When is the best time to get things together to raise bees next year?
If you're a beginner, there's no time like the present.You cannot just throw everything together and hope that it works.
Am I allowed bees where I live?
If in town, the very first thing that needs to be done is to ensure that bees are even allowed in the municipality. There will be wild bees holed up somewhere whether the city allows them are not.
I have seen hives in St. Louis County in a large back yard beside the interstate. I have even seen them on roof tops in Soulard (an old section of St. Louis) where population density is much higher. I have seen them kept in barns with slits cut in the siding to allow the bees an entrance. The most interesting hive I've seen was an observation hive in an office. The body was plexiglass so you could watch the bees doing what they do. Their entrance was 2" PVC that ran up then out of the building under the eave.
What equipment do I need?
If you plan on building your own, I suggest Building Beehives For Dummies. They have dimensions and instructions for everything needed including frames. I build everything but the frames.
If you are planning on buying your bee equipment, there are a multitude of options. Locally (mid-west) we have a Rural King that stocks everything you need other than bees. I believe that I have seen bee equipment in Tractor Supply also. I have seen them all over the southeast and as far west as central Texas. Check DuckDuckGo for suppliers.
Rossman Apiaries in Moultrie, GA, is my go-to for for some things. They own their own lumber yard and make all the wooden pieces that are needed for a hive. I use them for two reasons: I am originally from that area and like to help out locals; Rossman uses cypress in their hives. Cypress is not prone to warping and rotting quickly like pine or poplar. For this reason many old southern homes used cypress for siding and shingles.
I suggest you buy enough for two hives. If one of the packages you will later purchase does not take, dies or absconds, you will at least have one to work with.
For two hives you will need:
- 1 smoker. Wood smoke causes bees to focus on the inside of the hive. They start fanning the frames because they think there is a fire somewhere near. They protect the hive by blowing the smoke and heat away from the frames. OR
- 1 spray bottle. Sugar water can be sprayed on the bees. This calms them down as they are occupied with preening themselves and their sisters.
- 1 hive tool to pry frames from the hive bodies. You can also use a small wonder bar or crow bar.
- 1 frame grabber. This is not necessary, but makes pulling frames much easier.
- Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). This can be a full suit, a jacket with attached veil, or simply a veil.
The first time or two that I go into a hive in the spring I wear a jacket and veil. After that I only wear the jacket and put on the veil if the bees seem to be agitated.
- Gloves. Mine are a medium weight leather that allows for dexterity.
- 2 hive bottoms. Self explanatory.
- 2 hive lids.
- 2 top boards. These are boards the same size as the top of the hive and have a round or oval hole cut in them. The boards are flat on one side and have 1/2" runners on the other. They raise the lids off the hive bodies to allow for air circulation. The bees can also use them as a top entrance.
Many commercial beekeepers feel these are unnecessary and don't use them.
- 4 deep hive bodies. These can either be 8- or 10-frame. Older beekeepers tend to use 8-frame bodies because they can be as much as 10 pounds lighter when filled with brood, pollen and honey. These hive bodies are where one wants the queen to lay eggs and raise brood.
- 2 queen excluders. These are pieces of plastic or metal that have slits cut in them that allow workers to pass through but not the queen. Workers need a 3/8" hole to go through where a queen needs a 1/2" hole.
Many commercial keepers do not use these as they feel excluders cut down on the lifespan of workers. Going through these gaps speeds up wear on a worker's wings.
I personally have never used them and have not had brood cells mixed with honey cells.
- 4 medium hive bodies. These are where the magic of honey really happens. There may be some pollen cells here, but that will be strained out during harvest. These bodies are about 2/3 the height of deep bodies and are easier to move around.
- Frames. 16 or 20 deep and 16 or 20 medium frames. Frames with artificial foundation such as plasticell may be used. Plain sheets of beeswax cut to fit the frames may also be used.
I've used both and prefer the plasticell for honey collection.
Frames can be ordered with or without foundation. Plastic frames can also be ordered. I have never used those.
Though expensive, you may consider an EpiPen. A much cheaper alternative would be epinephrin and an injector. A prescription may be required for either.
When working with bees, remember that they are aggressive toward black and dark brown. Skunks are a bee predator. They are black and white. Black bears and grizzlies though not predating on bees will destroy hives to get the honey.
I have had bees sting me on and around my black watch band. You have been warned.
My next installment will be on ordering and installing bees.