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How to Start Your Own Backyard Beehive


90 crops rely on bee pollination in the US, and approximately 3,600 bee species live here. There’s good reason bees are dubbed as busy. About 65 percent of the crops we grow depend on bee pollination and honey bees (Apis mellifera) work around the clock to get all this work done.

A single colony can easily contain 10,000 to 60,000 working bees. Each female worker lives for roughly a month and is so effective at pollination that she may forage more than 500 flowers in a round trip. So, they’re a crucial part of our eco-system.

Since bees travel anywhere up to 6.2 miles away to gather pollen and nectar, their pollination services extend way beyond your garden or those of your neighbors, meaning your backyard beehive could help out your whole neighborhood and reward you with fresh honey at the same time. Win-win!

Step One

The first step is to find out if working with bees is something that’s for you, by heading along to a beekeeping society’s meeting. Most of them hold regular field days and encourage newcomers to “suit up” to experience what a hive inspection involves, and what it feels like to have thousands of bees buzzing near you. 

Getting Started

The next step is to find out your local council’s bee policy; some don’t allow urban beekeeping, while others set limits on hive numbers according to the size of your garden.

You will need a beekeeping license, which is easy and inexpensive to obtain. Check out how to do it, here.

You need to buy tools, including an extractor, plus protective equipment, a hive, and a nucleus colony with a queen and worker bees. Time is taken to supply a nucleus colony varies, depending on the weather.

Positioning the Hive

Hives are best located in back gardens away from footpaths (skateboarders and postal workers on motorbikes) and other activity areas around the home such as the garage, barbecue, or swimming pool. 

It’s important to place the hive in a spot that’s reliably well-drained, away from draughts, and where the bees can receive sunshine all day. Early morning sunshine is most important in winter, especially in cool temperate regions, so they warm up and start working early. Don’t keep hives near laundry lines. Bees are critically clean and defecate and drop-dead bees and larvae away from the hive, possibly on your laundry.

Beetle larvae crawl out of hives and seek out moist soil where they pupate. Concrete warms up in the sun and helps desiccate beetle larvae, and gives ants a chance to find and eat them.

Specially designed compact hives need to be in a sheltered spot with shade to protect from hot western and northern sun. Morning sunshine helps stir these bees to action in winter. Stingless bees forage up to 1640 feet from their home and in warm areas, a happy colony can produce up to two pounds of sugar bag honey a year. While they are far less productive than their European counterparts, many say sugar bag honey has a distinct ‘bush’ flavor superior to that of honey produced by foreign bees.

Where to Buy Supplies

Local beekeeping societies and departments of primary industries can advise you on the nearest suppliers of everything from books and bees to equipment. Government websites are indispensable resources. Supplies, including replacement queen bees, can oftentimes be delivered by mail. But nucleus hives, sealed for transport, must be promptly installed in the cool of the day, preferably at dawn, which limits how far they can be transported.

Native Bees

Most people are surprised to learn that there are more than 3,600 bees native to the United States. But most interests to the backyard beekeeper are the stingless bees that store honey.

A honey bee colony is a highly organized society made up of three kinds of adult bees – workers, drones, and a single queen – each with specific roles. Worker bees are sexually undeveloped females and under normal hive conditions don’t lay eggs. As suggested by their name, worker bees are the hive’s laborers, performing all the tasks needed to maintain and protect the colony and rear the young bees.

Making Honey

The best beekeepers trick their bees. Left to their own devices, bees make enough honey to feed the entire colony through winter. By manipulating the number of frames in a hive, a good beekeeper can control the size of the colony as well as the honey yield. 

In a wild hive, the queen bee (who is the biggest bee in the colony) can roam and lay eggs freely. In a managed colony, the queen bee is contained to the lower level and fills “brood” (bee larvae) boxes. 

Overcrowded hives swarm, so another trick is creating more room by adding extra boxes to seasonally expand the bee population, which peaks during spring and summer. This stimulates the queen to lay more eggs while her workers make more honey in the spring “honey flow.”

A golden rule when inspecting hives is to quickly clean up or cover spilled honey with water, sand, or sawdust. Spilled honey encourages neighboring bees to become robbers, which could introduce pests or diseases to your hive. Towards the end of her life cycle, after serving various roles within the hive, a worker bee’s main task is to forage for pollen for food and nectar to make honey.

A worker bee has purpose-built baskets on her legs to collect pollen from flowers and a special stomach to store nectar. On her return to the hive, the forager bee delivers the nectar to the honey-making bees who pass it mouth-to-mouth until the moisture content is reduced. This honey is then stored in cells. Once each cell is filled with ripened honey, bees cap it with wax. 

When the whole box is capped, it’s time to fit an escape board so that, as bees leave, they can’t return. A day later, it’s harvest time. The simplest way to harvest honey is to use an uncapping knife, dipped in boiled water. The frame is put in an extractor and sieved of minor debris. It’s best to extract in a warm room that is sealed from potential robber bees.

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.

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