Keeping Bee Hives - Low Maintenance Livestock
Keeping bee hives is an old practice. Honeybees feed and water themselves, roost on their own, and have few predators. Honeybees pollinate your gardens and increase yields. Once a colony is established, a family can easily be supplied with a year of honey plus some to share, regardless of your situation-in a town, in the country, or somewhere in between.
Starting a Bee Hive
Keeping bee hives begins with having a suitable site. It is best to use high ground where the hive can face the eastern sunrise or southern sun to keep the hive warm. An outbuilding or hedge that can shield the hive from the wind is also preferred because severe cold can kill bees. If neighbors are a concern, a six foot tall hedge, screen, or fence can force the bees to fly above any passersby on their way to and from the hive.
Bee hives come in two varieties-Langstroth and top bar. Langstroth hives are stacks of boxes that mimic natural hives. Top bar hives are widely varied in appearance and can be quickly and easily constructed from found materials. Top bar hives also give lower honey yields than Langstroth hives. The best way to begin bee keeping is to join a local beekeeping support group. Because most support groups use the Langstroth hive, this article will focus on this type of hive.
Langstroth bee hives can be purchased or constructed. At a minimum, a bee hive consists of a bottom board, a deep body, a queen excluder, a shallow honey super, inner cover, and outer cover. The hive can be used for years as long as no contamination from disease such as foul brood exists. Your local extension office or state apiarist can inspect questionable equipment. Other basic starting needs include a smoker, a veil, and a hive tool. Even if the colony fails, a new colony can be established in the old equipment.
Set up the hive - Once the perfect spot has been located on your land, you can set up the hive. To keep the hive dry and to prevent rotting, begin by placing a couple concrete blocks on the site. Set the bottom board down on the blocks. Add shims to tilt the board slightly forward if necessary-this will help the rain and snow drain out of the hive. Excess moisture will kill bees.
Set the deep body on the bottom board. The entrance to the hive will jut out a bit. Think of it as a landing deck for the honeybees. On top of the body, the inner cover can be placed, followed by the outer cover. The shallow super can be added when the colony has built comb throughout a majority of the deep body.
Establish the colony - Bee hives need bees, and they can come from swarms and packages. Since swarms are wild and unpredictable, most people begin with a package. Area honey producers and industry suppliers take orders over the winter by phone and email, and sell packages of honeybees by weight every year in early spring, with and without queens. Unless you are near a queen producer, order a queen and a couple pounds.
The package is a small wooden box containing bees, a queen, and a can of syrup. Once you have the package home, you can install it, preferably in the late afternoon or early evening when the bees won't want to fly off to forage. Fill a spray bottle with sugar syrup or water. Set the package near the hive and light the smoker; put on your veil and other protective equipment as desired, such as leather bee gloves and a light colored shirt. Set the smoker on the ground near the hive to help calm the bees.
Spray syrup or water on the screen (side of the package) to calm the bees and make them easier to handle. When they are calm (and quit eating the syrup if you sprayed with syrup), remove the lid and the can of syrup that came with the package. Knock the box on the ground to get the bees at the bottom of the box. Remove the cage with the queen and close the box temporarily. Remove the cork from the queen cage; poke the candy plug with a small nail. Position the cage between the centermost frames, with the screened sides perpendicular to the frames. Going back to the package, open the box, shake and pour the bees on top of the queen cage. Set the package on the ground. Any remaining bees will work their way to hive over time. Carefully place the inner and outer covers on the hive. Insert an entrance reducer if you have it. Give the bees at least 24 hours together so prevent them from abandoning the hive and encouraging them to bond with the queen.
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