Sunday, December 21, 2008

For the Beginning Beekeeper

I'm sorry for the delay and the time which has lapsed since my last post. I have been receiving numerous emails from individuals asking for more posts or information about keeping bees. I just recently received an email from a future beekeeper here in the state and I would like to share some of the questions and answers to any future or beginning beekeepers who may take the time to read this.

"We're working on getting our first hives/bees, and would like some information/advice, if you have it!"

The first thing you should do is to put in your orders now. Package bees and nuc colonies sale out quick so go ahead and put in an order. Don't just get one colony, try to get at least two. This way you can compare their development with one another. You can also swap brood from a strong colony to weak one if the should arise. These are just a few examples of why you should have at least two colonies and other reasons shall become more apparent when you begin to work with your bees.

Be sure to put in your order for your woodenware as early as possible as well. The spring time is the busiest time of year for the supply houses. You should have your new hive assembled and painted and waiting on your package to arrive. Or maybe you should have it ready in advance to catch a swarm.I don't know how many times I had to put wax foundation into frames in order to go out and retrieve a swarm. Be prepared and do not procrastinate. Procrastination is one of the worst things you could do when it comes to your bees.

The easiest thing to do is to purchase an established colony. Anyone selling bees in the state are required to first have their colony inspected by a state apiarist to insure it is disease free, (actually all colonies within the apiary must bee examined and deemed disease free before any one of the colonies can be sold.) The state inspector will give the beekeeper a certificate of health when after the colonies are inspected and deemed free of disease and parasites. Be sure to ask to see the certificate before making a purchase. A strong and healthy colony should produce you a surplus of honey the first year that you have it.

If you choose to buy a package of bees, keep in mind you will also need to buy the hive components to install the package. You will also need to continuously feed the package sugar syrup in order for them to draw out their broodnest and accumulate enough stores of honey for the upcoming winter. Packages are inspected in the state of their origin before being shipped abroad so there is no need to worry of that. One large drawback of purchasing a package of bees is the possibility that it may abscond once you install in your new hive. By the time you purchase your equipment and pay the price of the package it may be equivalent to that of an established colony as mentioned above.

Nucleus colonies, or "nucs" as they are more commonly referred to, is a good step up from a package of bees. A nuc also needs to build in strength and be fed sugar syrup to help it build comb. raise brood, and accumulate enough winter stores to survive until the following year. You also have to buy additional woodenware as the nuc expands it broodnest as you do with a package. Nucs are much less likely to abscond than a package. If purchased early enough in the spring, a nuc could build up to a strength sufficient enough to produce a surplus of honey. Once again, nucs are inspected for disease and parasites in their state of origin before it is legal to sale them.

You could join your local bee clubs to meet some local beekeepers. This is a great way to possibly score a free swarm of bees in the early spring. I personally like swarms (provided it came from some other beekeepers colony), the earlier the better. In my opinion, they have a drive to survive that exceeds that of a nuc or package and build up much quicker. I have had new colonies from swarms that have provided me a harvest of honey from building up so quickly. In our area, WV, we do not have to worry about AHB, Africanized Honeybees, as do our fellow beekeepers in the southern states, so you beekeepers in AHB territory be careful when collecting swarms this spring!!!

"What do you suggest, as far as set up kits go (we do have a Better Bee catalog, and I've wandered about the internet looking at various apiary sites). Wood? Polystyrene? Is one company better to deal with than another? If there is a 'beginners book' that you would consider a must-have - what would it be? Anything else we need to look at or should consider?"

I personally buy what I don't make myself from Walter T Kelley. The prices are fair and they produce a quality product. Having never used any polystyrene hive components, I prefer wooden equipment. Most of the supply companies are like any other business, they all get good and bad reports. I can say that I can not say anything ill towards Kelley's and I have developed a personal rapport with one of their sales agents. Their are plenty of books and educational materials for beekeepers to use in order to become better beekeepers. Bees are the most studied insect in the past and present so you can much on the subject. I went to my local library last winter and found a nice book on the subject to check out and read. Also, you could get a subscription to "American Bee Journal" or "Bee Culture." There is a lot of up to date information on new studies and goings on in the world of beekeeping. The best thing you could do is to try be as well as informed as possible so your bees will appreciate you more. By appreciate I mean that you can institute methods into your beekeeping to keep them healthier, hygienic, gentle, fecundate, populous, gentle, and disease free. If you do good by your bees they will do good for you.

"We have spoken with a bee keeper in Ohio, but it seems he's very much pressing to buy his stuff ("Forget the catalog! I got it all!") and since we are so very new to the idea, I thought I'd find another WV beekeeper and ask for their opinion - and I found you."

I am honored that you would ask my opinion. As you talk to more beekeepers you will find that there are many different beliefs and opinions in regards to the same questions you may have. Though I have a good working knowledge about bees, I still have much to learn. Regarding the Buckeye Beekeeper, I would try to stay away from any used equipment and purchase new equipment. used hive bodies and frames could contain the spores of American Foul Brood (AFB). The only cure for this brood disease id to destroy the colony. The bees and all hive components are typically destroyed my burning them. Though AFB contaminated is safe for human consumption, it can easily spread the disease from colony to colony through the act of "robbing". I would hate to see your investment and hard work go up in flames because you did spend a few extra dollars to purchase new equipment for your bees. If the Buckeye Beekeeper is wanting to sell you new homemade equipment, make sure all components are of the standard dimensions of the Langstroth hive bodies and supers. I've seen some homemade jobs which were totally incompatible with the store bought stuff. This is okay sometimes, but it does create problems like violation of "bee space" and could result in excessive burr or bridge comb which would make hive inspections more of a chore than a joy.

If you have anymore quetions about getting your first colony please let me know.

Merry Christmas fellow beekeepers.


Jim Stovall said...

You have a lot of excellent information here.

I have posted a link to this article in the Featured articles portion of

All the best,


plane said...

Cass ... buddy ...
Glad to see you're still alive and kicking.
I'm a new beekeeper as of this past spring and found your blog a great source of information.
You kinda fell off the face of the earth, I'm just glad you're posting again. Thanks for your contributions to the beekeeping community and keep up the good work.
Happy Holidays, Paul

Anonymous said...


I really appreciate your answering my questions!

You've given us a lot of good information to begin. If I think of anything else we need to know, I'll post or email.

We will not be able to get everything we need by this spring as the costs are pretty considerable, but we can use this information to begin preparations for next spring. I think what we will do then is set up a timetable so we can spend this coming year getting the things we need so as to be ready to buy for a nuc next spring so we can be more sure of success.

Again, many thanks!

Merry Christmas,