Starting a Hive

Equipment

HIVE

One must first determine what type of beehive will be used.  Many options exist, from the classic Langstroth hive to newer flow hive designs.  Major factors in choosing a hive include how much space is available and cost.  Langstroth hives are vertically stackable boxes, where Long Box or Top-Bar hives require more ground space and are limited in size.  The traditional Langstroth hives are inexpensive because they are extremely common; however, the Langstroth type hive we choose to use, Apimaye Thermo Hive, costs more because of the hives amenities of being plastic and insulated; Apimaye Thermo Langstroth Hive will be used for the How-To's on this site.

         








 TOOLS 

Many tools are available for beekeepers, and starting out can be overwhelming.  Some tools are rarely if ever used.  The most valuable tools are a brush and a hive tool.  

Hive tool is a multipurpose tool that separates boxes or frames, breaking the propolis (propolis is a strong glue the bees use to seal any opening or movable part). Hive tools are available in many different styles.  Depending on the hive and/or need, a hive tool exists to meet any requirement.  It's main purpose is to pry and separate, but it can also be used to lift or do anything else that can be imagined.

A bee brush is used for removing bees from frames or any area of the hive that is being worked.  The brush helps keep the bees safe during bee removal.  The bristles of the brush are soft enough and  close together so the bees are gently pushed and not harmed.

Another way to remove bees from an area is to use a smoker.  The smoker itself doesn't remove bees, the smoke, produced by burning burlap or pellets, disrupts the chemical communication between the bees and they become docile.  After the threat of bee agitation has subsided the bees can be jolted or shook from frames.  If there is a swarmed hive, smoke will disrupt the calming signals and may cause agitation.  (Smoke may harm or cause illness in bees, for this reason we choose not to use smokers)

Frame grippers or pullers make frame removal efficient and easy.  Handling full frames with gloves or even bare handed can be slippery, the teeth on the gripper tool holds the frames still and the handles provide better traction for moving the frame from the hive to either a carrier box or directly to the extractor.

Uncapping forks can be used to pick off the the wax cappings the bees place on the open end of the cells to seal the honey, allowing humidity control and preservation until the bees need to feed.  Dragging the fork over a drawn and filled comb precisely picks off the caps; however, it is slow and if you have dozens to hundreds of frames to uncap, a fork is only useful for the hard to reach places.

Uncapping Knives are much faster at releasing the honey from the frames than uncapping forks.  The elongated blade of the knife reaches all the way across even deep frames.  The standard knife simply cuts off the wax ends and part of the cells.  Electric knives are much faster and need less effort (cutting through honey requires a fair bit of strength).  Electric knives use heat to melt of the caps and ends of the cells instead of cutting.  The electric knives are over ten times the price of the a standard sharp edge knife.

After the frames are uncapped use an extractor to centrifuge the honey out of the comb into the bottom of the extractor.  Tangential extractors have the frames surrounding the center with frames often parallel to the fram across from it.  The frames will form a triangle, square, or hexagon shape, depending on the number of frames the extractor can handle.  Tangential extractors need to be stopped then manually turn the frames around and place back into the extractor to pull honey from the opposite side, this turning may have to happen twice ending on the same side you started on to extract as much honey as possible.  Radial Extractors organize the frames as spokes on a bike, normally handling 10-20 frames at a time.  Radials require no turning and are faster than the tangential, but many beekeepers can't extract all the honey from the comb using this method.

When all the honey is extracted open the honey gate and filter the honey through a strainer called a double sieve (attached to a bucket) to separate wax, bee parts, and debris.  Clean raw honey will be collected into a honey bucket below the sieve.  After all honey is filtered you can open the honey gate on the honey bucket to fill any storage container you plan on using for your honey.

Wire wheels and spur wheels are used for embedding bee wire into a piece of foundation and securing it to the frame.  There are other ways to secure foundation, like heating the wires and melting the wires into the foundation.  We use plastic Handy Frames in our hives, which don't require wire but can still use wired foundation for extra support.

Queen catchers and queen cages are used to capture, isolate, and mark the queen for easy identification later.  By pinning the queen gently against the bottom of the queen cage one can put a mark with paint or glue a tag onto the thorax of the queen.  This process isn't necessary but helps in finding the queen rapidly and knowing when the hive needs to be re-queened.

CLOTHING

Bee Suits provide the most complete protection.  Pants, jacket, and veil are all connected together with minimal gaps for allowing  bees opportunities to sting.  There are many options of suits available in terms of grades and cost.  Size is important, err on the side of larger, due to range of motion, because restriction while in a suit could lead to dropping frames or boxes.  While working hives in the summer a full suit gets hot, because of this, many opt not to suit up during the warmer months of the year.

Veils make a great alternative to full suits.  Most of the time veils are worn by themselves while working on hives, though if frames are being pulled gloves normally are worn as well.  Veils alone are cooler and provide protection for the face and help prevent bees from becoming trapped in hair.  Some veils are weighted to help create a seal around the shoulders to prevent bee entry, but most veils are cinched around the neck or collar. 

Jackets with veils are an extra protection if you choose not to wear a full suit. They also cost less than full suits.  Similar, yet weaker, protection can be achieved by wearing a long-sleeved shirt.  Some jackets and veils are designed to connect together, and most have some sort of attachment even if it's not complete.

Gloves are important when opening a hive and spacing or pulling frames.  Most gloves are made of leather around the hands and canvas around the forearms.  There are those out there who work hives without any protective clothing, but those concerned about bee stings should wear clothing that aids in working with hives safely. 

Bees

New

Buying new bees comes with options.  There are about half a dozen different cultured bee species available, the two most popular being the Italian and Russian types.  A common option for how to acquire bees is getting a package of bees in one pound or three pound sizes.  One pound of bees is approximately 5,000 bees.  Packages are loose bees caged together with a queen bee cage in the center near the feed can, which is meant to sustain the bees for a few days while in the cage.  The queen is trapped in her individual cage (sometimes with servent bees).  These packages are poured or dumped into a prepared brood box with the queen cage arranged near the center of the hive plugged with a candy.

Another option in acquiring new bees is buying Nucs.  Nucleus Colonies or Nucs are a small set of frames that are combed and are heavy with brood and bees.  These nuc frames are simply inserted into a prepared brood box.  Nucs should be moved 5 or more miles away from the mother or originator hive to prevent the bees in the nuc from returning "home".  

It is also possible to acquire bees from a wild hive or a swarm.  If lucky enough to find a swarm, one can slowly capture the full swarm in a bucket or container with a lid.  Swarms stay relatively calm until they can establish a proper hive.  When capturing a wild hive it is not uncommon to lose many of the field bees during relocating the hive, and extracting from the hive may kill many.  It is not recommended for inexperienced beekeepers to attempt a wild hive extraction. 

Splitting

Every spring strong hives that have survived the winter will attempt a swarm.  When the queen requires more space to build the hive, she may leave the hive taking up to 60% of the current hive with her.  If a swarming event is expected you can split the hive by removing brood heavy frames with queen cells from the original hive and place them in an empty brood box. The bees will be able to start a hive and requeen themselves.  If the natural requeening fails a new queen can be purchased and placed in the new hive. 

Hive Preparation


Frames

Frames come in comb, shallow, medium, and deep depths and in full or half lengths.  The bulk of frames are wood and very cost efficient at about $1-$3 per frame.  Many beekeepers build their own frames because of the ease in doing so.  As mentioned before, we use plastic Handy Frames.  These plastic frames can separate in half and pinch the foundation when connected.  They also have built in support to hold the foundation in place.  There is another frame that is completely plastic including the "foundation" where the cells are already formed in rigid plastic and are permanent.  The argument against the plastic foundation is that bees create different sized cells depending on whether the cell is for brood or honey. 

Each box can hold 8-10 frames.   

Foundations

A beekeeper may choose to use foundations or have a foundationless hive.  Foundation is a wax base that the bees use as a template for their comb.  

Foundation methods are varied from 100% beeswax foundation to a secured wired foundation or a beeswax/plastic hybrid comb.  Different frames will hold the foundation differently, but essentially, the foundation encourages the bees to apply more wax to the current wax and shape the cells required for normal hive functions.  Using a foundation method means that the entire frame has a core of beeswax.  An argument against full premade foundations is that bees normally create channels through their comb for communication and passage.  Walling off every frame prevents the bees from creating these channels.

Foundationless methods allow the bees to draw out their comb in any style or fashion they choose.  The foundationless frames can be a bit of a misnomer because they can use thin strips of foundation to encourage the bees to start drawing out comb in a specific location (top of the frame).  A thin strip may be nailed or melted to the top slot of each frame to encourage the bees to draw straight frames. Some beekeepers alternate these foundationless frames with full foundation frames, so that every other frame has foundation.  The bees will use the full foundation frames as a vertical template to draw the next foundationless frame.  Another way to create foundationless frames is to melt beeswax and paint it onto the surfaces were the bees should start drawing out comb.

Create as many frames as needed to fill a brood box.  This may include all foundationed frames, all foundationless frames, or any mixture in between.

Brood box 

The brood box is the first box on the hive.  Below it should be the base board with the entrance in front and screen board below it.  The brood box is named such because it is where the queen lays her eggs.  If there is a queen excluder in the hive then the queen is restricted to only the boxes below the division, and she can't cross the excluder to the other side.  

Once the frames are ready place them in the brood box, leaving out the middle two (or so) frames to create a space for the nucs or a place to empty the package.  When using a package of bees, create a sugar water mixture and spray the bees while they are still in the package.  The sugar water will cause their wings to stick together and they will be prevented from fly momentarily (until another bee cleans them). Now pull out the feeder can and remove the queen, keep her safe and warm inside a jacket pocket.  The other bees should be easily poured/shaken in the empty space made in the brood box.  Next, place the queen in the brood box, remove the cork preventing her escape very carefully, without injuring her, and replace it quickly with hard candy or a marshmallow.  Hang her cage sandwiched between two of the interior frames.  If she is a brand new queen to the bees and spent no time with them, use hard candy for her plug. It will take the bees more time, about 2-3 days, to get her out, and meanwhile, she should be accepted by her new hive.  If the queen came with the package and has been with them for a few days then a small marshmallow will work fine as a plug and the hive will have her out in hours instead of days.  Put the top boards on, and close the hive entrance completely for the first day. 

Check to see if the queen is freed after a day or two and remove the queen cage, replacing the missing frames.  Open the entrance to 25% for the first week or so, until the hive is strong enough to defend a larger opening.  Slowly open the entrance over the next few weeks, until it is completely open.

Stands

Standard stands sit 3-4 inches off of the ground and have an angled landing platform directly below the hive entrance for the bees to end a foraging fly and walk into the hive to exchange their spoils.  Other stands are custom builds and may be raised 1-2 feet off of the ground.  It is critical to always have a landing platform because bees need a landing zone; they cannot accurately land in the entrance.  The higher off the ground, the lower the risk of ground invaders and flooding.  In extreme cases, hives have been moved to stand in trees; however, bears may still be a problem.


Feeding

Not all beekeepers feed their bees.  Not all those who feed their bees, feed them the same thing.  Some view it unnatural or impure to feed sugar water to bees; yet, if beekeepers are extracting honey, the food source the bees need, then they have a responsibility to replace it with a substitute.  Some feed the bee the honey they extracted or honey from a different hive.

Feeders

Different hive designs will require different feeders. Normal top feeders include an inverted 5 gallon bucket of sugar water with holes drilled in the lid for a very slow leak of the fluid out to feed the bees.  Entrance feeders insert into the entrance of the hive and hold a mason jar worth of feed, so it needs to be refilled often.  The Apimaye Thermo Hives have a built in feeder on the top of the boxes under the top cover, with four different access points for the bees to feed.

SYRUP

Syrup feed is usually a 1:1 sugar to water ratio during the summer and a 2:1 ratio in the fall, winter, and spring (winter only if outside temps remain above 50 fahrenheit throughout the season).  We use a feeder year round that follows the ratios outlined, but the mixture is closer to a Honey-B-Healthy (HBH).  1:1 sugar to water @ 4 lb, 2 ml lemongrass oil, 2 ml spearmint oil, 1 tsp lecithin granules.  Normally feeding HBH year round would attract honey robbers, but the Apimaye Thermo Hive locks together so the feeder is not accessible to the outside.  

CANDY

If winters are cold, bees will not take the syrup feed.  Candy is required to maintain bee populations over the winter if you extract honey.  The candy is a very high sugar to water ratio, boiled to candy stage.  This requires roughly 4 lb of sugar boiled with 2 cups of water, then poured onto a baking tray to cool and crack into pieces.  The candy cakes, or pieces, can be placed in the hive,  feeder trays, or candy within frames.  

POLLEN PATTIES

Pollen Patties are fed to bees when pollen supplies are low.  The pattie can be segmented or given whole, placed on top of the frames.  The Pollen Patties need to be watched while they are in the hive.  Hive beetles often lay eggs and have their larva hatch and feed on the patties.  Depending on need, the patties come in 4% and 15% pollen.  15% patties encourage honey production while the 4% help supplement food stores for winter.