How To Get Started In Beekeeping
Getting started in beekeeping can be an overwhelming experience. Wouldn't it be great if you had a list of everything you needed to get started without wasting money on unnecessary products. I often tell new beekeepers that beekeeping is a lot like fishing, there are some fishing lures that are designed to catch fish and others that are designed to catch fisherman. The same thing goes for beekeeping. There are many products on the market that are not necessary to keeping healthy bees. Here I will try to help guide you through the catalogs of beekeeping products and hopefully make your new hobby a great experience.
The first thing that you will need to decide on is what type of hive would you like to keep your bees in. The hive will be the home for your honey bees. In my experience the Langstroth hive is by far the simplest to work, with the greatest opportunity for success for the new beekeeper. You will need to consider how much weight you can lift by yourself, as honey supers and hive bodies can be very heavy. Most commercial beekeepers use deep boxes both for brood and honey however, they typically have forklifts to assist them in moving them. A good set up for a hive would be a deep 9-5/8" bottom box with a medium 6-5/8" box on top. These two boxes will make up the brood chamber where your queen will lay all the eggs to make new bees. If weight is an issue for you then choosing an 8 frame set up over a 10 frame would be a good choice. When first purchasing your bees, you will start by placing them in the deep box. Leave the medium box off for now until the bees have drawn out the honeycomb in at least 75% of all the frames in the box. At that point you will want to add the medium box on top to give your queen more room to lay eggs. You will also want to checkerboard the frames (see tutorial on checker boarding). Photo to the right is of a basic hive set up with a single deep hive body. This is how your hive should look at the beginning.
There are two types of bottom boards which will make up the bottom of your hive. There is a screened bottom board and a solid bottom board. A screened bottom board allows for additional ventilation and for debris within the hive to fall out of the bottom. I prefer a solid bottom board and choose to clean it once a year. I find that there is not a lot of benefit to using a screened bottom board and have found that grass and weeds can grow up into the hive causing all kinds of issues. Be sure to choose a bottom board that is the same width as the frame boxes that you have decided to go with. A 10 frame box would not work for an 8 frame width bottom board for example. You will want the bottom board to have a nice long landing area for the bees to congregate. You will want to have an entrance reducer which is a 3/4' tall stick that is removable and is placed in the main entrance of the hive reducing the size of the entrance. The entrance reducer is extremely important as it will reduce the size of the entrance that the bees will need to guard from other bees in your area to defend their honey in the hive. When you first install your new bees, you will want to reduce the size of the opening until it is time to add your medium box on top, at that point there will be sufficient bees to defend your hive from robber bees.
The frames are where the bees will make their honeycomb for storing nectar, honey, pollen and brood. Frames are either made from wood or plastic. I prefer wood frames as the plastic frames allow to many places for hive beetles to hide. Inside the frame will be the foundation on which the bees will begin drawing out their honeycomb. Foundation is either natural bees wax embossed with a honeycomb pattern or plastic embossed with honey comb pattern. I promote the plastic foundation coated with a layer of wax and find this method the most stable for inspections and extracting honey. Natural wax foundation I find can be more difficult to work with during the hot summer months and can fall out of the frames if not properly supported. For the new beekeeper I recommend wax foundation and coating it with melted wax which will help the bees draw it out properly.
There are many types of feeders on the market today. Top feeders, entrance feeders and frame feeders are the most popular. I do not recommend ever using an entrance feeder as this only promotes robbing from other bees and can wipe out your hive in a day. Top feeders are ok but costly, I recommend using a frame feeder with a top and ladders that help prevent the drowning of the bees. The frame feeder is placed in the hive just like your frames and keeps the smell of sugar syrup away from the robber bees.
Hive covers are the top lid of the hive and come in two styles. Telescoping lids have a rim that will fit over the top of the box completely sealing the top and usually have a metal cover. If using a telescoping cover you will also need an inner cover. The inner cover will allow you to remove the telescoping cover without it getting stuck to the top of the hive by propolis which is a glue used by the bees to seal gaps. I prefer the second type which is a migratory cover. A migratory cover is simply a plywood lid with a lip on both the front and back. The migratory cover sits directly on the hive leaving no additional space for hive beetles or wax moths to hide. The problem I have found with inner covers is that there is a lot of extra space that the bees need to defend from these pests. The first picture is of a telescoping cover and inner cover, the second picture is of a migratory cover.
Ready to make honey? Once your bees have built out both the bottom and top brood boxes with comb and your top brood box is 75% drawn out, it is time to start adding honey supers. Remember that full frames of honey are very heavy so choosing the right size box for you to lift is important. You can add either medium 6-5/8" or shallow 5-5/8" tall boxes as honey supers. Remember to order the same 8 or 10 frame size as your brood boxes. You may want to use a queen excluder that is placed between the brood chamber and honey super. The queen excluder will allow the bees to pass through the screen but not allow the queen to enter into the honey supers where she could lay eggs. If using a deep and medium brood box a queen excluder is not necessary and the queen usually will stay in the lower boxes. Always remember that once a box is drawn out to 75% it is time to add another box on top.
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