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where to start?

 
Natasha Bailey
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We are getting ready to move to our new homestead and start it up from scratch. We are in Northern California if that matters... I would LOVE to keep honey bees. Where does one start? What do I need to know? Do I keep them near our garden or how far? We will be on 20 acres. Thank you!
 
tel jetson
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it's a good time to be thinking about this. probably your first big step will be to decide which style of hive to use. popular options in the U.S. include Langstroth, horizontal top bar, Warré, and Perone. your choice will be informed by what your beekeeping goals are. once you decide, you'll have to either buy or build your hive or hives. except for the Perone, these styles are all commercially available. apart from the Langstroth, they're all relatively easy to build.

then you'll want to decide how you want to get bees. the style of hive you choose will be important, here. if you decide you want to purchase a nucleus hive, for example, installing it into a Warré hive will involve some fairly major surgery. your main options for purchasing bees will be nucleus hive, package, and a whole hive. if you don't want to purchase bees, you can collect swarms and/or try to lure them into bait hives.

those choices are probably enough to keep you busy for now.
 
Natasha Bailey
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tel jetson wrote:it's a good time to be thinking about this. probably your first big step will be to decide which style of hive to use. popular options in the U.S. include Langstroth, horizontal top bar, Warré, and Perone. your choice will be informed by what your beekeeping goals are. once you decide, you'll have to either buy or build your hive or hives. except for the Perone, these styles are all commercially available. apart from the Langstroth, they're all relatively easy to build.

then you'll want to decide how you want to get bees. the style of hive you choose will be important, here. if you decide you want to purchase a nucleus hive, for example, installing it into a Warré hive will involve some fairly major surgery. your main options for purchasing bees will be nucleus hive, package, and a whole hive. if you don't want to purchase bees, you can collect swarms and/or try to lure them into bait hives.

those choices are probably enough to keep you busy for now.


Do you think it would be wise or does location matter - to contact a local beekeeper to find out what style they use?
I definitely feel more comfortable purchasing bees vs collecting...
 
Burra Maluca
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We just happen to have a fairly comprehensive thread on exactly that subject - Beekeeping - where to start?
 
R Scott
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If you ask a local beekeeper, I will guess you have a 99.99% chance they use Langstroth and medicate, and about a 95% chance they take all the honey and feed sugar.

You need to make sure your local beekeeper has the same goals as you, or is willing to teach just bee behavior and not lock you into their methods.
 
Natasha Bailey
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Burra Maluca wrote:We just happen to have a fairly comprehensive thread on exactly that subject - Beekeeping - where to start?


THANK YOU!
 
Brian Machala
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These guys are based in LA and hold lots of bee and honey related events.

They have mentoring sessions the 3rd Sunday of every month.

Honey Love
 
Patrick Mann
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Brian Machala wrote:These guys are based in LA and hold lots of bee and honey related events.

They have mentoring sessions the 3rd Sunday of every month.

Honey Love


Definitely a good idea to learn from somebody local. I met some of these folks earlier this year - they've had to adapt their bee-keeping practices to accommodate increasing africanization of the bee population in that area.
 
tel jetson
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Natasha Bailey wrote:
I definitely feel more comfortable purchasing bees vs collecting...


I'm going to try to make the case for not buying bees. to many beginners, it seems like the most convenient, easiest, and most reliable option, but I don't personally believe that usually works out to be the case.

I'll start with something that might seem fairly insignificant, but I believe is very important. I don't know exactly how to articulate it concisely, but maybe "attitude" comes close. or "relationship." when a person's first experience with bees is collecting a swarm, that person is much more likely to have a cooperative attitude toward or relationship with bees. though it's visually a fairly awe-inspiring and potentially intimidating phenomenon, bees are at their gentlest when they swarm. suiting up is usually unnecessary at best, and likely to be frustratingly cumbersome. I have yet to meet a beginner who didn't enjoy collecting swarms, even comparatively difficult swarms. first impressions are important, and this experience can set the tone for your beekeeping practice for a long time to come. in contrast, bees in a package or nucleus hive are almost always pretty unhappy, stressed out and therefore aggressive. hiving a package or nuc without gloves and veil isn't likely to be a whole lot of fun for a beginner, and if that's a beekeeper's first impression, it can set up an adversarial relationship with the bees far into the future, even if it's entirely unconscious.

another clear advantage is the cost. there's the obvious cost of the initial purchase price, which is significant, but it doesn't stop there. purchased bees are most frequently intensively bred lines, and many queens are artificially inseminated with a single drone's semen. these queens are also frequently farmed in queen-rearing hives and as such, they most closely resemble what might be called emergency queens in a natural hive. queens reared and bred this way do not have a long productive life-span and do not produce genetically diverse offspring. basically, you're paying for the privilege of keeping bees that need coddling and frequent re-queening if the traits they're bred for are to be maintained. so by purchasing bees, a beginning beekeeper may well be starting down a path toward frequent destructive intervention and expenditures.

fitness: purchased bees are generally bred for gentleness and high productivity. some are also bred for hygienic behavior. in time you'll learn that things are quite a bit more complicated than that, but that's probably a fair summary. keep in mind that the largest market (by a long shot) for bees is the large-scale pollination industry. there are breeders catering more to hobby and/or more naturally-inclined beekeepers, but they are most definitely the exception. apart from those few exceptions, bees are not bred for adaptation to local conditions and stationary hives. natural swarms, on the other hand, are much more likely to thrive when hived relatively near where they are collected. honey bee colonies swarm for a few reasons, but it basically comes down to reproduction. just like for other organisms, reproduction requires a significant expenditure of resources for a colony, so most swarms issue from hives that are doing at least fairly well. swarms are also made up of the bees that are naturally prepared to form a complete swarm, whereas purchased bees are a random assortment of bees from different colonies and not in swarming condition or ideally suited to work as a team.

I think those are the main ideas. plenty of folks have good success with purchased bees, so don't despair if collecting or baiting a swarm just doesn't appeal to you at all. keep in mind, though, that baiting and collection are both really easy. whichever you decide, feel free to ask as many questions in this forum as you like. even if you think they're too basic to bother anyone about, chances are good that somebody else will also benefit from the answer.
 
tel jetson
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Patrick Mann wrote:
Brian Machala wrote:These guys are based in LA and hold lots of bee and honey related events.

They have mentoring sessions the 3rd Sunday of every month.

Honey Love


Definitely a good idea to learn from somebody local. I met some of these folks earlier this year - they've had to adapt their bee-keeping practices to accommodate increasing africanization of the bee population in that area.


have they already gotten to the north end of the state?
 
Patrick Mann
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tel jetson wrote: have they already gotten to the north end of the state?

I don't know. But they did say that in the LA area, essentially all hives had some percentage of African genes. It's not an all or nothing kind of thing. But that doesn't stop them from keeping bees. You just need to be aware of their different behavior.
 
Natasha Bailey
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tel jetson wrote:
Natasha Bailey wrote:
I definitely feel more comfortable purchasing bees vs collecting...


I'm going to try to make the case for not buying bees. to many beginners, it seems like the most convenient, easiest, and most reliable option, but I don't personally believe that usually works out to be the case.

I'll start with something that might seem fairly insignificant, but I believe is very important. I don't know exactly how to articulate it concisely, but maybe "attitude" comes close. or "relationship." when a person's first experience with bees is collecting a swarm, that person is much more likely to have a cooperative attitude toward or relationship with bees. though it's visually a fairly awe-inspiring and potentially intimidating phenomenon, bees are at their gentlest when they swarm. suiting up is usually unnecessary at best, and likely to be frustratingly cumbersome. I have yet to meet a beginner who didn't enjoy collecting swarms, even comparatively difficult swarms. first impressions are important, and this experience can set the tone for your beekeeping practice for a long time to come. in contrast, bees in a package or nucleus hive are almost always pretty unhappy, stressed out and therefore aggressive. hiving a package or nuc without gloves and veil isn't likely to be a whole lot of fun for a beginner, and if that's a beekeeper's first impression, it can set up an adversarial relationship with the bees far into the future, even if it's entirely unconscious.

another clear advantage is the cost. there's the obvious cost of the initial purchase price, which is significant, but it doesn't stop there. purchased bees are most frequently intensively bred lines, and many queens are artificially inseminated with a single drone's semen. these queens are also frequently farmed in queen-rearing hives and as such, they most closely resemble what might be called emergency queens in a natural hive. queens reared and bred this way do not have a long productive life-span and do not produce genetically diverse offspring. basically, you're paying for the privilege of keeping bees that need coddling and frequent re-queening if the traits they're bred for are to be maintained. so by purchasing bees, a beginning beekeeper may well be starting down a path toward frequent destructive intervention and expenditures.

fitness: purchased bees are generally bred for gentleness and high productivity. some are also bred for hygienic behavior. in time you'll learn that things are quite a bit more complicated than that, but that's probably a fair summary. keep in mind that the largest market (by a long shot) for bees is the large-scale pollination industry. there are breeders catering more to hobby and/or more naturally-inclined beekeepers, but they are most definitely the exception. apart from those few exceptions, bees are not bred for adaptation to local conditions and stationary hives. natural swarms, on the other hand, are much more likely to thrive when hived relatively near where they are collected. honey bee colonies swarm for a few reasons, but it basically comes down to reproduction. just like for other organisms, reproduction requires a significant expenditure of resources for a colony, so most swarms issue from hives that are doing at least fairly well. swarms are also made up of the bees that are naturally prepared to form a complete swarm, whereas purchased bees are a random assortment of bees from different colonies and not in swarming condition or ideally suited to work as a team.

I think those are the main ideas. plenty of folks have good success with purchased bees, so don't despair if collecting or baiting a swarm just doesn't appeal to you at all. keep in mind, though, that baiting and collection are both really easy. whichever you decide, feel free to ask as many questions in this forum as you like. even if you think they're too basic to bother anyone about, chances are good that somebody else will also benefit from the answer.


Thank you for taking the time to respond thoroughly. I hear what you are saying - makes sense to me. I know there is a family nearby (within 10 miles) to our will-be homestead that keeps bees... she has maybe 20 of those white boxes (sorry, I don't know what they are called...*hide*)... I wonder if I could buy some from her or something like that where they are already established locally. Or is there only one queen for the whole set no matter how many boxes you have. Obviously I have a lot of learning to do. I have read about purchasing and I agree - it seems the idea is similar for my understanding as buying hatchery chicks versus locally raised/hatched. Am I understanding?
 
tel jetson
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Natasha Bailey wrote:
I know there is a family nearby (within 10 miles) to our will-be homestead that keeps bees... she has maybe 20 of those white boxes (sorry, I don't know what they are called...*hide*)...


those are Langstroth hives. also called Langs. the most common frame hive in the U.S.

Natasha Bailey wrote:I wonder if I could buy some from her or something like that where they are already established locally.


you might be able to. it would probably be wise to find out a bit about her practices before you spend the money, though. if she's practicing high-intervention beekeeping and that's not what you're interested in, her bees might not be terribly suitable for you. if you're already on friendly terms, I imagine it would be easy to ask a lot of questions in the interest of satisfying your curiosity.

Natasha Bailey wrote:Or is there only one queen for the whole set no matter how many boxes you have.


generally one queen per hive. there are some interesting exceptions.

Natasha Bailey wrote:Obviously I have a lot of learning to do. I have read about purchasing and I agree - it seems the idea is similar for my understanding as buying hatchery chicks versus locally raised/hatched. Am I understanding?


sort of. the analogy breaks down a bit because hatchery chicks and local chicks can be the same breed even if it's a heritage breed. natural swarms are often, but not always, a fairly genetically diverse bunch. the chicken analog might be a mongrel or land race.

and don't worry about the learning. I personally think the main ideas are the most important part, and you'll pick those up pretty quickly. the details are endlessly interesting, but really not critical for your beekeeping.
 
Nick Kitchener
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I'll be doing the same thing once we eventually find the right land.

Is there any advantage of building infrastructure while you're waiting for bees to appear? I was thinking of things like a bee hut, building hive enclosures, planting bee friendly plants, and animal deterring barriers like black locust hedges?

I've never actually seen a wild swarm. You can attract them with bait? Is there a thread here on bee fishing? It sounds very interesting.

I don't know much about bees, but I can identify with what Paul says about how bees generally get a tough rap. I imagine that with some thought an preparation, a wonderful been environment could be made with very little effort.

I have another newbie question...

I planted borage in the garden this year and the place virtually hummed all summer. What's the current take on planting things like borage on an acreage specifically as a food source for bees? I'm planning on forage trees, I just haven't seen borage mentioned in beekeeper discussions recently.
 
tel jetson
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Nick Kitchener wrote:Is there any advantage of building infrastructure while you're waiting for bees to appear? I was thinking of things like a bee hut, building hive enclosures, planting bee friendly plants, and animal deterring barriers like black locust hedges?


beats scrambling to get things done after the bees show up.

I'm personally a bit agnostic on the subject of bee huts, though. if you're going to have quite a few hives, it might make sense, but even then it's not all good. having hives so close together can encourage horizontal transmission of pathogens and pests, which isn't generally desirable. for single hives, or just a few, building a nice big hive lid and stand for each one would involve considerably less embodied energy and effort than a bee hut, would achieve most or all of the benefits, and would allow spacing of the hives to avoid hive drift, disease transmission, and robbing.

Nick Kitchener wrote:I've never actually seen a wild swarm. You can attract them with bait? Is there a thread here on bee fishing? It sounds very interesting.


the best bait is old comb or a previously occupied cavity. a search for bait hives should turn something up.

Nick Kitchener wrote:I have another newbie question...

I planted borage in the garden this year and the place virtually hummed all summer. What's the current take on planting things like borage on an acreage specifically as a food source for bees? I'm planning on forage trees, I just haven't seen borage mentioned in beekeeper discussions recently.


borage is great. long bloom season. easy to grow. edible. pretty. overall, it's a solid multi-function plant.
 
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