. Very strong smell, and it lasts at least a week. It is fairly inexpensive and one little bottle usually lasts me the entire swarm trapping season with lots to spare. I don’t drench my hives with it. I place just enough drops to get the swarm trap smelling “hivey.” Believe me, it doesn’t take much of this to work. If you would like to order this brand here is a link to the Young Living Amazon Store.
So far, I feel like the Swarm Commander swarm traps are doing better than the other three. It just seems like there has been more than usual scout activity at the hives. The Lemon Grass only hives aren’t doing bad, and I would say they are doing better than they have in the past.
Again, this is definitely not a scientific experiment. Just a personal experiment that I wanted to share with you guys. I will definitely do a post if I catch a swarm, and it looks like one will be showing up soon. I’m crossing my fingers. I would love to get a few free hives this year.
It has been a while since I posted, but I wanted to share a little about my swarm trapping adventures for 2016 so far. I wasn’t able to purchase packages of bees this year. The biggest reason I didn’t buy packages is because of the price. 3 pound Packages of bees were about $120 a piece. I really didn’t want to pay this, and ultimately decided that I was going to try to catch some swarms this year. I don’t really understand the economics of the packaged bee market, but I remember purchasing a 20 frame fully established hive for the same price about 5 years ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the same amount of money for a single 3 pound package.
I have 5 hives set out so far. Four of them are 5 framers, and one of them is a ten frame. I have slowly added more and more traps as I have had time and equipment to spare. So far things are going good. I have had a lot of activity around all of my traps, but two of them are receiving quite a bit more activity than the others. From past experience, this kind of activity usually means a swarm will follow soon. If you look closely at the pictures below, you can see that there are a lot of bees at the entrances of the trap. When I first started swarm trapping, I had a hard time telling the difference between scout bees sizing up the hive and an established swarm.
If you look at the pictures you can see that there are quite a few bees and it is easy to get excited that a swarm might be in the trap. For those of you that are new to swarm trapping, I wanted to give you an idea of what to expect from scout bees, so you aren’t disappointed like I was when I started.
Don’t be Fooled
It is sometimes hard to tell if a swarm is in a trap when there is a lot of scout activity. The best way to tell the difference between scouting behavior, and regular entrance behavior of an established hive or swarm is to see if pollen is coming in. Scout bees do not carry pollen into a swarm trap. If you see pollen coming in, you have caught a swarm. I am usually not able to get close enough to see this because I hoist my swarm traps high into a tree with rope. If you aren’t sure you’ve caught a swarm, the best thing you can do is leave them alone.
If you have a lot of scout activity at a hive it usually means that a swarm is seriously considering making your trap their home. The last thing you want to do is pull the hive down. If you Disturb the swarm trap while the scouts are inspecting it they might decide go somewhere else. This is especially important when there is a lot of scout activity like in the photos above. In the past, whenever I would see this behavior, I could accurately predict a swarm entering the box within 48 hours.
There is a lot of work that is put in by the bees to find a new home. It has always been fascinating to me how the bees actually choose a new home. Especially because it appears that there is a voting process and a group decision being made as a swarm decides where to make their home. These decisions made by the hive are complicated and not fully understood, but there have been some convincing attempts to explain the mysteries of the hive.
One of the most fascinating books that I have read that focuses on the complicated hive processes like swarming is “Honeybee Democracy” by Dr. Thomas D. Seeley. This is an entertaining and eye opening book. Not only is there a good section on scout bees and swarming behaviors, but a lot of good information that helps beekeepers understand their bees a little better.
Now is the time of year that Nectar and pollen sources are almost entirely exhausted in most locations. Now is the time to inspect the bees, and take action to ensure they will make it through winter. If a hive is low on stores, consider feeding sugar syrup, or giving it excess honey reserves from stronger hives.
Depending on your location, and the length of winter, hives should have at least 50-100 pounds of honey stored. A standard deep hive full of honey normally weighs 100 pounds. This should give you a good idea of what to expect when inspecting your hives.
Feeding Bees in Fall – Sugar Syrup Ratio
The ratio of sugar to water when feeding bees in fall is different from the ratio used in spring. In fall a 2:1 ratio (sugar:water) should be used.
I usually mix my sugar syrup in 1-gallon batches. I dissolve 5 pounds of granulated sugar (10 cups) into 5 cups water. I do it this way, because I feed each of my hives a gallon of sugar syrup regardless of how much they have stored. All hives get one gallon in the fall, around the end of September into early October.
I started doing this after reading Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey written by Brother Adam. Here is a link to my book review. In the book, he talks about feeding bees in fall. He advises feeding 1 gallon of sugar syrup to each hive irrespective of stores.
Since adopting this principle, I have had better success wintering my hives. My stronger hives seem to have greater growth in the spring, and the percentage of my weaker hives making it through winter has gone up.
Beekeeping Ethics: Feeding Is NOT Bad
Early on in my beekeeping, I fell victim into believing that feeding bees was always bad and should never be done. Because of my gullibility, I did not even consider feeding bees in fall.
After reading Brother Adam’s book, I realized that it was okay to feed the bees in certain situations. He advocates avoiding reliance on stimulative feeding, but if feeding is the difference between a hive surviving or dying, you should definitely feed them.
Warning: Feeding in winter
Once winter comes, you should no longer be feeding your bees sugar syrup. Sugar syrup is for feeding bees in fall, and in the spring. If you absolutely must feed during the winter, you have a couple options. If you want to learn more about feeding in winter, visit my winter feeding page.
The Hive and the Honey-Bee is the greatest beekeeping book you can own. It is an older beekeeping book, but still appropriate to the beekeeping practices of today.
This book has been an enormous help to me through the years. Seriously, if you do not own this book, you need to stop what you are doing right now and get a copy. It will be the best investment you make as a beekeeper. I will even make it easy and provide a link where you can buy it. Amazon Books – The Hive and the Honey-Bee.
I have read this book, from cover to cover, numerous times, and still draw on it to find answers to questions. This is the most useful beekeeping book out there, and is full of helpful information.
The layout of the book makes it very easy to navigate. This makes it easy to reference when a question arises and will help you answer almost any question about bees that you can think of.
The Hive and the Honey-Bee is what led me to rear my own queens. I would not have fully understood the process of queen rearing if it had not been for this book. I had the book with me the entire time I was learning. Because of this, my copy is now tattered and covered in propolis stains. The condition of the book is evidence of its usefulness. My other beekeeping books look a lot nicer. Continue reading…
One of the biggest problems with new beekeepers is that they over inspect their hives. Bees are very interesting. It is only natural, as a new beekeeper, to want to check your hives a little more than you should. As beekeepers we are able to learn an incredible amount of information about our hives each time we open them up. As a new beekeeper it is good to open up the hives often. It gives you the practice that you will need later on. Almost every new beekeeper does it and it is not bad but it is not good either. If you are curious, go ahead and look. They are your bees, check them whenever you want. With that said, be aware that disturbing them too much can set them back. Continue reading…
IWF – Queen Rearing Documentary
One of my favorites, this is a fascinating set of videos produced by IWF on the process of honey bee queen rearing. These videos were very helpful to me when I was trying to grasp the concept of queen rearing. This is one every beekeeper needs to watch.
Originally in German, the videos have since been translated into English. The graphics in the video have not been translated but the general idea can be understood.
One of the reasons I really enjoy this documentary is because they show the process of grafting. To a beginning beekeeper, the process of grafting can be hard to understand. In the very beginning of the documentary they show how simple grafting can be. They also show some close ups of the larvae that are at the right stage for grafting which is very helpful. The documentary also shows how to use the cut cell method, for those that don’t want to graft. Lots of good information here. Watch Videos
Well, one of my hives is dead. I was really looking forward to getting this one into spring. The hive was doing really well up until the beginning of January. The bees were actually out foraging on most the days in December. Though, We suddenly had a shift in weather around the end of December.
Our first snow storm came as a bit of a surprise to me. I wasn’t really ready for it. The cover, on the hive that died, was not on all the way. There was a small gap between the cover and the hive that allowed for water to get in. Our first snow storm brought about 4 inches of snow which melted very quickly. I didn’t notice the gap until after all the snow had melted. I hoped that the water didn’t get in. I crossed my fingers, put the cover back on correctly, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, a lot of water got in (you can see water on the frames in the post picture) the water dripped into some of the empty combs which eventually drove up the moisture content in the hive. Water condensed on the cover and then dripped on the bees. With the marathon of freezing weather we have had this year, the hive never stood a chance. Continue reading…
Here is the video version of one of my previous posts about Building Swarm Traps – Using Pallets. It goes over the exact same process that I covered in the post. The only thing that is in the video that is not in the post is that I have video footage of me cutting the frame rest for the hive.
I have been receiving a number of emails from people asking me to show how I do it. I wasn’t going to record a video of the process but in the middle of building the boxes I realized that some people prefer to watch videos over reading a post. So nothing really new, just a video version of a previous post.
I also wanted to let you guys know that I have now made it possible to subscribe to the SurvivorBees website. If you look at the top of the far right margin you can see the subscribe box. When you subscribe to the SurvivorBees website you get an email update every time I post something new. Watch Video
Balsamic vinegar aging in wooden casks.
Well, everyone officially thinks I am crazy. I plan on making honey vinegar this year. The most common question that I receive after telling people that I will be making vinegar is “Why?” Well–there are several reasons, but mostly I am making it because I am interested in the process. I have always been interested in the process of beer and wine making, but even more interested in the process of turning alcohol into vinegar.
The process is rather simple. It is a process that occurs over and over in nature. If you have ever walked through a fruit-tree orchard you have probably smelled the vinegar from the fruit that has fallen to the ground. The over-ripe fruit falls to the ground, yeast turns the sugar in the fruit to alcohol, which is then turned into vinegar or acetic acid by an acid making bacteria called Acetobacter. In nature this happens on a small scale. Over the years, humans have learned to duplicate this process in controlled environments on much larger scales. Continue reading…