Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Getting Started with Bees
A reader sent me an email yesterday asking about how to get started in bee keeping. I do a post on this topic every so often because honestly my opinion and experience in the matter changes as I discover new tricks or things that work. This time of year is also the perfect time to get ready if you want to get into bees this coming Spring as well.
Now you can buy bees and have them shipped to you but if you want to go that route you would need to find a company selling them now and put your name on the list. Personally I don't buy bees that way although I have had a queen or two shipped in. You could also look for ads like from Criagslist or something and try and find someone selling hives close to you and purchase an established hive. I have done this a time or two myself.
If you want to get into bee keeping with the least amount of cash flow out however let me tell you how I would do it.
First I would order the woodenware to build myself three or more actual bee hives. If your really good at wood working you could make them yourself and indeed I make all of my own bottom boards and top covers these days however for the brood chambers and surplus honey supers I just order them pre-cut. Seems to save me a lot of time and headache.
You need to get the big purchase of your tools and protective gear out of the way as well. I recommend a jacket with screened hood attached, just a simple hive tool and a smoker to begin with.
Whether I order in 1 hive worth of stuff or 10 I would also pick up an extra dozen frames or so. Frames are another area that you can play around with. I personally prefer plastic foundation frames to start off with and then get into the wire or open frames later. Bees don't like the plastic foundation as much but after they get it covered they don't care and plastic is so much easier and durable in the beginning. These extra frames will be the ones you use in your swarm traps.
At this point go to your local lumber store and buy some wood. It really doesn't matter what you buy I usually check the whole sale or reduced bin for anything large enough. What you are making is a swarm trap (Pictured above and below). The only important size to a swarm trap really is that you can fit frames into it length-wise like you see below.
I think it works out to being 19 and 1/4 inches in length depending on what you use to hold the frame lip in place. I just use a strip of wood as you can see from the picture. Now you are violating bee space in the traps but it doesn't matter because the bees won't be living in the traps long enough to build that much comb.
I have found the overall size isn't as important as some claim. The trap I have pictured is pretty big as you can see. It's about 20 inches long by 14 deep and 12 high but I have made them as much as half this size. The smaller ones of course will not attract the huge swarms but the bigger ones won't attract the smaller swarms either.
In this last picture you can see the way I put the hanger on the trap box. This allows me to remove the top easily instead of having it screwed down. Using this method I can just lop off a small branch on a tree and hang the trap up but I have also made stands that fit on fenceposts for smaller traps.
The key is getting a box out there for the bees to find.
Basically you are fishing. Make as many swarm traps as you can afford or have time to mess with. If you only have three hives ready you may want to limit your traps to less than six.
When Spring hits you will want to order in some Lemon grass oil from an organic oils place and start hanging your traps. I have found any thing over five foot or so high seems to work. Some claim 8 foot off the ground as optimal but I like to keep them within arms reach from the ground rather than carry around a ladder.
The best method that I have found is to place the trap so the entrance hole is facing East or South that seems to be more important to the bees. I will dip a q-tip into the Lemon grass oil and place it inside the hive to attract the scout bees refreshing it about every two weeks or so.
After that it is just a matter of waiting and checking your traps.
Once you have trapped a swarm the real fun begins but that would be a post of it's own.
The key to this method is getting the boxes out there. I would try this before buying bees, however if the area you have to put out traps is devoid of bees now you may not be able to trap any swarms. The traps are also good to have around once you have established hives just in case you miss one of your own swarms.
As I said this method is not fool proof. You won't attract bee swarms from much further than a couple of miles away so if your area has no feral bee colonies you might come up with zip. If however you have bees around it is a good cheap way to get started with the hassle and worry of shipping bees in the mail or moving a full blown (and heavy) hive.
Just be sure you have the gear and stuff ready to move any captured swarms into permanent hives within a day or two of trapping them.
Now would be the best time to get started on building and acquiring what you need come Spring if you plan on getting into bees.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!