Bee Keeping In Your Future?

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Keeping honey bees is fascinating and can be profitable pastime to be enjoyed in several ways. You may want to keep bees for the honey they produce, or you may want to keep them for their services as pollinators, or just because you would like the fun of learning about one of nature’s most interesting insects. You can keep honeybees almost anywhere in the United States. We would like to alert you to the fact that keeping bees is not for everyone. If you have had an allergic reaction to a stinging insect such as wasp or bee, you should use extreme care. A single honey bee sting can bring on serious reactions to some people — even causing death. Normal reactions include pain, and swelling at the sting site. The good news is that one can wear protective equipment designed to avoid bee stings.

Don’t let fear of the little critters put you off this easy, interesting and profitable project. Yup, the modern bees that beekeepers keep sure do sting, but very rarely, and only when you have made a wrong move (never because they’re nasty and don’t like you).

Generally, the bees don’t even know you’re there, because this is one creature man has never succeeded in domesticating. That colony back in the garden is just as untamed as the swarm in a rotten log lying deep in the Alaskan forests. The difference comes from your attitude (and a few necessary pieces of equipment). With only a bee veil, smoker and, if you want, bee gloves, you can turn that seemingly unruly mass of pulsating life into submissive little people who are easily handled.

A beekeeper should make sure he has all equipment and an empty structure set and on hand (not on order) before his bees arrive. Essential equipment consists of a veil, gloves, hive tool, smoker, and overalls. A veil is most important and should always be worn when handling bees. It prevents getting stung in the face and neck. An effective veil should be two things, bee entry proof and should not blow against the face in the wind. Many veils are zippered to the jacket/overalls. Gloves will give a great deal of confidence and security when putting hands in contact with the inner hive. Hands and wrists are the nearest areas of skin bees can sting when you open their hive. Even professional beekeepers use gloves, though not all. A hive tool is necessary to lever the parts of the hive apart as bees use propolis to glue things together. Screwdrivers or chisels should not be used as they will damage the hives. Hive tools have broad flat blades. Most importantly they are thin and wide. The smoker is necessary to keep the bees calm. A good one should last a lifetime, so this is not a place you cut costs. Large ones will need less refueling. A cage on the outside keeps hands from getting burnt and often has a hook. Overalls/jackets are not absolutely necessary, but bees get entangled in ordinary clothes like woolly sweaters. Dark clothing will make them aggressive, while light will calm. So, white smooth-textured overalls are the best. The last critical item needed is the empty hive structure and its location selected and cleared. It is also prudent to understand state and local laws regarding beekeeping. Some towns have local ordinances that prohibit it.


Bottom Board

The bottom board serves as the floor of the colony and as a takeoff and landing platform for foraging bees. Since the bottom board is open in the front, the colony should be tilted forward slightly to prevent rainwater from running into the hive.

Hive Bodies

Hive bodies are the year-round home for bees. Northern states with colder winters favor a wood thickness of 7/8”. However, in the southern states ¾” will work just as well. The corners are dovetailed or “box jointed”. Rabbet joints do not have enough strength. A full hive body can way over 60lbs. Hives normally have two bodies. A beekeeping looking to make extra splits the following spring would add a third body.

Honey Supers

Honey supers also referred to as a medium, are where you’ll be harvesting honey. Shallow honey suppers are normally used for comb honey production. As they are smaller they are lighter than deeps but hold less honey.

Inner Cover

Elevates the top outer cover, increases hive ventilation and insulation through an extra layer of dead air.

Outer Cover

The primary roof protects from rain, wind, snow, and sun. Light outer covers need to be weighted down to not blow away in the wind.


One Piece Hive and foundation are one solid piece of plastic dipped or sprayed in beeswax. No assembly required- Strong and solid- Can be recovered if wax moths attack; hold up better when mice invade.

Wooden Frames with Foundation Wood square frame uses metal wire to hold a wax foundation. The wax foundation will have a similar mold to the one piece frame. The bees build their comb on this wax hex molded base.

Other Hive Components

Triangle Escape Board Removes bees from honey supers you want to harvest. The most stress-free way to remove bees. The board is placed between the supers and the brood chamber. The bees can leave the supers but cannot find their way back in. Bees navigate based on rules. When a bee reaches an obstruction, it will always travel to the right and follow that obstruction till its end. So bees can leave through the 3 exits but not return.

Double Screen Enables a two queen hive system Mastering a two queen hive is very challenging.

Queen Excluder Keeps queens out of honey supers and in the brood Varroa

Screen Integrated Pest Management (IPM) controls waste and parasites. Typically it’s made of a screen over a tray or sticky board. The tray is sufficient and superior as it catches the hive waste. When a mite falls into the tray through the screen, it will just sit there waiting for the next bee to come by. It will then hitch its next ride. By falling through the screen the ‘next ride’ is prevented from coming in contact with the mite.

Sticky boards are similar to one-sided flypaper. They catch the mites and need to be replaced periodically. Slatted Rack Improved swarm prevention through increase space between broods equating to less crowding.

Hive Stand

Hive Stands elevate the hive keeping it away from mice and other animals as well as ants. Most importantly it keeps the wooden bottom board off the wet ground.

Honey Bee Breeds

Beekeepers face the difficult decision of which strain or race of bee to order. To determine which race or strain of bee would best suit your operation and environment. Honey bees vary in traits such as temperament, disease resistance, and productivity depending on their breed. New beekeepers often look for gentle temperament as their most desired trait. The environment has a large effect on differences among bee colonies (for example, plants in different areas yield different honey crops), but the genetic makeup of a colony can also impact the characteristics that define a particular group. Beekeepers have long known that different genetic stocks have distinctive characteristics, so they have utilized different strains to suit their particular purpose. (NCSU) Bee stock refers to a particular group of bees. These groups are often defined by their species, race, region, population, or breeder. These are these stocks while some being popular is not entirely well known. Bee stock popularity rises and falls depending on beekeeper need and productivity.

The Queen Bee

A hive’s queen spends most of her time (all of it, if you can so arrange) in the brood chamber, being fed and gently groomed by young worker bees and laying upwards of 3,000 eggs a day. Apart from this reproductive function, her presence is essential for another reason: The latest discoveries seem to indicate that she secretes an unidentified “queen substance” which keeps the colony in good, productive spirits and inhibits the workers from laying. In the absence of a fully developed female, some of them may do so, but their eggs produce only non-working males or drones, and the community soon becomes weak and demoralized. Without the hive mother’s secretion, the bees know within minutes that they’re queenless and become loud, nasty and generally uptight. You needn’t worry about that, though, because you’ll be buying a healthy young queen with your nucleus and she’s good for at least two years and up to five, in exceptional cases.

Since it’s undesirable to have the queen laying her eggs in the upper storage sections of a hive, some beekeepers top the brood chamber with an optional device called a queen excluder: a flat frame the same width and length as the hive’s other sections, covered with a heavy inset wire screen. The openings in the mesh allow the worker bees to pass through and deposit surplus honey in the upper stories but keep back the larger queen. The passages are also too small for the drones, which exist only to furnish a mate for any virgin queen the colony may produce. Meanwhile, they have an easy life hanging around the hive and gorging themselves on honey, and the screen prevents them from eating up your potential harvest. Most pros, however, frown on the use of the queen excluder because it may lead to swarming and the subsequent loss of half or more of the colony. An alternative is to keep presenting Her Majesty with empty comb in the brood chamber. Then she’ll usually be happy to stay and lay her eggs there.

You must not take honey from the brood chamber where the queen is raising her young. That part of the hive you leave strictly alone except for an examination once or twice a week to see how the laying progresses and to check for signs of bee disease. You can also look in to inspect the queen (if you can find her!) and/or artificially divide the colony before swarming time, but honey is harvested only from a hive’s supers.

How to open and examine your hive:

You should always wear protective equipment when you work your hive. You should light your smoker before getting started. I have often been asked how I keep my smoker going out. Seems some people have smokers go out just about the time they need them. The key is to take time to get the smoker going before rushing off to the bees. There are many types of smoker fuel. I can remember learning how to build a fire as a boy scout. Start small and then add new material slowly to the fire. Don’t dump a lot of smoker fuel onto a newly started fire. You will smother the fire and it will go out. The goal is to have a good cool flow of smoke when you press the bellows on the smoker. Remember to add fuel periodically. Keep a lighter on hand in the event the fire goes out. Wet fuel will not burn as well. One other thing, inspect the hive during the mid part of the day. Select a day when the bees are flying and seem very busy. Avoid cloudy overcast days or days with threatening weather. Follow a flexible schedule, checking the bees no more than two or three times per month. First, make sure all is ready. Do you have your hive tool? Is the smoker going? What about neighbors? Children? Approach the hive from the side if possible. Do not stand in front of the entrance. If you do, you will notice a crowd of bees in a holding pattern behind you. Use your hive tool to remove the top cover. I like to lay the top cover on the ground next to the hive with the bottom side up. Blow a little smoke toward the entrance. Notice that I said a little smoke. You don’t need a lot. Avoid excessive smoke blowing into the frames. Next, remove the inner cover. Bees have a tendency to glue this down to the inner side of the hive with propolis, so you may have to pry the inner cover off. Keep your smoker handy. Once the inner cover is off the top bars of the frames in the top box (super) are exposed. Bees will start to migrate toward the disturbance and you will notice them coming up between the top bars. You can apply a little smoke to calm them down. A few may become airborne and fly about you. Ignore them.

Keep in mind:

1. Move slowly — avoid quick sudden movement.

2. Don’t spend a lot of time with the hive open.

3. Close the hive if you need to leave the bee yard.

If this is a new hive, you should be looking for:

1. Are the bees building new comb on the foundation you put into the hive? New comb is nice and white or slightly yellow. Check the number of blank frames.

2. Are all frames drawn out? This depends on how long the bees have been in the hive. If the comb is drawn out (the bees have made new comb over the foundation), do you have a new super to add to the colony? I like to add a new super when 1–2 frames of the comb are still to be drawn out. The last frames to be drawn out are the ones on the outside of the hive body. The bees will instinctively store honey in these outside frames. Don’t take it away from them.

3. Can you recognize brood? It will be located in the center of the frame of comb. It is tan to dark brown in color. It may be hard to see eggs especially in new comb that is demonstrated above, but you should learn how to spot them. They look like little spots of sugar at the bottom of cells. Larva is easier to spot — they look like pearly white worms coiled within a cell. The capped brook is brownish in color. Older comb turns dark in color. This is because of travel stain and also brood raised in comb turns the comb dark- -sometimes almost brown/ black. If you can see eggs you do not need to find the queen to know that you have one.

4. Can you recognize capped honey? Capped honey will be found in an arch across the top of the comb. If it is unsealed, it will be a liquid. When sealed, the cappings are a distinct whitish color. You will also see cells that have a yellow or brownish substance in them. These cells contain pollen. A normal hive will have most of the frame filled with brood, a small arch of honey at the top of the frame and some pollen stored between the two. It is not unusual to find a frame which is almost all brood in a strong hive.

5. Get ready to close the hive if you are satisfied that all is well. If you have a feeling that all is not right with the hive, you can email me with some photos and I will try to give you information based upon what I am able to see. New hives benefit greatly from supplemental feeding. Pollen patties and sugar syrup speed up the building of comb. It is essential to feed new hives.

Honey Classification

Comb Honey — Honey sold still in the original bees’ wax comb. Comb honey was once packaged by installing a wooden framework in special honey supers, but this labor-intensive method is being replaced by plastic rings or cartridges. With the new approach, a clear cover is usually fitted onto the cartridge after removal from the hive so customers can see the product. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Certified Organic Honey — according to the USDA, organic honey is quite rare to find because most beekeepers “routinely use sulfa compounds and antibiotics to control bee diseases, carbolic acid to remove honey from the hive and calcium cyanide to kill colonies before extracting the honey, not to mention that conventional honeybees gather nectar from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides.” (Honey — Wikipedia)

Raw Honey — Honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Raw honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax. Local raw honey is sought after by allergy sufferers as the pollen impurities are thought to lessen the sensitivity to hay fever. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Chunk Honey — Honey packed in wide mouth containers consisting of one or more pieces of comb honey surrounded by extracted liquid honey. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Strained Honey — Honey which has been passed through a mesh material to remove particulate material (pieces of wax, propolis, and other defects) without removing pollen, minerals or valuable enzymes. Preferred by the health food trade — it may have a cloudy appearance due to the included pollen, and it also tends to crystallize more quickly than ultrafiltered honey. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Ultra-filtered Honey — Honey processed by very fine filtration under high pressure to remove all extraneous solids and pollen grains. The process typically heats honey to 150–170 degrees to more easily pass through the fine filter. Ultrafiltered honey is very clear and has a longer shelf life, because it crystallizes more slowly due to the high temperatures breaking down any sugar seed crystals, making it preferred by the supermarket trade. Ultrafiltration eliminates nutritionally valuable enzymes, such as diastase and invertase. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Heat-Treated Honey — Heat-treatment after extraction reduces the moisture level and destroys yeast cells. Heating liquefies crystals in the honey, too. Heat-exposure does also result in product deterioration, as it increases the level of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and reduces enzyme (e.g. diastase) activity. The heat does also affect sensory qualities and reduces the freshness. Heat processing can darken the natural honey color (browning), too. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Ultra-sonicated Honey — Ultrasonication is a non-thermal processing alternative for honey. When honey is exposed to ultrasonication, most of the yeast cells are destroyed. Yeast cells that survive sonication generally lose their ability to grow. This reduces the rate of honey fermentation substantially. Ultrasonication also eliminates existing. Ultrasonically aided liquefaction can work at substantially lower temperatures of approx. 35 °C and can reduce liquefaction time to less than 30 seconds. (Honey — Wikipedia)

Royal Jelly Royal jelly is a honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of the larvae. It is secreted from the hypopharyngeal glands in the heads of young workers and used (among other substances) to feed all of the larvae in the colony, including those destined to become workers. If a queen is needed, the hatchling will receive only royal jelly — and in large quantities

Bee Hives Needs

Always bee maintenance requires periodic inspections during the warm months to make sure your queen is laying eggs, your workers are building up honey stores, and your colony has enough space to expand. In the cold months, the colony clusters and eats through their honey stores, only emerging when the temperature is above freezing to eliminate waste. Inspections are discouraged during this time to keep from releasing precious heat from the hive. Management time and style will depend on your climate, your hive style, and your particular bees. All colonies are unique, and each beekeeper will have a different experience.

Roger Keyserling

I raised bees for many years.

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Bee Keeping In Your Future? was originally published in eCom Tips on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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