Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beginner Beekeepers - 4 Ways To Get Honey Bees

As a beginner beekeeper, there are several ways to get bees. This article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each way of getting your honey bees.

1. Get a Swarm

This can be a fun way to get bees, and has the main advantage that it is free. You can just put your name down on a swarm list with your local beekeeping association, which will often give preference to beginner beekeepers. Provided you have the help of an experienced beekeeper, a swarm is easily collected and placed in your hive, and you have a ready made colony.

But there are some disadvantages with this method of getting bees. It is very unpredictable - you never know quite when you will get a swarm, and there will often be other people on the list also waiting for a swarm. Because there is no brood, you have no way of judging how good the queen will be, and swarms will often need requeened as soon as possible.

Equally, you have no way of knowing the disease status or temperament of the bees in a swarm, as its origin is unknown. It is also unlikely that you will get honey in your first year, although this does depend on the size of the swarm, and the time of year - the earlier the better.

2. Package Bees

Package bees consist of 2 to 3 lbs of loose bees and a queen in a separate cage, all in a specially designed box that can be sent through the mail. There will also be a can of sugar syrup for feeding during transit. Apart from a swarm, this is the cheapest way to buy bees. Because of the strain of transport, the bees can sometimes be difficult to introduce to the hive (especially if the weather is bad), but generally this is a relatively easy way to start beekeeping.

The drawback is that there is no brood, so no way to assess the queen. No brood also means that it will take longer for the bees to get properly established and build up in numbers. This may mean no honey in the first year, but again will depend on how early you get your bees and the nectar flow in your area.

3. Nucleus colony

A nucleus colony (or 'nuc') is just a small temporary hive, usually containing 4 or 5 brood frames. It will contain a working queen, about 10,000 bees and plenty of brood, honey and pollen. You will usually collect your nuc locally, so the bees will definitely be suited to your area - a real advantage.

The queen is a nuc is usually new, and you will be able to see by looking at the brood just how productive the queen is. By transferring this into your beehive, your bees should get off to a great start, and you should have a good chance of honey in your first year.

The main disadvantage is, because you are buying an established colony (albeit a small one) this is a more expensive way to get started than just getting loose bees.

4. Fully established colony

Buying an existing colony is the most expensive option, although remember that you will not need to buy a new hive. The main advantage of this is that you will hit the ground running. The colony will already be fully established, with a full box of brood and stores, so you are much more likely to get honey in the first season.

Apart from the cost, there can potentially be problems with disease, and the queen will probably be older so may be reaching the end of her productive life. Also, as the hive is used it may need replacement parts sooner. If you do decide to go down this route, get an experienced beekeeper to check out the colony for any problems before you buy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Notable Differences between Africanised and European Honey Bees

There is very little physical difference between a Killer or Africanised Honey Bee and a European Honey Bee. The Africanised Bee is actually very slightly smaller but this difference  is not immediately obvious and often  microscopic analysis is the only way to tell them apart.

The main differences between the two type of bees is to be found in their behaviour and specifically the following:


On average a European honey bee colony will swarm once a year, whereas the Africanised bee will often swarm as often as every six weeks. In addition unlike the European bee when Africanised bees swarm they will often produce two swarms at a time. Swarming is the natural means by which bees replicate and spread. As the numbers in a hive expand a new queen (or queens in the case of  the Africanised ones ) will be produced and once mated these will leave the colony with a large number of the worker bees and honey stores to set up a new colony. By swarming so often Africanised bees are able to spread and populate a wider area considerably quicker than their less ambitious cousins.


As the Africanised bee swarms so frequently their numbers do not usually get as high as European bees so they are happy to occupy much smaller spaces than the Europeans. They will often occupy holes in the ground or trees and even meter boxes, mail boxes, flower pots or soda cans, will be considered. They also do not tend to occupy nests for long whereas European bees will colonise a site for years or as long as it remains weather and predator proof. Africanised bees also do not seem to mind if their nest is unconcealed and open whereas Europeans tend to look for protected sites, sealing up all but one small entrance.


Africanised bees are far more defensive of their brood (young) and their honey stores and it is this behaviour trait that gives them their bad reputations. Unlike European bees, which will normally guard an area of a  few feet around their hive and rarely chase a potential predator for any distance or send out more than a couple of bees to investigate; Africanised bees  will guard up to 100 yards and will come out of their nests in large numbers to defend that area.


The Sting from an Africanised bee is no worse than a European bee and like them they can only sting once. The problem for anyone encountering these bees comes from their tendency to attack in greater numbers thereby inflicting multiple stings, which tend to be focused on the head and neck areas.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Honey Bees Making a Start Beekeeping for All

Knowing honey bees, and having the knowledge for their management, are the two most important factors in making a start in the business of beekeeping. The knowledge should be obtained first or, at least, gaining it should keep pace with any increase in the numbers of honey bees. As in any business, it’s the same with bee-keeping, your need to have a broad and deep knowledge of the subject to succeed in this line of work. So many people fail in different kinds of business because they start it with only a narrow or superficial knowledge of their chosen profession. A very good way to gain the knowledge is working with an experienced and successful bee-keeper. This is one of the quickest ways of learning bee-keeping; and, if the teacher is competent, it can be a very enjoyable experience.

The beginner is not always able to get the best as an instructor, it is therefore, a good idea to supplement such instruction by a course of reading, and thus be able to make comparisons and discuss the instructor's methods in the light of those procedures used by others. In fact, I am inclined to think that a thorough course of reading is the most desirable first step that can be taken by a prospective bee-keeper. Having done this, the next step is to subscribe to a honey beekeeping magazine. At this stage a season with an expert bee-keeper would be of great value, when the reading will enable the learner to use the information, and see the reason for things instead of being simply an imitator, following blindly in the footsteps of his teacher.

Many people who now keep honey bees never had any formal training. Many have become interested in honey bees from the capture of a stray swarm. Neighbouring bee-keepers would be visited, books or magazines borrowed or bought, improved hives and methods adopted, and, as the honey bees increased, so did the enthusiasm and interest, until, finally, the honey bees received more time and attention than did the regular business. Then bee-keeping eventually become a speciality or the sole business.

When a person has decided to embark on a bee-keeping venture as a business, they should learn the business thoroughly before investing extensively. No hard and fast rules can be laid down, so much depending upon circumstances. A young man with no established business would do well to pass one or two seasons in the company of some experienced bee-keeper, as has been already suggested, while a more experienced person already in business, with a family to support, may find it advisable to move into bee-keeping gradually, reading and studying as his honey bees’ increase. Whatever the method employed, let the work be thorough; and, especially, be sure to get plenty of actual experience before venturing into honey beekeeping as a business.

On occasions, a person already has some honey bees when he decides to become a full-time bee-keeper. Perhaps he never formally makes any such decision. He captures a stray swarm, and saves the honey bees, and the stock increases with such wonderful speed that the owner becomes a bee-keeper of substance and scarcely realizes it. This amazing speed with which honey bees increase is one strong argument in favour of a person securing a few colonies and building them up into an apiary instead of buying a large number of colonies at the beginning. By rearing queens that will supply the newly made colonies with brood, and you furnishing them with full sheets of comb foundation, the amount by which honey bees can  increase in a favourable season is something almost beyond belief. Just how or where the first colonies come from may well be considered.

Sometimes the person who has steady work, and a good income, can buy honey bees and in the hives that they intend to use. If the honey bees and hives can be obtained locally, from a reliable bee-keeper, so much the better. Of course, there are instances in which a person has more time than money, or there may be a trace of the opportunist in their make-up, and, in either case, the hunting of honey bees, or the putting-out of decoy hives to catch stray swarms, will appeal to them. In those parts of the country where many honey bees are kept, as in Colorado or California, there is no difficulty in catching swarms in decoy hives; in fact, there is difficulty in keeping swarms out of chimneys and the walls of buildings. While out riding one day a man in Colorado, pointed out one house where the walls were covered with five colonies.

He used ordinary boxes instead of hives, and put them pretty high up in tall trees, as a good hive, easily accessible, is quite likely to be stolen.  A piece of old black comb is fastened inside the hive or box, and the hive or box is firmly fastened to the tree so that it is not to be easily blown down, a position being chosen where the hive will be in the shade. A tree on the edge of the woods should be chosen, because, when a swarm reaches the woods, it at once begins a search for a suitable hollow in which to make its home. This is sometimes done in advance by worker bees when foraging.  The hives or boxes are examined at least once a week, more often if there is time, and when one is found to be occupied by honey bees the hive or box is removed and another put in its place.

Honey bees are also found by walking through the woods in the swarming season.  After the honey bees have been found, then the next task is getting them out of the tree and into a hive. Sometimes it is possible to shake them from a light branch into a box, if they are located on a large limb, you might need to cut off the portion where they are located, and lower it by means of a rope. Having captured the honey bees they need to be transferred from the box to a hive. Frames with drawn comb should be put in the hive.  A white cloth or canvas should be placed in front of the hive and the honey bees shaken onto it.  Make sure there is a slight incline up to the hive entrance. If the hive is left on the spot for several hours, perhaps until dusk, nearly all of the live honey bees will go into the hive.

As said at the beginning, if a person has and a reasonable income they might find it more satisfactory to buy honey bees in a hive; but if they have the time and inclination to get a start by hunting honey bees, or by putting up decoy hives, then this should help them to do it.