While I promised the next post would be related to the chicken coop build, I couldn’t help but make this post first. So the chickens are just about 5 months old and the sole rooster has decided he is old enough to “try” and start crowing. I say “try’ because we just laugh as he currently sounds like a broken kazoo, thus the name Kazooster. He is getting better everyday!
So now we have a hive (Part 1), what we need next is bees. There are two main ways to get bees for your new hive: package bees and nucs.
But first lets talk about a little about hive placement. Your bees need a couple of things, water, sun, and protection. They will travel up to 3 miles to collect nectar, but these other items are closer to home. They need a water source and will find their own if not provided, think neighbor’s swimming pool. I have found that something like a small concrete bird bath placed in proximity to the hive works pretty well. Regrading the sun, bees work sun up to sun down, so placing the hive in full sun will maximize there work day. For this same reason it is recommended to face the hives south so they get the most of the sunshine. Finally protection, by this I mean a couple of things. A good wind break will help protect the hive from being blown over and from winter storms. Also, they need to be located to protect people and animals from interfering with their work.
A package of bees is typically 3lbs of worker bees and a single queen. They come with the queen in a special box that has a candy plug to keep her separate during shipping. Once they arrive they queen box is placed in between a couple of frames and the worker bees are coated with sugar water to calm them before dumping them into the hive. After a couple of days you will need to check that the queen was released and has gotten to work. The advantage of this is they are typically cheaper than a nucs and can be used with any of the hive types from the previous post (Part 1). The downside is the bees are starting from scratch and will need to be feed and watched over more carefully.
A nuc is basically an established 5 frame hive. You will receive 5 mostly full frames of brood, nectar, and drawn comb. It will include a queen and an already working army of bees. When you pick it up or it arrives make sure you find the queen and she gets into the new hive. Another tip I found was to insist on picking them up in the early evening when most of the bees have returned. Some less than good bee keepers will deliver them during the day and re-queen the nuc with returning workers. Or so I am told. The advantage here is your hive has a head start over a package and should have brood cells and nectar all ready to go. One point of “opinion” I found about this was whether or not the new nuc needed to be feed when I got it home. We decided since they had 5 empty frames to build out that we would feed to help them get established. The disadvantages to nucs is they are more expensive because you are getting bees and frames, plus you are stuck with the hive type of where you get the bees, i.e. you cant put top-bar frames in your Langstroth hive.
We decided to go with a nuc since the bees would be established and hopefully know what to do even if we didn’t. The other reason we did this was to get “local” bees that were already adjusted to our climate. You can order packages from a lot of places, but mostly from warmer southern climates because they can raise bees over the winter months and build up the bee supply. We wanted our bees to have over wintered successfully in the expectation that they would do better in future years. What I learned when we picked them up was that while the workers were local, the queen was from California. The bee keeper told me he could split hives to get the workers, but to get queens this early they had to come from out of state. I guess that will have to do since we already brought them home. Also, a quick link out to a great site “Keeping Backyard Bees”. I wasnt sure how I was going to get the bees home inside my SUV, but since I am on their mailing list at just the right time we got an email about “Transporting Bees Without Nuc Boxes”. Check it out and sign up for their free email list.
This is a series of post about our endeavor to raise bees at Stone Hill Ridge. But lets deal with the title first. One thing I have for sure learned in a few short months of starting to work with bees, every beekeeper has an opinion and some are better than others! I have been told the exact opposite things but different bee keepers as we are starting out. So half seriously we have decided to just make it up as we go along. At the very least it should be entertaining for you the blog reader.
So this is part 1 and for us that starts with the hives. There are a couple of different main types: Langstroth hives, Top-Bar hives, and Warré hives.
Langstroth hives are the ones you are used to seeing and are used in most commercial operations. They are square and usually painted white, although I am told that is not necessary and any color will do the bees don’t care. It is just needed to protect the wood against rot. As the bees fill a box a new one is added to the top. One of the things I have found that each bee keeper has an opinion on is how many frames to put into a box. A frame is a a square wooden frame that holds the honeycombs the bees build, it typically contains a sheet of plastic or wax to get the bees started. There are both 10 frame and 8 frame hives, but some say put 9 frames in a 10 frame hive or another told me to put 11 in to force the bees to build smaller more natural cells. This is the type of hive we started with, but more on that later.
Top-bar hives look more like a tree laid on its side with legs to lift it off the ground to a workable level. In this style of hive instead of stacking new boxes, frames are added to the back as the bees fill the ones they have. This type of hive will be used with empty frames or basically just the top-bar with some bees wax on it so the bees know where to build, thus the name. It is said to be better fro the bees because it allows them to build a more natural style honeycomb.
Warré hive look similar to a Langstroth in style, but are different. They have a more complex roof system that contains material to absorb moisture and help the bees regulate hive temperatures. For this reason they are used most often in colder climates. They also use an empty frame like the top-bar to allow the bees to do what they do best. It is hard to inspect the hive because the frames can not be removed without damaging the honeycomb.
As I stated we went with the Langstroth design mostly because it was more available and most bee keepers used them and could be a resource if we needed help. We bought a setup from Ebay that had 2 supers (deep boxes) and 3 mediums (medium depth boxes). The goal is the bees use the two supers for their own food and raising other bees, while eventually the fill the mediums with honey for us. Although I am told not to expect any in the first year, but that is a bee keepers opinion and up for discussion. The hives came mostly unassembled , so here are some pictures of the construction.
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