This year was our first for keeping bees on the homestead. First we had to learn all about starting beekeeping, and I am glad we started by talking to other beekeepers and doing research. The hardest part was all the uncertainty involved. It isn’t much different than adding any other type of livestock into your life. You first do the research, get some first-hand stories, find beehive plans and build a suitable environment for the critters. Honey bees just happen to be very small critters and they come to your farm or backyard with 12,000 of their close friends and a motherly figure called the Queen. Of course even with all the research and questions we had before obtaining our first nuc of bees, uncertainty did rear its ugly head as we ventured into our honey bee farming project.
Getting the Bees
When our day arrived to pick up the nuc, I was unsure about having the file box size container of live bees in the car with me! Once I met the apiarist and received the bees, my fears were put to rest. The bees were safely contained in a well-sealed file box type container called a nuc. The bees seemed peaceful and fairly quiet. The apiarist gave us plenty of time to ask questions about how to keep honey bees happy and healthy. My neighbor and I headed back to her yard to install the bees in the new hive. At the time, we only had one bee suit and it was not mine, so I was the designated photographer. It was still early in the morning and the bees were still sleepy so I was able to get fairly close with the zoom lens without upsetting the bees. The frames were transferred from the nuc to the super and the cover was put on top. We made sure they had a shallow pan of water nearby, so they wouldn’t tire themselves out getting a drink after all the excitement of moving day. That was about it for the installation. The whole process took less than half an hour and was drama free. So far this honey bee farming project was a piece of cake! I can’t speak to installing a package of bees into a hive because I have not had that experience yet. What I have gathered, in my research is that the box is a little smaller and you gently shake the bees into the hive or super. The queen arrives in a small, enclosed box that is plugged with a candy. The bees work to free their queen by eating the candy plug. At least that is my understanding.
How to Keep Honey Bees Cool During a Heat Wave
Watch for reaction from the bees to high heat days. Even better, learn beforehand what should be done to avoid heat stress with your bees. Our bees started to collect on the outside of the hive, which is called bearding. We asked a local beekeeper about what we saw and he asked if we had the hive ventilated. I guess we missed that tip, when setting up the hive. The fix was simple. Put on the suit, find some small twigs and add a small twig between the layers of the hive to allow some air to enter. Once the hive was ventilated the bearding stopped. The bees were just too warm inside, and had decided to come out for some fresh air.
Fall and Heading into Winter
Our hive has successfully made it to fall. The bees have multiplied and the supers are full of honey. We opted to leave all the honey this first winter. The hive may not be strong enough to withstand extreme cold and we never know what kind of winter we will have. When spring arrives we should be able to harvest the honey once the bees start retrieving pollen and making more honey. Honey extraction equipment may be needed and this is something for us to research this winter. We are also feeding the bees sugar syrup to make sure that they make plenty of honey to get the entire colony through the winter. So far, learning how to keep honey bees has not been too stressful or too much work. But we have not kept bees through the winter yet. We are three quarters of the way through our first year as bee owners.
With any new livestock or animal venture, there will be things you learn along the way. Starting a honey bee farming project was no different. Asking other beekeepers how to start a honey bee farm is a good place to start. I will share with you a few tips we learned on our journey of learning how to keep honey bees.
- Don’t go into the hive without the protective clothing on. Even if you think you will only be a short minute.
- Stay out of the bee’s flight path and do not block their entrance with your body. The bees get really testy about this issue. When they want to get to the door, please don’t block their way.
- The best time of day to do any hive maintenance is mid morning. Most of the worker bees will be out of the hive. The worst time of day to try to work on the hive is late afternoon. The bees are trying to return home!
- Ventilation is very important to the health of the hive. It is important even during the winter so, we will be leaving the twigs between the layers. If the weather is extremely cold, we can reduce the size of the door opening to keep the hive warmer.
Stay tuned! We hope to be enjoying our honey when the temperatures warm up again in the spring. And we are both considering adding more hives for next year. I would like to have a hive on our property this year so I can watch them more often. Learning how to keep honey bees has been very rewarding.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.