How would you feel if you found out your neighbors were keeping bees? Would you be interested? Would you be scared?
Bees are fascinating creatures, especially the way they work together and know exactly what to do, even though most of them only live for a few weeks.
Last year sometime I had the idea of starting my own hive but it was too late in the year to start a new hive. So I decided to wait until this spring. Last Sunday I had my second beginner’s bee class and it was awesome. It was held in a little beekeeping store here in San Francisco, called ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper’ .
The class was held by Karen Peteros, who is also active in the SF beekeeper association. She was great and resourceful.
Here is a little bit of what we learned about getting started:
What do you need?
1. A fairly sunny spot for the hive, at least in San Francisco. In hotter areas full sun can get too warm for the bees.
2. A water source, so bees don’t drink in neighbor’s pools, hot tubs, etc – you don’t want anybody stepping barefoot onto a drinking bee, would end badly for the person and the bee
3. Ventilation for the hive, bees breathe, and if the warm wet air can’t escape out top, the hive can get moldy inside
4. Something to lift the hive off the ground so ants, mice, skunks and other critters can’t get in.
5. The actual hive, consisting mainly of boxes. There are different varieties, some with foundation in the frames, others without, each have their advantages. The most common ones are called Langstroth and Top Bar. You should give the boxes a painting several weeks before the bees arrive so the fumes can air out.
6. A bottom board, best is if it has a grid, so that mites that fall off the bees fall through the grid and are out of the hive. There are also solid bottom boards.
7. A top cover. There are also various ones for more prettiness or more ventilation, or both.
8. A smoker, it will help you work the hive better as it calms the bees down.
9. A hive tool, it will help you lift out heavy frames and get in between sticky frames and boxes that the bees glue together with propolis.
10. Protective gear, especially for your head, neck and hands. They recommended rubber boots to protect your ankles too.
When you consider where you locate your hive, you have to make sure you have enough space behind and on one side of the hive, so you can remove and inspect frames conveniently. At no time should you be in front of the hive, or else you get into the bees’ flight path and confuse them.
In general, bees are not very offensive or aggressive. They just defend themselves and their hive when they have to. And, unlike wasps, bees are solely interested in flowers and pollen, so they will not bother you and fly into your drinks and food.
It is recommended to check into your beehive every 10 days to look for the queen or a sign of her having recently been there. This will also give you an idea if your colony is about to swarm. But that is another complex topic. So you will be looking for the queen, or if she is well hidden, look for young larvae which will show you that the queen was there a few days ago.
The presence of a queen is essential to the hive, without her, the hive cannot reproduce, she is the only one who is fertile and lays eggs.
When a hive goes queenless, the bees will try to requeen it by feeding one larvae with royal jelly, which will turn it into a queen instead of into a worker bee. So it sounds fairly easy, but in a city environment the problem is mostly the mating flight. Oftentimes, after having mated with drones, on her flight back into the hive, the queen gets snapped away by a bird.
A queenless colony can become depressed as they know they can’t reproduce anymore and will die, or aggressive and start stinging people for no reason, or they can keep going about their business as usual, collecting pollen and making honey.
A colony can also be requeened with a new queen that the beekeeper buys. It is a complicated procedure but it can be done.
There is so much more to know and every new bit of information gets more interesting, I could not possibly cover everything I learned on Sunday in this post. If you are considering getting into bees, get a good beginner book (for example The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum) and take a class with your local beekeeping association.
Looking forward to buying my first hives and painting them! The bees will arrive in April.