December 21, 2013
With snow on the ground and a cold north wind blowing it is the perfect time to start planning for your next season bees. This is written for the new beekeeper to give a broad overview of the tools/equipment needed, resources available, and purchase timing with respect to a Langstroth Hive.
Start your research early. Keeping bees is not a set and forget type of hobby. Bees need to be managed just like any other agricultural endeavor. Education and knowledge is helpful but “hands on” training provided by a mentor is the most valuable. There is not one seasoned beekeeper alive who would deny this.
Research: Ideally seek out your local or state bee club. Every state has one and in Vermont it can be found at http://www.vermontbeekeepers.org. Look for mentor programs, classes or training for beginning beekeepers. You will most likely find lots of people who would love to talk to you about getting started in beekeeping. This is how my wife and I got started and it has proved to be immensely profitable. We were given great advice, had people to call when we had questions leaving us feeling that much more capable. There are also beginning beekeeping classes offered by local beekeeping supply houses like Betterbee, beginning beekeeping courses at Champlain Valley Union High School, and various online resources. Be wary of the internet. If you see something on YouTube validate it with a local beekeeper just for good measure
Start your reading. There are many informative books on beekeeping for beginners out there. Some of them are Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad, The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum, and The Beekeepers Handbook by Diana Sammataro. These three books are good references when preparing to keep bees.
Subscribe to beekeeping magazines such as Bee Culture and The American Bee Journal. These are filled with abundant articles for beekeepers highlighting the many aspects and challenges of beekeeping, the products of the hive, and the overall beekeeping industry. Contact some beekeeping supply companies and request copies of their catalogs. These will help you gain an understanding of beekeeping lingo and provide insight into the costs of equipment.
Part of the research process is to determine if you can keep bees and where to locate the hive(s). You’ll need to know if your town or city has ordinances on keeping bees. Consider talking with your neighbors to learn how they will react to bees in the neighborhood. Choosing the right spot so the bees face the correct direction, have enough shade, and are protected from wind are all factors in location decisions.
Tools/Equipment: What type of equipment will you need? There are three beekeeping tools that I consider as part of the minimum requirement. They are a veil, a smoker, and a hive tool. The veil protects your face, more specifically your eyes, nose and mouth from stings. A smoker helps to manage pheromone communication particularly the alarm pheromone, and the hive tool which is useful for prying boxes from each other, lifting frames, and removing stingers from skin. These are just some of the needed equipment and tools.
What are the other items you will need? Well before you can have the bees you need a bee house. The hive bodies, supers, frames, inner cover, outer cover, bottom board, and hive stand make up a typical Langstroth honeybee hive.
I use wood for my hive bodies and supers. Polystyrene is available but I don’t lean that way. One particular reason is that if the hives need to be burned it would be illegal to burn the polystyrene. Why would the hives need to be burned? There are some bee diseases that are so dangerous that the state bee inspector has the authority to burn infected hives and frames to mitigate the spread of the disease. For your reference the disease is American foulbrood. Also, wood can be repaired when a bear rampages through your apiary.
Frames come in either wood or plastic; I use only wood frames as they are repairable. Many hive starter kits will include integrated plastic frame/foundation and this may be a good way for a new beekeeper to get started. The frame is useless without foundation. I prefer wax foundation for my supers and plastic foundation for the hive bodies. The plastic comes in white or black. I have tried both and prefer black as it seems the bees draw the wax better from the black as compared to the white. Also, with plastic it is suggested to brush on a thin layer of wax to give the bees a better starter
Inner covers fit over the top of the super or hive body depending on the stage of the season. They act as a layer between the hive boxes. Buy one that has a hole in the center. This allows for ventilation and a way for bees to exit the hive
Outer covers are the roof of the hive.
Bottom boards are the floor of the hive. They also can act as the landing pad for returning bees.
Hive tools are essential in the apiary. Purchase a good sturdy tool, preferably 10 inch to provide needed leverage. I suggest refraining from buying any tools referred to as economy. These are usually thinner and tend to flex too much reducing pry strength.
Smokers are available in various sizes and styles. Try to buy one that is at least 10 inches tall and has a protective heat shield. Again, avoid those listed as economy
The veil is what separates your head from the bee. They come in a variety of styles and types. I own an integrated veil and long sleeve jacket. Depending on your comfort level around the bees you might just want the tie down type or go for a full on body suit. What is important is that you are comfortable with the bees and if a full suit gives you this comfort then go for it.
Glove, we own a pair. Old-timers refer to them as bee crushers. They are useful for protecting hands when lifting boxes or dealing with peppery bees. But, for use in the hive when manipulating frames, they tend to be bulky and make it difficult to maintain a “feel” of the frame.
Late December through January is the time to order your bees.
Honeybees are typically available in two methods, a package of bees or a nucleus colony (nuc). A package of bees consists of about 15,000 bees (3pounds) and a queen bee. A nuc is either four or five frames of bees, a queen bee, and bee brood in various stages of development. A nuc is essentially a mini-hive that is transferred to a standard hive. Packages tend to be less costly than nucs, sometimes twice as less. Nucs have the advantage of being partially built up and tend to develop and provide honey quicker than packages. Finding local bees is always a plus.
The honeybees found mostly in the United States are the European honeybees of honeybee with the most common being the Italian and Carniolan. Here is a link http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/the-different-types-of-honey-bees/ that describes the other types of honeybees along with their traits.
Getting into beekeeping takes a fair amount of planning and preparation. By starting early you can minimize a lot of frustration and unnecessary mistakes leaving you better prepared and confident for a successful launch in to beekeeping!