Beekeeping for Beginners

The only source of honey and beeswax is from honey bees. The Bees are widely looked upon honey production, but they hold a major role in the pollination of different crops. Without bees, we do near species extinction. So always support Apiculture – keeping of bees.

Some raise bees as a hobby, some as their full-time job. Beekeeping will become easier if you learn the behavior of Bees and the basics of Bee Hive. Never get turned off thinking that bees sting. If proper care is taken, you will never get stung. Let us learn how bees are organized in the colony.

Types of Bees in a Hive (Honeybee Colony)

Honey bees live in colonies and they are social. Honeybee colony during active season consists of three castes of Bees – Queen bee, Workers bee, and Drones. 

Each Hive will have one Queen, 10 k to 30 k of Workers and hundreds of Drones. Each colony undergoes different development stages like eggs, larvae, and pupae which forms the brooding section in the Hive.

1. Queen Bee

  1. Generally, only one queen can be seen in a colony which is a perfectly developed female of the colony.
  2. Queen is considered as the mother of the whole colony. Queen produces workers and drones.
  3. Queen bee lays around 1500 to 2000 eggs a day.
  4. Queen bee is bigger(longer) in size compared to worker bee and Drones. Queen bee is fed by nurse bees with most nutritious royal jelly. 
  5. Queen bee just lays eggs and doesn’t have the ability to take care.
  6. Queen bee has the ability to lay fertilized eggs and unfertilized eggs. Workers will be produced from Fertilized eggs and Drones from unfertilized eggs.
  7. Queen bee is mated only once in a lifetime. It can lay a good amount of eggs for 2 to 3 years. Later a new queen been is replaced in the colony in commercial beekeeping practices.
  8. A colony gets organized only by the queen bee. The Queen release a substance called Pheromone, which helps in organizing the colony. Pheromone helps in attracting worker bees and also enhances their ovary development.
  9. Workers will come to know if the queen is lost or dead only if it doesn’t sense any more Pheromone. But this will take around 30 minutes for the workers to sense.
  10. Pheromones from Queen bee helps in brood rearing, comb building and foraging in a colony. Overall it is essential for the normal functioning of a colony.
  11. The Queen bee during its initial stage of 5 to 10 days,  mates with a number of drones (5 to 7) which will keep eggs for its rest of life. But the mating happens outside the hive, so it’s critical to allow queen bee to go out of the hive in the first 5 to 10 days of their emergence.

2. Worker bee

  1. Worker bees are the imperfect female bees, which can’t mate. But they do start laying eggs when the colony remains queen-less for a long period.
  2. All the duties of the colony are taken care of by worker bees.
  3. Worker bees duties change according to their age – Feeding of larvae, Cleaning of the hive,  when it is required raising of queen cells, guard the hive, make wax, construct combs, collect nectar and make it to honey, feeding queen(royal jelly), feeding larvae, scouting nest during swarming
  4. Worker bees also feed Drones, but once their work is finished they are thrown out of the hive or killed.
  5. The average life span of worker bees is 40 to 50 days during honey flow season but they may live up to 6 months during the off-season.
  6. Under the queen-less situation, the worker bees start to lay eggs as their ovaries start to develop. As their eggs are unfertilized, which give rise to only drones. They lay many eggs in each cell which is contrary to Queen bee laying only one egg per cell. This results in the perishing of colonies.

3. Drone bee

Drone bee does no work which benefits the colony. They will not collect food nor guard the hive. They always a burden to the colony, they are fed by 3 to 4 worker bees. Only during the breeding season, the Drone bees will be allowed inside the hive when the new queen is being produced. Later they are sent out and they die of starvation. The life span of the drone bee is around 59 days usually will be alive in summer.

Beekeeping Equipment

There are many Beekeeping types of equipment, here we are discussing on Langstroth model. An important aspect of beekeeping is maintaining optimum distance of two surfaces in a beehive. This will effectively help bees for a normal movement and overall functioning. This space is called “bee space”. For each species of bee, this space is different – A. mellifera requires 9.52 mm and for A. cerana it’s in between 7 mm to 9 mm.

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Main parts of Bee hive are

1. Stand

To support the bottom board.

2. Bottom board

The base of the hive, which has the brood chamber. It holds the entrance for the bees.

3. Brood Chamber

The only place for brooding is in the Brood chamber. The rearing of bees takes place here. It consists of Frames which are placed vertically. The frame dimensions vary based on the type of hive.

4. Frame

Each frame is either rectangle or square in shape depending on the hive type. Most of the time it is empty four-sided wooden bars. The main purpose of the frame is to hold the comb. 

5. Super

A very similar to the brood chamber. But its dimension is either of the same size or half of the brood chamber. Even this contains the frames, but these frames are made to store honey. No brooding takes place here, its just a storage place for honey. 

6. Inner Cover and Top Cover

Inner cover acts as a partition between brood and super or super and the roof. Top cover acts as the roof, which protects the hive from rain or sunlight.

7. Nucleus hive

A mini hive consists of a few frames approximately 4 to 6. Mainly used for division of the colonies and mating of the queen.

8. Comb foundation mill

A printed comb which is made from the bee wax. It will consist of the comb will cells, which helps honey bees to just concentrate on storing honey, rather than spending time on making comb. This saves a lot of time and effort to make honey.

9. Smoker

It’s quite difficult for a first-timer to take out frames for honey harvesting. But by using a smoker, this can be achieved with ease. It helps in calming down the bees while taking the honey frame out.

10. Bee brush

Used to brush the bees from the frame. Every useful tool, in all circumstances.

11. Bee veil

Best used to protect face and neck from bee stings.

12. Feeders

Choose the right feeder for the requirement. Feeding sugar syrup for the bee colonies is required during certain times.

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Rules for Successful Beekeeping

Three Simple Rules to follow for Successful beekeeping are

  1. A good beekeeping site
  2. Good bee colony
  3. Proper Management

1. Good Beekeeping site

  • Beekeeping or hive boxes should be in an easily accessible place – closer to walkaway. But the opening should be away from the walkway, towards the trees.
  • They are should be full of flora plants or trees. In order to produce 20 kg of honey, the colony needs at least 100 blooming trees or 2 to 4 acres of blooming crop.
  • Freshwater availability is mandatory.
  • Hive box should be protected from harsh winds, it is better to be next to some strong trees.
  • A daily dose of sunlight is required. But in order to avoid hot summers, it’s preferable to keep them in the shade of trees.

2. Good bee colony

Two domesticated honey bee species are available  A. mellifera and A. cerana . In the hilly areas, A. cerana performs better. It also does well in the areas of less flora. Also, A.cerana requires less investment to start beekeeping.

3. Proper Management of Beekeeping

Understanding the bee behavior and how colonies function will make beekeeping a success story. Let us dig in to understand the bee colonies

Handling of bee colonies

  • Proper handling of bees is necessary. There is a fear in everyone that bee stings. To be frank they will sting out of fear. Once they sting, they will die. So for bees stinging is the last resort, they will try to avoid this in all normal situations. So take all safety precautions before handling the bees for examination.
  • Due to changes in seasons, the bees requirement also changes. It is well required to examine the hive, once in a while to check if everything is fine.
  • Check if the bees have enough food in the comb. Else artificial feeding is required. Each colony will require a minimum of 2 to 5 kg of nectar all the time for their survival.
  • Most crucial for any colony to function and stay together is the presence of the Queen bee. Check if she is present or not. Also, check whether she is laying eggs.
  • Check if the combs are not overcrowded if it does not have any space for the queen to lay eggs. Queen may decide to leave the hive with her workers.
  • Important to check if any bees are dead, maybe due to diseases or enemies or overcrowding. Take the necessary action.
  • During the initial built-up period of the colony, the hive can be examined once a week. But during off-seasons once or twice a month is sufficient. Much of interference is not advisable. Honeybees get disturbed.

Seven Tips to Avoid Stings When Working in Your Hive

  1. Always advisable to wear a bee veil before handling the honey bees.
  2. Do you know honeybees do not like the color black? So do not wear any black or dark clothing, which makes them furious.
  3. Always be simple while handling honeybees. Never use any perfume, string smelling hair oil, metal rings or watches these will instigate them to sting.
  4. It’s a good practice to avoid quick or jerky movements when handling frames. Be patient and don’t shake while handling frames.
  5. If it all bee stings, do not panic. Pull out the sting gently from the bottom. Do not handle the string from the top, as the top will have venom. The bulb part of the sting shouldn’t be pressed. The pain will last for a long time if the venom is induced into your body.
  6. Be careful with the queen bee, if it is crushed or left out your colony will be doomed.
  7. Once you get stung remove the sting and rub your part with grass or some leaves. This is to mask the smell of pheromone which otherwise brings other workers to sting in that area.

What is the role of Worker bees in a colony of bees?

NoAge of Worker BeeRoles Performed
1Till the 3rd day of emergenceKeep up wax cells in a sterile state, cleaning their dividers and floors
2From 4th to 6th day of emergenceFeed the older larvae with the mixture honey and pollen. Also, move around the hive to get familiar.
3From 7th to 11th day of emergenceHypopharyngeal organs (nourishment organs) get created and begin discharging royal jelly and feed more youthful larvae.
4From 12th to 18th day of emergenceThe honey bees create wax organs and work on the structure of brush, development of cells and so on., Receive the nectar, dust, water, propolis and so on., from field gatherers and store in the brush cells and help in keeping the brood warm.
5From 18th to 20th day Be on guard duty
6From 20th day onwardsThe working bees take the obligation of the field, for example, investigating or rummaging for nectar and dust; gathering water and propolis.

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