Unless you are one of those unfortunates who are allergic to bee stings, there is nothing more charming than watching bees work away on a field of blossoms. Their fuzzy little golden bodies zip from flower to flower, loading up nectar and pollen. As they go about their business of gathering up supplies for their hive, they are also pollinating many of the fruits and vegetables we need to survive.
Gifts from Bees
Pollinators – One of the greatest things about bees is their role as pollinators. While they are not the only creature that pollinates plants, they certainly are hearty contributors in this department.
Honey – Sweet, delicious honey on toast, in tea or in baked goods, simply yum.
Wax – Beeswax is used to make candles, seal bottles, create lip balm and much more.
Pollen – Pollen is an additive for a variety of herbal medicines.
Getting Started with Bees
Begin with a good book on beekeeping. If you aren’t certain whether you want to develop an apiary (a place for bees) then begin with one from your public library. Although some of the information might be a little dated, you can also get good books on just about anything from Project Gutenberg. Once you have some idea of what you are looking at and for, you will probably want to develop your own library of reference books about bees.
Contact the Beekeeping Community
Like many things, you can learn a lot from books but the real information is often best obtained from someone who is out there doing it. Beekeeping organizations exist around the world and are a great way to learn the basics before trying to set up your first hive. Like all clubs or groups, the quality of the social experience will vary, but people who are interested in bees are usually happy to share what they know.
What You Need to Keep Bees
- Correct Zoning: While bees don’t take up much space, they do sting. Check your local zoning ordinances before investing in beekeeping equipment.
- Protective Gear: While some people seem to be natural bee whisperers, it just makes sense not to put yourself at risk. You will want a white coverall, a hat, a bee veil, and gloves.
- Smoker: Bees get upset when you go poking around in their house. A smoker helps calm them down so that they are not buzzing around getting upset while you are checking them or removing honey from the hive.
- The Bee Hive: There are a variety of models, but it is a good idea to have a hive with removable frames so that you can easily check on your bees without creating too much of a disturbance in their home. Most resources recommend purchasing new hives to avoid acquiring an older hive where the bee colony died of a contagious illness. There are several that can linger in the wood of standard hives.
- Fields or Orchards of Flowers: Sometimes beekeepers rent out their hives to orchard owners. This is a sweet deal for both. The bees have access to plenty of blossoms, the orchard owner gets the trees pollinated, and both the beekeeper and the orchard owner have increased productivity.
- The Bees: Once you have all the gear, you will need to obtain some bees. They can usually be ordered from a beekeeping supplier. They will arrive in a small box, delivered through the regular mail system.
What to Do Before Your Bees Arrive
Before your bees arrive, you want to prepare. Have a clean, ready-to-go regular hive, or a smaller hive called a nuk, on hand. The nuk is in case the weather turns off cold when your bees arrive. The nuk is smaller than a regular hive, so it doesn’t take as much energy for the bees to keep it warm. If you match the style of your nuk to the style of the larger hive, you can simply lift the comb out of the nuk and into the bigger hive as soon as the weather warms up.
Have sugar water and heaters ready so your bees don’t get cold or hungry
What to Do When Your Bees Arrive
When your bees are delivered, you will want to get them out of their shipping container as quickly as possible. The container will arrive with one queen, contained in a queen cage, and two or three pounds of worker bees. Be sure to put on your protective gear before you open the shipping container.
- Tap the box firmly on the ground once to knock all the bees to the bottom. Remove the sugar syrup container that is plugging the entrance to the package, and then quickly remove the queen cage. The queen is packaged in a container to keep her from mingling with the others and getting things started too soon. Gently poke a small hole in the center of the candy that has her cage. Do this carefully. You don’t want to poke the queen bee. Place the queen cage in the hive or nuk.
- Tap the cage on the ground again to settle the bees to the bottom and remove the sugar water container again. Now, dump the bees into their new home.
- Now, close up the hive by carefully replacing the slates on the top of the hive. Avoid squishing any of the bees.
- Place the roof back on the hive.
- Make sure that the bees are in an area where they are neither too warm or too cold. Provide the colony with some sugar water to get them started.
Waiting to Let Them Settle:
The first few days after the bees arrive are the nervous ones because you aren’t sure if everyone is going to settle in together correctly. If everything goes well, the workers will eat the candy plug holding the queen in the cage. By the time she is released, they will be used to their new home and well acquainted with their new queen.