The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to The Art of Beekeeping

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By Craig S. – contributing author.

Bees are important. They pollinate the vegetables in your garden, increase the production of your orchard, and some scientists tell us that honey bee-pollinated plants may account for more than a third of our daily diet. 

However, big agriculture is having a negative effect on all of us with its widespread spraying of pesticides. This has reduced domestic honey production to the point where we are now importing nearly 80 percent of the honey consumed in America each year. 

In this article, Craig discusses bee equipment, bee tools, clothing needed by beekeepers, types of bee colonies, types of bees, and how to inspect and manage your bees.

Getting started

Beginning beekeepers must realize that providing fresh water is mandatory. Summer colonies need a least a quart of water every day. If you do not provide enough water, your bees will wander over to your neighbor’s pool to get water, and then your neighbors might complain to the local city government about your beekeeping efforts.

You want to position your hives in direct sun. The more sun your hive is exposed to, the better it can handle some pests. Your colonies should be in a spot where you can keep some of your beekeeping tools: smoker fuel, old smoker, a few hive tools, a few supers, covers, bottoms, inner covers, and so on. The bee yard should also have easy access all year long.

Hive stands are important to keep the hives away from some pests like skunks. 

Tall fences between your colonies and your neighbor’s property are helpful because they force the bees to fly up before they fly out to look for forage. The fences will also visually screen your hives from your neighbors. Therefore, your neighbors are less likely to complain to others about your beekeeping.

When you are ready to start beekeeping, after purchasing the required equipment, you will need to decide whether to purchase a “nuc” (short for nucleus, meaning “small”) or a package of bees. 

The advantage of buying a nuc is that it already contains a laying queen, workers of all ages, open and sealed brood, drones of all ages, drone brood, stored honey and pollen, and all or most of the frames have drawn comb. The nuc producer has taken much of the gamble out of starting a colony.

The other common option is to purchase a “package” of bees. In this case, you get a 3-pound package of about 10,000 bees, a can of sugar syrup with food for several days, a separate small container with the queen inside it

Beekeeping Equipment Tips

Frames are either wooden or plastic rectangles that surround the comb. You can purchase unassembled wooden frames that come with beeswax or plastic foundation sheets.

Bottom boards: Make sure you use screened, ventilated bottom boards because open bottom boards provide ample ventilation, remove excess moisture, aid in colony temperature regulation, and allow colony debris to fall out rather than accumulate in the hive.

Bee suits: You should use ventilated suits because they help the beekeeper to be cooler even on hot days.

Gloves: You should use goatskin gloves rather than cowhide gloves because they are much more flexible.

Ankle protection: Beekeeping suppliers sell simple elastic straps with hook-and-loop attachments that seal your pant legs tight. This will help prevent bees from crawling up your legs.

Smokers: The large model is the better choice no matter who makes it. Stainless steel models last longer than galvanized metal ones, and the protective shield on the outside is there for good reason.

It is also important for beginning beekeepers to learn and gain experience from experienced beekeepers. The best way for you to do so is by offering to help them in their bee activities for free.

Integrated Pest Management

You should always seek to problems before they occur. This means raising bees that are resistant to, or tolerant of, the pests they encounter.

To deal with honeybee pests and diseases, use mechanical methods to keep pests away from the hive. The other way to deal with pests intense: chemical alternatives. The beekeeper must be able to identify these pests and know what options they have to control these pests.

Nosema

The most certain way to know if your bees have Nosema is to send a sample of bees to the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. The test is free but it may take two weeks for the results. 

They will tell you if this disease is present, how many spores are present, whether or not American foulbrood is present, and whether that disease is resistant to commonly used antibiotics. 

The best way to combat Nosema is to make sure the bees continue to eat a healthy diet, including lots of honey or sugar syrup and fresh pollen or pollen supplement. 

When bees seem listless or are not eating, provide feeding supplements like lemongrass oil, thymol, and other essential oils. Beekeepers have found that essential oil feeding stimulants have good results.

Chalkbrood

Damp and cold conditions cause chalkbrood. So keep your colony in a high and dry location, providing adequate ventilation. To avoid chalkbrood, replace brood combs regularly to keep the number of spores to a minimum. 

The two-year replacement program solves this. Remove and destroy entire brood combs that have lots of infected larvae. Keep bee stress to a minimum.

European foulbrood

Your first indication of an infestation is a brood pattern that appears spotty. Careful examination of an early infestation shows dead and dying larvae at the bottoms of brood cells that are not snow white. Treat European foulbrood in the same way you would treat Chalkbrood (see above).

American foulbrood

This is the most destructive disease (not pest) honey bees get. You will probably never experience this in your colonies. However, it is so serious, that you need to be able to recognize it if it does occur. If you notice this disease, remove and burn your hives and bees.

Varroa

For more than thirty years, varroa mites and the problems they create have been the most challenging health problems beekeepers have had to deal with. If you don’t control varroa, your bees will die. 

But is there a way to avoid varroa? One possible way is to purchase bees that are resistant or tolerant to them. Russians are said to be very tolerant to varroa.

Varroa mites should be counted at least monthly, and he details one of the best such methods, the “alcohol wash.”

Another good way to deal with mites is to do mid-summer splits (after your first season). By dividing the population of bees and brood, each resulting colony ends up with half of any mites that were present in the original. 

Then, of the two resulting colonies, one keeps the original queen and one remains queenless. For the one with the original queen, you can cage the queen for three weeks, allowing all existing brood to mature and emerge. 

This exposes absolutely every mite in the colony, making them all vulnerable to grooming, organic acid, or essential oil mite treatment. After three weeks and acid treatment, you can release her from her cage, or install a genetically stronger queen. The queenless colony is treated the same way until you install a new queen in that colony also. 

What you end up with is two strong colonies going into winter with minimal mites and vigorous laying queens, giving the colony a good population of extremely healthy, non-virus-infected winter bees.

Wax moth

Small colonies and those that are stressed can become victims to wax moths, which can completely destroy the colony in two weeks. The first strategy in dealing with wax moths is to keep strong, healthy colonies. 

It is also important that you don’t store empty honey supers or brood boxes in warm, dark areas like your basement or garage. Wax moth larvae do not thrive when exposed to light and fresh air.

For a few supers, place the whole super in the freezer for 48 hours before storing. This kills eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. If freezing is not possible, put moth fumigant on a stack of supers. The only fumigant approved for wax moths is paradichlorobenzene. Before re-using, set the frames outside for one full week to air out as much of the chemical as possible.

Small hive beetle

Colonies that are strong with larger populations can often hold their own against an invasion, and with a little help from the beekeeper, the bees can win this battle without using harsh chemicals and poisons. 

Therefore, the first line of defense is to maintain large, strong colonies that are not under stress from other pests, diseases, or nutritional issues. The second is to keep your colonies in full sun. The third is to install a vegetable oil trap to trap the beetles. 

Finally, there is a ground spray that can be sprayed on the ground around the colonies to kill the larvae when they try to cross it. It is also effective against fire ants. But it must be applied again after it rains.

Bonus Video

Conclusion

The biggest takeaway from this article is that disease and pest detection and management are improving and the strategies mentioned in this book are working more effectively than strategies used a decade or two ago.

In addition, several countries are beginning to ban some classes of pesticides, dietary supplements for bees are helping, new varroa control strategies are working better than before, and whole new generations of beekeepers have appeared, committed to helping honey bees. Add Your Heading Text Here

If you have any other excellent beekeeping tips or suggestions that aren’t featured above, please share them in the comments with your fellow preppers.

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