Guide for Novice Beekeepers
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A little creature called apis melifera has provoked an interest unequaled by any other insect. The honeybee, as she is more commonly known, has a heritage that may go back twenty million years fulfilling a major role in the pollination of plants. The transfer of pollen from the anther (or male part) to the stigma (the female part) is essential to the formation of the plant's seeds and the propagation of the species. The plant, to entice the honeybee, secretes nectar.
Enzymes in the honeybee's honey stomach start the conversion from nectar to honey. Subsequent enzyme action and evaporation of water converts ten pounds of nectar into one pound of honey. Honey is the food of bees but it is also an attraction to other animals: among them man.
Man's attraction to sweetness led him to forego the pain of bee stings so that he might have honey. Records of man's encounter with bees exist from as much as 20,000 years ago. Early cave drawings show a man taking honey from a hive while angry bees fly around him.
Folk lore and honey found in ancient Italian and Egyptian tombs, attest to the role that honey has played in mankind's history. Mead, an alcoholic brew, was made from honey that was mixed with water and allowed to ferment. Honey was used for medicinal purposes and as a major sweetener. Beeswax made fine candles.
What once had been wild bee hives that existed in hollow trees and rocks, now became somewhat domesticated beehives in hollow logs, jars, or boxes that were attended by beekeepers. They were moveable in many instances, such as the hives on Egyptian rafts, to follow the flowers as the seasons changed. One problem shared by almost all the early hives was that they were difficult, if possible, to inspect and remove honey from without greatly destroying bees and hive. Gathering honey usually meant killing off some of the hives, mashing the comb once it was removed, and draining off the honey. Later hive designs utilized strips of wood across the top allowing the bees to build free form combs down from them which resulted in hives that were easier to work with but it was not until Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth invented the moveable frame hive that a good design for inspecting bees became available.
With the Langstroth hive, not only could the brood chamber be inspected for disease, but supers could be stacked upward and, since the queen stayed in the lower part of the hive, surplus honey was stored above in frames free from any brood. Though not the first hive to allow expansion, and thus allow for a storage of honey and less crowding of the bees that would force swarming, it was the first design to have comb that was enclosed on four sides by a wooden frame that allowed for easy removal and reuse of the comb. Since four to twelve pounds of honey, and the time, are consumed by bees in the production of one pound of beeswax, honey production could be increased from that alone. Being able to remove surplus honey without having to kill off the bees meant that many more bees were available come spring to gather honey.
Swarming had been the means by which the beekeeper resupplied the hives that had been killed off in the old days. With a hive with removable frames and expandable size, swarming was discouraged. Since swarming greatly reduces the number of bees available to collect nectar and make honey, minimizing swarms maximizes honey production. In suburban areas minimizing swarms can also minimize problems resulting from terrified neighbors as well as controlling hive population and the resulting needs of more time and money to manage them.
The advent of refined white sugar caused honey to be relied upon less than it had been but the recent upsurge in the return to natural foods, for flavor and nutrition, has greatly increased the demand for honey. Food research has also shown additional benefits of honey such as extended freshness of baked goods made with honey.
Even without considering honey production, bees still remain an essential part of nature's scheme. Suburbanization and agricultural practices have greatly reduced the number of wild bees (there are 20,000 species of bees in the world) and as a result pollination has fallen off drastically in some areas to the point that the crops would be unprofitable unless bees were brought in to pollinate them. Since only the honeybee and a few other species lend themselves to easily being hived and moved, farmers must now pay from thirty to eighty dollars per hive to insure proper pollination to get a bountiful harvest of fruit or seed. While it is true that the honey bee is not native to the Americans, neither is the apple, peach, cherry and many other plants that depend upon bees for pollination. As well as all the other pleasures that the honeybee has to offer, she is serving the nation through pollination.
II. GETTING STARTED WITH BEES
Buying bees is as important a task as buying a good animal such as a dog or horse: a reliable breeder is one's best bet. Advice from an experienced beekeeper in selecting a hive of bees will aid the new beekeeper in avoiding getting poor bees and/or equipment. A bargain isn't a bargain if the bees are sickly or neglected and require that a lot of time and money be spent to get them into proper condition.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to buy bees from a reliable beekeeper in one's area. An equally good way is to order bees and hive components from suppliers through the mail. When ordering through the mail it must be remembered that sufficient time must be allowed for the hive to arrive, be assembled, and painted before the bees arrive. Supplies for handling the bees, as well as extra supers, must be ordered early enough so that the bees can be inspected and swarming minimized.
Getting started with too little money can lead to the lack of extra supers that need to be added in the late spring or early summer when the honey flow is at its peak and available space is used up. It is most disappointing to discover that a hard working hive has stopped much of its activity to create a new queen and that the old queen and half the hive are sitting as a swarm in a tree or bush. Trying to set up a new hive when not enough equipment was available to handle the original hive is quite a dilemma. The minimum supply to feel fairly safe is the full depth brood chamber and three half depth supers. A basis of two full depth brood chambers and three half depth supers is far more desirable since the two full depth supers can serve as the brood chambers and two half depth supers can be used for surplus honey with the remaining half depth super being used to replace a full super that is removed.
Not over reacting to the first few bee stings is an important part of bee keeping. If one is found to be sensitive to stings, then more caution must be given to proper dress but one must not allow bee stings to cause him to shy away from proper care of the bees. A new hive should not be disturbed too much for the first two weeks, until they feel at home in the hive, but after that, bees can no more be left unattended than if one had bought a dog or a cat and then decided not to feed it. The bees should be inspected every two weeks to a month so that the new beekeeper becomes fully familiar with the bees, their condition, and behavior. Sometimes a mental block develops in regard to being involved with his bees and as a result, the beekeeper loses interest. Bee keeping is not for everyone. While no one enjoys being stung, it can't be a fear of such a magnitude as to cause the bees to be neglected.
Early Spring is the best time to get started in beekeeping because, as the year progresses, the flowers will come into bloom and the bees will have a chance to collect nectar. However, it can also be a bad time if it is a cold, wet spring with few flowers. To insure the survival of a new hive during the first month, when so much of the hive's energy and consequently food supply is used in drawing out new comb and raising brood, a solution of sugar water must be feed to the new hive to supplement their needs. The sooner the weather becomes consistently nice the sooner the feeding can be eliminated. There are several ways that sugar water can be fed. The use of an entrance feeder is simplest but it is argued that in cold weather the bees may have difficulty using it. Placing a can or jar of sugar water over the opening in the inner cover, with an empty hive box around it to keep the heat from the hive in, and then placing the outer cover on top is a favored way of many beekeepers. A third method is to remove a frame and replace it with a special trough that can be filled with sugar water and has a board floating on it so the bees won't drown when they land to drink the sugar water. Pouring granulated sugar in the space between the inner and outer cover can be used in emergencies but is not one of the more desired methods for extended feeding as the bees need water to dissolve the sugar to use it.
Choosing the proper place in the yard to set up a beehive is a factor that should be considered well in advance to the arrival of the bees. Once the bees "mark the spot" they will not tolerate having the hive moved after they are established in it. Bees do not remember the hive but rather the spot where the hive is relative to fixed landmarks. The standing rule is to move the hive more than two miles or less than six feet at any single move. If more than two miles they will reorient themselves because of unfamiliar surrounding. Less than six feet will appear to be within their navigation accuracy.
A place most desirable for the bees should offer light shade of deciduous trees to help keep the hive cool in the summer time and still allow the sun to warm it in the winter, early spring and late fall. Since the hive location will probably be chosen in the winter or early spring, when no leaves are on the trees and the path of the sun is more southward in the sky, allowance must be made for the effects of having leaves on the trees and a more northern path of the sun. Heavy shade interferes with navigation from the sun and doesn't allow the sun to warm the hive as early in the morning or as late in the evening. If in direct sunlight, the bees will spend too much time and energy trying to keep the hive cool on hot summer days. It should be noted that some experts feel that keeping bees in direct sunlight tends to make the bees work harder. The actual daytime temperature in the summer plays a major role in that choice. In this area, whenever possible, the entrance of the hive should face south to help in their orientation of the sun, to warm the entrance, and to minimize the effects of having wind, rain and snow blowing in the entrance.
Picking a location with a minimum of traffic in front of the hive is very important. Bees can be rather intolerant to people, cars or animals passing back and forth in front of their entrance. It is especially annoying for a tired bee, returning from the field, to have to try to maneuver around moving objects. Also, on take off they need room to gain altitude without having to avoid moving objects. A fence or hedge five to ten feet in front of the hives will encourage a more rapid ascent and make areas in front of the hedge or fence more freely usable.
III. CONSIDERATION FOR THE BEES
Every so often in talking to people it is possible to meet someone who had bees but had to give them up because they didn't have the time to properly care for them. Other times you will meet a person that got bees and placed them on some undeveloped property that he had and just left them unattended. Bee keeping is much more involved than getting bees and then letting them care for themselves. It is not fair to the bees, or the surrounding neighbors, to merely leave them on their own. It can't be assumed that since they were wild it follows that they can care for themselves. The effects of man on the landscape greatly affect the habitat of the bees. Man has upset nature's balance and the bee is affected by the changes.
Time must be spent to assure that the needs of the bee are met since the beekeeper and not the bees chose the spot where the hive is located. To survive and be productive the bees must have the materials to make the honey as close as possible. Flowers are the major concern since bees can produce honey only from the nectar of flowers. The more vegetation the better the chance of flowers. Heavy forests are less desirable than fields and areas of shrubs since many trees such as the pine and oak use the wind to transfer their pollen. Maple and basswood produce flowers in the spring but they can also shade out other plants than might supply flowers at other times of the year. A good variety of plants will do a lot to assure some blooms at most times throughout the honey seasons. Fields supply an opportunity for small flowering plants to grow many of which bloom quite profusely. Frequent checking of the hive's activity related to the number of bees flying in and out of the entrance, can tell a lot about the condition of the hive but the surest check is to actually open the hive and check the amount of nectar being processed, honey being made, and the size of the brood chamber.
Water is an essential item for bees since they use it to dilute the honey to feed to the brood and in the hot weather they bring the water back to the hive and evaporate it to cool the hive. Good clean water, free of chemicals, bacteria or parasites that may harm the bees, is essential to maintaining a healthy, productive hive. Stagnant, dirty water is an easy way to introduce disease into a hive and, if more than one hive uses the same water, disease can be spread quite rapidly. Running water such as obtained from a slightly open faucet or garden hose will work well. Letting a hose run slowly into a pan filled with rocks or floating wood is ideal. It must be remembered that the bees will drown if they land in the water. The rocks or wood provide landing surfaces. Frequent checks must still be made to be sure that the water stays free from contamination. Having the water as close to the hives as possible is important since they waste less time and energy in getting the water, and are more likely to use it than another source, such as the neighbor's yards, especially their pools, in search of water. People stepping on bees around their pools can be a major source of trouble.
IV. MAJOR CONCERNS IN THE ACTUAL HANDLING OF BEES
1. Smoothness of Handling
Opening the bee hive as smoothly as possible can be a major consideration in controlling the temperament of the bees and rendering them as gentle as possible. Though there is some question among the experts as to whether or not bees can hear, there is no question regarding their ability to sense vibrations and respond to them as a possible threat. Any jarring of the hive, any abrupt movement, can be interpreted as an attack against their home: their sole means of surviving. Prying supers apart as carefully as possible and removing frames gently allows the bees to be surprisingly indifferent to the beekeeper's activities.
2. Proper use of the Smoker
Moderation is the keyword in the use of the smoker. Smoke should be used to drive back the guards but not to overwhelm the hive. Too little smoke won't suppress the guards enough but too much smoke will aggravate the hive. Just because a few bees are flying around is not grounds to apply more and more smoke. As with most phases of bee keeping, experience will show how much smoke is needed and it will be noted that it varies from hive to hive. Keeping the smoker going can be a unique problem in working with bees. Unless the bellows is squeezed every so often it will go out. If the bellows are squeezed too often or too hard the flame will get too hot and emit a flame rather than smoke.
Materials that supply fairly good smoke include dried grass, leaves, pine cones, and ceiling tiles. Peat moss works quite well, is readily available and not expensive. Usually paper is used to get the fire started.
3.Introduction of a Queen
A hive of bees has its own unique scent and intruders are detected as not having the same scent and are either removed or killed. Introducing a queen from another hive can result in her being killed, since she has an odor different from the rest of the bees. Precautions should be taken to protect her from the rest of the bees until she acquires the scent of the hive. There are several ways that can be done.
If the new queen is kept in a separate cage, within the hive, she will acquire the scent of the hive and be more willingly accepted. The normally used queen cage is a block of wood about ¾ inch by 1 ½ inches by 2 ½ inches that has been partially drilled out and then has had window screening tacked over the opening to contain the queen in an opening about 1 inch in diameter and a half an inch deep. Entering along the axis of long dimension, from both ends is a 3/8 inch hole that has been filled with candied sugar at one end and corked at the other end.
Placing the cage on top of the frames with the screen side down and straddling two frames allows the bees to become familiar with the queen without harming her. Removing the cork from the 3/8 inch hole that is blocked with candied sugar allows the bees to eat through the sugar in a couple of days and free the queen.
For introducing a queen with a large number of bees, such as combining a swarm with an existing hive, the outer and inner covers of the hive can be removed and a sheet or two of newspaper can be used to cover the whole top of the hive. A super, with frames, can then be placed on top of the newspaper and the queen and bees poured into the super and the inner and outer covers replaced. Use an inner cover with openings so they will have ventilation and they will be able to leave and enter through the top of the hive. Within a day or two the bees will have chewed through the paper and the two groups combined. Their odors will have mixed and they won't attack each other. The two queens, however, will seek each other out and fight. Usually the younger, stronger queen will survive.
More than twenty different variations of queen introductions exist. Prime concern in most cases is allowing time for the odor of the new queen and attendants to mix with the hive to which the introduction is made. It must also be remembered that a hive without a queen is far more willing to accept a new queen than a hive that has a good producing queen.
4. Package Bees
A package of bees is a box about 10 by 14 by 5 inches, with window screening on the 10 by 14 inch sides, containing anywhere from two to five pounds of bees with or without a queen. The most usual order is a 3-pound package (about 11-12,000 bees) with a queen. Whether or not a queen is included, depends upon whether the package is to be used to add to a weak hive that has a queen or whether a new hive is to be started. For this climate it would be best to have the bees arrive between April 15 and May 15.
It is most important in ordering package bees to have a bee hive fully assembled and painted before the package arrives since the queens should only be kept in the package a few days at the most. It is important that the bees start building combs and the queen laying eggs as soon as possible since it will be three weeks before the new bees start hatching out. To insure the survival of the hive they should be fed sugar water since not enough nectar may be available in the early spring.
If at all possible the hive should have some drawn foundation so that the bees will have to expend less energy in getting started. Four to twelve pounds of honey must be consumed to produce one pound of wax. The less energy the bees must use at such a critical time, the better their chance of survival.
The bees should be installed in the hive late in the evening, if possible, to prevent drifting. Usually only half the frames are placed in the hive so that the bees may be dumped in the opening left and then the frames are replaced.
V. Long Island Beekeepers Club Good Neighbor Policy
1. No more than four hives of honeybees for each one-quarter acre or less of lot size will be maintained on any lot.
2. No hive of honeybees will be maintained within ten feet of a boundary line of the lot on which said hive is located.
3. A six-foot hedge or fence (partition) will be placed between the hives and the neighbors if the hive is ten feet from the neighbor's yard and the entrance faces the neighbor's yard.
4. No hive of honeybees will be maintained unless an adequate supply of water will be furnished within twenty feet of said hive at all times between March 1 and October 31 of each year.
5. No hive of honeybees will be maintained unless such hive is inspected not less than four times between March 1 and October 31 of each year by the owner of the lot on which said hive is located or his delegate. A written record including the date of each such inspection will be maintained by said owner and will be available by authorized individuals.
6. No hive of honeybees will be maintained in a residential area in such a manner as will constitute a substantial nuisance.
VI. REQUIREMENTS FOR THE NOVICE BEE KEEPER TRAINING COURSE
A. Two Spring Meetings, One Summer Meeting, and One Fall Meeting.
1. March Meeting -The Novice is introduced to the basic beekeeper's equipment: the smoker, veil, hive tool and other equipment. The parts of the hive are explained and demonstration of the proper method of assembling hives is given. Bee supply catalogs are handed out and what and how to order is explained.
2. April Meeting - The purpose of this class will be to hive a package of bees and to open up and inspect over-wintered hives. The handling and use of package bees will be discussed and demonstrated if possible. The proper techniques for opening and inspecting the hives will be given. It will constitute the earliest opportunity to check the bees after the winter to insure their well being after the winter. Queen introduction will be covered. Detection, identification, and treatments for various honeybee pests and diseases will be discussed and demonstrated as appropriate.
3. Late Spring Meeting - The beekeeper must be aware of the condition of his bees at all times. The Novice needs to begin to feel comfortable opening and checking bees. Opportunity will exist during the class to actually open hives and inspect frames to learn if the bees are healthy and productive. Detection, identification, and treatments for various honeybee pests and diseases will be discussed and demonstrated as appropriate.
4. Early Summer/Fall Meeting - Long Island's honey flow is often over by
early July. Considerations for extracting honey as well as preparing the hive
for the winter will be covered. Various techniques for the removal of the
surplus honey will be covered. The amount and location of the winter stores for
the bees will be discussed. Detection, identification, and treatments for
various honeybee pests and diseases will be discussed and demonstrated as
appropriate. The need to protect removed frames from the wax moth is a major
B. Student Notebook
The Novice will be expected to keep a student notebook to keep a record of when, where and under whose supervision he inspected hives. Class attendance will be recorded as evidence of having seen hives opened. It will also be a record of the hives that the Novice opened.
C. Hives Inspection Requirements
The Novice is expected to have observed at least 2 ½ hours inspection of bee hives by experienced beekeepers in and out of class. Should a class be missed for any reason it will be possible to make up the time. Under the supervision of experienced beekeepers, the Novice will have had to have opened twenty beehives between the start of the classes in spring and the end of classes in the fall.
D. Town Ordinances
The Novice should be familiar with the requirements of the Long Island Beekeepers Club Good Neighbor Policy and any local ordinances
E. Reference Material
Combining practical experience with reading material available on the subject will greatly enhance one's understanding of the subject. It is recommended that the Novice obtain a copy of at least one authoritative book on bee keeping such as ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, The Complete Guide to Bee Keeping, The Hive and The Honey Bee, or Bee Keeping in the United States.
F. Final Requirements
The final requirement will be for each Novice to write down five questions that they have in regard to beekeeping at the end of the course. The questions will be collected and then during a final period an opportunity will exist for all the Novices to attempt to answer each others questions with the help of qualified beekeepers.
VII. Additional Suggested Readings for a Comprehensive Understanding of Bees
A COUNTRY YEAR, Sue Hubbell, Harper & Row
A BOOK OF BEES, Sue Hubbell, Ballantine
Honey from Hive to Honeypot, Sue Style,
Chronicle Books, 1993
BEEKEEPING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE, Richard E. Bonney,
Garden Way, 1993.
HIVE MANAGEMENT: A SEASONAL GUIDE, Richard E. Bonney,
Garden Way, 1990
FIRST LESSONS IN BEEKEEPING, Dadant &
Sons, Inc., 51 S. 2nd St., Hamilton, IL 62341
Guide to Bees and Honey, Ted Hooper, Blandford
THE HIVE AND THE HONEYBEE, 1992, Dadant & Sons, Inc., 51 S. 2nd St., Hamilton, IL 62341