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Just thinking of getting started...

 
C Shobe
Posts: 54
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Hi everyone...

I've been thinking about starting to raise bees on my property - I plan on planting a lot of food as well as some flowers in the spring and figure that they would make a wonderful addition to help pollination and just to help promote bee life and nature in general. A bit of excess beeswax for making candles and/or honey would be a nice addition too.

I'm wondering if some of you with more experience could give me some advice on how to get started. As a DIYer, I'd like to build as much of the necessary equipment as possible myself - any links to instructions? Any items I really need to think about buying? How big should I plan to have plenty enough to make it feel worth my while without being an overwhelming amount of work? I live on about 5-6 acres of property (mostly sparse forest with dense brambles and shrubs at the moment), and don't want to create a notable nuisance for neighbors, though I don't really think that would be much of a problem. Most importantly, assuming I have everything set up and ready, how do I get started? How do I start a hive and where do I buy the bees from? What is the best time of year to start? Are there particular types of wildflowers I should buy seeds for to ensure the bees have foods they enjoy throughout the year?

Sorry for being completely new at this, and thanks in advance for any and all advice!
 
tel jetson
steward
Posts: 3356
Location: woodland, washington
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here's David Heaf's page that includes decent plans for building a Warré hive. there are links for metric and imperial plans in the top right corner.

the internal dimensions of Oscar Perone's design are 57 x 57 x 57 cm for the brood chamber, and 57 x 57 x 10 cm for the three honey supers. the comb grid bars are 24 mm wide with 9 mm between them.

plans for horizontal top bar hives are far from standardized, but it seems like plans are easy to come by. I've never built one of these.

I can't speak much to Langstroth hives or components except that they are still the most common in the U.S. by far, and are likely relatively easy to come by used in many parts of the country. buying used has its risks, though, some quite serious. apart from the frames, building a Langstroth hive would not be difficult unless box joints were desired. even then, box joint jigs are available to buy or could be fabricated and would make the job relatively simple.

do you know which style hive you would like to use?


once you've got a hive (or several), you've got a few options for populating it. my favorite is to find and collect a swarm locally. many in the bee keeping establishment would recommend against this, and if one share's their philosophy of beekeeping, their reasons may have some traction. I don't share that philosophy. local swarms are more likely to be adapted to local conditions; they are a coherent biological unit and establish in a hive quickly; apart, perhaps from fuel for transportation, they are free. the main disadvantage, from my point of view, is uncertainty. if you like this option, contact your local beekeepers association about getting on their swarm list. contact local pest control businesses about referrals when they get honey bee swarm calls. contact animal control, fire departments, health departments, police, anybody who might get called when a swarm shows up and scares somebody. put up ads on craigslist. put up cards in local businesses.

then there's buying bees. sometimes folks retiring from beekeeping will sell populated hives, but it doesn't happen enough to count on it. when I do cutouts, I usually sell the colony in a hive, and I occasionally sell hives with a swarm moved in. you could certainly check around your area to see if anybody is doing something like that, but I wouldn't count on it.

more common options are buying a package/shook swarm and buying a nucleus colony. a nucleus colony, or nuc, is usually sold on five Langstroth combs, though the occasional supplier will sell them in a Warré box (maybe only in France). this, of course, presents a problem if you're using any hive other than a Langstroth. see here for one way around that. apart from lack of local adaptation and the negative aspects of conventional breeding, one disadvantage I see follows from the way nucs are created. generally, two to five frames of comb are removed from an existing colony and placed into a nucleus box with whatever bees remain on the comb. either a queen is introduced, or the bees are left to raise their own queen using one or several recently laid eggs in the comb. this is an artificial form of increase. the bees did not swarm on their own, and the nucleus is not likely to be made up of the best mix of bees to start a new colony. but nucs do work just fine for plenty of people.

package bees are another option. the most obvious disadvantage there is that there's generally some dodgy work involved introducing a the queen to the rest of the package, though packages also share the disadvantages of nucs. bee packages are also called shook swarms, because they're generally made up by shaking bees off of frames into a container. the bees are often from more than one colony, so won't necessarily be related at all. a captive bred queen is often included, and she is also not likely to have any relation to the other bees. again, packages work fine, and are a well-established means of starting colonies. I just don't personally care for them.

depending on supply/demand, location, and genetics, packages and nucs can cost anywhere from around $30 to over $150. remember, capturing a swarm is generally free, and it's a lot of fun.


keep asking more questions. I do get carried away, but I hope I gave you at least a little bit of useful information.
 
Stewart Lundy
Posts: 69
Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia, USA, Zone 7b, KeB Bojac Sandy Loam
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The easiest and cheapest hive you'll probably be able to build is a Top Bar Hive.

Wyatt Mangum's book "Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure Combined" just came out this year. The book is clear and has very good diagrams along with endless color photos:
http://www.tbhsbywam.com/

The book is not cheap, but it is well indexed and cross-referenced -- a wealth of information. But for a free option, you might try this: http://aabees.org/ebooks/how_to_build_a_top_bar_hive.pdf
 
Heather Brenner
Posts: 28
Location: Helmville, Montana
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I'm building a top bar hive, and I think a shook swarm/package is probably my best option at this point. Do any of you have particular favorite places to buy such things? I'm in western MT, so a northerly place to buy bees would probably be best. Thanks!
 
Ben Plummer
gardener
Posts: 345
Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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Heather, I've seen Gold Star recommended on these forums before, Abe is pretty knowledgeable. Hard not to plug the good folks just down the road too. It doesn't get as cold here as in Montana but it isn't exactly balmy in winter.
 
Heather Brenner
Posts: 28
Location: Helmville, Montana
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Thank you! They look more suitable than anyone I found last night.
 
tel jetson
steward
Posts: 3356
Location: woodland, washington
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have you considered a natural swarm?
 
Heather Brenner
Posts: 28
Location: Helmville, Montana
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I like the idea, but, being new to beekeeping AND new to the area AND I generally have 3 little kids in tow, I'm thinking catching a swarm is not the way for me to go this year.
 
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