Having your own Apiary – raising Honey Bees
Ok, in our last article we introduced the topic and went over the reasons you should consider raising Honey Bees as a source of sugar after the SHTF, the basic types of hives, and some other basics. But we didn’t talk about starting the hive and the steps to get going. There is a lot of information available on the web covering bee keeping in depth. You can always go to Mother Earth News and find great articles. You can also find a very detailed Beekeeping 101 blog on the Farmer’s Almanac site (http://www.almanac.com/blogs/beekeeping-101). Plus there are plenty of videos.
One, starting your hive should be a spring project. The bees use honey they made over the summer to survive during the winter. So you don’t want to try to start the hive when they can’t create enough honey for themselves to survive.
What do you need to start? Some basic equipment include a veil, some gloves, a smoker, and hive tool, a bee capping knife.
Veil and gloves: you will get stung at some point. I see some beekeepers who don’t wear any protective equipment but this is not recommended for beginners. I did hear that bee stings are good for arthritis… Ideally even when you are opening the hive and removing frames, the bees shouldn’t take much notice of you but if you react sharply when stung you might drop something in the hive or on the hive and stir the bees up. So at the beginning, it is a good plan to wear a veil and gloves at least until you get used to the occasional sting. You can get some coveralls but medium weight clothing should be sufficient protection from most stings. Coveralls can get warm if the weather is hot so plan accordingly. You can tuck your pant legs inside your socks to prevent bees from climbing up your leg and put rubber bands around your sleeves.
Smoker: The smoker calms the bees as it disrupts their ability to sense alarm pheromones released by the guard bees or injured bees. Additionally it prompts the bees to feed on the honey and that makes it difficult for them to sting on a full stomach. Bees tend to move away from the smoke so a bee keeper can use it to move the bees around in the hive.
Hive tool is like a small crow bar to lever parts of the hive open (the bees coat pretty much all of the hive with a sticky substance called propolis – in nature this protects the hive as ants get stuck in it before they can get to the honey). It is also used to help remove frames.
A capping knife is usually as big (wide) as your frame so you can cut the caps of the comb off using each side of the frame as a guide. Some knives are heated to ease cutting through the honeycomb.
You will need the veil, gloves, smoker and hive tool to get started and the capping knife once you start harvesting.
Next you need to get your queen and her colony. You can buy a queen and several pounds of bees from a local supplier, these are called a “nuc” or nucleus. The queen usually comes in a wax cage that you will place in the hive. Place a small hole in the cage, not big enough for the queen to escape but it will allow the workers to chew through and release the queen. You then simply dump the rest of the bees on top of her cage and knock them free of the box they came in. Or you can try to capture a swarm – sounds like a daunting task but bees in a swarm are usually pretty docile. Knock the swarm into a box and then move them to a new hive, if the hive has queen excluders on the entrances/exits, then she can’t leave and the swarm will stay with her.
Bees are usually weak and hungry when they arrive so you might have to put some sugar water (equal parts sugar and water) out in a feeder in or on the hive so they have something to eat initially so they have enough strength to start flying around and gathering pollen. Try not to spill this at the base of the hive so if doesn’t attract ants and then they get into the hive and begin robbing it.
The nice things is once your hive gets established, you don’t have to do much work. New beekeepers are curious, you can satisfy some of your curiosity by getting a hive with an observation window. Otherwise you have to open up the hive to see how they are doing. Normally, this doesn’t need to be done but once a week to monitor conditions.
Things to look for – climate control. The hive can get warm with all the work the bees are doing. A bottom screen allows air to flow in. You can also vent the top cover in really hot weather. Or you can drill vent holes in the brood boxes (which also act as additional entrances). How do you know the hive is too hot? The bees start hanging out on the outside of the hive (called Bearding). You want to prevent this as it may cause your hive to swarm. In the winter, many bee keepers place a board over the bottom screen to keep winter winds from cooling down the hive too much. You might also place an insulator around the hive in the winter, as long as you don’t block the entrances.
Varro Mites: A bottom screen also helps you monitor mites in your hive. The screen allows mites to fall through and they cannot get back in the hive. You can place a sticky board under the screen to count how many mites there are in a 24 hour period.
Preventing robbers: you can place plugs in your hive entrances to make it harder for robbers to enter, particularly in the winter. If you have round entrances, a plug with a reduced opening can be tapped into the entrance that keeps robbers out. Elevating the base of the hive also makes it harder for ants to get in. If you have skunks in the area (they eat the bees), you might need to do some target practice or set some traps.
Weather proofing: you want the top cover to keep rain out of the hive, but you may have to weigh the top cover down to prevent high winds from lifting it up and blowing it off. Some bee keepers use straps to lock their covers in place.
Placement: Although you might want your beehives all in a nice neat compact area. If they are too close together when you start the colony, the workers may just migrate to the dominate queen. Don’t start a new hive within 15 feet of another hive. You can move them closer over time (about three feet a week) but initially you don’t want workers abandoning their queen because the one next door is “hotter”.
Preventing swarms: about half the bees will leave a hive if they swarm. While this is a natural thing for the bees, it is bad for the bee keeper as a hive that had a swarm leave will not produce as much honey. We already talked about making sure your hive is properly ventilated but you also need to insure it doesn’t get too congested. Cleaning off frames and harvesting prevents congestion. You also need to check for swarm cells (new larvae queens ready to burst forth and then take a swarm out). You can remove them but if you miss one, the hive might swarm.
Ok, this is not an exhaustive explanation of all the ins and outs of bee keeping but I hope it has sparked your interest and made you consider bee keeping as part of your survival plan. As I mentioned before there are lots of resources available in print and on the net. If you are planning to start a hive (and it is not spring time yet) you have plenty of time during the winter to study up and get everything ready to launch by April or May.
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