The folks at HoneySmith Bees were kind enough to invite me to write a few articles to post on their website blog, and I am happy to do so. This series of articles will be tailored to the beginning Beekeeper and will focus on the first year. With easy access to written materials and YouTube videos, there has never been a time better for new beekeepers to gather information. I hope you enjoy the articles. I am sure they will not answer all your questions, and opinions vary on almost every topic in Beekeeping. If you have further questions or new Beekeeping topics you would like
to see touched on, please let us know.
Series – Part I
Before The Beginning
There are millions of topics to address in Beekeeping, but perhaps the best place to start is the beginning… or better yet, before the beginning. I can still remember a delightful Marine drill instructor saying to me, "…If you're not early, YOU'RE LATE"! The same goes for becoming a Beekeeper. The Spring Beekeeping season actually begins in the Fall or Winter of the previous year. Before the day that your bees arrive or you go pick them up, there are several things you need to prepare or keep in mind.
Once you have decided that the upcoming year (Spring) will be the year, I suggest spending a significant amount of time doing research. No, not everyone enjoys the research part, but it is essential. The more you know going into your first year about possible situations, the less stressful it will be. Plus, Beekeeping knowledge comes in many forms today if you are not into reading endless amounts of books, there are YouTube videos and several Podcasts.
***Before we go on, it is essential to note here you need to be fully aware of the rules in place within your county, township, city, and HOA about having beehives. Take the time to be sure about these rules before you spend any money on hives or gear only to find out you have to scramble to find another location to keep your bees. Consult local laws or ask your state apiarist on how to be sure you can have hives at your location before you move further.
WORDS TO KNOW
Learning some simple nomenclature will help when doing inspections, or perhaps even more important, it allows you to describe your problems to a mentor or another Beekeeper that may be able to help you. The more you know, the less stressed you will be, and the less stressed you are, the fewer stings you will get!
At a minimum you should know the following by name and sight-
Nucleus Colony (Nuc)
*There are many more terms that you will need, but these are just a start.
You can't learn to swim if you don't get in the water, the same goes with Beekeeping. The best way to learn to take care of a hive is to get one. And the next big question is where does a new Beekeeper get a Spring colony?!, HoneySmith Bees, of course! But, if you happen to be reading this outside driving distance of HoneySmith Bees, focus on getting your nucleus colony (Nuc, pronounced Noook) from a repeatable Beekeeper. Also, do not rule out swarm catching spring swarm; they are an easy way to get bees from another new Beekeeper that did not do the proper research, and their bees have swarmed.
You may also see Package Bees for sale a usually a much lower price than a Nuc. So you might be asking, do I get a package or a nuc, I could save a lot of money by just installing a package? My response to this for a first-year beekeeper will always be nuc, regardless of cost; this is one of those questions that is always up for debate and will be the subject of a later article. But, in short, buying a nuc is like purchasing an established mini hive that is a “ready-made family”, with all the needed parts to survive, and stay in a home they already built and enjoy. You place the frames in your equipment, and they start to work right away, gathering and growing. Purchasing a package is like purchasing a group of strangers, who just met after being ripped from their old home, got crammed into a new crapped home, given crappy food, and a queen that they do not know. It throws off the balance of the bees' natural life cycle and can make it hard for them to adjust once installed. My opinion on packages is they are more for a Beekeeper who has a couple years under their belts. At that point, the beekeeper would know how to handle them and give them the best chance of not absconding…. Nothing like seeing a hundred-dollar bill flying around your head in the form of a package of bees and then watching them fly off into the distance like migrating birds. Packages vs Nuc will be the subject of a later article.
So, you know you want bees in the Spring, you know where you are going to purchase them, now you need to decide how many to purchase. The simple answer to this for a new Beekeeper (Beekeeper) is more than one. But my suggestion for every new beekeeper is two. Another old saying you may have heard is, “Two is one, one is none.'' Having more than one new colony allows you to fix common problems, you may not be able to overcome with just the resources present in one hive.
You know you are getting two nucleus colonies for the Spring and you know that you have already sent in your money to HoneySmith Bees to secure your spots, now you need to know where to get your gear and what exactly to buy. This sets up some tough decisions for new beekeepers, but I can offer a couple of tips.
Go with Langstroth at least for the first few years. This will just make things easier for you as you are trying to learn the parts of the hive and casts involved. Get two full hive set-ups and an additional nucleus hive (this will be important later and will be the subject of another article). So a first-year beekeepers yard should look like this:
Don’t break the bank on wooden ware. If you live near Paradise, PA, by all means, visit Ike and Forest Hill Woodworking and get home high-quality gear, but if you don’t, the equipment from the mail order catalog places work just fine. You can even make your own if you have the time and lumber. I would suggest always buying the frames; this is something you want to be uniform for bee space.
You may not need a full head to toe bee suit. Unless you are highly allergic, you may not need a full bee suit. My go-to is a BJ Sherriff jacket only, but I have made do with just a long sleeve t-shirt and a veil. If you are checking only a couple hives, it won’t take long and a simple veil and long sleeve t-shirt won’t become uncomfortable, but if you are going to spend some serious time in the bee yard (or if you know you are going to be a beekeeper for many years to come) spend the money on a quality jacket. Do not buy them sight un seen, if you do, it probably won’t fit, and you won’t like it for whatever reason, but you will use it because you need it that day and won’t be able to return it (hence, money wasted you could have used for more frames, you’re gonna need them!). My suggestion is to ask other beekeepers what they have and try a jacket on before you buy one. Most people also get real tired real quick, of putting on an entire “beekeeping flight suit”.
Get a bucket or a tote to put your beekeeping items in. Not to state the obvious, but do not put a hot smoker in a plastic bucket or tote of any kind.
Here is a minimum list of gear you need.
Smoker (the Dadant version is best and get the bigger one right off the bat).
Here is a list of suggested gear to get as time goes on (this is what is in my box):
Veil or Beekeeping Jacket
Queen Marking Marker (for current year)
Sticky Notes (All Weather Version)
4 ½ Filet Knife
Extra Queen Cages (3 or 4)
One handed Queen Catcher
Winter has come and gone, your brain is bursting with bee knowledge, you had to start a Go Fund Me to get all the gear and frames you needed, and now, it is finally time to pick up your bees! Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. GET THERE EARLY – Find out when Sun Rise is and be there before that by half an hour. Depending on weather and temps, bees will be flying, and you want to be sure to get as many foragers as possible. Most apiaries won’t close the hives until you pick up, so the bees don't get too hot or too pissed!
2. GO TO "WELCOME" TABLE FIRST – Please visit the table or organizer first, before picking up NUCs, they will usually mark you off of a list. Keep in mind that this might not be the best time to ask the apiarist 100 questions because they want keepers to get their bees and be on the road, especially if they are selling several hundred at the same time. If you have questions or just want to talk bees, I am sure they would be more than happy to talk bees any other day then pick up days.
3. BRING YOUR PAID RECEIPT - In order to expedite the pick-up process, bring your paperwork.
4. BRING A VEIL OR BEE JACKET - Even if you don't think you’ll need it, bring it, because you will need it.
5. HAVE A PLAN - You should have your gear all ready to go by now (if you don't, get on it)! Set everything up the night before and then the installation will be easy!
6. SUGAR WATER FEEDING - Yes, the flow may be started in your area, but it is a good idea to feed them for at least a couple days until they orientate themselves to the area. I would steer clear of entrance feeders and use only internal feeders (hive top). This will encourage them to stay in the box and build needed comb. But, use whatever you feel most comfortable with.
7. TRAVELING HOME - Please arrange a safe mode of travel home from the apiary for both you and the nuc(s). Probably not a good idea to put them inside the car with you without proper ventilation and/or without properly securing the box. You don't want to get stung in the neck, going 70 mph down an interstate.
This article just scratches the surface on Beekeeping and gives a newbee some things to think about before picking up their bees on the first day. Like anything in life, planning is key. Sure, there are spur of the moment times in your life that make great memories, but becoming a beekeeper isn’t one of those. If you wake up and just happen to see that today is bee pick up day and think to yourself, hey I’ve always wanted bees, I don’t have any gear or background knowledge what’s so ever, but I think I’ll head over and see if I can get 10 packages or so and get started today… then you might as well travel back to 1995 and get a barbed wire tribal tattoo around both arms, because it would probably be a better decision and about the same amount of regret.