Thursday, April 4, 2013

preparing for bees - assembling hives

I spent most of today assembling the beehives in preparation for keeping bees this year.  It's a pretty long process; to save a few dollars I buy the un-assembled hives and put them together myself. 
Assembling the hives:  I use a narrow-gauge stapler with 2.25" and 1" staples
 The tailgate of my pickup truck is a handy, mobile workbench.  It would be perfect if it was flat, and I may screw a piece of plywood onto it so that it is, but right now it's ribbed, which doesn't matter much when you're assembling the boxes, but does make it harder to put together the frames. 
I assemble the boxes with 2.25" staples and frames with 1" staples.
 The white lids are a heavier form of Styrofoam, which I'm trying for the first time.  It's lightweight, lasts a long time, and is an excellent insulator.  In this picture you can see two sizes of boxes, "deep" supers, which are in a stack on the far left of the photo above, and "standard" supers, which you can see one of at the bottom of the two box stack second from the left, above. 

The "deep" boxes are used to house the hive and its store of honey, and most hives in this area are reduced to two deep supers to go through the winter.  When nectar is flowing and honey is being produced, the standard supers are added to the top of the hive to give the bees room to store the honey. 
That's a lot of acres of boxes to fill with frames. 
 Bees grow their hives upwards; I order a 3lb box of bees for each hive; market price for 3lbs of bees ranges from $75 to $105 this year.  Enclosed in the box is a queen bee in a queen cage.  I'll house each package of bees in a single deep super with a feeder on top initially.    I want the bees to build out that box a little before I add the next box, and a hive-top feeder is a way for me to provide food for the hive while it draws out the honeycomb and the queen begins laying workers.  After a week or so I'll add the second box so that there's plenty of room for the expanding hive.  Other folks just start them in two boxes, and then rotate the top and bottom boxes.
Beekeepers dreams:  Skyscraper hives
 As the season progresses you add additional supers to the hive to provide more storage space.  To keep the supers for honey or pollen only, a queen excluder can be used.  It's got a mesh that is just a little too small to allow the queen to pass, which keeps her in the bottom two boxes, but worker bees can move up or down as they wish. 

At the end of the nectar flow what I usually see is a complete deep super of honey and pollen and a brood chamber with honey and pollen and larvae.  Bees do not hibernate.  They huddle inside the hive and consume their stores and wait for winter to end.  You'll see them flying around if you have a warm spell, but most of the winter they're just waiting.  The difficult thing is that you really cannot open the hive up unless it's a warm day; larvae die from cold, the queens laying is disrupted, and the bees are agitated and their production goes down.  So it's a bit of a waiting game in winter; you want to look to see if they're ok, but have to temper that desire with the stress it puts on the hive.  An infrared thermometer is what I use when I want to know; the bees will heat their hive and maintain that heat by body movement, consuming honey.  
1 gallon of exterior latex later, white bee equipment
I painted my new hive bodies with the traditional color - white.  With the hives assembled and two coats of paint on them, I'm ready for the packages which will arrive in about 2 weeks. 

I'm planning on keeping 4 hives; each hive consists of : (From bottom to top)
Bottom board
Varoa mite screen board
2 deep supers, each containing 10 frames of stamped beeswax
2 standard supers, each containing 10 frames of stamped beeswax
1 hivetop feeder
1 inside lid
1 telescoping lid

For each hive, I have also purchased all of that equipment except the 2 standard supers.  These extra boxes are used to catch swarms; either from my hives, or from feral bees or other hives. 

The goal of a bee is to make bees.  the goal of a beekeeper is to make honey.   The bees, after being fed and housed comfortably will tend to produce another queen midway in the nectar flow.  That usually happens in the first half of June.  Half or so of the bees in the colony will leave with the original queen as a "swarm" and leave the hive.  The other half of the bees and the newly hatched queen will stay in the fully stocked hive. 

By having the extra boxes ready to go and being observant, I can catch the swarm and house it in a new hive.  that hive probably won't have enough time to fill any supers; in fact, it'll be lucky to make enough honey to last the winter, so two deep supers will be more than enough space for the new hive. 

I don't really want them to swarm, and will prevent them from doing so if I can, but an early enough swarm can be a strong enough hive to last through the winter, and as with lambs and calves, it's doubling your stock, so it's not all that bad if it happens. 


Dave said...

Bruce, hives painted a dark green actually do better in the snohomish climate, during the winter on sunny days the green absorbs more heat and they will actually get active even on the coldest of days, while the white hives will remain dormant.

Nicky said...

I would like to have a couple of small hives just for personal use for honey and our garden how are you getting started and where are the bees coming from.

Bruce King said...

Hi Nicky. I don't know where you're located; if you're in king or snohomish counties, beez kneez apiary supply in Snohomish has classes in beekeeping and all of the equipment you'd need to start a hive.

If you aren't, check out -- they have beginner packages that include everything you need except the bees.

With bees, in this area, you can buy packages of 3 or 4lbs of bees in 2 to 3 weeks from a variety of vendors, including beez kneez. Check the farm and garden section of your local craigslist, too.