We’ve owned a starter hive for about 5 years but never had the time or the nerve to get bees to put in them. A starter hive comes with a brood box (where the bees live), a bee veil and gloves, and a few beekeeping tools. It costs around $150.
I took a beekeeping class at Organic Grower’s School in Asheville, NC last March and it gave me the nerve (that’s all we were lacking) to get started. As soon as I got home, I started calling bee suppliers and quickly learned we were (almost) too late to get bees for the year. We decided to order two packages of bees and got one of the last slots for the last pick up day of 2009 at a bee supplier about 2.5 hours from here. That date was the first weekend in May.
We drove down and hung around long enough to watch someone demo installing a package. We’ve never been around bees and don’t know any beekeepers so our Beekeeping For Dummies book was our main source of information. A package of bees comes in a wood and wire container about the size of a shoebox and holds approx. 12,500 bees and costs about $65. Everything we read said it’s important for beginners to have two hives so they have something to compare against, so we purchased another hive set up. We also bought two sets of honey chambers which are called ‘supers’, another bee veil and pair of gloves and, since they carry it, 3 cases (!) of soap base for my soap crafting. As it turns out, that was a very expensive outing!
We brought the packages of bees home in the back seat of our Camry. Having that many bees in the back seat is quite the experience. Do you have any idea how carefully you drive with 25,000 very noisy bees in the car?! We had to paint our new hive before we could install the bees, so we left them on our porch overnight while the paint dried.
Installing might as well be called dumping because that’s pretty much what you do to get the bees in the hive. Surprisingly, the bees are very docile when you dump them from the package into the hive. Once they establish their home in the hive, they are less docile. The package comes with a queen in a tiny little screened house that has a piece of hard sugar called ‘candy’ keeping her and a few worker bees inside. You use a rubber band to secure the queen’s little cottage to one of the frames inside the brood chamber and within 2-4 days the bees have eaten the candy and she’s let out to start laying. These packages are built by combining bees from different source hives and the queens are from yet another source so the idea is to introduce her slowly over a few days so she’s not attacked and killed. After you dump your bees in, fill their feeder with a mixture of sugar and water and put the lid on, you’re not supposed to peek for at least a week. During the Spring and Fall, the two hives are fed a 5 lb. bag of sugar mixed with water every week. In the Summer, they gather their own nectar courtesy of local flora to make honey. They get to keep one super of honey over the winter for their nourishment. Any honey above that first super is ours. In the Winter, you just leave them with whatever food they have stored because opening the hive lets the cold in, and bees like it toasty warm.
The best advice I got at the organic beekeeping class is to join a local beekeeping meeting. I’ve read that the one subject that has the most written about it in the history of the world is beekeeping. Meeting fellow beekeepers (many in their 70’s & 80’s) is a wonderful way to learn and have local resources to answer your questions about this fascinating & rewarding adventure. I’ll post again about our beekeeping adventures… more to come!