Learning how to start a beehive is a rewarding experience that gives to your homestead year after year. When I got my first beehive, I had a basic understanding of bees, but I was inexperienced and far from where I needed to be. There’s a lot to learn about raising honey bees. I read books and papers in school, but I didn’t learn how to start a beehive until my bees arrived. Several months after getting my first hive we joined our local beekeeper’s association and had a more experienced beekeeper mentor me for a few months.
This Beekeeping 101 series will walk you through the process of starting your first beehive – from gathering your equipment and installing your bees to extracting honey. This first article we will focus on how to start your hive, determining the best type of honey bee for your hive, gathering the right tools and equipment, and finding bee and beekeeping equipment suppliers. These tips are applicable for anyone starting a beehive even if it’s a backyard beehive in the city.
What Kind of Bees Should You Get?
There are many types of bees available for beekeepers. They range from gentle bees to not-so-friendly bees. Each bee breed has its ups and down whether it’s keeping pests at bay or overwintering well or having high productivity. Here are a few examples:
- Italian bees are the calmest breed of honey bee with great productivity.
- Buckfast bees are a bit more aggressive with good productivity.
- Russian bees are similar to Italian bees (as far as their temperament) but they can withstand winter conditions better than all other bees.
- Africanized honey bees have really good honey and brood production but their temperament is so bad that they will attack anything within one hundred yards of the hive (and even further than that). I would recommend staying away from the Africanized bees as they are an extremely aggressive breed.
There is basic equipment that beekeepers can use. I would recommend each of these items for new (or even for experienced) beekeepers. Your equipment should include:
The suit is the most important tool you have as it protects you from the bees. Make sure it is a size or two larger than your normal clothes size to help keep it loose. If it is too form fitting, the bees will be able to sting you more easily. They typically come in white but some companies provide the suits in different colors. I would suggest white as bees do not like dark colors (including red or black).
The gloves are optional but I highly recommend them because they do save your hands from getting stung. They come in different forms: cowhide, sheepskin, rubber, and rubber coated. Cowhide gloves are the best in my opinion. When I was handling killer bees I didn’t get stung through the cowhide gloves at all, although rubber gloves are easy to clean and easier to grasp things.
A smoker makes smoke to calm down your bees. The smoke does not hurt the bees but encourages them to eat their honey which calms them down.
Holds the bees, honey, and brood
Helps protect your feet (rubber boots are great to use as the bees cannot sting through them and you can tuck your pants into them to help the bees from climbing up your pant leg).
Helps pry apart the boxes and loosen the frames, which makes it easier when checking the hives.
Helps lift the frames out of the hive with ease. Sometimes gloves can become cumbersome, especially when trying to lift the frames out of the boxes. The frames can weigh up to 10 pounds when full of comb, beeswax, and bees. The frame lift really helps to get a good grip on a frame.
The holder hooks onto the side of the hive and serves as a place to hang the frames (instead of placing them on the ground) while searching for a queen or inspecting the hive.
Components of Your Beehive
The components of the hive from top to bottom are listed below. These are what a basic hive should have. Each has its own job:
- The top cover protects the top of the hive from the elements.
- The inner cover is an extra protective barrier.
- The super is a smaller version of a deep (I will get to that in a minute). It is where the bees store the honey, although you can use a deep box for honey it weighs about a hundred pounds.
- The queen excluder is a smaller screen that keeps the queen in the deep on the bottom of the hive so that she cannot get to the honey stores and lay eggs in and amongst the honey. You don’t want brood (baby bees) in the honey.
- The deep box is used on the bottom of the hive for the queen to lay her eggs. This is also where the entire hive stays during the cold days of winter. As I mentioned before, the deep can be used for honey. However, make sure that you have a person that can lift the boxes if you decide to use them for honey as they can weigh around 100 pounds when full of honey, wax, and bees.
So, that wraps up this beekeeping 101. I had a bunch of fun explaining to you how to start a beehive. Each of these steps is important and you must master them as you must master life with the help of God.
Along with reading this article, read as many books as you can, watch beekeeping DVDs or videos, research, and join a local beekeepers association. I would highly suggest getting a mentor so that you can get some hands-on experience with bees. From this article, you can learn about treating bees naturally with essential oils.
Bubbas (aka James Duke) started his journey as a beekeeper at the age of 11. Now at the age of 15 Bubba has made his hobby into a full-blown business. He hopes to never have a normal job unless forced to.