Great! Now what? The first thing you will be told is to join a beekeeping club and get in touch with a local beekeeper to teach you the “right” way to do things. That’s what I did, and I would not do it again. At the club meetings I went to, all they talked about was how to treat your bees with chemicals and how to feed your bees enough sugar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup to get them through winter. They demonstrated all kinds of fancy equipment that was “needed” to keep your bees alive and produce a giant honey crop. Then, they complained about how their bees died in spite of all the “help” they were given anyway. When I raised my hand and said that I would rather keep my bees without feeding them and treating them, allowing them to live as they would in nature, you could hear the collective groan of all the experts. I never went back. I did meet up with a couple “seasoned” beekeepers who just regurgitated the same stuff from the club meeting and seemed genuinely annoyed at my plans to keep bees naturally. To them, it is just not an option. They have been told, and believe, that honeybees absolutely need our constant coddling just to survive. Maybe some do. But some do not. Thanks to youtube, you can see hundreds of honeybee colonies being removed from buildings and trees that have survived for years on their own with no human intervention whatsoever. Many with buckets of honey. This is what I try my best to duplicate in my method of keeping bees.
I wouldn’t suggest starting with packaged honey bees the way I did my first year. Most packaged bees have been raised for generations on chemical treatments and feeding, and are usually from the south, so they are not suited for northern climates and non-treatment. My package struggled and died the first year. $125.00 down the drain. I would suggest catching swarms. I caught two swarms my first year and still have progeny from them today with zero treatments. One of my favorite websites with alot of information about catching swarms is LetMBee.com.
Once you have your swarm, you will need to put them in something. There are many different hive styles, but a standard Langstroth is good to start with. I prefer 8-frame deeps. I would use foundationless frames. Most beekeepers use and swear by a screened-bottom board with a bottom entrance. I don’t use them for many reasons that I will go into in a later post. You can just use a solid piece of wood for the bottom (and top for that matter). Save your money. For an entrance, I drill a 3/4 inch hole in the side of the top box near the lid. That’s it for the hive. Less than $100.00 if you order it all (3 deeps, 30 frames without foundation) from a bee supply company. No syrup feeders, no landing board, no inner-cover, no hive stand (use cinder blocks), no paint. I have yet to see a colony removed from a structure that had any of those things. You will still need a good bee suit, hive tool, and a smoker. Bee suits are not cheap, but get a good one. Use the money you would have wasted on package-bees.
If you want someone to help you inspect your hives, or transfer a swarm to your equipment, by all means look up a beekeeper. But please make sure they are on the same wavelenghth as far as not treating. There are many treatment-free beekeepers out there, but you have to find them. Another great website to learn from about natural beekeeping is Michael Bush’s “Practical Beekeeping“. I’ve read the whole thing many times and love it.
Now, are all of your hives going to survive every year keeping them this way? Of course not. You may have caught a swarm from a beekeeper’s treatment-addicted hive that couldn’t hack it on its own. Or you may have just caught a swarm with inferior genetics. But if you catch enough swarms, you are bound to get a good one that can survive whatever is thrown at it such as mites, small hive beetles, and cold winters. It may have been from an old tree or an abandoned building. This is the hive you want to make nucs with to increase your number of hives (if you want more).
So that’s what I do. Pretty simple. I don’t see any reason to change anything. Leave a comment or email me if you want me to expand on anything. Good luck!
4 thoughts on “Thinking of keeping honey bees?”
I couldn’t agree with you more. My bee club was the same way. We had the ‘heavies’ advising how to feed high fructose corn syrup during the winter. There was even a ‘bee school” class that advocated killing the bees after the honey harvest because it was cheaper than paying for medicating them. My wife stopped going because she was so stressed out when they advised us the pinch the head off the queen of the captured swarm. “You don’t know how viable she is.” We countered with “that swarm is from a wintered over hive…they are survivors.” No, they knew better.
Thanks for writing good stuff about bees. I like your idea of giving seeds to neighbors and letting them know about attracting bees. I might try something along those lines.
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Oh yeah, pinch the swarm’s queen! I love when they say that. I might just go to a meeting again just to offer something (maybe $20) for all those obviously inferior queens.
Lovely bllog you have here
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