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Modern Hive

Basic Beekeeping  --  Getting Started

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Getting Started:

The best time to start beekeeping is in spring time.  Fruit trees and flowers are in bloom and should supply the new colony with sufficient nectar and pollen.  If you have never kept bees before, do not start with more than two or three hives.  Having a few bees around doesn't make you a beekeeper.  Some people become bee-havers.  The difference lies in how much you know about bee behavior and how successfully you apply this knowledge!

Who can keep bees?

  Beekeeping can be undertaken by anyone who has enough ability and determination to look after the bees properly, enough courage to work with bees, and enough money to buy bees and equipment.  Please note:  Before you get into beekeeping, you should check to make sure local zoning laws allow you to keep honey bees and what your reaction is to bee stings.

Getting bees

Traditionally a person starts beekeeping by building hive equipment, buying packages of bees, and installing the bees into the equipment.  It is possible that you could purchase a nuc (a nuc is a small hive.  Generally it can be three, four, or five frames of brood and bees with a queen.  The bees have begun to build new comb and the queen is already laying eggs.  Or a person could buy a complete hive.  We will discuss each:

1)  The complete hive   This is the easiest way to get started.  It does have some drawbacks.

wpe48759.gif (4360 bytes)   Double Deep       

  wpe95314.gif (3298 bytes)  Story and a half      

 wpe98470.gif (2346 bytes)    Single

Above are three typical configurations of bee hives that you might find for sale.    The price you will pay for a hive can vary considerably.  Don't pay more than what you would spend for brand new equipment and bees.  At present that should be no more $150.00 per double hive configuration.

  • The hive will have to be moved to your location.  The question here is who is going to move the hive?  If it is your job to move the hive, you will need some means to pick it up, some means to transport it, and a method to prevent the bees from getting out of the hive. 
  • Check for disease   You should also make sure the bees and equipment are free of American foulbrood.  The easy way to do this is to have the bee hive inspected by a state or county bee inspector.  Note:  Not all states have inspectors.  If your state does not have bee inspectors, then have someone who you can rely on inspect the bees before you purchase them.
  • Check for condition of queen and bees   If you wait until spring to purchase a hive of bees, you have the advantage of being able to examine the brood nest.  Is the queen laying a good brood pattern?  Is there a good population of bees?  Do the bees have enough honey stores to carry them through a period of drought? If you can not answer these question, find someone to take along with you who can answer them.
  • Condition of the hive  Usually the hive will not be made of new boxes or frames.  Frames that contain comb which is very dark and black are old. Older frames will often have damage from mice at one time, and the bees fill in the area of the comb eaten away by the mice with drone cells.  Frames like this will need to be replaced.   Boxes, lids, and bottom boards my also need to be replaced before long.   Wood that is not protected by a good coat of paint will rot in time.  This happens to the bottom board first because it comes into contact with the ground or blocks it rest on.

    The major advantage is that you do not need to do much.   The major disadvantage is you could be buying some else's problems.

2)   Nuc's  wpe40175.gif (9389 bytes)

     A nuc is nothing more than part of a  hive of bees.   It does not come in a full size hive body.  Often nuc's are sold in cardboard boxes which provide a temporary shelter for the bees.  The nuc will have a laying queen (usually a young queen), several pounds of bees, drawn comb in which the queen is already laying eggs, some honey and pollen stores and is roughly four weeks ahead in development than a package of bees would be.  The bee population in a nuc will not decline because new bees are emerging to replace worker bees that die.  The hive made up with a nuc will develop much faster than a hive made up with a package of bees.

   The major advantage is that you get a quicker start with a nuc than with a package of bees.  The major disadvantage is the possible spread of disease carried on the frames of the nuc.

3) Package bees/ swarms


   wpe03244.gif (11551 bytes)I have included both package bees and swarms together for one obvious reason:  They both develop at just about the same rate. Package bees are ones which are shipped in screen wire cages for the purpose of starting new colonies.  They are sold as 2 pound, 3 pound, and 4 pound packages with the 3 pound package being the most popular.   


wpe26196.gif (16446 bytes) Swarms on the other hand are found hanging in a tree or on some other object such as parking meter or maybe even a car.  Usually they are free for the taking because the person who owns the property wants them gone.  At one time swarms were plentiful but no more due to the mite death of many of the wild bees that populated trees in our  cities and forest.  They do occur though and you might contact your local fire department and let them know that you would collect such a swarm if the fire department is notified by a worried property owner.  To read about how to hive a package, go to:  Package bees 

  The major advantage of starting a package of bees is: 1)  you know that your bees are disease free, [bees shipped in packages must be state inspected at the point of origin]   2) you can install them into new equipment to insure that disease is not transported from other comb, and 3) you can follow the development of your hive of bees from its very beginning thus learning more about the development of a hive.    The major disadvantage is the new colony is going to take more time to develop and most likely produce little honey the first year.