Beekeeping Tips and Tricks
We ordered our bees through Tates in Spokane. One batch of bees cost $100. We ordered our supplies April 2nd from www.dadant.com (Dadant and Sons Beekeeping supplies). The bees got here before the beekeeping supplies which was rather stressful so if you don’t want this to happen to you then order around the last week in March.
When your bees arrive they come in a little screened box with a can of sugar water set into a hole in the center of the box. The can has a tiny hole or a hole with a plug which is covered with a fine cloth. Each bee takes a turn in licking the sugar water.
There are 3 pounds of bees to an order. It looks like about 1000 bees to the pound! And one queen bee which is in her own little tiny box that is hung by an aluminum strip in which hangs down the center of the larger box. Her attendants take care of her, but the entire colony either spreads out or huddles very close to her to keep her at the optimal temperature of 100 degrees F.
Depending upon the temperature the canister of sugar water may last 1-3 days. It’s best to let it run out before adding another can of sugar water or drilling a hole in the top of the canister set into the box. If you don’t do that, the remaining sugar water will drain out and make quite the sticky mess at the bottom of the box. We were hovering around 40 degrees these last two days so they were not using much of the sugar water.
The bees looked really great the first 24 hours in our possession. The second day of beekeeping there were about 30-50 bees that didn’t make it. These bees were on the bottom of the transport box. This is normal so don’t worry about that.
Find a space in the yard where the hive won’t be disturbed and is out of the way of foot traffic but handy for the beekeeper to get to. The hive opening should be facing East (away from the wind) and in a full-sun position. We found a stump about 75 feet from the house and leveled then screwed a board onto it large enough to hold the hive. It needs to be fairly close to a water source but not in the woods where bears will come and destroy the hive more readily. Beekeeping is an expensive hobby to start and cleaning a used hive takes about 40-50 hours of work! We don’t want bears to trash that hard work.
Place the bottom board onto the stump. The weight of the hive will keep it from moving. Protecting the hive from wind is a bonus during the winter weather. Place the brooder chamber onto the bottom board and put a wooden entrance reducer between the bottom board and the brooder box. This will cut down on the wind flow and protect the hive from varmints like mice entering the box. The smaller the hole, the better the bees can protect themselves from intruders like wasps or hornets which can sometimes come and rob the hive of honey. You may want to increase the hole size in the summer to make it easier for the bees to keep it cooler but for now (this is April 16th and still chilly spring weather) they need to have more warming ability.
Insert a Boardman feeder into the slot left by the entrance reducer. Now, in the little bee hole left after the feeder has been inserted into the entrance reducer (about ¾ inch square), stuff some loosely bunched fresh grass into the hole. The bees will push this grass out after they acclimate to the hive within a couple of days.
Your Boardman feeder will house a quart mason jar filled with cooled sugar water (50% water/50% sugar solution). Put the filled mason jar of sugar water into the Boardman feeder before or directly after you dump the bees into their new home. One hive will drink about 1 quart of this solution per day until the flowers start to bloom, then one day you’ll go out to replenish the sugar water and you’ll notice that they’ve hardly touched it. This is good and you won’t have to feed them any longer because they are on their own. We used C and H pure CANE sugar because it does not contain sulfites like beet sugar. Sulfites are a result of the processing of beets to make beet sugar.
Things to have directly on hand when beekeeping before you transfer your bees to the brooder box.
The brooder box is the deepest box in the hive. It’s about 8 ½ inches deep. Each box has 8-10 individual frames within it that house a wax foundation made from beeswax or plastic. The benefit of bees wax foundation is that this is more natural. Some say the plastic foundation is a bit too large and that there is more disease when using this. When it gets hot out the foundation will melt so it’s best to string wires to kind of hold it up within the frame then you use this cookie cutter/noodle roller do-hickey thing with about a quarter inch edge to it to gently roll the wax into the wire so that it kind of holds everything up.
You’ll need a thumb tack and a small fresh marshmallow.
Have a spray bottle of warm but not hot water handy to spray the bees when you’re ready to remove the queen’s tiny cage from the transportation box. . . Ready?
Beginning Beekeeping–Introducing the bees to their new home:
Now spray the bees on both sides of the box and give the entire box a rap on the ground so that the bees all fall to the bottom of the box, then spray the bees with water again (not too much) so that you wet the bees from the center of the wad that haven’t been sprayed so that they won’t fly out as easily when you lift up the sugar water canister, slip out the metal tab that holds the queen’s cage from it’s slot on the top of the box and remove the queen bee cage. Now quickly put the canister back into the hole so the main colony doesn’t get out yet. A few bees will be flying around so you should have on your bee outfit—especially the veil and gloves.
Everyone gets stung eventually when beekeeping. Don’t wear black clothing and don’t be afraid. The bees sense this. If you are not paying attention and accidentally kneel on them they will sting you. Most often they will give you a warning bump to let you know you are doing something that annoys them.
Twist the metal aluminum tab that is attached to the queen bee box so that you can tack the queen bee cage on one of one of the middle two frames in the brooder box. You may have to poke a tiny hole in the metal flap of the metal tab of the queens cage so it won’t bend the tip of the tack as you are pressing it into the wood of the brooder frame. The screen of the queen’s cage should be facing so that the attendants can feed her the nectar until the bees can eat through the marshmallow and she is released from her box so make sure that opening is not facing towards the foundation.
Remove the cork at the bottom of the queen bee box and insert the marshmallow. The queen bee’s attendants and worker bees will eat the marshmallow and release the queen.
Once the queen bee box is tacked into place shift all the frames to one side of the box. There will be about an inch or less of space showing on the inside of the brooder box but this gets everything close together and evenly spaced and the bees can navigate from one frame to another quite easily. Some people punch out a communication hole in the top of each piece of foundation but other people don’t feel that is necessary. We didn’t use a communication hole.
OK, now you’re ready to dump the bees onto the top of the brooder box. Spray them down again, rap the box onto the ground, spray again and now remove the sugar water tin can on the top of the portable bee box and dump the bees onto the top of the open brooder box. Most of them will fall into a big lump. In a few minutes they will re-organize and there will be a couple of big clumps. They know where the queen bee is and they will want to get down into the brooder box so start to find their way down the frames.
At this point you can use a smoker pot that has a 100% cotton rag (we used an old cotton T-shirt) in it which you light with a hand-help propane torch. Puff a few clouds of smoke at the wad of bees (not too much or you’ll suffocate them.) The smoke is soporific to the bees (makes them kind of sleepy) and calms them down. After you smoke them you can go back to the box that they came in and tap and rap the box and try to get the remainder of the bees poured onto the top of the frames within the brooder box.
Some of the bees will fly around trying to get their bearings. They will look for food and water and when they find it will come back to the hive and let the others know of the appropriate resources by doing a little dance for their com-padres.
Some of the bees will be dead. You don’t have to remove them. The worker bees will remove them from the hive and take them out to the front part of the bottom board and deposit them. You will notice them the first day or two after hiving. Don’t worry about that. They will also poop on the top of the hive and it looks kind of weird—like quarter inch round brown spots.
The bees don’t poop in their box so when they finally start flying around they squirt out this light brown diarrhea. If you’re wearing certain colors, they are attracted to that. Michael was wearing a rust colored vest and they went to him and pooped all over his jacket.
The cooler the weather, the slower the bees are so don’t work with them when it’s really hot out. Just like people they get cranky and are using a lot of energy at that time to keep the hive cool so they are also a bit tired, but it needs to be about 50 degrees out when you put them out. It’s best to set them up where they will be for the season but if that is not an option you can set them up for a few days in a garage leaving the door propped open so they can come and go. It’s rather stressful to move them (for both parties) but it can be done.
It takes about 20-30 minutes before most of the bees find their way into the frames. You can use your bee brush at this time to gently and slowly guide any bees hanging over the edge to the top of the box. Some of the bees fall onto the floor or ground as well. You can hand pick these up and place them onto the top of a frame but we’re going to try to set up a cookie sheet before we dump them onto the brooder box so we don’t have to handle them as individuals.
When most of the bees have found their way into the brooder box you can put the two tops onto the hive. The one closest to the brooder box has a hole in it so the bees can come and go. The top of the hive is thicker and has two edges that slip over the top of the brooder box. Be gentle and move slowly when putting on the first lid so you don’t crush the bees. They will move into the hive when they see the lid coming but it takes about 30-60 seconds for them to do this.
Now the hive seems quiet and the bees are organizing inside of it.
Winter beekeeping tips: Depending on the weather and climate during the winter months you may have to add a second brooder box. This gives the colony more space and more frames to store their own honey, pollen and propolis for the winter months. You’ll only be harvesting the supers for honey extraction.
The queen bee usually won’t travel farther than 4 inches past where the comb is being laid down. Some people prevent the migration of the queen by using a special separator place called a queen ?
The bees get to know you after a while and are pretty comfortable with your presence unless something else is ticking them off (like marauding yellow jackets coming around to steal their hone or when you want to harvest a honey component (called a super) around the end of July.
Beekeeping: About the queen bee
The queens live 4-5 years but after 2-3 years they loose a bit of their vigor. You can tell when you need to replace the queen (order these from Tate’s and have her shipped overnight if you see any problems) because when you check the frames there are a bunch of drones in the frame in a little bunch. The drones are kind of freaky. They will all turn and look at you as a unit when you pick the frame up to check on it. Also, the queen will start laying eggs on the edge of the cone cell instead of the center of the cells.
The queen will only sting another queen and they die after they sting her. The winner of the sting-fight will be the egg layer for the next couple of years but she has to go on a maiden flight after she wins her fight and be bred. If she dies on her way back to the hive you’ve lost your colony and the bees will all leave. By purchasing a pre-bred queen (they artificially inseminate them) you will ensure the survival of the colony.
If you check the frames and notice a bunch of queen bee cells (they look like little peanuts) then you know the queen is losing vitality and you should be ordering another queen.