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Beginner’s Beekeeping Recommendations

- May 1, 2017 - Ray Nabors - (excerpt)

Beginner's Beekeeping Recommendations

This month is the second article in a trilogy to help mentors, teachers and beekeeping associations address the tide of incoming hobby beekeepers who want to keep bees. Most novice beekeepers want one hive to keep in the backyard. This is a bad idea. The chance of a single hive failing within 2 years is over 50%. Once that one hive is dead, the beekeeper thinks he has failed and will lose interest. Good mentors can prevent problems.  We desperately need more beekeepers. Beginners need to start with two or three colonies. A single colony in most of the country is capable of producing 50 – 100 pounds of honey annually. This is enough honey for most families. The excess honey from 1 or 2 more colonies can be used as gifts or sold to pay for the beekeeping hobby.

Start right; build one hive from scratch including frames and foundation loading. Assembling new hives is important for the beginning beekeeper. Building boxes and frames, installing foundation and assembling tops and bottoms is enlightening. New beekeepers learn how to build a house for their bees. Later when boxes and frames need replaced, they will know how to do the job. Also, they see how the bees reside in their home. A person who is handy with wood can build bee boxes. However, it is just as expensive to build your own as it is to buy the wooden boxes knocked down and ready for assembly from your beekeeping supplier. I always suggest inviting a supplier to a beginner beekeeping course. The lumber to build boxes costs as much as the boxes, but the lumber to build frames costs more money than the frames and much more labor!

Woodenware for bees should be ordered to arrive in the fall season. The equipment can be assembled. The bees for those hives need be ordered in the fall. When the bees arrive in spring, their new homes should be located in the apiary. Your apiary should face East or South. I prefer south, and it would be good to have a house, building or treeline to block the north wind. New beekeepers need to join their local associations. The new beekeeper has no idea what he/she is missing by not joining the state beekeepers association and attending the meetings (spring and fall). Buy a good text book on honey bees. The Hive and the Honey Bee is the best, but there are many books for beginning beekeepers.

Bees come in 3 – 4 pound packages, in 4 – 5 frame nucleus colonies and from splits taken from stronger hives that need space to prevent swarming. I have always thought it is best for a beginning beekeeper to order at least one package (4 pounds if possible). A new package is fun to install and they are docile giving the new beekeeper gentle bees to learn about. New beekeepers should go through their colonies at least once every week. It is the laboratory part of their beekeeping class. Keep up with what is going on inside because it is part of your education in becoming a beekeeper.

Apiary locations are important and must provide for the bee’s needs. They need abundant nectar sources and ample pollen from a variety of flowers—in or near a town or in suburbs is ideal. There are a wide variety of flowering plants that provide both nectar and pollen in towns and single-dwelling neighborhoods. Share your honey with your neighbors; it goes a long way toward alleviating complaints. Bees need water, they air condition their hives with it as well as drink water. They will go to the nearest source. The last thing you want is a complaint about bees in the neighbor’s swimming pool. A pan filled with washed gravel and the water level just up to a few exposed rocks is ideal. The bees do not drown in that situation. A wide shallow pan is best. Be sure to keep the water where they can get it at all times. The bigger the better and put it right in the apiary. It is best to place the water on a stand to keep out small mammals.

In town, many apiaries have been established upon a building. It is easy to build a platform for two to three.

Photo Caption
Figure 1. Wooden frames for holding the comb, hang inside the body of a hive. Frames are sized for shallow, medium or deep hive bodies.