How Do You Keep Bees?
Are you interested in keeping your own bees but not sure where to start? Here are some tips on buying an established bee hive!
Buying an Established Hive
The easiest way to start with bees is to buy a hive from a beekeeper. Scout through the ads in the rural papers.
The advantage of this approach is that you buy a hive already established and with all the equipment necessary. The disadvantage is that if such a hive has not been re-queened from some time, or if it has not been robbed recently, the bees are likely to be in a savage mood. If the bees are lively, don't worry unduly; just be prepared to rug up. Sometimes a move to a new location will quieten an aggressive hive: it is always worth trying.
If the hive is choked full of honey, don't move it before you have looked through it, cleaned up the frames and extracted all the honey. This is very important. If the bees are in a bad mood they might panic on being moved. When this happens, heat is generated inside the hive, which melts the wax, so when you open the hive on arrival you are likely to find a sticky mass of honey and dead bees oozing out of the front of the hive. For the same reason, don't forget to use the migratory lids with ventilation holes.
One last point about buying an established hive: don't buy home made boxes and equipment; they can be more trouble than they are worth, because often they do not match the standard sizes.
A popular way to start is to buy a nucleus hive, which is usually a small box with four or sometimes six frames of bees. The absolute minimum number of frames in a nucleus hive with brood is two. If you have a reasonable honey flow in the year after purchase, your nucleus hive should build up to be a strong hive.
Generally, for the beginner who simply wants to have hone for personal consumption, a nucleus hive is too small to produce the amount of honey required. These hives are used as the first stage of starting off new hives so you may as well buy a full sized one immediately and be producing honey from the outset.
A swarm consists of a queen leaving a hive, taking worker bees with her, to start a new colony elsewhere.
Normally a hive starts to breed in spring, and as the population builds up the queen begins to lay drone eggs. Then, when the hive reaches full capacity, the workers will make several queen cells. When these are capped the hive will swarm, the old workers leaving with the swarm and the old queen. Rain may delay swarming for a day or two. Bees in a swarm are usually gorged full of honey and quite docile, unless they have been there for a few days.
How you collect a swarm depends on where you want to put your new hive. If convenient, simply put your hive box underneath the swarm, shake all the bees into it and put a lid on. You won't get every last bee. If you want to set up your new hive somewhere else, transport the swarm in a box or super to the desired location. Set up your super, tip the swarm in and put on the lid.
When you put the swarm in their new home - put in a frame with new foundation wax; because the bees, being gorged full of honey, will want to start building honeycomb. You can also, if you wish, put in a frame of brood from another hive, in case there is no queen in the swarm. The bees will be able to raise a new queen from the eggs in the brood frame.
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