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Should I worry about swarms?

Yes, you should. Be sure you know how to recognize and avoid swarms. The fact that a colony is about to swarm is generally an indication that it is healthy and growing. But as beekeepers, we don’t want to see our bees swarm. In fact, the potential for a swarm is an opportunity to start another hive.

The impact of a swarm varies depending on the location but in urban situations, for example, it behooves the beekeeper to take all steps to avoid them. A swarm in the wrong place at the wrong times is one of the most effective ways to drum up anti-bee sentiment!

How much honey should I expect in the first year?

None. Zip. Zero. You may find many a beekeeper who tells you loudly that he or she has taken many jars of beautiful honey from first-year bees. Good for that beekeeper, but…. A true statement of success isn’t merely how much honey the beekeeper has gathered. Every beekeeper – experienced or new – can take honey from a first-year beehive. That’s the easy and, dare we say, selfish part.

No, the REAL measure of success is whether your bees come through the winter with the honey reserves you have left them. A beekeeper who takes honey from a hive and then fails to see bees in the spring really isn’t achieving anything significant. Just some honey, which your local supermarket sells…without all the work!

On a more serious note, we do suggest that from day one you just accept that the first year is ALL about your bees establishing themselves. Is honey really THAT important to you? Just let your bees use it to themselves. After all, they are working far, far harder for it than you ever will! As to the second year of a mature, established hive…. prepare for some of the best honey you have ever tasted!

What things should I check at each inspection?

Each inspection will teach you more! No two inspections are the same and you will learn over time to go into an inspection with a plan – including perhaps something to check from the last inspection – but also to have an open mind to the unexpected. Despite the fascinating array of situations you might uncover, there are a few basics you should check at each inspection:

  • Is there evidence of a queen (you do not need to physically see the queen every time)?
  • If so, do the signs point towards a productive queen?
  • Are there signs that the bees may be planning to swarm?
  • Is the capacity of the hive appropriate, in terms of the boxes you have added?
  • Any unusual or worrying signs, particularly related to pests or mites?
  • Are you leaving the hive in an orderly, clean manner?

Do I really need that protective clothing?

Yes, yes, yes. First, don’t be overly influenced by all those YouTube videos of beekeepers who approach their hives in shorts and a T shirt! If they want to go down that path, OK, but they are not new beekeepers. They have paid the price in stings and decided that they are OK without protection.

As a new beekeeper, we strongly suggest you focus on your bees and do what you can to not be stressed or worried about stings. That means proper protective clothing. You may choose various combinations from a jacket and veil to a full bee suit. Down the road you will find your balance. But one thing we suggest you always wear is a veil. Even experienced beekeepers can suffer badly if they are stung in the wrong place on the face. And if any beekeeper tells you they can “tell” when bees are likely to sting – sorry, but they are just plain wrong! Just play it safe and always wear a veil, whether a standalone version or one that comes with your jacket or bee suit. Finally, for reasons of comfort, the majority of the jackets and bee suits sold today are ventilated, which help significantly on a hot summer day. It’s a real shame to cut an inspection short because you are feeling the heat and ventilated fabrics do a great job preventing stings and letting the breeze in.

What equipment do I need?

We advocate keeping it simple! Beekeeping is awash with all sorts of awesome equipment and tools and it’s all good. But to get going you need just your hive, a smoker, a hive tool and a bee brush. A great way to get started is with a starter kit. These are available as equipment and clothing package or, for further savings, with the hive too. Both save you money over buying everything individually and provide you with the base set of tools you will use for all your hives. Many beekeepers start with a starter kit with a hive, equipment and clothing and then an additional purchase of a hive (as the second hive).

Should I get a nuc or a package of bees?

Actually there are three main options – a package, a nuc or a swarm. If you are a first-time beekeeper, leave the capturing of a swarm till a little later in your beekeeping “career”. You have a lot to learn – all of it fun! 

Both a package or a nuc work just fine. If you are using Warre or Top Bar hives then a package is the only option. A nuc is an excellent choice for a first-time Langstroth beekeeper.

When should I order my bees?

Sooner is better! January is not too early to order bees for the spring. Call up a local bee supplier to ask about availability and put down a deposit. Leave it much later and you could be out of luck. Of course, later in the season choices still exist. Nucs may be available and there is sometimes the chance of getting on a waiting list for a swarm. But whatever your plans and your timetable, don’t assume you can just pick up the phone in the spring and immediately buy your bees!

Should I get cedar or pine supers?

There are two common choices for the wood used for your hive – pine or cedar. Pine is the traditional choice. It is strong, offers reasonable longevity and is a proven option. To extend that longevity, it is quite common to paint pine hives before they are installed in place. That gives you some nice choices as to the aesthetics but also means you need to wait a little longer (and do some work) when your hive arrives.

Cedar is an upgrade, of sorts. Compared to pine, it is lighter (think about the weight of honey and add the weight of the box), stronger and lasts longer. Although not necessary, many coat with a little pure tung oil, which offers a little extra protection and brings out the beautiful rich colors of the cedar. But that is not essential and a cedar beehive can be put directly into service, with no painting necessary.

Although somewhat subjective, most consider cedar to be aesthetically more pleasing than pine.