Getting Started in Beekeeping

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					 Getting Started in Beekeeping

         Evan Davies

Colonial Beekeepers Association
               First Questions
• How many answers do you get if you ask three
  beekeepers a question? Four, because beekeeping is
  a art and a craft as well as a science. There is always
  more than one way to do things.
• How long have you thought about keeping bees, and
  why do you want to do it now? Many answers to why
  to do it, including pollination, honey, wax for
  candlemaking, propolis, pollen, apitherapy, to help
  the balance of nature, for relaxation or nature study.
   What does it take to get started in
  Don’t Worry About Starting Choices
• Actually, there are few choices that you
  need to make up front in beekeeping;
  choices that will influence everything else
  that you do.
• You just need to decide between a few hive
  shapes and sizes. We will talk about those
  choices later.
Think More About Commitments
• To The Bees
• To The Craft
  –   Temperament and Health
  –   Learning
  –   Risk
  –   Patience
• Of Time
• Of Location
• Of Money
  Commitment To The Bees
You are sponsoring living creatures in
return for their unique services…

                   Having bees in the backyard is no different
                   than being responsible for any other animal,
                   whether a pet cat or dog, or farm animals
                   like chickens or horses. They need basic
                   care ... food, water, shelter, preventative
                   health care, protection from the elements,
                   each other, pests and diseases, vandals
                   and any other unnecessary stress in their

                   Yes, they are ‘just bugs’. But you will be
                   surprised at how attached you can become to
Commitment To Nature

   Bees      Plants
                 Commitment To Nature
Most beekeepers have or gain an ecological sense of connection and commitment to the
natural world.
Because the reality is that you don’t have bees if you don’t also have flowering plants. The
plants are the source of everything the bees need to survive But the opposite is also true -
One of the most important reasons to keep honeybees is their ability to pollinate trees,
flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Many statistics are given about the level of our dependence
on honeybees for agricultural pollination. At the very least, all our stone fruit, curcubit and
nut crops depend on pollinators.
Most beekeepers and their surrounding neighbors notice an increase in the pollination of
garden plants and flowers in the area.

As a beekeeper you will start to see firsthand the effects of some of the choices we made in
the late 20th century on natural systems. You may have heard of colony collapse disorder
and the other problems with pollinators.
Bees are in trouble right now – from pesticides, industrial farming, pollution,
Loss of habitat, parasitic mites and viruses – and we need all the 'natural' beekeepers
we can get to build up their numbers and give them a chance to solve their own
Keeping bees is an excellent way to help them overcome the obstacles that face them, and
                         Commitment to the Craft -
    • Are you scared of flying stingy things?
      – Congratulations, you’re human!

But you do need to be able to develop an ability to get past being scared of them,
and know that…
      Commitment to the Craft -
You are going to get stung.

  It is not a matter of if but when.
Commitment to the Craft -
         You can greatly reduce
         your chances of getting
         stung by working smart
         and wearing protective
                      Commitment to the Craft -
In time, you will learn the triggers
that set off YOUR bees; not all
triggers affect all bees in the same
way and those triggers may only
cause defensive behavior at
certain times of the year.

Keep note of when the bees seem
to be reacting defensively and
what you are doing, the state of
the hive, the weather, honey
flows currently happening, etc.
and learn from these clues.

But know that you will still get
         The Facts about Stings

• *30-50 people a year die from single
  hymenoptera (all bees and wasps) stings in the
  U.S. because they are highly allergic to
  bee/wasp venom. Most of them knew they were
  highly allergic, and were outside, off the
  pavement, and not carrying an anti-venom
• If you have had a previous medical emergency
  due to stings, and currently carry an anti-
  venom kit, beekeeping isn’t for you.
                 *Dr. David Golden, associate professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at
                 Johns Hopkins University's Medical Institute, 2009
         The Facts about Stings

• Except for cases of highly allergic reaction,
  it takes about ten stings per pound of body
  weight to administer a 50% lethal dose on
  adult humans. A 150 pound individual
  would need to receive about 1,500 stings to
  be at 50% risk of dying.
If you are getting stung 1,500 times while beekeeping,
you are doing something wrong!
     Beekeeping may not be for you.
You should remove the stinger from your skin as soon as
possible, which reduces the amount of venom injected into
your system.
There are many ways to help reduce the swelling and pain of a
sting. The best are antihistamines such as Benadryl, and ice.
Others are vinegar, meat tenderizer paste, and calamine lotions.
       Types of Reactions to Stings
• Normal - localized pain, minor swelling, a weal (raised red area with a
  white center), itching all of which should diminish and generally go away
  within hours or at most a few days.
• Large Local - this starts similar to a normal reaction but after 24-48 hours
  the swelling can spread over an extensive area, sometimes the entire
  extremity (whole arm, leg, face etc.). This type of reaction can be quite
  painful due to the swelling and the itching can become unbearable;
  usually this type of reaction can take anywhere from 4-7 days to resolve
  itself. Treat with antihistamines and ice packs.
• Systemic Allergic -- Hives, angioedema (massive facial swelling), a metallic
  taste in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, light-
  headedness, dizziness, fainting, and tremors. If you or someone you know
  experiences these symptoms IMMEDIATELY call for an ambulance. Again,
  truly severe reactions occur in less than 1/tenth of 1% of the population.
          Treatments for Stings
• Reduce the swelling - antihistamines (such as
  Benadryl) and ice. Others are vinegar, meat
  tenderizer paste, and calamine lotions.
• Epi Pens - are prescription items that contain a dose
  of adrenaline to overcome the allergic reaction to a
  sting so that the "victim" can seek medical attention.
  Some sources will recommend that as a beekeeper,
  you carry an epi pen. However, they are expensive,
  require a prescription (more expense) and expire
  quickly (typically only good for a year) so that the
  carrying of one "just in case" can be quite expensive
  if you are not allergic.
                        Commitment to the Craft -
                                               The far more important
                                               question is: can you lift a
                                               box weighing 45-85
                                               You will need to be able
                                               to lift honey supers and
                                               hive boxes and carry
                                               them around without
                                               throwing your back out.
Also, can you stand being outside in the heat and humidity while wearing a bee-suit?
             Commitment to the Craft –

• Do you like to learn about
  the natural world? You will
  become a scientist if you
  commit yourself to learning
  to keep bees successfully.
• You will continue in a long
  line of amateur and
  professional scientist
                                    Charles Dadant, founder
                                    of the Amer. Bee Journal
                            Commitment to the Craft –
    • You will learn about nectar
      flow, plant life, honeybee
      biology and lifecycles, colony
      behavior, disease and
      medicines, integrated pest
      management, etc..
    • The best beekeepers are
      those who learn to think like
      a honeybee by
      understanding their social
      nature and biological needs.
                                                             Brother Adam of Buckfast
                                                             Abbey, bee geneticist
Brother Adam spent 70 years at Buckfast Abbey, England, improving the genetic stocks of the
European honeybee, and breeding survivor bees to withstand tracheal mites.
                            Commitment to the Craft –

    • This means keeping records,
      too. You can’t experiment with
      bees unless you remember what
      you have done and what you
      want to do.
    • Many beekeepers don’t figure
      this out for a few years, until
      they realize they can’t
      remember which hive was
      better or which one they
      previously manipulated, and for
                                                                 Dr. Marla Spivak, U.Minn.
      what reasons.                                              2010 MacArthur Fellow
Dr. Spivak is a pioneer entomologist who is developing the Minnesota Hygienic Line of bees,
which resists varroa mites. The MacArthur Foundation gives $500,000 ‘Genius Grants’ every year
to those who they believe have ‘advanced the world’s knowledge’.
    Commitment to the Craft –
    Risk Orientation

           What is the

Are you a rancher/farmer by disposition?
That is to say, are you a Gambler?
    Beekeeping differs from other agriculture because the
    beekeeper simply lacks much of the control inherent in
                   other farming activities.
                                           --Malcolm Sanford, UF bee extension agent

Because, folks, this is ranching with tiny flying livestock that you cannot
corral, vaccinate, or provide much guidance to. Beekeeping is inherently
a risky enterprise.
                            Commitment to the Craft –
                            Risk Orientation

        •Weather                                   •Pests & Pesticides
        •Diseases                                  •Accidents
        •Annual Climate Variation                  •Bee Genetics
        •Nectar Flow                               •Feed & Commercial Prices
Every bit of weather, microclimate, diseases, sugar prices, etc. all affect the outcome, and all
              you can do is increase your knowledge, do your best, and hope.
            Commitment to the Craft –
• Each hive of bees works at their own pace.
• The bees don’t read the same books you do.
• You may not get any surplus honey in the
  first year or in any given year.
• Your bees may die.
• As a beekeeper, you will be asked questions
  that border on the idiotic.
• You will have to be diplomatic to counteract
  the misinformed and the uneducated.
          Time Commitment
• It will take some time to keep bees. How
  much? More time than a cat - not as much
  time as a dog, an old saying goes.
• You cannot set a hive in your backyard and
  never look at it again until honey harvest.
• The time needed changes by the season. The
  beekeeper’s year follows the natural cycle of
  the hive.
             Time – The Beekeepers Year
  • To begin, you need to set aside time early
    in the year to assemble and paint your
    hives and frames. You do planning and
    fixing equipment during the early winter
    months, when the bees aren’t active
  • Typically, mid-February is good,
    although you can order and assemble
    equipment at any time of the year.

Rest assured that the bees are already planning and fixing in their own way. When is
beekeeper’s new year? Does anybody know? The winter solstice. Dec 22nd. As soon as the
bees sense that there is a minutes worth more light than the previous day, their year begins,
even if you cant see it.
      Time – The Beekeepers Year
• Spring is your busiest season -- you
  will be putting on hive boxes for the
  bees to increase and swapping off
  honey supers as needed.
• Next you are looking at an hour or
  two a month for checking your hives
  and performing basic maintenance
  between May and September. In the
  summer and early fall, you monitor
  their health and manipulate their
  environment to help them get ready
  for winter.
      Time – The Beekeepers Year
• Finally, you will need to
  set aside a day or two to
  harvest and bottle any
  surplus honey the bees
  may have produced;
  typically this is done in
  August or September, but
  can be earlier or more
• Once your hive is
  established, you may have
  the opportunity to harvest
  several times a year.
            Time – Bottom Line
• For a couple of hives, figure an hour a month in the
  winter-off seasons, and bi-weekly attention during the
  spring and summer seasons to do actual work with the
• The largest time investment is in becoming familiar
  with beekeeping management challenges - the learning
  and planning phase of beginning beekeeping.
• You should attend club meetings, seminars, and
  classes to increase your knowledge, in addition to
  joining forums on the internet and reading books,
  magazines, and catalogs.
• Just like real estate, beekeeping depends on
  location, location, location.
• Bees need access to forage -- you need
  blooming plants within a 2 mile radius around
  your hives. Remember, pine forests are largely
  nectar sterile. Pure agricultural areas can be
  sterile too, as monocrops planted all the way to
  the road in modern farming may not leave
  room for wildflowers or weeds.
• Aim for a maximum of 4 hives on a ½ acre lot.
• Check restrictive covenants if you are
  considering keeping bees in a residential
  neighborhood to make sure there are no
• The city of Newport News has only two
  requirements – a setback distance from
  property lines, and provision of a water
• There are no other requirements in other
  peninsula localities, yet.
• Leave yourself room to work around your
  hives. Do not jam them together.
• Place hives on level ground so you don’t
  stumble while lifting boxes.
• Erect a 6-foot barricade between hives and
  your lot line or active foot-traffic areas in
  your yard to keep bees flying high and
  avoiding accidental collisions with you in
  their takeoff and landings.
Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile
    Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Sunlight - full sun or
dappled sun work best.
Remember, bees need
the sunlight to warm up
and get going in the
morning. If you keep a
hive in a shaded area,
they may not get started
working as early in the
morning and in the
winter, at all. Southern
exposure is helpful for
this reason.
 Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water - bees need to
drink and to cool the
hive. Bees will go to
the easiest source of
water - ensure that
you have a ready
source of water near
your hive that is clean
and available for the
warm months of the
 Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water - this is where
you may run into
problems with
neighbors. Your bees
may go to their
swimming pool, air
conditioner, birdbaths,
dog water or leaky
faucet, if you don’t
provide water first.
 Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

Water – However,
make sure your water
source will not flood
your hive area.
Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

                                                                Wind - you
                                                                want to protect
                                                                your hive from
                                                                exposure to
                                                                winds that will
                                                                blow INTO the
                                                                most hives face
Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

                                                                Wind – Use
                                                                fences, hedges,
                                                                brushlines, or
                                                                terrain to
                                                                provide a wind
                                                                break for your
                                                                especially in
Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

                                                                Air – Make
                                                                sure your
                                                                location does
                                                                not have
                                                                humid stagnant
                                                                air which can
                                                                cause diseases,
                                                                molds, and
Best Apiary Characteristics from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro & Avitabile

                                                         Vehicle Access –
                                                         You want to get as
                                                         close as possible by
                                                         vehicle (if not in
                                                         your backyard) to
                                                         eliminate lugging
                                                         heavy honey supers
                                                         very far. You
                                                         especially don’t
                                                         want to lug them
Protection - you need to protect your
hive from several key items: high water,
predators, snowdrift, fire, and
• Most hives are raised off of the
  ground at least 6" to prevent
  exposure to water due to rain or
  irrigation. Keeping your hive off of the
  ground will also help keep some
  predators such as mice and ants out
  of your hive.
Protection - Predators such as skunks
and raccoons should be considered and
there are steps that can be taken to
combat them if you live in an area
where they are present. Ants can be
kept at bay using ground cinnamon,
ashes, oil barriers, diatomaceous earth,
and other means.
Protection - Raising your hive will also
help minimize the build up of snow in
the winter; the bees need to be able to
exit the hive on warm days in the winter
for cleansing flights.
You can’t fully protect your hives from
fire, but you can minimize the chances
by not putting your hive around stacks
of old wood or in dry grass fields where
a fire could spread quickly.
Protection from paranoid, ignorant,
and irrational people.
• Out of sight is out of mind.
• Vandalism must be considered; don’t
  place a hive where the general public
  has access to it. Try to put your hive
  somewhere out of the way or out of
  sight to reduce or remove the risk.
  Make sure your hive is on private
  property that you either own or have
  permission to use.
        Equipment and Costs
• There are just a few fundamental choices
  that will affect the beekeeping equipment
  you buy when starting.

  First, you cannot use a
  skep - they are illegal in
  all 50 states because you
  cannot remove the
  individual combs.
          Equipment and Costs
• Although there are other kinds of hives (topbar, Warre,
  English garden, etc) the only hive I would recommend to
  beginners is the Langstroth hive, named after the father
  of American beekeeping, Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine
  Langstroth, who standardized it in the 1840s.
  There are two American sizes for
  Langstroth hives, one 8 frames
  wide and one 10 frames wide.
  The 10 frame is the standard of
  the commercial beekeeping
  industry, while the 8 frame has
  recently become popular for
  hobbyists, due to less weight.
        Equipment and Costs
• In addition, 8 or 10 frame Langstroth hives
  can have deep or medium-sized frames.
  Traditionally, deep frames are used for the
  bee’s space, while medium or even shallower
  frames are used to collect honey.
  Recently, many
  beekeepers have started
  standardizing on all
  medium equipment to
  cut down on multiple
  sizes, and for weight
         Equipment and Costs
• You should plan to spend $300-400 to set up
  everything to receive one colony of bees, and
  probably $175 to set up a second hive for bees.
• You should plan to pay $80-120 for a colony of
• You should start beekeeping with two hives.
  Having two will allow you to compare them to
  each other and allow you to figure out much faster
  if one of them is not doing well.
• You should not expect to make any excess honey in
  your first year, so you should not expect any
  immediate return on your investment.
         Equipment and Costs
• There are some household tools and materials that you
  should have before getting into beekeeping, such as a
  hammer, wood glue, wood square, ratcheting straps,
  paint (outdoor) and painting tools , spray bottles,
  notebook, pen and markers, and a means for moving
  hives, bees and supplies, like a car or truck.
• Don’t buy a pre-packaged kit unless you know you
  will use everything in it. That means you should hang
  around other beekeepers long enough to see what
  others are using.
• Two cases in point - boardman feeders and solid
  bottom boards are not widely used around here, and
  yet they are routinely sold as parts of prepackaged
        Equipment and Costs
Hive is built in this order --
 screen bottom board, two
 hive bodies with frames,
 honey super(s) with
 frames, inner cover,
 telescoping cover.
          Equipment and Costs
• The tools are: bee suit or veil,
  gloves, hive tool, smoker and
  lighter, sugar feeders, and a pail-
  o-specialized gadgets.

• The hive tool is pretty much the
  basic badge of the modern
• We strongly encourage you to purchase bees
  through a local club ‘nuc’ program.
• Beekeepers in this area are committed to keeping
  out Africanized bees and are raising nucleus colonies
  to sell. The best defense against Africanized bees are
  strong colonies of European honeybees already
  established in the area.
• Nucleus-raised bees are acclimated to this area and
  are further along in development than package bees.
  Package bees are thrown together from many
  different hives with a queen that they have never
  seen before. Nuc colonies have already accepted and
  worked with their laying queen when you purchase
          Learn from the bees.
           Don’t go it alone.
• We strongly encourage
  you to get involved with
  a local beekeeping
  organization prior to
  getting bees. Just
  ordering a package of
  bees from an unknown
  supplier and buying
  some equipment from a
  catalog can bring quick
  disappointment and hive
        For Further Information:
The Colonial Beekeepers
Association meets the third
Tuesday of most months at
St. Lukes United Methodist
Church, 300 Ella Taylor Road,
Yorktown (Grafton), Virginia
at 7 PM.

   Beginning Beekeepers Course
Colonial Beekeepers conducts
a Beginning Beekeeping
Course in the Spring of each
Other classes are held
throughout the year.
Check the website for classes
and events, times and

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