I know this subject has been mentioned here and there, but I could not find a thread dedicated to information about how to keep bees. We are just getting started and wanted to share our experience here. I encourage other beekeepers to share their experiences with bees here, too, so we can all learn from each other.Anianna's Beginning Beekeeping
After many years of research and saving up the money, we have finally installed our first beehives. Nucs
Nuc is short for nucleus colony. This is basically a miniature hive consisting (usually) of five frames of brood and food and includes an established queen. This differs from packaged bees in that packaged bees are just bees and do not include frames and brood and an established food source.
Here are our nucs waiting to be transferred to hives behind our young peach tree. The hives will sit on the cinder blocks.
This is a closer look at one of the nucs. Each nuc contains five frames of an already established colony. Buying a nuc has several advantages over simply buying a package of bees. A package is not an established colony and the queen has to be in her own container so the other bees can acclimate to her. In a nuc, the bees and queen are already established together and already have brood to strengthen the colony once it is in a hive.Lemon Balm
Bees like lemon balm. Rub lemon balm on new frames to make them more pleasant for the bees.Frames
My dear beekeeper here is holding a Honey Super Cell frame. It is a plastic, fully drawn frame and we are trying it out in one of our hives. I only know of two brands of fully drawn plastic cell: Honey Super Cell and PermaComb. PermaComb is only available for medium supers and Honey Super Cell comes in sizes to fit both medium and deep supers. Since we are using both (deeps for colony needs and mediums for honey production), we went with Honey Super Cell. Many beekeepers swear by the ease of these frames and we are hoping to have a similar experience with it. The plastic should reduce wax moth problems and the forced small cell size greatly reduces incidents of varroa mites without the need to medicate the colony. Here you see my hubby lightly spraying the frame with sugar water to encourage the bees to use the frame.
We are using a standard wax-dipped plastic foundation frame in the other hive. We are using the plastic base to reduce wax moth. The bees will have to draw out comb on this plastic foundation and here you see my hubby lightly spraying the frame with sugar water to encourage the bees to use the frame.Hive Tool
The hive tool is a must for a beekeeper. This is how you separate sticky frames.Hive Installation
Transfer the nuc frames to the new hive in the same order they are in the nuc. This is the instruction given to us by the experienced beekeeper we purchased the nucs from as well as from many beekeepers online. I don't see any reason not to. In this picture, the bottom board and deep box are in place. The bottom board is sort of a tray with a wire mesh that helps reduce varroa mite infestations without the need to medicate the colony. You can learn more about this at GreenBeehives
. The deep is merely a wooden box with no top or bottom that frames can be hung in.
Some pics of a few of the frames that came out of our nucs:
In a new colony, the bees need time to establish in the first deep and need to be fed sugar water until nectar flow is established. The next layer of the hive installation is the feed tray which is a board with a hole in the center where bees can access a bucket feeder
A medium super (another box with no top or bottom that frames can hang in) is placed on top of the feed tray to enclose the feed bucket.
The feed bucket goes upside down in the medium super over the hole in the feed tray where the bees can access the sugar water feed that will act as a nectar flow until a local nectar flow can be established.
Finally, the telescoping cover goes on top of the hive. It overhangs the rest of the hive and keeps things dry in the rain.
Here's a pic of the deep super with nuc frames and new frames installed:
All Done. We were short a feeder bucket, so did not put the medium on the second hive yet. We will add it in the next day or two. Since our bees came in a nuc, they should be fine waiting a short time for supplemental food. When the bees have filled up about eight of the frames in the deep, another deep will be added on top of the first deep to give the bees more room to expand. When the bees are well established, the feeder will be removed and frames for honey production will be placed in the medium super.Some notes on our experience
Agitating the bees - At one point, a nuc that still contained frames fell over. The bees clearly sounded agitated, but I noticed no aggression. They did not appear to be attempting to sting my husband at all and they certainly did not swarm him. They settled down pretty quickly.
Pacifying the bees - It does not take a lot of smoke to pacify the bees. Just a couple of puffs are usually plenty, with an occasional additional puff or two if the bees get active at the top of the frames. Honestly, I'm not convinced the additional puffs are necessary in most cases.ResourcesTools and Hives
We purchased our hives and tools at GreenBeehive
We prefer GreenBeehive hives for several reasons:
1. The wood used is cypress, which is naturally water resistant.
2. The hives are designed with the mesh bottom board that naturally traps varroa mites - a non-chemical way to treat such parasite infestations that could lead to an unhealthy hive if not treated.
3. The guy does quality work.**Do not expect a speedy deliver from Greenbehives. You have to pay for 2 day shipping, but it takes this guy a long time to get orders out. Plan any orders from Greenbeehives accordingly.
I also love the goatskin gloves from GreenBeehives and find them to be the easiest gloves to work with.Plastic Cell Frames
The Honey Super Cell frames website
. If you purchase them from the link to Simpson Bee Supply (linked on the HSC site), you will see they warn that the frames are slightly warped. We did not find this to be an issue. You have to call Simpson to order as their online shopping cart is not functional. This is a mom and pop dealer and they are not very internet savvy, but our frames arrived two days after we ordered them and we are happy with them.
There is no website I know of for PermaComb, but here is the contact information for the man who sells it. They can only be purchased during certain times and, if you want them, you need to be added to his mailing list so you will receive notification. A production run only occurs if there is enough interest to run 1,000 frames. I did email Mr. Seets and he answers very quickly. You should know that Dadant bee supply company carries a product with a similar name (PermaCell), but it is my understanding that the Dadant product is plastic foundation and not fully-drawn plastic frames. I tried to email Dadant to clarify this, but their response did not answer my question.
John Seets, National/International Distributor
Previously: "Ultra Breeze® Ventilated Beekeeping Suit
is our suit of choice."
Now: While the Ultra Breeze suit is wonderful, it is also very expensive. Pigeon Mountain Trading Company carries a ventilated suit that is almost identical to the Ultra Breeze for $85 less than the Ultra Breeze. They also carry the ventilated suits in children's sizes, which two of my children have purchased to enjoy helping their daddy with the bees.Pigeon Mountain Trading Company ventilated beewearPigeon Mountain Trading Company children's ventilated beewearLive Bees
Get live bees locally or drive to pick up your bees. We recommend ordering nucs (nucleus colonies) that consist basically of a miniature hive of an established queen, brood, and food stores. This is the absolute best way to start a new hive as a beginner. Please see this post
to read about our experience ordering nucs through the mail.
If you need to order a replacement queen, we recommend Noble Apiaries
. They also sell packaged bees by mail and nucs for pick up only. I have only seen good things said about Noble Apiaries across the bee forums and we were happy without our order of a queen from them. Our queen came in a JZ/BZ cage (my favorite type) with two attendants. Education/InformationGlenn Apiaries
has been a positive source of support for the beekeeping community for over 30 years. They were once an apiary providing live bees, but are now a source of education and information on beekeeping. Video
There are lots and lots of videos of people keeping bees on YouTube. Some are good, some not so much.
Check out this video
showing how a professional beekeeper handles her bees. I really think we gained a lot of confidence watching this video.Cages and Introducing a New Queen
Unless you are selling queen bees, you won't need to order cages, but you may find that you need to order a queen and it is helpful to know about the cages they come in. A new queen should be introduced to the hive while still in her cage or you risk the existing bees outright killing her. They need time to get used to each other. Many cages come with a candy plug that the bees have to eat through to get to the queen. This gives them a couple of days to get comfortable with the new queen before having direct access to her.Dave Cushman
describes the most common queen cages. We have experience with the JZ/BZ cage (my favorite) and the Rice 3 Hole cage. The JZ/BZ arrives ready to install. Simply press it between two frames in the center of the hive just tight enough that it won't fall and low enough that the bees can access the candy plug. With the Rice cage, there is a cork plug on each end and one of three main compartments is filled with a candy plug. You will need to pull the cork plug out of the end of the cage nearest the candy so that the bees can access the candy to release the queen. As with the JZ/BZ cage, you place it between two frames.
There is some disagreement as to what direction to place the cage in the hive:
1) if you place the exit downward, one of the attendants could perish and block the exit for the queen.
2) if you place the exit upwards (the usual recommendation), it is possible that the candy plug heats enough to liquify and drown the queen.
We have put both of our cages facing up without issues, but our experience is limited. From these arguments, sideways seems to be the ideal position. See this post
for pictures of the JZ/BZ cage (it arrived taped to a small piece of wood) and how it fit in between the frames. This post
shows the candy plug in the JZ/BZ cage partially eaten as the bees work to release the queen. This post
shows the Rice cage full of bees (the white bit on the right is the candy plug).
Larger versions of the images I used for this post can be found at my Flickr set
“People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn't. We threw away things people kill each other for now.” ~Book of Eli