Now to the most important information, the buzz if you will! We have gone over the basic foundation for the bee colony and how the beehive functions. Now it’s time to discuss the process of how to keep bees. As noted, this is a beekeeping for beginners guide so let’s start off with the basics.
Before even beginning your apiary adventure, be sure and check your local city and state codes to confirm that you can set up a bee colony in your
desired area. Honey bee farming doesn’t require a lot of space for the most part, but it is something to consider when considering keeping bees. Where I live, we have local codes that prohibit us from having livestock on the property. Animals like chickens, pigs, geese and cattle can not be kept on the property. Thankfully, after some digging, it turns out that the queen bee can keep her bees!
With all the legal technicalities covered let’s get started learning how to keep bees!
Bee Fact: What is apiculture? Apiculture is the technical or scientific term for beekeeping.
In almost every case, the best time to start a beehive for honey bee farming is in the spring. The exact time will depend a great deal on your location. The queen bee keeper resides up in the upper midwest in the United States. Our winters are heavy with snow, very cold and spring seems to tease for what feels like months before actually showing up. It is March now. Over the last 3 days we have seen a temperature swing of roughly 50 degrees and if graphed out, would look like a very nauseating roller coaster ride. We’ve seen 3-6 inches of snow come down and melt away with in a 36 hour window. This time of year is when I go through all of my beekeeping equipment and beekeeping supplies and make sure it’s is cleaned, functional, not expired and ready to go so when the weather starts playing nice, I’m ready to buzz right out there and get to work. I can’t do a lot outside in regards to the bees or the beehives so I find it best to prepare for when I can get outside for longer than 15 minutes without freezing my stinger off!
As an example, removing all the pieces that aren’t nailed together on all of my unused beehive boxes to check for structural integrity and cleanliness. I’m also keeping an eye out for rot or mold to make sure I can either clean it or have it replaced. I’m also taking time to look over my be smoker for holes or malfunctioning pieces to make sure it’s ready to go. In addition I’m checking over every inch of my beekeeper suit to make sure there are no holes or places for the bees to sneak in. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a beekeeper that hasn’t been stung at least once. So I feel comfortable saying that it will likely happen. If you are allergic to bees, it’s probably not a good hobby for you. If your bound and determined, keep your epipen handy. The Queen Bee Keeper takes no responsibility in your choices. They are yours alone.
Raising bees isn’t terribly complicated once you get a system in place. Like many things in life, having a system in place will save time and energy and in many cases, a great deal of frustration. Commit what works to memory and try to improve it. This is all part of learning how to keep bees. During the colder months, the bees will survive off of the stored honey in the bees nest. Make a note in some sort of a bee keeping journal to remind yourself not to disturb the beehive too much during the cold months. When you access the bee boxes, valuable heat escapes putting your backyard bee hive at risk!
Each geographical location will have a different environment at different times of the year. While I would definitely advise that you reach out to local beekeepers for more accurate data on how to keep bees, generally, you can start setting up your fresh beehives when you suspect that nights will no longer produce a freeze. This practice will help get a solid foundation for your queen bee and company to be able to establish themselves in the new hive.
Placement of the beehives is almost as important as the time of year you start your beehive colony. You will want to make sure and place the bee boxes. The area should be dry with direct access to a lot of sun. Bees love the sunshine! In addition to that, having the beehive boxes near plants, flowers and even a garden is ideal. This gives them a quick trip to and from pollen locations. Having a row of shrubs to block the wind isn’t a bad thing either. Many of the bee farmers in this area line them up on the south side of a row of thick trees just far enough away to keep the sunshine on them. The thick forest behind the bee boxes acts as a wind screen.
A quick additional note: It is common and best practice to have at least one extra bee box available. Two would be great. The reason for that is when you need it to expand, you need it now, not in 7-10 business days. Onward learning how to keep bees!
Bee fact: Bee colonies nearby the garden will help produce better yields on garden crops as long as the bees assist with crop pollination!
Next, we will want to generate a water source. The busy worker bees will get thirsty and the water also assist with hive construction as well as maintenance. The water source will need to have something in it so that the bees can perch to gather the water. They swim as well as a rock does so we don’t want them to drown. If there is a natural water source nearby, this would be ideal. Rivers, lakes, streams even swamps will serve our purpose. Just don’t put the boxes too close during the wet parts of the season. We don’t want our swarm of bees to go for a ride down river. Generic sources of water such as tap water can work in a pinch but it’s best to have natural water if possible. I can hear you. “Queen Bee, I live in the city. This isn’t an option!” That makes sense. As I stated, tap water will work if needed. Just make sure and put something inside the container for the happy bees to sit on while they consume and gather. Think of that place like a cattle barn. If you have enough stations for 40 cows, you can’t very well buy 80 and just hope that will work. Be sure and leave enough footing for several bees to be able to perch. Get creative!
In relation to the water, something neat we have done in the past when our hive locations were a bit more remote is to set up a tank with an aeration system in it. This is a bit more advanced and more expensive than it probably needs to be but let me tell you, it works great. The thing is, when water sits in the same spot unmoved, it can become brackish. This deprives all the water of any decent nutrient and can also cause other problems. Mosquitoes are the first thing to come to mind. You ever wonder why mosquitoes are so thick by warmer area swamps? It’s because the water there doesn’t move hardly at all and that is the perfect place for mosquitoes to lay eggs by what seems like the millions. There are a couple of key points I want to make with this. First, the aeration stones don’t need to put out a whole lot of air. In fact, we don’t really want them to. Bees, like mosquitoes prefer still water. A violent surface water has the tendency to scoop up unsuspecting bee buddies and wash them into the water causing them to expire. Thats how how to keep bees safe. A nice easy surface movement is key. Enough to keep the water from going brackish and keep the mosquitoes from nesting yet gentle enough our bee army can stop in for water supplies when needed. Secondly, we set it up this way because there are some times when we aren’t able to get back to the boxes for a week or two. This enables us to put enough water in the tub to last long enough for us to get back and fill them again. Sometimes we transport the water in tanks, sometimes we bring buckets and get it from a distant water spot. It just depends on what is available. This is all part of learning how to keep bees. That being said, if you are going to stop out at least a few times a week, you can get away with a stationary setup that you can change the water out on when you come. Frequent visitations also translate into not needing quite such a sizable setup. One final note on this. Be sure and place this on something that animals like raccoons are unable to climb on. While the Queen Bee appreciates all the animals in the animal kingdom, the raccoons tend to be a bit dumb and either spill a bunch of the water or flip the container over entirely. Ugh, good times!
That sums up the basic positioning and the beehive layout as well as timing for how to keep bees. Next, we’ll discuss installing the bees into the beehive.
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