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Beekeeping FAQs and Tips

Here are some of the most common beekeeping questions that we talk about in this article:

These are just a few examples of common questions asked by beekeepers. There are many more questions that may arise, depending on the specific situation or concerns of the beekeeper.

How do I start beekeeping?

Starting beekeeping can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Research and Learn: Before starting beekeeping, it is important to learn as much as possible about bees, their behavior, and their needs. Attend local beekeeping classes, read books and articles, and talk to experienced beekeepers.
  2. Obtain Equipment: Purchase or assemble the necessary equipment, including a hive, protective clothing, smoker, hive tool, feeder, and bee brush. To get started, you can always get a starter kit with the essential tools.
  3. Choose a Location: Find a suitable location for your hive that is sheltered from the wind and receives plenty of sunlight. Ensure there is a source of water nearby for the bees.
  4. Obtain Bees: Purchase bees from a reputable source, such as a local beekeeping club or supplier. You can choose to start with a package of bees, a nucleus colony, or try to catch a swarm.
  5. Install Bees: Install the bees into the hive according to the instructions provided with the bees.
  6. Monitor the Hive: Check on the bees regularly to ensure they have enough food and water, and to monitor their health and behavior.
  7. Harvest Honey: Once the bees have built up their honey stores, you can harvest the honey using an extractor.

Remember that beekeeping requires commitment, time, and effort. Be prepared to invest time in maintaining your hive and learning about the needs of the bees. It is also important to follow local regulations and ordinances regarding beekeeping.

Working apiarist in a spring season.

What equipment do I need for beekeeping?

Beekeeping requires some specialized equipment to keep the bees safe, healthy, and productive. Here are the basic pieces of equipment you will need:

  1. Hive: The most important piece of equipment is the hive itself. Hives are typically made of wood and consist of boxes or frames that hold the comb where the bees live and store honey. I recommend starting with a Langstroth Beehive, especially if you live in a colder climate.
  2. Protective Clothing: A bee suit, gloves, and a veil are essential to protect yourself from stings while working with the bees.
  3. Smoker: A smoker is used to calm the bees and make them easier to work with. It emits a cool smoke that helps to mask the bees’ alarm pheromones.
  4. Hive Tool: A hive tool is used to separate frames and boxes, and to scrape off excess wax or propolis.
  5. Feeder: A feeder is used to provide bees with a source of food, such as sugar water or pollen patties.
  6. Bee Brush: A soft-bristled bee brush is used to gently remove bees from frames and boxes.
  7. Honey Extractor: If you plan to harvest honey, you will need a honey extractor to remove honey from the comb.
  8. Wax Melter: A wax melter is used to melt down excess beeswax for reuse or sale.
  9. Varroa Mite Treatment: You may need to treat your hive for varroa mites, which are a common pest. There are several treatment options available, such as organic acids or essential oils. 
  10. Queen Excluder: A queen excluder is a mesh screen that prevents the queen from laying eggs in honey supers.

Keep in mind that some of these items may be optional, depending on your specific beekeeping goals and practices. You can consult with local beekeeping associations or experienced beekeepers to determine what equipment is best for you.

Keep it simple with a starter kit with the essential tools, you can always collect more tools as you learn.

Where can I get bees?

There are several options for obtaining bees for your hive:

  1. Local Beekeepers: Check with local beekeeping associations, beekeeping clubs, or nearby beekeepers to see if they sell bees or know where to get them. This is a good way to find bees that are well adapted to your climate.
  2. Package Suppliers: Many suppliers specialize in providing packaged bees, which are typically available for purchase in the spring. These packages typically include a queen and a certain number of worker bees.
  3. Nucleus Colonies (Nucs): Nucs are small colonies that consist of several frames of bees, brood, and a queen. Nucs are often considered a good option because they allow you to start with a small, established colony.
  4. Swarm Traps: Setting up a swarm trap can be a way to catch a free swarm of bees. However, this method can be unpredictable and requires patience.

When selecting bees, it is important to choose healthy, disease-free bees that are well suited to your climate. It is also important to obtain bees from a reputable source to ensure that they are not carrying any diseases or pests that could harm your hive.

How do I install bees in a hive?

Installing bees in a hive is an exciting and important process for beekeepers. Here are the basic steps for installing bees in a hive:

  1. Set Up the Hive: Before installing your bees, make sure your hive is set up and ready. This includes adding frames, boxes, and any necessary equipment, such as a queen excluder and feeder.
  2. Prepare the Bees: The bees will usually be transported in a package or nuc box. Make sure the bees have been properly fed and are healthy before installation.
  3. Install the Queen: The queen should be placed in the hive first, in a cage or clip. This will allow the worker bees to get used to her scent and prevent them from attacking her.
  4. Shake in the Bees: Next, gently shake the bees into the hive. Tap the sides of the package or box to encourage them to move out.
  5. Add the Frames: Once the bees have been shaken in, add the frames to the hive. Make sure they are spaced evenly and leave enough room for the bees to move around.
  6. Feed the Bees: Finally, provide the bees with a source of food, such as sugar water or pollen patties. This will help them adjust to their new home and start building comb.
  7. Close the Hive: Once you have finished installing the bees, close up the hive and leave them alone for a few days. This will give them time to settle in and begin building their colony.

Remember to wear protective clothing, including a bee suit and gloves, during the installation process. If you are unsure about installing bees in your hive, consider seeking assistance from a local beekeeper or mentor.

What do I do if my bees swarm?

If your bees swarm, it means that the colony has become overcrowded and the bees are looking for a new home. Here’s what you should do if you notice that your bees have swarmed:

  1. Stay Calm: Swarming bees can be intimidating, but remember that they are focused on finding a new home and are unlikely to sting if left alone.
  2. Locate the Swarm: Look for the swarm, which will typically be located on a nearby tree or other structure. The swarm may be quite large, and it can be quite loud as the bees communicate with one another.
  3. Protect Yourself: Wear protective clothing, including a bee suit and gloves, to protect yourself from any stray stings.
  4. Collect the Swarm: Once you have located the swarm, you can attempt to collect it. This can be done by gently shaking the branch or structure onto a sheet or cardboard box, or by using a bee vacuum.
  5. Move the Swarm: Once you have collected the swarm, you can move it to a new hive. This should be done as soon as possible to ensure that the bees have a safe and secure place to live.
  6. Inspect the Hive: After the swarm has been collected, inspect the original hive to ensure that there are no other swarming preparations taking place. You may need to remove some frames or boxes to reduce overcrowding and prevent future swarms.

Remember that swarming is a natural part of a bee colony’s life cycle. If you are unable to collect the swarm yourself, you can contact a local beekeeper or bee removal service for assistance.

When should I inspect my beehives?

Regular hive inspections are important to ensure the health and well-being of your bees. How often you check on your bees will depend on the time of year, the climate, and the overall health and needs of your colony. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. During the active beekeeping season (spring and summer): Inspect your hives every 1-2 weeks. This is when the bees are most active and the queen is laying eggs. Regular inspections will help you monitor the health of your hive, check for pests and diseases, and make sure there is enough space for the bees to store honey and pollen.
  2. During the fall: Inspect your hives every 2-3 weeks. This is when the bees are preparing for winter by collecting and storing food. You’ll want to make sure the bees have enough honey and pollen to survive the winter, and that the hive is well-insulated.
  3. During the winter: Inspect your hives only when necessary, you should avoid opening the hive as much as possible. Instead, monitor the hive’s weight to ensure that the bees have enough stored honey and provide them with supplemental food if necessary. During the winter months, the bees are in a state of semi-hibernation and don’t require as much attention. However, if you notice any unusual activity around the hive, such as increased activity or dead bees, you may need to inspect the hive to make sure everything is okay.

Remember, it’s important to maintain a regular schedule of inspections to ensure the health and well-being of your bees. However, it’s also important to be flexible and adjust your schedule as needed based on the specific needs of your hives.

Remember that every hive is different, and the frequency of inspections may need to be adjusted based on the specific needs of your colony. If you notice any signs of trouble, such as unusual behavior, dead or diseased bees, or low honey stores, you should inspect the hive immediately.

Beehive Inspection sheets homestead harvest
Get on Etsy: Beehive Inspection sheets with beekeeping calendar and planner bundle, printable, beekeping logbook, beehive tracker, hive management log

What are common beehive pests?

There are several common pests that can infest beehives. Here are some examples:

  1. Varroa Mites: Varroa mites are external parasites that feed on the hemolymph (blood) of adult bees and developing brood. They weaken the bees and can transmit viruses, leading to colony collapse.
  2. Wax Moths: Wax moths are insects that lay their eggs in the cracks and crevices of beehives. The larvae feed on wax and honeycomb, weakening the structure of the hive.
  3. Small Hive Beetles: Small hive beetles are beetles that lay their eggs in beehives. The larvae feed on honey, pollen, and brood, and can destroy the hive.
  4. Ants: Ants are attracted to the sweet scent of honey and can invade beehives, stealing honey and killing bees.
  5. Mice: Mice are attracted to the warmth of beehives and can chew through comb and frames, destroying the hive.
  6. Hornets and Wasps: Hornets and wasps are predators of bees and can attack and kill bees at the entrance of the hive.

It is important to monitor your hives regularly for signs of infestation and take appropriate measures to control the pest population. Preventative measures such as proper hive management, keeping the hive clean, and reducing the entrance size can also help to deter pests.

How do I prevent or treat pests and diseases in my hive?

Preventing and treating pests and diseases in your hive is important to ensure that your bees remain healthy and strong. Here are some tips for preventing and treating pests and diseases in your hive:

  1. Monitor Your Hive: Regularly inspect your hive for signs of pests and diseases. Look for dead or discolored bees, irregular brood patterns, and abnormal hive activity.
  2. Practice Good Hive Hygiene: Keep your hive clean and free of debris. Remove any dead bees or wax buildup, and scrape off any propolis or burr comb.
  3. Use Integrated Pest Management: Implement an integrated pest management strategy to prevent and control pests in your hive. This includes using non-toxic methods, such as screened bottom boards, drone trapping, and powdered sugar dusting.
  4. Control Varroa Mites: Varroa mites are a common pest that can weaken and kill bees. Control mites by using miticides, such as formic acid or oxalic acid, or by using natural methods, such as drone trapping or powdered sugar dusting.
  5. Manage Foulbrood: Foulbrood is a bacterial disease that can kill entire colonies. Practice good hive hygiene, replace old comb, and treat infected hives with antibiotics if necessary.
  6. Provide Proper Nutrition: Ensure that your bees have access to adequate food and nutrition. Supplement their diet with sugar water or pollen patties if necessary.
  7. Keep Records: Keep detailed records of your hive inspections, treatments, and any issues you encounter. This can help you identify and address issues quickly and effectively.

By following these tips, you can prevent and treat pests and diseases in your hive and ensure that your bees remain healthy and strong.

More on Varroa mites 

Varroa mites are a type of parasitic mite that infest honey bees. They are external parasites that feed on the blood of adult bees and developing bee larvae. Varroa mites can weaken and kill entire bee colonies if left untreated.

Varroa mites are considered one of the most serious threats to honey bee health and are found worldwide. They were first detected in the United States in the 1980s and have since spread to nearly every beekeeping region in the country.

The mites are small, reddish-brown in color, and can be seen with the naked eye. They attach to bees and can be found on their bodies or in the crevices of the beehive. Infestations of varroa mites can be detected through careful monitoring of the hive and checking for signs of weakened or diseased bees.

Controlling varroa mites is an important part of beekeeping management, and there are several methods available to help reduce their numbers. These include using chemical treatments, mechanical methods, and integrated pest management strategies. Beekeepers should monitor their hives regularly and work with a qualified expert to develop a management plan that suits their particular situation.

PRO TIP: A good tool to have is a Varroa Mite Checker to check for and treat Varrora Mites.

How do I know when I can harvest honey from my hive? 

Harvesting honey from a beehive requires careful timing to ensure that the bees have produced enough honey to sustain themselves throughout the year. Here are some signs that you can look for to determine whether your hive is ready for honey harvesting:

  1. Honey Supers: The bees store honey in the top section of the hive called the honey super. Once the honey supers are full and capped with wax, it’s a sign that the bees have produced enough honey to share with their keepers.
  2. Time of Year: The timing of honey harvesting depends on the climate and local flowering patterns. In general, most beekeepers harvest honey in the late summer or early fall, after the bees have had enough time to produce a surplus of honey for the winter.
  3. Bee Population: You should also ensure that the population of bees in the hive is strong and healthy. A weak or sickly hive may not have produced enough honey for harvesting.
  4. Bee Behavior: The bees’ behavior can also be a sign of whether they are ready for honey harvesting. If they seem agitated or defensive, it may be a sign that they are protecting their honey stores and are not yet ready to share.

Once you’ve determined that your hive is ready for honey harvesting, you’ll need to remove the honey supers and extract the honey. It’s important to follow proper safety protocols and use the right equipment to avoid harming the bees or yourself. You can also consult with experienced beekeepers or attend beekeeping classes to learn more about the best practices for honey harvesting.

How do I harvest honey from my hive?

Harvesting honey from your hive can be a rewarding experience. Here are the basic steps to harvest honey from your hive:

  1. Choose the Right Time: Wait until most of the honey in the honeycomb has been capped with wax before harvesting. This means the honey is ripe and ready to be harvested.
  2. Smoke the Hive: Before you start harvesting, use a smoker to calm the bees and reduce the risk of being stung. Smoke the entrance of the hive and wait a few minutes for the smoke to take effect.
  3. Remove the Honey Supers: Remove the honey supers, which are the boxes that contain the honeycombs, from the hive. Be careful not to disturb the brood chamber, which is where the queen bee and the baby bees are located.
  4. Brush the Bees off the Frames: Use a bee brush to gently brush the bees off the frames. Be sure to do this gently and carefully so as not to harm the bees.
  5. Extract the Honey: Use a honey extractor to extract the honey from the frames. Place the frames into the extractor and spin them to extract the honey. Alternatively, you can cut the honeycomb and use a crush and strain method to extract the honey.
  6. Filter the Honey: After extraction, filter the honey to remove any bits of wax, debris, or air bubbles that may have accumulated during harvesting. You can use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth for this purpose.
  7. Bottle and Store the Honey: Bottle the honey in clean, food-grade containers with tight-fitting lids. Store the honey in a dry location, away from humidity or moisture.

By following these steps, you can harvest honey from your hive and enjoy the sweet rewards of your hard work.

How do I properly store harvested honey? 

Proper storage of harvested honey is important to maintain its quality and prevent it from crystallizing or spoiling. Here are some tips for storing your honey:

  1. Use Clean Containers: Store your honey in clean, food-grade containers that are free of any residues or odors. Glass jars, plastic containers, or food-grade buckets with tight-fitting lids are good options.
  2. Filter the Honey: Before storing, filter the honey to remove any wax, debris, or air bubbles that may have accumulated during harvesting. You can use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth for this purpose.
  3. Keep it Dry: Honey should be stored in a dry location, away from humidity or moisture. This helps prevent fermentation or spoilage.
  4. Avoid Heat: Exposure to heat can cause honey to crystallize or lose its flavor and aroma. Store your honey at room temperature, away from direct sunlight or any sources of heat.
  5. Label and Date: Label your containers with the date of harvest and any relevant information, such as the type of honey or location of the hive. This can help you keep track of your inventory and maintain quality control.
  6. Rotate Your Stock: Honey does not spoil, but over time it can crystallize or darken in color. To ensure the best quality and flavor, use or sell your honey within a year of harvest, and rotate your stock regularly.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your harvested honey stays fresh and delicious for months to come.

What should I do to prepare my hive for winter?

Preparing your hive for winter is important to ensure that your bees survive the cold months and are healthy and strong for the next season. Here are some tips for preparing your hive for winter:

  1. Ensure Adequate Food Stores: Bees need a sufficient amount of honey to survive the winter. Make sure that your bees have enough food stores to last them through the winter by leaving at least 60-80 pounds of honey in the hive.
  2. Check for Diseases and Pests: Inspect your hive for any signs of diseases or pests, such as varroa mites or foulbrood. Treat any issues before winter sets in to prevent the spread of diseases and keep your bees healthy.
  3. Reduce the Entrance: Reduce the size of the hive entrance to prevent cold drafts from entering the hive. This helps the bees conserve their energy and maintain a warm temperature in the hive.
  4. Provide Adequate Ventilation: While reducing the entrance, it’s also important to ensure that there is adequate ventilation in the hive. Good ventilation helps to prevent condensation, which can lead to mold and disease.
  5. Insulate the Hive: Insulate the hive to help regulate the temperature and maintain warmth in the hive. Use insulating materials, such as foam insulation or a moisture board, to help keep the hive warm.
  6. Keep the Hive Dry: Ensure that the hive remains dry throughout the winter. Check for leaks or moisture buildup and make any necessary repairs to prevent dampness in the hive.

By following these tips, you can help prepare your hive for winter and ensure that your bees are healthy and strong for the next season.

How can I attract more bees to my garden?

Attracting bees to your garden is not only beneficial for the bees themselves but also for the pollination of your plants. Here are some ways to attract more bees to your garden:

  1. Plant Bee-Friendly Plants: Plant flowers that bees are attracted to, such as sunflowers, lavender, salvia, borage, and zinnias. Bees are attracted to flowers with bright colors, especially blues, purples, and yellows.
  2. Provide a Water Source: Bees need water for hydration and to regulate the temperature in their hives. Provide a shallow water source, such as a birdbath or a shallow dish with pebbles, for bees to drink from.
  3. Avoid Pesticides: Pesticides and insecticides can harm bees and other beneficial insects. Use natural pest control methods, such as companion planting or handpicking pests, instead.
  4. Provide Nesting Sites: Some bee species, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees, nest in holes and crevices. Provide nesting sites, such as a bee house or a hollow stem bundle, for these bees to lay their eggs.
  5. Create a Variety of Plants: Bees are attracted to gardens with a variety of plants that bloom at different times throughout the year. This provides a consistent source of nectar and pollen for bees.
  6. Avoid Hybridized Flowers: Hybridized flowers may not produce nectar or may be less attractive to bees. Choose heirloom varieties of flowers and plants instead.

By following these tips, you can create a bee-friendly garden that attracts and supports a healthy population of bees.

Oatmeal and Honey Soap Recipe (With Lye)

Natural Soap recipe to make with your harvested honey. This is the “with Lye” version. Lye is available online. There is also a soap base version with no lye if…

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