Your timing in coming to the forum couldn't be more perfect. We are committed to starting some bee colonies on our property. I've been in a beginners class. I've attended a local beekeepers association meeting, watched videos, and read a few books. It seems like one thing has been consistent. Everyone of them says "If you ask ten beekeepers how to do something you will get 11 answers."
This makes it difficult for a beginner to know where to start. I have a colleague that I communicate with that keeps reminding me that you need to learn from the bees... but since we don't have them yet, it's kinda difficult. I know that there are many things that I have tried in Permaculture, that I can do differently if it doesn't work out. When it comes to animals (as it is with the bees) I know that they depend on me to do things for them. I am torn by all of the noise of ideas out there, and afraid that what I might do, might not be the right thing. Here in Pennsylvania, we are seeing over 30% hive failure annually. I am just trying to be the best stewards of these creatures, and really struggling with finding the right path to start.
Thank You for any suggestion you may offer...
that's kinda where I am at as well.
in southern Ontario there is a lot of chemical crap floating around. we have 13 acres and want honeybees to enhance our pollination. Honey production would be a side benefit. information I have seen on Warre hives seem the most bee friendly but local beekeepers are willing to help out only if there's money in it for them. I have asked several to put hives here and got tepid response (I would have thought that that much organic permaculture would have them fighting over it). Now my non organic hobby farm neighbour has half a dozen (commercial ) hives on his place. if I try to bring in more, will they compete?
Wilde on Turtle Island
Walk Gently on our Mother Earth
13 acres is small change for bee forage area... they actively forage 3 miles in every direction from the hive. That is about 20,000 acres. That said, your 13 acres might make a good location IF there is not likely to be pesticide drift from nearby areas AND the forage in the wider area is good. Agricultural monocrops are bad - you get vast expanses with no wild flowers at all. Urban areas are surprisingly good - varied floral flora and little pesticide use.
Regarding hives for a new beekeeper - I would advise sticking with something conventional. It makes it easier to buy kit or swap/borrow kit from neighbours. You may ultimately decide to go with another type (eg Kenyan style top bar hives, warre etc...) but you would benefit from learning on standard system. If nothing else, conventional movable frames are forgiving to clumsy novices.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
Agreed with Micheal's comment above regarding starting out with standard equipment.
One thing I wish I knew before starting out is to standardize on (Lang) medium boxes. They do fine as brood chambers and serve as honey supers, and you can move them around easier when laden, than moving deeps.
I also think a person could start with a Top Bar Hive, which alleviates the moving boxes issue and lessens the bending & tending.
Mainly you'll need to think about how much of a hands-on beek you want to be and that will help drive some of your choices.
I started on top bar. It feels more intimidating at first, but it's not really any harder than Lang. In fact I find inspections on the top bar to be much less stressful than working a Lang. And you learn much more about the bees, since they aren't artificially constrained.
I've used langs, warres, top bars and I have other interesting hybrid hives, bee trees and even a colony living in the wall of my house (they did that on their own). By that I mean I've had my hands in a lot of different kinds and my attitude has shifted over the years.
If you want to be hands-on and see more of your bees, I find the top bar hive to be the easiest on the colony. You can open the hive to do something and only the bees one bar up and back from where you are will be aware of your presence. (Honestly, they will all know but they won't tend to be upset.)
What I like about top bars -- Easy to learn on, and you get a full experience of working with your bees. Easy to maintain IF you keep them correctly from the beginning. Mostly that means making sure they are building their first combs straight (on the bars) and not curved. Once you get past that hurdle, it's pretty simple. When you harvest, which you can do through the season, you can take one or two frames at a time. For learning this method, I highly recommend Corwin Bell's DVD "Alternative Beekeeping Using the Top Bar Hive and The Bee Guardian Methods." http://www.backyardhive.com ($20)
Nope, I don't get a nickel for sending you his way, I just plain think it's the best movie on respectful and practical beekeeping I've seen. Even if you aren't a top bar keeper, you'll learn a lot from watching it and ought to have it in your library. That website has some lovely inexpensive plans for building a "Golden Mean" hive if you are carpentry-inclined.
If you want a real hands-off approach, read Abbe Warre's book about the Warre hive, get or build one, and then join David Heaf's yahoo discussion list for support. You only go in there 2-3 times a year to check on them. When you harvest honey, you take the entire top box. My personal method with a first year hive: I don't harvest till the second year. Warre's are a more hands-off approach but you still have to spend time observing. If you do need to intervene, they are harder to do that with.
Langs I'd say are my furthest choice. The advantage is the the equipment is often interchangeable with other beekeepers, so if you are going to do trading and a friend is going to supply you with brood frames or honeycomb frames, that's worth considering. These langs make it easy to get advice from conventional beekeepers (if that doesn't push buttons for you).
Most folks are on their own, though, and frankly, you'll do better by choosing what kind of beekeeper you want to be and choosing the hive box based on that. With Langs you'll learn methods that you may choose not to do later as you learn more about bees but you can find lots of conventional help. My guess is that if you're a permie-type, you'll probably end up going with top bars or warres or something like that. Top bars -- hands on and easiest to interact with. Warre's -- hands-off and least involvement.
There are more alternatives, too, but those are the main ones.
This has been really useful for me in helping identify where to start reading up on bees. Right now I'm aware of the location of one wild hive on our property. It's in a low hollow of a fairly small tree on the edge of a ravine about 40 feet from an ancient pear tree; following the bees home from that pear tree when it blossomed last year is how I found the hive.
I'm in the earliest stages of thinking "I should learn everything I would need to know so I could build a hive that would be attractive to them when they swarm." I'm much more interested in helping them multiply and be safe than I am in harvesting honey, although obviously we all like honey and I don't rule it out in the fullness of time, if there was a healthy hive with a surplus.