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Honey Bee-Keeping – A comprehensive guide

Honey BeeKeeper

If you are seeking a complete guide to starting beekeeping, look nowhere else. In this ultimate guide about beekeeping, we have covered the intending beekeepers with all possible queries. In this comprehensive guide, we will talk about the different species of honey bees along with the best beekeeping techniques up to the harvesting of honey.

What is Honey Bee-keeping?

Beekeeping, also called Apiculture, is the extensive practice of taking care of honey bees and producing beeswax and honey. Honey collection by beekeeping is a common practice since old times. Over time, the process of beekeeping has evolved so much, but the concerns of defence against hives have altered as well. There are many reasons that make beekeeping a delightful hobby and a much-needed move for saving the honey bee population on our planet.

Some fantastic things to keep in mind about beekeeping are as follows:

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Beekeeper inspecting a hive.

Beekeeping

  • Saves the honey bees: It remains no secret that the population of honey bees is declining rapidly in these years. Beekeeping provides the bees with an environment to grow and multiply.
  • Is inclusive: Beekeeping is inclusive to every age group. Anyone can give beekeeping a shot, even if they do not have a vast space.
  • Is relaxing: Researches show that having beekeeping as a hobby positively impacts both mental and physical health.
  • Is rewarding: The ultimate motive behind beekeeping could undoubtedly be HONEY, and it is. Beeswax and raw honey have multiple uses in cooking, treatment, making candles, and the list continues…!!!

The challenges of beekeeping

Before starting, you need to realize some common challenges that beekeepers face:

  • Legal restrictions

Always go through the local restrictions related to beekeeping before you start it out. Luckily, such limits do not commonly exist in many countries, but always pay heed to such issues before committing.

  • Concerned neighbors

Sadly, many people get scared of bees because of some common misconceptions. There remains a constant debate among the beekeepers on whether or not to inform your neighbours about the beekeeping hobby. Beekeeping should not be a secret; however, it does not imply that you should educate your neighbours beforehand. 

  • Unpredictable behaviour of bees

The best thing about honeybees is that they are unpredictable; the same can turn out to be a bad one sometimes. Bees are independent beings that do fantastic service for our living. However, their unpredictable nature can have concerns in close ranges. Bees are determinant and can access what they want even if it causes discomfort to human beings. Also, bees can swarm sometimes and impact the nearby areas, including the neighbourhood. However, there are many tactics to reduce the chances of honey bee swarming greatly.

These were just a few points that the beekeepers should keep in mind. Mostly, the beekeepers can address these challenges quickly. For any specific issues in your locality, contact a native beekeeping group and learn how other groups face these challenges.

What is urban beekeeping?

Urban beekeeping accounts for taking care of honey bees in a metropolitan area without having access to open, ample space.

Usually, people believe that you need vast spaces to keep honey bees. So, when they picture the concept of keeping honey bees, they think of a rural area with a lot of nature and land. Many wildflowers are growing on the bank of a weaving river, and many tall trees protect the honey bees from predators when they are out to collect pollen. This picture sounds so beautiful, but not the only one when it comes to caring for bees. In fine, beekeepers can set up beehives anywhere, including the big cities!

The challenges of urban beekeeping

Urban beekeeping sometimes presents unique problems, but there are simple solutions as well. Such challenges include:

Food shortage

There is a common misconception that the urban neighbourhood does not contain enough flowers to feed a bee colony. This is no more than just a myth. Honeybees can travel up to five miles to look for pollen and nectar. These intelligent beings access food even when there are no gardens full of flowers nearby. Beekeepers can also adopt an active approach and assist bees by planting flowers near their hives.

Location

Although beekeeping is traditionally confined to rural areas, this is an open truth that many people reside in urban areas as well. Does it imply that the hobbyists with no yard or a smaller one cannot keep honey bees? Definitely not! Be it a 50-acre patch of land or a Studio in London; everyone can go for beekeeping. If anyone wants to start beekeeping in an urban area, they should consider the following options:

  • Community garden: Take your local community garden into confidence related to your beekeeping. It benefits everyone. The bees now can enjoy various food options, and the gardeners will be happy to see the improved pollination of their flower beds.
  • Someone else’s land: Interact with your nearby beekeeping groups and consult what other choices are available. One possible solution can be a partner who owns a space enough to make beehives. There are many persons out there who enjoy the advantages of bees; they cannot manage to take care of the bees as full-time caretakers. In this partnership, you will install and supply the beehive and nourish the honey bees in exchange for utilizing their land. 
  • Rooftops: Rooftops are a common location to make beehives in an urban locality. There are even restaurants and hotels containing rows of beehives on their rooftops to use honey to supplement the income! Apartment residents can also talk to the owners and see if access to the rooftop is possible. This scenario provides a simple solution to the problem of location when it comes to urban beekeeping.

The comprehensive guide about beekeeping

Read this article down to have a complete understanding of how the whole beekeeping thing works:

  • Choose a hive

As a beekeeper, the most important thing you will buy is the beehive. A beehive is a structure where you make your colony of bees live. Artificial beehives are made to mimic the natural beehives in wildlife.

There are many hives that you can choose from. For example:

  • Top-bar hive: This hive design comes without any frames but instead has bars across the hive cavity. This design makes bees experience a little stress when the beekeepers work in a hive. Also, this design is economical; the beekeepers do not need to buy a honey extractor for harvesting the honey. Harvesting honey with this beehive is an easy process of taking out the bars at an appropriate time.
  • Langstroth hive: Beginner honey beekeepers most commonly use the Langstroth hive. Such hives have removable frames and stacked boxes. This offers considerable flexibility in terms of the number of boxes, height, and depth. It maximizes honey production, so it is known as a universal design. While using these hives, always remember that they can cause disturbance to bees when inspecting the colony. On the other hand, oversized frames are heavy and can weigh up to 80 pounds.
  • Choose the most suitable bees for beekeeping

Suppose the beekeepers have a proper understanding of the characteristics of significant bee breeds. In that case, they can easily choose a specific type of honey bee that they find suitable concerning their hive settings. Some of the commonly chosen honey bee species for beekeeping are Italian bee, Caucasian bee, German bee, and many more.

In the following, we are proceeding to describe some interesting and valuable facts about these honey bee species so that you can choose the one or more that fits your settings.

Honey Bee-Keepers Family
Honey Bee-Keepers

Italian bee 

Scientific name: Apis mellifera ligustica

  • Italian bee is among the most common honey bee types among the beekeepers. Italian bee is one of the primitive domesticated bees which North America imported during the 18th century.
  • These bees adapt well to the hot climate; that’s why they don’t fly or thrive under cool or damp weather conditions. 
  • Furthermore, these bees tend to end their honey in winter more quickly. So, you should have some extra honey in hand so that your bees do not face a shortage. 
  • Italian bees are often seen to have a gentle and docile nature, with a tendency of building combs and the eagerness to stay clean. 
  • Usually, these bees show very little resistance to diseases and succumb eventually.
  • Unlike other honey bee types, these bees produce less propolis and more honey due to their ability to gather more flower honey instead of flower dew.

Having origin in the Italian continental parts, the key features of these bees that make them stand out from others are their gentle nature, and the lack of flocking tendency makes them the best choice for beekeeping.

Caucasian bee 

Scientific name: Apis mellifera caucasica

  • In terms of tendencies and abilities, the Caucasian bees are almost similar to the above-mentioned Italian bees.
  • Caucasian bees perform ideally in summers but can’t work the same way in cold climates. 
  • Also, these bees show moderate resistance to many diseases, particularly EFB.
  • This bee type is thought to be the most gentle and avid brood producer, which ultimately raises strong colonies.
  • As these bees possess a long proboscis, they can easily extract the nectar from the innermost nectar tissues, which most other species fail to access. 
  • The beekeepers understanding winter storage and using heating blankets in cold weather can enhance the possibility of overwintering for these honey bees.

German bee

Scientific name: Aapis mellifera mellifera

  • The European Dark Bee, or the German Dark Bee, is a subgroup of Western honey bees divided into many subordinate groups because of its robustness.
  • These bees adapt to almost every weather condition; that’s why you see them flying around you the whole year. 
  • However, because of their unhygienic behaviour, they show very little resistance against varroa mites and are highly vulnerable to many brood diseases.
  • Another common characteristic of these honey bees is elevated nervousness and aggression, which you can overcome by selectively breeding the bees over a few upcoming generations.
  • Also, these bees tend to make less pollen because of their tiny tongues and big body size, making it hard for them to reach small flower spaces.

We suggest that the beekeepers who have a complete understanding of hive parasites and bee diseases should think to domesticate these honey bees.

Buckfast bee

Scientific name: Apis mellifera

  • These honey bees adapt well to the damp and cold winters to quickly make their hive size rapidly in the spring. 
  • Also, these bees are well resistant to diseases, making them a valuable asset and a necessity for successful beekeeping.
  • Mainly, Buckfast bees possess calm behaviour and a good temper. However, if you permit them to requeen naturally, the upcoming generation will have aggressive behaviour. To keep their aggression at a minimum level, you need to keep buying the queens for these honey bees yourself.
  • Due to the ability to survive winters, these honey bees make a massive amount of honey the whole year, the quality that most of the beekeepers desire.
  • These honeybees are thought to be an excellent pick for backyard hobbyists as well as for the beekeepers who maintain beehives occasionally to check the behaviour of bees.

Carniolan bee

Scientific name: Apis mellifera carnica

  • These bees are considered to be among the most suitable and favourite pick for the USA beekeepers. “Grey bee” is their nickname. 
  • These are the ideal bees for the winter season, and they also have very high resistance against many bee diseases.
  • Usually thought to have a gentle nature, they can take so much irritation before getting annoyed enough to sting.
  • Being active foragers, Carniolan bees can produce a regular honey flow, so you should provide them with a vast space if they accumulate too much honey.
  • Beekeepers in Slovenia are keenly fond of these honey bees, where beekeeping has cultural importance as well. 

So, you should go for the honey bee breed suitable to your hive settings and climate conditions. The bee species that are mentioned earlier are not the only preference of the beekeepers. These are just illustrative examples. You can literally find many more species of honey bees after going through their key features to reach a conclusion.

Gather the supplies

After choosing the hive, you should gather all the other supplies. A new beekeeper should start with the supplies at a lower level and then grow them with passing the time.

In the following, we are writing down some essential supplies that you need to have if you are starting beekeeping:

  • Protective gear

One of the essential investments that beginner beekeeping can make is protective gear. 

Protective gear will allow you to work more closely on the beehive with minimum risk of bee stings. Proper gear ensures you feel confident and safe while inspecting your hive. There are a few kinds of protective equipment to consider:

Ventilated jacket: A ventilated jacket that has an attached veil is a common choice for beekeeping work. This acts as an alternative to the beekeeping suit. Besides, it does not offer protection to the lower body.

Beekeeping suit: A full beekeeping suit is an essential gadget for beekeeping. Many beekeepers purchase a suit first to ensure protection. A beekeeping suit is the most popular choice for novice beekeepers as it provides protection from head to toe.

Gloves: Gloves are an ideal safeguard for beginner beekeepers. Gloves are made of flexible and soft leather to protect against bee stings.

Hat and veil combo: The hat and veil combo protects bees from becoming entangled in your hair. The hat and veil combo is more used in the hot summer months, typically when the beekeepers do minimum work.

  • Uncapping scratcher

The uncapping scratcher helps you in uncapping your honeycomb for releasing honey when you want to harvest it. 

  • Hive tool

A hive tool is a crowbar-like tool that is used to open the boxes in your beehive. It is used because often, they are stuck together with beeswax. So, this will allow you to detach the combs from hive sides.

  • Bee brush

It is a simple gadget that moves bees off of combs gently or any other inconvenient place.

It is an essential tool for hive maintenance and honey harvesting. Bees do not like the brush. They will begin to sting, so it is suggested to use the bee brush sparingly.

Take care of the hive

As we all know, bees are sensitive creatures. Once they are established in a new hive, they require a lot of maintenance. In addition, beekeepers are responsible for keeping honey bees healthy. Therefore, it is vital to consider the parasites, climate, local diseases, and the season. In case flowers get late in blooming, and you have to feed the bees.

Beekeepers should check that bees have enough food and are strong at the start of the year. While, in the early spring season, keepers should check to ensure there is enough room for the colony to expand.

If the bees outgrow physical space, they are more likely to swarm. Swarming occurs when more than half of a bee colony leaves the hive and starts another colony. When it happens, the beekeeper will lose the honey crop of the whole year.

Inspect the hive

Beekeepers should inspect the hives the whole year. After that, much of beekeeping is simply troubleshooting and observation when necessary. While inspecting the hive, you must ensure that the outside of the hive is clean. This may involve ensuring the landing boards are clear, cleaning bee poop, and guaranteeing no ants on the hive.

The next thing that appeals to be done is opening the hive and checking the frames for eggs and larvae. Again, if the queen bee is healthy, you should examine larvae at different stages.

Consequently, your purpose is to inspect the hive less and less. Minor interference results in better health for the colony. On the other hand, too much hive inspection can stress the bees that can take days to recover.

Feeding the bees

New colonies of bees work very hard to store nectar and pollen while adjusting to a new hive.

A good practice is to place frames full of honey from other hives, cleared from bees. The honey will help the new colony thrive.

Pest control

Being a beekeeper, expect to be busy in the spring and summer seasons. During this span, you need to check the hives weekly from the inside to look for potential health problems. Such problems include varroa mite.

Varroa mites suck bees’ blood, making them prone to infection. If such mites are left unchecked, they can finally kill an entire colony. Other pests to consider are ants, and they can kill a hive by taking the honey and eating the brood. Moreover, the small hive beetles can eat baby bees and all the parts of a hive.

Harvest the honey

It took so long to reach here, but now it is the moment to get hard work. If you have enough honey to harvest in the first summer season, keep on reading! Usually, honey bees build their hive during the first summer. And, in this way, harvesting can begin early summer or late in spring of the second year. After all of this, commonly, harvesting occurs in the fall, but you can take the honey out anytime. One of the easiest methods to gather the honey is to take out a honeycomb and cut it. Many people love enjoying the honeycomb raw too. The Honey extractor will separate smooth honey from the wax.

Written by Iqra Usman for HoneyBee & co

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