So you want to become a beekeeper?
It may be intimidating, but being a beekeeper is both reward and very interesting. There are so many different tid bits about beekeeping, but in the end, the bees do all the work, you just have to try and keep them comfortable. Below are some Q & A's and as always, the internet has become an invaluable source for learning how to bee keep, just remember, there are LOTS of different ways to keep bees, so these are just things that work well for us or others in our area.
Question: What does it costs to get into beekeeping?
Answer: Well this question can vary. There are LOTS of things you don't necessarily need to be a beekeeper and there are some things you do need, but not right away. A hive setup (hive itself) for a beginner hive costs around $130-150.00. The bees can costs around $80-100 for a package of bees or around $140-160 for a NUC. Bee suit and some basic tools are another $100-150.00. Of course many beekeeper do their own thing, so you can reduce this expense even more.
Question: How many hives should I start with?
Answer: Two. At minimum we would suggest two hives. There are two reasons for this.
First: You can compare them to one another from the outside, which will help you catch a problem sooner than trying to see what's wrong inside a hive. If one is very active and the other one has hardly any bees coming and going from the hive, there might be a problem and you should check the hive to see why it is behind the other. Often times, finding the problem sooner than later can have a huge impact on the hive and how quickly it recovers from an issue.
Second, and most importantly, having more than one hive allows you to help manage resources. If the queen dies in one of the hives and they are unable to make a new queen, you would need to purchase a new queen from someone in order to try and re-establish the hive. This depends on whether or not you can even find a queen to purchase and who knows how the new queen is going to handle the new task at hand. If you have more than one hive, you can take a frame of eggs from the strong hive, brush the bees off and introduce the frame into the queenless hive, thereby allowing them to remake a new queen.
Another example may be that one hive had a bad hive beetle infestation. If you were able to get that under control, but the beetles ate a major amount of their food stores, you would have to start a labor intensive feeding regiment of pollen and sugar water to help get them build back up. With more than one hive, you can take a frame of nectar, honey and/or pollen, brush the bees off and introduce it into the weak hive to stabilize them.
Lastly, the same goes for sharing brood. If one of your hives has an ugly problem with chalk brood, but is able to recover, they are going to be low on the number of bees in the hive due to dead brood. Taking a frame of capped brood or larvae from your strong hive, brushing the bees off and placing it in your weak hive will give the weak hive an immediate boost to their population that will help them get back to normal operations.
The general theme of helping a hive that is having a hard time with resources by taking some from a stronger hive that has some to spare can really make a difference in how you manage your hives. Frames with honey, nectar, eggs, larvae, capped brood, and pollen can be taken from one hive and added to another. Just remember, you cannot transfer the bees themselves in any case AND make for certain the frames you are removing from one hive and adding to another don't have anything wrong with them. (i.e. Foulbrood, Nosema, Mites, Sac Brood, Chalk brood, etc.)
Question: How often should I inspect my hive?
Answer: There are a few ways to do this and there is no single right answer for this one either. First, your main objective to beekeeping, as a whole, is to observe your hive often enough so you can notice when something changes and determine if it is a bad thing or if it is OK. This may be as little as sitting on a bucket or in a chair in front of your hive(s) and watching them come and go. Becoming more familiar with their normal day to day activities and seeing how they look as they come and go from the hive will help you notice if that pattern changes. It also allows you to see pollen coming into the hive, watching for potential robbers trying to get into the hive and can give you a real pleasant start or end to your day.
You can also take a little time here and there and open the lid and look in or perhaps open the lid and remove a frame or two, just to see what things look like. Again, the more often you do this, the easier it should be to notice when those frames you have looked at 10 times before are now considerably different. Now you can see if you have a potential issue or not.
Lastly, a full hive inspection should be done once or twice a month; more often if there IS something wrong with your hive. A full hive inspection consist of opening the hive, removing frames in every box and inspecting the brood, looking for the queen (or signs of her) and getting a general feel for the activity and health of the hive. This allows you to also inspect for problems like a queenless hive, Varroa Mites, Nosema, Beetles, etc. If you have a problem with one of these, check your hive more often to make sure it is recovering properly.
It has been said you can get into your hives too much and they may leave, however, we get into our hive A LOT, especially when our classes are going on and we have never had a hive leave for this reason.
Question: How do I get bees?
Answer: You can buy them (either a package or NUC) from a dealer, either local or somewhere in the nation. You can catch a swarm of bees that you come across outside or you can kiss up to a beekeeper you already know and beg for him to help you get started.
Question: I have Emergency Queen Cells in my hive. Why are they trying to make a new queen?
Answer: Queens can die or be replaced for many reasons. A few are listed below:
Depletion of the spermatheca
Reduced production of pheromones (mandibular or footprint)
Infection with nosema (especially N. apis)
You squished her
She was killed by other bees or wasps, etc.
Question: Do you get stung a lot?
Answer: If you have the right bee clothing, you access your hives at the right time of day, during the right weather and are slow with your bee's (using smoke too) then chances are good you won't get stung. You DO NOT get stung often if you take the right precautions.
Question: How much honey will I get from my hive?
Answer: As a general rule, you don't want to take any honey from the hive the first year. your bees are building wax their first year and that process uses a tremendous amount of food and energy, so they shouldn't have a lot left over. Besides, you don't want to second guess whether you left enough honey in the hive during your first winter with your new hive. You can go in, with a spoon and taste some, but don't plan on removing a large amount and bottling it. That being said, some years, if the weather is just right, you may have enough extra to take a larger amount.
After your first year the bees will be on full honey production. A lot depends on available food sources, the weather, health of the bees, etc., but you can expect somewhere near 50-70lbs per hive. After a while, you will be trying to give it away to anyone who seems remotley interested in having some of your honey.
Question: What can I plant to help my bees?
Answer: Believe it or not, the bulk of our pollen and nectar, in Michigan, comes from trees, not flowers. That being said, we aren't discouraging you from planting flowers, we are just saying that if you are looking for a way to make a big dent in providing natural forage/food for your bees, including native bees, consider planting the right tree instead of acres of flowers. For more about what kinds of trees are best for bees and pollinators, click here.
Question: Can I take your bee classes if I don't have bees?
Answer: Yes, of course. We encourage everyone to take beekeeping classes before they get bees so they know a little more about what to expect. Of course, you can still take the class even if you don't end up getting bees either. They are very fun classes to take, just to learn something new.
What's the difference between a migratory hive and a standard hive?
Answer: A migratory hive is pretty much the same as a standard hive except the base and lid generally don't stick out over the sides of the hive, this allows the hives to be stacked on a trailer or in a truck side-by-side without a gap in between each hive. It could also be called a travel hive. It can be confusion because the word migratory doesn't have anything to with the bees, it is the box they are referring to.
I have Varroa Mites in my hive(s), what do I do?
Answer: Well, you have several options. We would point out that there are many different methods for preventing Varroa mites that you may want to start doing to your hives in order to prevent this from happening. Those can be powder sugar treatments, mineral oil foggers and more. But, you already have Varroa Destructor in your hive, so now what? First you can treat with one of the many chemical treatments on the market. While they work well, keep in mind you are going to kill bees within your hive when you treat with these chemicals, you CANNOT use the honey from these hives for a period of time after a treatment and we don't fully understand exactly how these chemical treatments affect the bees, the honey or even ourselves. You will note that we won't give specific directions here as each package and product has very specific application directions that need to be followed and they can change often. For best results, follow the packages directions. Beyond the chemical strips, you can also try using the preventative treatments of powdered sugar or mineral oil foggers to see if that helps. You may also try putting in drone frames and foundation to encourage drone production in a hive. Once the drone frame is capped, you can remove the frames and freeze them, thereby destroying any Varroa Mite larva and their host. Varroa mites prefer Drone brood because there is more space in the cell, allowing them to have one additional reproduction cycle in drone brood than in worker brood. There are other ways to treat for Varroa and we would be happy to help, so just give us a call if you want to know more or have questions.
Question: I have hive beetle in my hive, how do I get rid of them?
Answer: The easiest way is to install a hive beetle trap. They are inexpensive, generally plastic, traps that go in between frames inside the hive. The bees are constantly chasing the beetles around the hive, trying to get them out. When a hive beetle runs into one of these traps, it gets stuck in oil at the bottom of the trap and dies. The holes in the trap aren't large enough for a bee to get through, so they pose no threat to the hive. These traps can also use apple cider vinegar, that is said to attract the beetles. There are some very fun and interesting ways on YouTube to try and kick your beetle problem such as dryer sheets and homemade CD jewel case traps. Go check the videos out for yourself.
Question: I live in Michigan, what should cold weather beekeepers do to help the bees survive?
Answer: This is a great question and a topic where we feel MANY beekeepers fail. Beekeepers don't do enough to winterize their hives. In addition to putting food in the hive, adding an entrance reducer and putting your solid bottom board and solid inner cover on you need to insulate your hives. We cannot stress this enough. Many beekeepers talk about how bad their losses were over the winter; how they lost 29 of their 35 hives. In the bee world, it seems all too familiar to hear people talk about losing so many hives, but it doesn't have to be that way.
When you own a horse, cow, big, goat, etc., what do you do in the winter to help them survive? You put them in a barn, right? Now, i am not suggesting you put your hives in a barn (although you certainly could do this), but if you aren't going to put your hives in a barn, then you need to protect them from the winter elements like snow, wind/wind-chill, water, freezing temps. You do this by wrapping your hives. Put hay bales around them, make a wooden box that slides over them, wrap them in insulated tarps, maybe even Styrofoam boards; whatever it is, give them some insulation or "R" value as we call it in the building industry.
The bees are trying to maintain a VERY warm temperature (93-98 degrees) compared to the temps outside and a one inch piece of white pine as their hive box is FAR from being enough. When you insulate, you must remember to not block off their air flow 100% or else condensation will build up and then mold will grow and you will end up with a dead hive. ALWAYS leave a space open right in front of your deck on the bottom board and a gap at the top of the hive so air can enter the hive and vent out the top. This will allow them to control their temp, but also ventilate enough to avoid moisture.
Whatever it may be, you have to help them survive, don't just leave them out in the middle of a field and hope for the best, take some time and ensure they survive the winter.
Question: Do I have to register my hive with the State of Michigan?
Answer: No, Michigan does not require any sort of license or registration for hobby beekeepers. This rule differs from state to state, so make sure you check with them before you get your bees set up. Don't forget to check with your local body of governemtn too. (i.e. city, township, village)
Question: What pesticides are harmful to bees and when should I apply them?
Answer: This link is a great place to start. MSU lists when to apply your product and what the toxic level is for bees. Click here for link.
Question: My hive seems extra aggressive when I get into it, can I fix that?
Answer: The short answer is, yes. Lets expand on that just a bit. First, don't take a short term or single incident of the bees being very aggressive to just assume you have a hot hive. (we call overly aggressive hives, hot hives). Bees can be more aggressive when it is extraordinarily hot out, at night time, just before a major thunderstorm, if they are trying to defend or have been defending their hive from robbers, if they are infested with mites or beetles, etc. If your hive is consistently angry over a long period of time and you have had enough. Replace the queen with a different queen that you know is more calm. After 6 or 7 weeks the old workers from the hot queen will be replaced by the more gentle bees of the new queen and your hive should cool off.
Question: Is there a different hive setup for winter vs summer?
Answer: YES. When you install your NUC into your hive in the spring, you should have the summer setup ready for them before you install the NUC. Summer hives should have a screen bottom board and a screen inner cover. These screen pieces help the bees regulate their in hive temperature much easier. Typically hives are sold with a solid inner cover with a small hole in it; this is the winter inner cover, not the summer inner cover. Screen bottoms and inner covers will help immensely in the summer, when the bees are trying to keep their hive cool. It will prevent or reduce bee bearding on the front of the hive due to hot temps in the hive. The bottom screens also help small particles and even mites and beetles from falling on the bottom board and making a mess.
Question: Do I need to paint my hive?
Answer: Yes, you should paint your hive to help seal it from weather. Try to use a bright color if you are going to paint it something other than white. Darker colors will absorb the sun's rays and heat the box up too much. Paint your boxes many days before you actually install the hives to ensure it has dried and there are no paint fumes left. An exterior latex paint will be fine.
Question: Do I paint my hive inside and out?
Answer: NO. Only paint the outside parts that water and sun will get to. Do not paint the inside of your boxes or your frames, just paint the outside pieces.
Question: Can I get USED equipment for my hive instead of buying new?
Answer: You can use used equipment, however, keep a few things in mind.
Are you 100% sure that nothing is wrong with the equipment? Some bee problems can be present in hives for 7+ years after the hive is dead, so make sure you aren't buying someone else's problem and putting new bees into the infected hive. Consider, even if you get your used equipment from a friend or family member, that they might not know something is wrong with it. Ask your friend or relative why they aren't using the equipment anymore. If they say they just didn't want to do it anymore, then you can be a little less worried something might be wrong with the equipment. If they say "I stopped keeping bees because the last three years my bees kept dying and I don't know why", this should cause concern about using this particular equipment. In the end, new will ALWAYS be better and safe, but if you are trying to save some money, make sure you are thorough when inspecting equipment. We would NEVER recommend you buy used equipment off the internet or from a stranger.
Question: I don't feel comfortable taking care of bees yet, do you know of any beekeeping mentors?
Answer: Yes, give us a call or shoot us an e-mail and we can help connect you with a beekeeping mentor.
Question: I put my nuc in my hive weeks ago and they are still only on the 5 original nuc frames they came with. They aren't using any of the other frames? What do I do?
Answer: Try spreading the frames out so there is an used frame and then an empty frame all across the hive (empty, used, empty, used). This will encourage them to walk across the other frames and hopefully starting using them. You can also try misting sugar water on the un-used frames to stimulate them to start drawing out comb.
Question: I have a lot of land, but don't want to have bee hives myself, is there anyone who will put bee hives on my land?
Answer: It does happen, but it's not common. We know of people who have worked something out with a nearby neighbor to put some hives on their land for a little extra space, however, it is generally too labor intensive, especially if there is any drive distance. You might luck out if you have a beekeeper nearby that needs some more land for some more hives, but chances are, if no one lives nearby, you aren't going to come across anyone who wants to put hives on your land.