Every homestead should have a colony or two of honeybees! Unless you live in the polar regions of the world, you can successfully raise honeybees. Everyone loves the taste of honey, and it can be an excellent extra source of revenue for your homestead. And don’t forget about the beeswax! It makes the most beautiful candles with a bright flame and a slightly sweet scent. You shouldn’t be afraid of these little critters! With proper equipment and handling, beekeepers rarely get stung.
Essential Beekeeping Equipment
You can get started with just a smoker, bee veil, and bee gloves. You’ll want to wear long sleeves and long pants and tuck them in securely to your gloves and boots.
How to Buy Honeybees
Just like any other addition to the homestead, getting started with honeybees does require a bit of an investment. Personally, I like American Golden Italian Honeybees because they are gentle, they produce lots of honey, and they have excellent resistance to natural enemies and sickness. Mine don’t seem to swarm as often as my neighbor’s bees do and they also overwinter well here in the north Georgia mountains.
I was lucky enough to find an apiary only a couple hours away from my house to purchase by bees, and I highly recommend seeking out a local source if you can find one. Locally raised bees will be better adapted to your climate and food sources. However, if you can’t find your bees locally, there are lots of places to buy them online.
Your bees will be sold as a nuc, (or nucleus) that includes a queen, workers, and drones to get the hive started. They are usually shipped by mail sometime during April or May. Be sure to have your equipment and hive ready to go when your bees arrive!
Setting Up Your Bee Hive
Setting up your beehive is actually pretty easy. You can save money by building your own, but they are pretty affordable to purchase online, too. I recommend buying your first hive pre-made so that you can duplicate it easily. You want everything to be universal so that the components will interchange easily between hives.
I use 10 frame Langstroth beehives, so that’s what I’m going to describe here. Let’s start from the bottom up. The first section is the hive stand. It should be placed on a hard, flat surface, like cinder blocks. Worker bees will be tired and loaded down with pollen and nectar when they get back to the hive, so I also like to have a ramp (just an inclined board, really) that leads up to the front of the hive to help them get to the hive entrance safely if they miss their mark.
Next comes the bottom board. I use a screened bottom board because it gives the hive better ventilation. Your bottom board also holds the sticky board that is used to monitor Varroa Mites. Above that is a slatted rack (this is optional, but I use them). A slatted rack also helps with ventilation, but its primary purpose is to give the bees space between the entrance hole and the brood chamber. It will also keep the hive cooler in the summer. If you decide to use one, it should be positioned with the wide board in the front, and the slats go on top.
On top of your bottom board or slatted rack sit two deep supers stacked on top of each other where the queen will lay her eggs, and the brood will be raised. Deep supers (also called brood chambers) are the large hive boxes that hold 10 frames each for the bees to build their wax into. The frames are made from plastic or wood and have what’s called foundation in the middle. The foundation is basically a model for the bees to build their own wax onto. Just to clarify, you will need two deep supers and a total of 20 frames for each hive.
Next comes the queen excluder, which is a rack that has holes in it to allow the worker bees access to the honey super, they are too small for the queen to get through. It’s not necessary, but I like to have one because it keeps the queen from being able to lay her eggs in the honey super.
Now for the best part! Your honey super is the box that the bees store their honey in. I use the medium sized honey supers. The honey super also holds 10 frames (medium size with foundation) per box. You can stack them as many as five deep, one on top of the other if you need to.
The inner cover comes next. This cover goes on top of your uppermost honey super, and it has an entrance hole as well as a hole in the middle. It also has a side that’s meant for winter and one that’s intended for the rest of the year. Your inner cover should be positioned with the entrance hole in the front of the hive and the rim side facing up for most of the year, and then turned when winter arrives.
Last is the outer cover. I use a telescoping outer cover that fits over the inner cover and has sides that hang down over the top honey super. I like it because it fits tight to protect the hive from weather and it has a galvanized metal top, so it will last a long time and not rot.
I know it sounds like a lot of parts and pieces, but once you have them in front of you, it’s straightforward to fit it all together.
In the next post, we’ll talk about how to install your new bees into the hive, go into detail about the role of the queen, and explain how to harvest the honey.