Beekeeping: The Best Beginners’ Guide

If you are reading this article, it’s surely because you made two excellent decisions: First, you decided to start your own beekeeping activity. Well madam/sir, congratulations, your choice couldn’t be better. Second, you are in the right place. Don’t worry if you have no clue on how to begin, through this article, we will cover all what you need to know and to do to make beekeeping the pleasurable and fulfilling experience it should be.

So look no further, we provide at Faming Style the most useful and complete information for beginners in beekeeping among other different farming activities.

Why beekeeping?

beekeeper

For plenty of reasons: sharing the passion with other beekeepers in your region, getting fresh and delicious honey, helping actively in preserving the environment or simply making a childhood dream come true.

Whatever your motivation is, you may want to discover the following concerning the importance of bees in our lives.

Pollination

pollination

Bees perform more than 75% of the pollination work all over the world. It’s the process by which bees and other insects transport pollen from male parts of a plant to the female parts of another. As you can imagine, this is a vital activity for vegetal life on earth. Unfortunately, as the decline of bee colonies continues (more than 40% of colonies died in 2015 in the US), disastrous effects are to be foreseen environment and economy wide.

Honey production

honey production

Fresh unprocessed honey is an excellent nutritive choice thanks to the multitude of vitamins and enzymes it contains. It is also full of antioxidants. Here again, the production is less every year mainly due to the important use of pesticides, and to the permanent climate change.

Long story short, besides being a fulfilling, enjoyable and greatly rewarding activity, beekeeping has far more important environmental benefits as bees are considered to one of the most important insects for human life.

Once you made the decision, these questions will emerge: what types of bees are there? How to get the beehive? What equipment will you need? What does a beekeeper need to do to protect his bees?  How does he protect himself from stings? What should he expect from them?

Before answering all of these question though, we should first know more about bees. For that, we present some general knowledge about bee types, morphology and hive functioning.

Get to know bees

What are the body parts of a bee?

bee body

The bee is an insect that has three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. Three major parts compose the body of a bee:

The head

The head contains:

Two buccal parts

Mandibles: serve as scissors through which the bee molds wax and kneads propolis.

Proboscis: constituted by the maxillae and the labium. When expanded, a proboscis measures between 2 and 3 inches depending on the specie.

Eyes

That are wide apart for the queen and the worker bees but contiguous for the drones.

Antennas

Which the bee uses ingest and digest partially its food. It also serves her to see, to hear and to smell.

The thorax

The thorax is divided into three segments each of which has a pair of legs. The second and the third segments contain a pair of wings each. The thorax is the body part that the bee uses to move as it contains the necessary muscles allowing her to fly and to walk. The bee also uses its thorax to collect pollen.

The abdomen

The abdomen is generally hairy. It contains 7 visible segments as well as the stinger. The majority of the bee organs and some of her glands are also found in the abdomen.

What kind of bees live in hive?

The queen

queen bee

The queen is the mother of all the bees in the hive. She live approximately 5 years during which she lays more than 1500 eggs every day. Worker bees feed her royal jelly all her life.

The queen stays in hive she was born in all her life. When she becomes adult, she goes out at the occasion of the nuptial flight in which she mates with males and lands to start a new colony. It is the only time the queen goes out of the hive.

Drones

drone

They are male bees with the sole purpose of mating with the queen and producing offspring. Drones do not have stingers.

Hundreds of them live in a hive and are fed honey by worker bees. Mating with the queen is fatal to drones. Those who stay at the hive are thrown out by the month of august. They reappear as baby bees (also called Lavras) again in autumn.

Worker bees

worker bee

Workers bees are female bees that –unlike the queen- don’t have reproductive capacity. They ensure the good functioning of the hive. They exist in large numbers.

Unlike drones, they come from fertilized eggs. They also keep the same size and don’t grow.

Worker bees accomplish a variety of tasks: cleaning, feeding the queen and the drones, transporting and storing pollen and nectar, producing wax, and also protecting the hive against any kind of intrusion (even from bees not from the same hive).

What does the bee produce?

Honey

honey

Bees are miraculous beings. To produce honey, they can carry nectar as heavy as their own weight. Compare this to the most sophisticated airlines which can’t carry more than a quarter of their weight.  Bees put the nectar in special “sacs” and transport to the hive. The indoor bees (we will discover types of bees later) then pass it mouth to mouth until moisture is reduced to 20 percent which turns the initial nectar into honey.

This honey is either used by humans or left in special storage cells in the hive for baby bees to eat. The decision depends on whether the beekeeper needs honey instantly or aims to grow his community. Wax is also produced during the honey production process.

Royal jelly

Royal jelly is one of the most appreciated products of bees. It is white and has the same consistency as gelatin. It is produced by worker bees and is the essential meal of a queen.

Royall jelly is very nutritive as it is rich in vitamins, lipids and amino acids. For that, it is generally prescribed as a medical treatment in many cases: menopause disorders, hypertension, cholesterol …Etc.

Wax

wax

Wax is produced by the four abdominal segments of worker bees. It serves to make cells where honey is kept. Wax has a transparent white color. It is ideally produced when the temperature of the hive exceeds 33 degrees.

Wax-producing glands begin to develop when the bee is one week old. Worker bees begin production after two weeks. The wax is then in a liquid state. The liquid then dries up in the form of thin slices in the bee abdomen. The bees blend them using their posterior legs before assembling them into cells where honey is put.

How a bee colony develops?

bee colony

Bee colonies develop progressively. A large colony contains up to 60 000 bees. When a colony becomes overcrowded, it tends to spin off. Generally, the oldest queen leaves the hive with 10 000 to 12 000 worker bees to establish a new colony. The new colony usually settles on tree branches forming dense clusters before “guide bees” go to look for a suitable place to install the colony.

If the colony needs a new queen, which happens if the beekeeper takes the old one or if she dies suddenly, the worker bees choose among the fertilized eggs and put them in special cells. They then feed one baby bee from these eggs with royal jelly. This baby bee will become eventually the new queen. The choice is done in only three days.

The development of a colony depends on the bees’ dynamism but also on weather conditions as well as on the richness of the vegetation around. If all optimal conditions are gathered, the colony can develop rapidly and thus be able to produce honey since the first season. If not, the beekeeper may need to wait until the second season to get any sort of reward.

Begin in beekeeping

beekeeper

Now that we’re more familiar with our beloved insects and with the way they live, let’s learn more about beekeeping.

But before we get into details, make sure when you are ready to install your first hive that neither you nor you close neighbors  have any kind of allergy to bees or to bee stings. If by inadvertence such an accident happens, contact your nearest poison center. You can then contact a professional beekeeper who can give you tips and inform you about the necessary precautions to help you deal with the situation.

You also should be aware of the standards relative to installing beehives in your backyard. These standards relate to the number of hives authorized, the distance to the street to be maintained…etc. Check with your local authorities because there are usually local rules that apply locally besides the common law.

One last thing, a third party insurance may be mandatory to start the activity. For that, contact the apiarian union of your region to get informed about the details.

Where to get the beehive?

beehive

The easiest way is to get it is via internet. But as a beginner, you may not have the sufficient hindsight to make a good purchase. A better option is to contact a professional beekeeper in your region. He would of course direct you the right address or at least provide you with useful contacts.

As a first step, buy more than one hive. This is simply to anticipate to lose one of them due to bad handling which is highly likely since you are just starting. Mastering the different task needs some time.

Where to install the beehive in the backyard?

beehive

Be aware first that you don’t need to have a hundred hectares to install a hive. As long as your backyard conforms to legal standards, you are qualified to be first beekeeper in your neighborhood. Most importantly, make sure to place your hive in a clear area near some vegetation.

A clear area makes it easier for bees to go and come to the hive. Also, if the hive is too close to tree branches, the noise it makes when it hits the hive scares the bees.

One important tip here, try to put your beehive in an elevated hedge, say for example, by two yards. This will protect it from occasional bad weather. Note that a temperature of 36° should always be maintained inside the hive. Also, a certain level of humidity is primordial to honey conservation.

Keep the hive away from zones of intense cultivation as the pesticides hurt much honey production. Also make sure that a fresh water is nearby your bee home so that they can quench their thirst easily.

How to take care of the beehive?

beehive care

Needless to say, you have to protect yourself against stings when you deal with beehives. Your bees will sting you, it’s inevitable. Bees won’t attack you without reason. As soon as they feel their home in danger, they won’t hesitate to do so. There are some precautions to take into consideration to avoid any kind of misunderstanding. For example, never approach their home front as it is usually their take off point.

You should get a special equipment. You can  buy appropriate protective clothing at your local agricultural cooperative or at specialized stores.

This clothing usually is composed of boots (tucked in in the pants), a white jacket, a veil, and rubber gloves. Pay attention to close well the uniform. When a bee intends to sting, she will always find an entry. Go for light colors and avoid to put any kind of perfume because it tends to destabilize them.

Always use special smokers before handling the beehive. The smell warns the bees that you are coming and thus, they tend to go to the bottom allowing you to take off the hive roof safely.

Another important precaution to keep in mind: do not open the hive frequently. Do it only when necessary as the bees need quiet to operate. Also do not open the hive if the outside temperature is below 15°. Luckily, the bees take good care of themselves, you don’t need to feed them unless you want to supply them with a special syrup that helps them keep warm during winter. Around Mars or April, you might want to open the hive to make sure that the queen is still there, that the colony has enough food, and that everything else is ok. From time to time, you’ll also need to clean the place.

What equipment will you need?

Before you embark in the journey, you will need a minimum of adequate equipment so that you can easily exploit you bee products or to intervene safely in in the hive.

Choosing the equipment is a crucial step. If it is not of good quality, it can harm the colony and affect its productivity. It is in fact the biggest and most important investment the beekeeper makes.

Let’s explore all what you will need to start a beekeeping activity:

Beehives

The first and most important tool to operate an apiarian exploitation. It contains a floor, a roof, a box with windows, and a quilt.

Food

To feed the bees during winter: most of the times, it is pollen substitutes.

A Tank

It is where you will keep the harvers. Beekeepers use special tank to preserve the quality of honey.  If there is a tap in the tank, you can manage it easily.

Extractors

honey extractor

Photo credit: Don Hankins via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Used to take impurities off honey.

Special clothing

clothing beekeeping

For your protection: you will need Boots, jacket, veil, gloves and a smoker.

Even if you are beekeeping on a budget, the list above is the strict minimum. If not, there are some kits for beginners that contain more equipment. You can get one of them on the internet or in a special store.

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