How to start beekeeping

It’s true that we’ve basically given up on the bee blog because, well, we got busy. However, someone showed interest in starting to keep bees today and I wrote this long email to her about it. I’m still very passionate about it, as you can tell. I know this post will seem a bit like an advert for certain companies – it’s by no means meant to be an endorsement, but just where we’ve gone to buy things!


Hi R***,

You’ve got me started on one of my favorite subjects, so I hope I don’t overwhelm you with information. However, doing is far better than reading…

Essentially, to get started you need bees, somewhere to put them, and equipment look inside the hives.

Somewhere to put them and equipment
If you’re not overly familiar with the components of a hive, there’s a good image here.

These are the hives we have (we like them and they’re really pretty). This kit also has MOST of the equipment you need to get going (they have a none “advanced” kit as well – the only difference is that I can see is that you get 4 hive bodies with the advanced and only 2 with the non-advanced. You’ll need 4 eventually anyway). We wouldn’t use the foundation (that’s the stuff inside the frames that the bees actually build their comb on) they provide with this kit, but prefer this kind (they are durable and you can see the eggs the queen lays in them so you have a good idea if she’s doing what she should be doing, like here). You’d need 32 sheets of this.

If you want a second hive, you have two options: buy a duplicate beginner kit or just buy just the stuff on its own. If you’re going to be enlisting the help of someone else when you inspect the hives (2-3 times per year – anyone who says you have to do it more often than this is probably stressing their bees out), I would suggest buying a second beginner kit because it has the second set of gloves, hat, hive tool, and an extra smoker.

If you wanted just the hive, it’s here and the 2 extra hive bodies are here. You’ll the frames for the 2 extra hive bodies as well (there’s 8 in each hive bodies, so 16 in total).

Since a lot of things come inside the beginners kit, but you’ll probably want to invest in one or two other things:
– white long sleeve and long legged overalls (you can get a “bee suit” but really, any washable white overalls will do). Bees like white – they don’t think it’s a bear.
frame spacer so the frames are the right distance apart (needed for a tidy hive and happy bees).
– Even if you want to leave the bees as natural as possible, it’s still good to treat them for mites at the end of the summer. This will make sure they’re strong going into the winter. We got a big box of the medication for this and would be happy to share, since it will take us a while to get through them anyway.

Word about shipping
Brushy Mountain charges a lot for shipping (well, considering how big the boxes are, it’s probably fair), which raises a dilemma because we have a Brushy Mountain dealer in Damascus MD, but he charges an 8% premium…so we’ve just decided to eat the shipping costs. OH! I just noticed they’re now doing free shipping over $150. Awesome!

A very recent innovation
I would feel remiss in not mentioning about a completely revolutionary development that recently happened in the beekeeping world: the Flow Hive. If you wanted to start some hives this spring/summer, it wouldn’t necessarily help, but if you want to get in at the ground level on this, now is the time to pledge money since the campaign is time limited. You could add it to your hives next spring, as we’re hoping to do. This innovation has really, truly rocked the beekeeping world, as you can probably see by the amount of money this project has raised!

Prepping and locating hives
Once you have all the equipment, you’ll need to make the hives durable for the outdoors. As I mentioned, we use log cabin stain, as it’s low/no VOC and breathable, yet developed for tough climates. Seems to be working like a charm so far. Jo (my wife) is the queen of research and found this kind to be the most environmentally/bee sound. It’s super easy to apply. It goes on like a stain, so you just need to brush on two coats of a color, then a final UV clear coat. It is (like everything beekeepy) a bit pricey, but a little goes a long way so you’d probably only need one 1 gal of color and 1 gal of UV coat.

You’ll want to find somewhere that gets a bit of shade, but also sun, to put the hives. They should be raised off of the ground, which can be achieved with a few cinder blocks and a couple of 4x4s. This was our old location. A hive can weigh several hundred pounds by the end of the summer, so don’t use anything less than a 4×4!

Packages of bees
The first thing to do, if you’re going to do this this year, is to order your bees. The later you leave it, the later you receive them (or suppliers run out completely) and the less time the bees have to build the colony before the winter. In fact, our supplier from last year already ran out, so we’re going with this company this time around. I think it’s honestly a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to where you get your bees from (because, actually, there’s probably only 3 or 4 companies that actually raise the bees in GA or TN, then middle men get them, add queens, and ship them to you or me).

You might – rightfully so – already be overwhelmed with the amount of different choices and information, so I’m only passing on what we have found to work for us. If you go for this, I would be more than happy to sit down with you and put together an order and be there for any beekeeping advice. We were TOTALLY unknowledgeable when we started, so all this info really has been absorbed by coming across unfamiliar situations, researching, and then doing what we felt was best for the bees.

Phew! What a lot of information! I’m sure your head is spinning, but as you can see, I’m really quite passionate about this beekeeping thing. There’s a final option if, after you’ve read all this, you still want to have bees on your land, but don’t know if the actual beekeeping part is for you – get someone else to tend to the bees for you, but fund their endeavor. That’s basically what Jo’s sister did for us – our third hive is actually hers, but we just look after it!

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Want to know how to piss off your bees?

We’ll answer that in just a few moments.

House of Tudor

But first, you should look at this beautiful picture taken of a frame in the House of Tudor during our inspection today. Brand new comb. Freshly laid eggs. The first thing this comb will every be used for is growing life.

Look at how white the brand new comb is and contained within, beautiful little white freshly-laid eggs.

Also in the House of Tudor where one or two trapped and drowned hive beetles in the beetle jails we installed two weeks ago. Every last drop of sugar syrup had been eaten too!

House of Hanover

As we were inspecting Hanover, we found out the answer to the question “how do you piss off bees?” Those simple beetle jails that clip onto the top of a frame might seem idiot proof, but that, alas, is not the case. Somehow – we don’t know how – we flipped one off a frame and onto its side, spilling the mineral oil and vinegar content between two frames, filled with girls gorging on honey.

This didn’t make the bees too happy. Bees poured out of the hive, angrily buzzing around, gathering on the front of the hives. There must have been about half of the hive gathered on the front.

The beekeepers weren’t so happy either. Particularly once we discovered that the smoke no longer calmed them. Especially once Fi was stung through her glove on one of her cuticles. Extra especially at the thought of killing any bees and damaging precious comb and its contents.

We cleaned up what we could of the oil and vinegar, and closed up the hive as quickly as possible. We checked back a little while later, and about half of the bees had made it back into the hive. By the evening, it looked normal again.

Edit: As of tonight, 5 days later, the House of Hanover is its usual calm self. Since there was almost no comb building in the second super, we took 3 full frames from the bottom super and swapped it out for 3 empty frames from the top super.

All Hail Queen Victoria!

Earlier in the week, we did a quick inspection to see how the ziplock bags were working out for the sugar syrup. Unfortunately, they were still fermenting in the hot sun, as well as pooling resulting in more drowned bees. We, of course, did research…

We decided to make our own honey-b-healthy (HBH) using the following recipe:

5 cups water 
2 ½ pounds of sugar 
1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier) 
15 drops spearmint oil 
15 drops lemongrass oil 
Bring the water to a boil and integrate the sugar until dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add the lecithin and the essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. This solution should have a strong scent and not be left open around bees. Cool before using.

This not only makes the sugar syrup super attractive to bees, but gives the bees added nutrients, encourages comb building, and stops the syrup from fermenting. What we only realized after we made double the quantity above that it is a concentrate – you add only 1 teaspoon per quart of sugar syrup. So we now have enough HBH to last quite some time…

Anyway, we made up some sugar syrup with HBH added to replace the ziplock bags, and went down to the hives to do an inspection. It was also time to install the beetle jails for those pesky hive beetles.

House of Tudor

We saw really good laying pattern in the House of Tudor, including eggs. Everything was going well. We didn’t see any hive beetles at large, but did see some trapped ones that the girls had propolized in place in their own version of a beetle jail.

The beautiful laying pattern in the House of Tudor, with capped honey around the edges of the frame and capped brood in the middle.

House of Hanover

As we were inspecting the frames in the House of Hanover, we again saw Queen Victoria! This time, we managed to take a Royal Portrait. How fitting for the week of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee! But before we unveil the portrait, let us show you an awesome picture of some different stages of brood in the House of Hanover:

In the left and right, you see young developing larvae, with older and more developed larvae as you come towards the capped brood in the middle of the picture.

Now, here’s the contest section of the post. Can you spot Queen Victoria?

Can you spot Queen Victoria and her court?

And finally, here is the Royal Portrait:

Queen Victoria is marked with a yellow dot (because she was born in a year ending in 2). She is surrounded by her court, who see to her every need and feed her nothing but royal jelly.

We’re getting rid of the bugs early…

…literally.

After our inspection last Saturday, we noticed that the top feeders we use were killing a lot of bees. You see, they have these wooden and plastic floats where the bees are meant to stand on to drink the sugar syrup. But far too many of our precious girls were falling in and drowning. Not to mention the fact that the sugar syrup was fermenting…

Pulling up the wood and plastic float to find lots of girls

We both felt so terrible that the configuration of something we provided had led to the death of some of our girls. We worked on replacing the liquid with syrup in ziplock bags with little slits in to let the syrup out gradually.

As we were cleaning out the sugar syrup, we noticed a few bugs and larvae in the syrup. Ew! And PANIC!

Small hive beetle larva

We managed to catch one of the bugs and identified it as a small hive beetle. We had just averted hive robbing and were working on reducing bee drowning and we have another threat to our hives!

Thankfully, we didn’t see any small hive beetles in the hives during the inspection. So, after getting the sugar syrup bags into the hives, we ordered some beetle jails, which attract the beetles with the smell of apple cider vinegar and trap them in mineral oil (which, of course, kills them too). In the meantime, we were left worrying about the girls and their new invaders!