Honey Beekeeping (Oh Lord, part one)

by M.D. Creekmore on February 11, 2013 · 44 comments

This guest post by  Petticoat Prepper and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

You can read; part two here, part three here, part four here and part five here.

making honey

Image courtesy stock.xchng user aethralis

A while back MD said he needed posts from all of us to help keep things moving along. My thought of offering to write about honeybees was encouraged and so get out your salt shaker and bear with me. Beekeeping is an inexhaustible subject. I haven’t a clue how many parts there will be to this but I know it can get very overwhelming and I’ll try to keep the parts shorter rather than longer.

First let me say, I am no expert. I have been keeping bees for the past year. It’s been fun, frustrating, interesting and challenging. I’ll share what I’ve done and hopefully those interested will find a bit of help. Just keep in mind; it’s rather like herding cats.

I am setting up to add 3 more hives to my backyard this year. I just placed my order for two more starter kits as I have one empty which I got for a swarm that left before I got back with it and then I’ve the original one (bees are still there). Once I have all of them set up I will have 4. The maximum number allowed by my city is 5. By law, if I have 5 or more I am required to register them with the State Agriculture Department. I don’t care to have the government in my back yard so I’m stopping at 4. The fee is very small and they check for diseases to help keep all the honeybees healthy. I am prohibited from selling any of the bees, honey, etc. as that would make them ‘live stock’ and I’m not zoned for live stock…gotta love ‘em!

I would strongly suggest you look for a local beekeeping club to join. I would also suggest getting a decent book. My club suggests Beekeeping for Dummies. There are lots of YouTube videos that are very helpful and tons of web sites too.

The first thing you need to understand is that it’s December 30, 2012 as I write this and that means you’re almost behind if you want to get going this coming year. Even if you don’t have a hive set up and clothes; get your bees ordered. You have no idea how hard it is to get them if you wait. My bees will come in April but I have to order them now.

Bees come in 3 pound boxes. Yes, that’s 3 pounds of bees and one mated queen shipped with a can of food. 3 pounds of bees will be about 11,000 bees. Yes, 11,000 that’s a lot of bees and you’re going to let them out of that box! My bees are Italian; they are yellow brown in color with dark bands. They are gentle, produce a good amount of comb and large brood which results in quick colony growth. They winter over a large amount of bees so they need a good amount of food storage. Italian bees are the most popular followed by Carniolan.

Ok, you’ve ordered your bees and now you need to start looking at a home for the ‘girls’ and a place to put them. There are a several options for homes but I’m only talking about mine. I use the Langstroth method named after the ‘Father of Modern Beekeeping’. I order my supplies from Ruhl bee supply as they are about 45 minutes from me. You can see their products at www.ruhlbeesupply.com depending on where you live you may want to order closer to home.

I order their PNW starter kit assembled. I have no desire right now to put this stuff together and I pay them the extra $50 figuring it’s worth the loss of frustration. Plus I don’t have to make a second ‘oh crap!’ trip to get something I broke. This gives me everything I need to get the girls going. I also get a second medium super (terms are coming up hang in there), a queen excluder, mouse guard, and plastic feeder.

Terminology on hive parts:

  • ‘Super’ this is the box sections.
  • ‘Deep Super’ this is where the girls live or stock pile food.
  • ‘Medium Super or Shallow Super’ is where they make YOUR honey.
  • ‘Frames’ this is the wood or plastic part that hangs from the super and to which foundations are attached.
  • ‘Foundations’ this is a flat plastic or beeswax form that is held in place on the frames. They are stamped with a honey comb pattern and the girls will draw comb on this.
  • ‘Draw Comb’ this is where the girls make wax honeycomb.
  • ‘Queen Excluder’ a plastic grate that keeps the queen from reaching the medium supers so you don’t get brood in the honey.
  • ‘Brood’ baby bees.
  • ‘Entrance reducer’ a small board with notched section. This gives a new hive a smaller area to defend.
  • ‘Plastic Feeder’ this is a small flat dish if you will that a canning jar of syrup fits into to feed the girls.
  • Ok, the kit will/should have:
  • 1 screened bottom board with sloped front (don’t get the solid flat ones)
  • 1 entrance reducer
  • 2 deep supers
  • 20 frames (10 each super)
  • 20 foundations
  • 1 medium super
  • 10 frames
  • 10 foundations
  • 1 inner cover
  • 1 telescoping or English garden cover

I also get cinder blocks from the lumber yard for the hive to sit on. I want them off the ground to help keep them dry. I want them up so any invading animals will have to stand on its back legs thus exposing their tender tummy’s to painful stings.

When you site the hive you want dappled shade. The sun will wake them so you want them to get some but you also want to protect from the heat of the day. A wind break is important too as is a water source. I’m on a creek so the girls have plenty of water and the shade from my fruit trees helps keep them cool when we get hot. A 5 gallon food grade bucket with a line of holes drilled a couple inches from the top and filled with water and a couple inches of packing peanuts will work fine if you don’t have water within half a mile. Peanuts give the girls something to stand on so they don’t drown and the holes let rain water drain out so you don’t lose the peanuts.

Wet bees are sick and unhappy bees. Take care to adjust the blocks or pallets so the hives lean forward a bit to help drain out any moisture. In the valley here we get lots of rain so I worry about drainage a bunch.

The last I’m covering for this part is clothing and hand tools. Look through the style and types of beekeeping clothing and pick out what appeals to you. I bought a one piece pull over jacket with hat and veil. I like it as there is no zipper opening for a bee to find. The ‘hat’ part slides around a bit and I’m sewing a ribbon inside to tie under my chin to see if it will be still on my head. I find a bandana helps to keep my long hair contained and sweat out of my eyes while working the bees. I added painter’s coveralls for my pants. It’s a disposable one and I found it hot to work in during the heat of summer. I like it because the pant cuffs have elastic and I wear them outside my boots. I may look for just pants. I bought bee gloves with mesh at the wrist to help cool me off. The thing to think about when trying on the official outfit is being able to bend and stretch. AND how many openings are there? Bees will search you while you work and I for one do not want one inside with me!

Tools:

Get a good hive tool. Don’t scrimp here you use this for just about everything. A smoker and fuel is a must. Learn to keep the smoker going. You want cool smoke for the girls never hot. A bee brush is nice. I used a small fresh branch with leaves before I got my brush and it worked fine, but I like the brush. A frame holder is great to have. This hangs on the side of the super and you remove the first frame and place it there while you work your hive. This gives you a bit of space to move the remaining frames forward. A frame grip is one of those things you think is stupid to have until later in the season when you’re trying to pull up a frame filled with pounds of honey and bees. Trust me you never want to drop a frame of bees. This stupid little tool is a must!

In part two, I’ll explain how to get bees from box A into box B. Hopefully, this part wasn’t too long!

This contest will end on February 16 2013  – prizes include:

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules that are listed below first… Yes

43 comments

Alittle2late February 11, 2013 at 10:37 am

Thanks for this article, Bee’s are on my to do list asap after I get moved. Looking forward to the next article. As I am clueless at this point.

Bam Bam February 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

Petticoat Prepper,

Oh, thank you for writing this series. I am interested to learn about beekeeping. This is on my list of “things I want to learn about.”

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Bam Bam,

You’re welcome, hope it all makes sense. BTW, following your instructions I made my first batch of soap! I’m thinking of adding propolis from the girls to see if I get an antibacterial soap.

Bam Bam February 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Petticoat Prepper,

Let me know how the propolis works out. I have never been too big on antibacterial soap–I think it’s more of an advertising gimmick than anything else.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Will do, could just be a big mess…big ugly mess…

JP in MT February 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

PP: Another great article for the book. Look forward to part 2.

Texanadian February 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I used to be phobic about bees and wasps. Mostly over it now but I can feel my skin crawl reading this. A buddy of mine picked up his bees and put them on the back seat of his car. A panic stop caused the package to fall and the ladies, not the queen, got out. He just kept the windows up and continued on home. He did mention he got some horrified looks at red lights when he had to stop with bees everywhere in the car.

Good luck.

OhioPrepper February 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Texanadian,
You would do well to be a bit phobic of wasps which are not even remotely related to bees. Wasps may fly and can sting; however, Bees (Honey, Mason, Bumble, etc) are a species of insects different than Wasps (Hornets, Yellow jackets, etc) which are evolutionally related to ants. Flying, stinging, nasty carnivorous ants. Additionally, most bees give up their life when they sting, and generally only sting in defense of the hive, where the nasty flying ants can sting multiple times, and to my knowledge have not been domesticated like bees.
Although having a package of bees come open in the vehicle like your friend is probably rare, it would have indeed been a sight to watch, LOL.

Texanadian February 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm

It flies, it stings, that’s all I needed. When a bee/wasp/hornet was buzzing around my head I wasn’t about to make an entomological study. I would literaly freeze and darn near pass out. It was a serious problem in the line of work I was in and I had to work really hard to overcome it. I still have a healthy respect but I don’t go into a panic attack. I am not allergic either, the phobia just came on and I was in it’s clutches.

kate February 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Thank you for this article. I’ve been wanting to get bees. This year I’m helping a friend with his bees so I can make sure it’s something I want to do. Can’t wait for part 2 of this article.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Thanks all for the kind words. I’m more a ready, fire, aim sorta gal so my first little bit with the girls required study. I find them to be relaxing, especially with their happy hum.

Texanadian I can well imagine the looks your buddy got!

Hope you all find something of value in this series.

OhioPrepper February 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Petticoat Prepper,
This is a timely article, since I just ordered four 3# packages each containing Italian bees and a queen this morning, for delivery on May 8th.

I currently have two hives that look to be wintering over rather well. I sat mine on a pallet, but the new ones I populate in May will most likely be placed on a more substantial an a little higher base. Living in the country, I don’t have the restrictions on number of hives, etc; however, if you want more than 5 hives, have you thought of locating any of them in other yards or perhaps other property outside of the area? There’s generally always a way around these rules if you’re creative.

I’m actually going to build a few extra supers this spring to potentially add some “free” bees to my apiary in the form of captured swarms. I had several swarms available last year and the year before, but had no extra hives in which to catch and house them. It’s an inexpensive way to add to your stock.

BTW, you can build a very inexpensive feeder with a new, clean 1-gallon paint can. Poke a bunch of tiny holes in the lid, fill it with 1/1 sugar syrup, and you’re ready to go. Just place a few sticks, rocks, or blocks of wood under the inverted can to allow access by the bees.

I was wondering what you used for fuel for the smoker? I’ve been using cedar chips which are generally widely available and inexpensive. I bought a large bag of them (for hamster or gerbil bedding) at the local TSC and I now have enough for perhaps a decade or more.

As for the Queen Excluder, I don’t know anyone who uses them unless they’re planning on selling comb honey. If the queen does wander into the upper supers and lays a few eggs, the brood will hatch and go to work in three weeks, at which point the workers will clean out the cells and fill them with honey. This can leave a dark spot on the comb if looks are important, but otherwise causes no problem.

Once you get used to working with the bees you’ll eventually get used to working with nothing but smoke & a hive tool, since general maintenance and swarm collection can quite often be done without completely “suiting up”.

I look forward to seeing more of your perspectives on beekeeping.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Interesting idea on the paint cans! Are you setting it on the inner cover and using a deep super as a spacer for the top outer cover?

I plan on ending this season with at least 12 hives. I am also picking up extra hives as I too will be after the swarms. This is one reason I joined the local bee club. They get calls and if you’re willing they will rotate you on the list…then too there’s craigslist.

The government will know soon enough as I’m planning on commercial bee keeping. I have a small acreage of farm land that I’m hoping to build on in the next 5 years, provided the SHTF doesn’t happen that soon. In my PERFECT world, I get all my preps done and then the hand basket finishes it’s journey to h3##. I just don’t want the government in my back yard here in town.

My smoker fuel is a burlap sack that organic coffee beans came in. I will be stocking up on those when I go to pick up my bees. I know there are folks that do not use the queen excluder but for me…the thought of maybe a baby bee somewhere in my honey, euuuuwwwhhhh! LOL

I’ve also seen those folks working their bees with just a hive tool and smoke. I don’t think that will ever be me but who know? I also know a guy who doesn’t use smoke as he can’t keep his smoker lit. He uses a spray bottle with liquid smoke (like the cooking stuff) and water and sprays them.

OhioPrepper February 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Petticoat Prepper,

Yes, the can sits upside down on the top inner cover on a couple of wooden pieces giving it about ¾ of an inch space under it for the bees to get at the feeder holes. You place 4 or 5 pounds of sugar in the can and fill it with water (which makes about a 1:1 syrup mix). Hold it upside down over the ground and it will leak syrup for a second or so, until a vacuum builds up in the can. Then place it in the top deep and replace the telescoping cover.

I should have 4-6 hives minimum at the season end, and perhaps more if the swarm catching is successful.

In my perfect world, I get my preps all in line (they’ll likely never be done) and then life goes on pretty much like normal.

As fir finding a baby bee in your honey, since the gestation period is only 3 weeks, you can generally look over the combs for brood and if you find any, simply let it sit for a few weeks until the brood hatches and the girls repair and refill the cell with honey.

I’ve worked the bees often with only smoke, although I generally keep a spare veil around. Especially when working with swarms, which are actually a time, then they are the least likely to sting, since their goal is to find a new home. As you get more comfortable working with them, I suspect you’ll be working without completely suiting up sooner or later, as everyone I know does this eventually.

T.R. February 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I wonder if its possible to use bee swarms as a defense ? I know there is a chemical that makes them attack collectively .

kelley February 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

yes you can use them for defense though after they are released you can’t control them.

T.R. February 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm

LOL , I have often thought about how to use creatures like bees , hornets or yellow jacket swarms as an intruder defense layer .

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 4:30 pm

TR,

A swarm is generally a very gentle collection of honey bees without a home. They have no food stores to defend so are normally very gentle.

However, I suppose if one were to knock over a hive that would be a different story!

kelley February 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I was talking knocking over the hives. This is set up on my property my hives are up against the back wall of my house and when building a structure to lift the hives off the ground I also added a way for them to tip over from inside. This is as a last means of defense and defenses are about to be over run. I figured with 80,000 buddies guarding that Area We’d be able to either re-group or take the offensive.
As for swarms your correct they are so calm When we do get someone’s swarm in our apple trees they are usually only 4-5 feet off the ground and I just but an open box under them and then reach up and snip the branch they have collected on the swarm is bigger then your head with the queen in the center I hold the cut end lower it to the box and gently shake the critters into the box.. I you have a couple of hives why don’t you forget the sugar feed and just rent the hive out to farmer this way you get paid and honey Hives are easy to transport.

Petticoat Prepper February 12, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Great idea on your hive set up!

I’m working towards a commercial venture. Thinking maybe next year I’ll have enough to be worth the time/costs of transporting.

kelley February 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Great Job and every prepper should have a hive they are so low maintenance. I’ve been doing it for a while I don’t and never used protective clothing and yes they still crawl on you. Just be very slow in your motions no waving your arms if they land on you. The first couple of times I did exactly that and then found myself being chased by a hundred bees lol BUT not to worry they are not at all like hornets or Y jackets they will just chase you away and stop after a few yards unlike the others who take joy in chasing you. I found out the pine needles do the best job for smoking the smoke is really dense. I build my own they are really simply to assemble. I started when a neighbors hive swormed. IF you maintain your have switch suppers around stack them most hives will not swarm. Can’t wait for your next installment I’m sure it will help lots of people

Texanadian February 11, 2013 at 5:10 pm

AAARRRRGGGGG!!!

:)

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I’m sorry Texanadian! Run for the hills…there’s 4 more parts.

I was attacked by a dog when I was 4, it tore my ear off; 36 stitches to reattach it. Growing up with dogs I traded my dog fear into wolves…you know; the big bad wolf?

We lived in the sticks and if I came home at night and the barn light wasn’t on, the porch light wasn’t on, I wasn’t getting out of the car. Even with the lights on I would race to the door and struggled to get the key in the lock; all the while knowing the renagade pack of wolves were coming out of the black tree line with eyes aglow to get me…. There’s nothing worse than a fear that immobilizes you. Couldn’t even do a movie with a wolf in it! Took me years as a young adult to over come it. I still have small bouts so I appreciate your thoughts on the girls. Four more parts, so stay low! ;)

kelley February 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Hey PP Fears is a healthy thing panic is not. The only time to run is if the bad guy is armed and your not :) . when in doubt always just stop moving all animals even bees see all movement in two way either it’s a predator or it’s prey.If you run it make you prey. So stop what your doing (Don’t freeze up) assess your area for the threat and proceed slowly. I wish I had your sense of smell I can’t smell them.

Petticoat Prepper February 12, 2013 at 7:17 pm

The stinking dog that got my ear didn’t seem to care what I was doing. I was sitting still and not even looking at him. Although in later life while riding a bike I was chased by a big dog. I stopped riding, turned towards him and with the best command voice I could muster I told him to “SIT” and he did! I told him good boy and stay; I walked my bike around the corner.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Thanks Kelley,

It’s a big subject and I was trying to give a small beekeeping 101 to help those thinking about getting them. I like the pine needle idea and may have to try that.

Yes, slow movements while working and the girls just seem to have a happy hum in the hives. I love the smell the queens give off and again the hum is some how comforting to me. Maybe it just forces me to slow down, something I’m not very good at. I’ll take my lunch down to my apairy and just watch them. I’m planning on taking lots of close up photos this season.

Encourager February 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for the good article, PP! I have it now in my Preparedness file. Looking forward to #2 !!

DH is allergic to ant and spider bites. If he gets enough bites, he even runs a fever. We have the emergency syringes just in case. I had always had a fear of bees until I began weeding in my perennial beds. Now the bees and I get along fine…they do their work and I do mine. Wasps and especially yellow jackets are another story. I will leave the garden immediately when they show up.

Tactical G-Ma February 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm

PP,
Awesome article. Looking forward to part 2.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Encourager,

I hate wasps and yellow jackets! Don’t know what the Good Lord was thinking that day! Honeybees are a vastly different story. Good natured and gentle.

HomeINsteader February 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Thank you for a well-written, easy to understand intro to beekeeping, PP. And thank you, especially, for the terminology, which really helps. “Bee Keeping for Dummies – Part 1″. Love it! Thanks, again! Waiting for more.

SC Redneck February 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Thank You. Your timing was perfect. I just came in the house from painting my first hive. This is something I have been wanting to do for years. I just never seemed to do it. Last month I ordered A hive and Bees. I have the hive put together and like I said was painting it today. You commented about A screened bottom instead of A solid. Why? another thing about registering your hives. Here if they are registered anyone spraying insectacide and damaging your hive will be liable.
Thank you again. Will be looking for your next post

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Humm…I wasn’t thinking about insectacides just big government noses!

I like the screaned bottom board better as humidity can be an issue, especially in the Willamette Valley. This give better air flow so less moisture and in summer less heat (think open window); plus there’s a plastic board that slides in to do a mite count. Which should be coming up in another part. Good luck on your bees!

Donna February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

This is interesting and I know nothing about bee keeping. I saw a show on making honey, but not taking care of “the girls”. Neat!

MareBear February 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm

PP, thank you for your timely article, as I was just investigating about classes here in Central FL. I will order the Dummy book also. A question: have you tried cleaning the beeswax cappings? I got a chance to get some unclean cappings and wax from a beekeeper and processed it into useable beeswax for making herbal salve. I have the instructions if anyone is interested.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm

I cleaned my caps with warm not hot water. I’ve not melted for usable yet although I read about using old clean socks to hold the wax in and heating in a double boiler. The old sock (needs to be old and warn) filters the wax as it heats up. I’ve not tried this yet as I’m waiting for more to work with.

What did you do? I’d love to hear! Please share the instructions.

MareBear February 11, 2013 at 8:38 pm

I found these instructions somewhere on the internet a few years ago and pasted them to word document. I was handed a coffee can of beeswax filled with yucky bee parts and using this method I ended up with beautiful clean useful beeswax.

Instructions for cleaning beeswax:
USE A STAINLESS STEEL POT! ( I would use an old pot, because the pot is hard to clean. If you make homemade soap, then I would use the same pot).
Put water in the pot, add the cappings wax and simmer the water. Once the wax is completely melted remove the pot from the stove and allow it to cool. The wax will set up and sit on the water.
Once the wax is cold, remove it from the water and discard the water. Simmer this same way again! This time pour it out into a plastic dish pan that is for inserting into your sink to do dishes. Except pour the wax and water through a flour sack towel or tightly woven cloth. This catches all the dead bees and bee parts. Discard the cloth.
Allow the wax to cool and become solid. Remove it from the dish pan. Discard the water.
Allow the wax to dry for several days. Heat the wax in a double boiler where the water is barely simmering in the lower pot and the wax is in the top pot. Pour the wax into molds. (I used hard plastic ice cube trays, once cooled, the wax cubes popped out easily).
Mary

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Ohh, thanks! I’m copy and paste on this!!!

kelley February 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm

try using cheese cloth

Everett R Littlefield February 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Long time, 3 years, reader- 1st time commenter.

I’m 74 and am just getting into the beekeeping. Have my hive and all the tools except the frame gripper. My bees are coming from Ga. around the first of April. I live on an Island out in the Atlantic off the coast of RI, and we warm up pretty much a month ahead of the mainland compliments of the Gulf Stream.
So I’ll be watching for the next installment. Any ideas on time frame?

And hi to all you long time posters and thanks for all the good tips on prepping!
Been doing the prepping for four years.

We raise, butcher, and package three to four pigs. 40 to 50 Narragansett Turkeys,hatched here on Island, and about the same number of X Cross chickens for eating. Also Keep about 24 Rhode Island Reds for eggs.

We run about a one acre garden and freeze and can all that we are able to.A good part of the gardening is done in 4′x20′x2′ raised beds. OBTW all this food prep is to feed my extended family of 4 kids and their wives and kids. About 16 souls.

Guess that is it for my intro to the wolf pack! TTFN

kelley February 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm

welcome been to RI many times never knew there where Islands DUH guess with Island in the name I should have. Welcome sounds like you have a nice thing going on.

Petticoat Prepper February 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Everett,

Welcome to The Pack! I’m honored you chose my post to make your first comment!!! MD has all 5 sections to my honeybees 101 and at his convenience he will post them up.

I thought the frame gripper was a stupid thing but bought it as my DH thought I might need it. Was he ever right. I couldn’t hold a filled foundation covered with hundreds of bees and manouver it to look it over. I was very surprised at how heavy things got!

Looks like you’re doing really great with your preps. Again, welcome!

DrDug February 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

Great post. I am eager to learn more. Thanks for sharing.

RamboMoe February 13, 2013 at 6:11 am

Cool article! An interesting subject that I admittedly know nothing about.

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