Once you get your hive there are some accessories you'll want to get started. In addition to the equipment listed below it's best if you can get a bird bath or gently sloping dish filled with water (Bees need water and providing a water source in your yard prevents your bees from heading over to the neighbor’s pool!)
There are many wonderful books about Top Bar, Warré, and foundationless beekeeping that will aid both novice and veteran beekeepers. We have a wide selection of books on our website that will help you on your journey.
We recommend: An accessible spot in your yard to place your hive with enough space to comfortably move and walk around the hive. South-eastern exposure is ideal, but if you don’t have that, don’t sweat it! Just try and get the hive early sun, long sun, and maybe a little shade in the afternoon, especially in warmer climates.
You will want to start your hive in the spring. Use the fall and winter to prepare: buy a hive and supplies, plan, find a place for the hive in your yard, read, or take a class. Come spring time, you'll be ready to rock! In northern climates, spring is a good time to start because as soon as the weather warms, the bees need as much foraging time as possible to build up their nectar, honey and pollen stores. They then use these stores to eat all winter long. Starting out, we recommend keeping two hives, if possible. It is a great learning opportunity to compare and contrast the productivity of the two hives. Also, it can be discouraging if you lose your one and only colony in your first year of beekeeping and have no other bee hive going!
There are several options. Spring is the time to populate your hive (April-Late May in Portland, Oregon). Any later than that and generally (in Northern climates especially) the bees won’t have enough forage time to build up food (honey and pollen) stores to sustain them through the winter.
What’s a swarm, you ask? Swarming is a natural way for bee colonies to propagate, producing new colonies for the world. It is a totally natural process that occurs in all colonies. Think of it as a means of reproduction, but on a colony-wide scale! There are scores of videos on our youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/beethinking showing what bee swarms look like and how to catch them. For more on swarming, please refer to: How to Catch a Swarm of Bees. For further questions please contact us directly.
2. Bait & Trap – Swarm traps and bait hives. This can sound intimidating, but we know many brand new beekeepers that tried to lure a swarm and found that no sooner had they built a lure, then they had a colony move in all on their own! Swarm traps and bait hives can be built following simple plans found on the internet. There is also a book called: Swarm Traps and Bait Hives, by McCartney Taylor that we sell. A benefit is that again you would likely be attracting hearty, local bees from your area.
3. Packages - Alternately, you can obtain bees by purchasing a package from a breeder. Generally, packages will be coming from a warm climate such as Arizona, California or Texas and will be shipped to you via the USPS, who will call you quickly once they arrive! Packages generally contain one queen that has been open mated or artificially inseminated, along with 10,000 bees from a few different colonies. The bees are put together in a box containing sugar water syrup in a can (their food supply during travel), and the queen which hangs in a small cage at the center of the box, while the bees around her get used to her scent. A simple internet search for “package bees” will yield many results and providers. If you use this method of obtaining bees, contact us for instructions on how to release the queen, which will be a bit different than in a commercial style of hive.
Getting connected with local beekeepers, especially local foundationless beekeepers, will help you tremendously. A simple internet search for “foundationless beekeeping” and the name of your town, closest major city or even state, will no doubt yield good results and resources. Other search terms that will help are using the name of the hive type you have, and the name of your community or town, such as: “Top Bar Hive, Houston, Texas.” This will lead you to meeting some great folks of all different experience levels. It’s great to have someone to ask questions of, observe, and commiserate with if your bees don’t want to cooperate!
Can I Just Install Them & Leave Them Alone?
No. Bee hives require good management! They are less work than dogs, but more than goldfish! Unless you live on a large property and don’t care if your bees swarm over and over, or leave entirely, you will need to be managing them to provide adequate space. During foraging season your bees will be building comb and storing nectar and honey at a very fast rate. As their hive gets close to being full, the beekeeper will need to create more space by adding either a box (such in a Warré or foundationless Langstroth hive), or adding more empty bars, as in a Top Bar Hive.
Can I Give My Bees The Maximum Amount of Space in the Hive and Leave them Alone to Fill It?
No. Bee hives require management, if you want your bees to stay and if you want to easily open the hive, harvest honey, or be a good beekeeping neighbor. If bees are given too much space, they will build their comb in such a way that makes sense and is usable to them, but not to humans. This is called ,“cross comb.” Cross comb is a good way to quickly become a frustrated beekeeper! Simple management and checking on your bees can prevent cross comb before it starts.
Space management will also deter your colony from excessive swarming. While swarming can be a sign of a strong, healthy colony, swarming decreases your colony’s population and therefore their productivity. Swarms can also be a nuisance for nearby neighbors. In general, we personally like to see one strong, early-spring swarm from our hives. There are many resources both online and in print for learning more about swarms and swarming.
When Can I Harvest Honey?
We generally recommend leaving all of the honey made in the first season of beekeeping, inside the hive. The reason why, is that the bees eat their honey over the winter. Taking too much honey out can cause your bees to starve over the winter! For this reason, a good rule of thumb is to wait to harvest until spring has entirely arrived. This way the bees are already out foraging on new flowers and plants and what is left in the hive is less important as their food source.
How much honey your bees need to make it through a winter is entirely dependent on where you live and how strong the colony is. Your best bet is to check with local beekeepers and local resources to find out how much honey your bees need to have stored up to make it through the winter. For instance, in the almost coastal zone 5 in the Pacific Northwest, beekeepers leave between 30 and 50 pounds of honey in their hives in the winter. Of course, in more extreme climates this number can climb significantly!
The quantity of honey produced depends entirely on the weather during the growing season. Just like with gardens, grey, cold, and rain results in a pretty bad harvest. Bees generally begin to fly and work once the temperature reaches about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Much Honey WIll I Get?
Beyond your first year of beekeeping, a good second year can result in anywhere from 40-100 pounds (or more) of excess honey for the beekeeper! Of course, beyond making space for the bees to keep building comb and storing honey, you do not have to harvest honey. Many beekeepers simply want to provide a home for bees in their garden and see the amazing benefits of pollination in their garden and community!
How Much Honey Do the Bees Need for the Winter?
As we stated above, how much honey your bees need to make it through a winter is entirely dependent on where you live and how strong the colony is. Your best bet is to check with local beekeepers and local resources to find out how much honey your bees need to have stored up to make it through the winter. If you have a top bar hive, keep in mind that a full bar of capped honeycomb can weigh between 5-7 pounds.
Do I Need to Insulate the Hive for the Winter?
Depending on your location, the practice of insulating hives may vary. We suggest checking with local beekeepers to see if and how they insulate. If you’ve got two hives, you can try experimenting with insulating one and not the other. More important than insulation is keeping your hive out of strong winds.
Some Beekeepers Don't Understand Why I've Chosen a Top Bar or Warre Hive? Why?
Beekeeping is considered agriculture; you will find as many opinions about beekeeping as you will about how to grow the best carrots. Most beekeepers in the United States use commercial hives, called Langstroth hives. Langstroth hives can be quickly stacked one on top of the other easily and loaded on trucks to drive to mono-crop sites in need of mass pollination, such as the almonds in California. For the purposes of backyard and hobby beekeeping, various types of hives are suitable for the job and can offer different interaction with the bees.