Getting Started in Beekeeping

If you are interest in an exciting hobby that often becomes the center of conversation, then consider Beekeeping. The idea of being able to keep your own bees and harvest your own honey and other products from the hive is rewarding activity.

Honeybees have been managed by humans for thousands of years. Keeping bees is referred to as apiculture and a group of beehives in one place is an apiary. In the past, hollowed out logs were used as beehives and are still kept this way in some developing countries. Today, more advanced equipment such as the Langstroth beehive are used.

Getting started in beekeeping may seem overwhelming, but choosing a respected company to purchase beehives from is a good first step. The company needs to have a mentoring attitude and provide classes or online learning. we at Raw Hawaiian Honey Company regularly posts blogs and training video on our website. After you get comfortable being around the honey bees, you will quickly start enjoying being a beekeeper. I also recommend joining the Big Island Beekeepers Association and attend their monthly meeting in Hilo. Its been often said that “if there are 10 beekeepers in the room, then there are 11 ways to keep bees.”

Whether it’s just a hobby or you plan to build into a commercial operation, there are a number of things to consider before embarking on this journey.

Below you will find questions that beginner beekeepers usually ask.

1. Does Beekeeping Take a lot of Time?

Managing beehives in Hawaii requires at least monthly maintenance. In 2010, a majority of the feral bees died when two predatory pests (the varroa mite and small hive beetle) were accidentally brought to the island. Over the previous 100 years, the Hawaiian honeybee as swarmed and populated the island to point there was competition for availible resources of nectar and pollen. When the ferel bees parished, this balance was no longer present. Now the honeybees collect honey too fast, reducing the area the queen has to lay eggs and maintain the strenth of the hive.

In places other than Hawaii you have to manage you hives around seasons. For example, in the winter, a beekeeper usually does nothing except for checking on the bees and maybe clearing beehive entrances blocked by snow. In the late spring and summer the hive must be checked almost weekly to ensure that no swarming has taken place. It is the time when more honey supers are added to hives. These tasks can be seem daunting at first as a beginner, however with experience, you’ll be able to complete your inspection quickly.

2. Is Beekeeping Difficult?

Beekeeping does not have to involve strenuous work, but it depends on how you set up your hive. The bee boxes above, the queen excluder are referred to as honey supers. The honey super can be a “deep” or a “medium” box. When these boxes are filled with honey the “deep” weighs 80 lbs and the “medium weighs 50 lbs. So choose the box that matches your physical abilities.

3. What are the Costs Associated with Beekeeping?

Costs will of course vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. However you can read this article to get a breakdown of approximate costs involved in getting started in beekeeping.

4. Is Beekeeping Profitable?

Beekeeping can be profitable if done the right way. With proper beekeeping practices and a suitable beehive, you can enjoy a satisfying income with every harvest of beehive products. Beekeepers with a large number of beehives who built their business without debt enjoy more profits from their beekeeping activities and can survive the fluctuation associated with farming and competition from the foreign importers of honey.

In addition to making money from keeping bees, you get to contribute to stewarding an environmental indicator species. Beekeepers get satisfaction from knowing they contribute to the better pollination of plants.

5. What are the Equipment that I Need When Getting Started in Beekeeping?

The first thing you need to have is the starter beehive (NUC). This NUC contains 5 frames to include 1 honey, 3 brood,and a foundation. You will need to purchase an already built brood hive box for NUC to grow into. Decide the type of honey supers you want (deep or medium).

Then you will need are the bee smoker, beekeeper suit, beekeeper hat and veil. Some manufacturers package these essential supplies into a beekeeping starter kit which you can order online and have it shipped right to your door. This kit should include everything you will need.

6. Which are the Best Types of Bees for Getting Started in Beekeeping?

In Hawaii there are several honeybee types (races) to choose from for the purposes of honey production, pollination, and other bee related products. Even though there are several types of honeybees, their differences are subtle. As long as these types of queen bees are well reared, a beekeeper’s objective to get maximum honey will be achieved.

Below are some bee species that a beginner beekeeper can choose from:

Italian Bees

Italian Queen

Italian bees are the most commonly found in North America. Italian bees use less propolis than the darker types of bees. To identify the Italian bee, check out for bands on their abdomen in a brown or yellow color. The major weakness of the Italian bees is that they are usually more susceptible to robbing and drifting. The strength is they build up fast and produce good amount of honey.

Cordovan Bees

Cardovan Queen

Cordovan bees are a subset of the Italian bees, but are distinguished based on their color. They are usually a little gentler than the Italian bee but in contrast they tend to rob more. They are distinguished by their distinctive yellow color but they don’t have the color black. Unlike the Italian bees that have legs and heads that are black, the Cordovan bees have legs that are purplish and heads that are purplish too.

Caucasian Bees

Caucasian bees are usually distinguished by a distinctive silver gray to dark brown color. Compared to the Italian bees, they tend to be a little slower during the spring. They are generally even gentler than the Italian bees and are usually not as productive as the Italian bees but are less prone to robbing. They are known to do propolis a lot more than the Italian bees.

7. How Much Space Should I Have When Getting Started in Beekeeping?

Honeybees need proper space and placement to prevent becoming a nuisance. The first is that bees need about 10 foot space in front of their hive to leave and go foraging. if you cant provide 10 foot space, then place a 6 foot tall vertical barrier between the hive and neighbor or areas of concern. Bees fly upwards and away at a rate of one foot vertical for every foot horizontally.

Rural or Urban – it’s up to you

Rural areas are great for beekeeping and beginner beekeepers should try them out before venturing into urban beekeeping (if possible). However, there are many successful beekeepers in urban areas, so do not be discouraged. There is much to forage on in the urban areas on the Big Island. Bees can get enough food for themselves and also to make honey. Bees can travel several miles from their beehive searching for pollen, nectar and other nutrition.

8. What Beehive Products Will I Get From Bees?

Once you get started in beekeeping, you benefit in more than one way. Most people look at beekeeping as only getting honey from it. Of course, it is one of the major products you get from a beehive, but is not the only one. The benefits and products you get from keeping honeybees include:

Honey

Original Hawaiian Honey
Raw Honey

Honey is the most popular beehive product. It is sweet to the taste and can be eaten alone or used as a sweetener. It is also applicable in many recipes at home. Honey is added into many products in the beauty industry. It also has many medicinal uses that make it a frequent ingredient in remedies.

Beeswax

Bees Wax
Pure Bees Wax

The wax that bees use to make comb is one of the harvested products in a beehive. Beekeepers can then sell the wax or use it at home. Traditionally, beeswax has been used to make candles. The candles made from beeswax last long and drip less. Beeswax has found many functions in households and the beauty industry where it is used to make lip gloss, lip balm, salves, moisturizers and hand creams. It is also found in eye liner, mustache wax and in hair pomades that make hair look shiny and sleek. You may also use beeswax in your home recipes for beauty creams.

Propolis

Propolis
Propolis

Propolis is a sticky substance used by bees to seal cracks and seal up spaces. It is found in significant amounts in a beehive and is harvested as you harvest honey. Propolis found on beehive frames is removed to prevent bees building honeycomb outside the assigned space in the frame. Propolis and its extracts are used for its antimicrobial and immune-modulatory properties.

Bee Pollen

Local Pollen
Bee Pollen

Bee Pollen is considered one of nature’s most complete foods due to its comprehensive and balanced nutrient profile. A complete protein, rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and anti-oxidants, it is considered an immune system builder that will also enhance vitality.

Other Beehive Products

Other beehive products you may harvest include new queen bees to sell to other beekeepers. New queen bees are great for improving the gene pool of a honeybee colony. Royal jelly and bee pollen are also collected from beehives and used for their high nutritional value as well as medicinal properties.

Pollination Benefits

This is not necessarily a beehive product, but in their search for nectar and pollen, bees cross-pollinate plants of many species. Many plants depend on insect-aided cross-pollination to prevent self-fertilization or limit its occurrence. By keeping bees, you are sure to enjoy better pollination in your own gardens and for the plants around your area.

9. What is a Beekeeping Starter Kit?

A beekeeping starter kit is a set of tools, equipment and protective wear. The starter kit is sold as one unit to allow beginner beekeepers have all they need when getting started in beekeeping. A hive tool and protective clothing for beekeepers feature prominently in beekeeping starter kits. Various manufacturers of beekeeping starter kits add varying tools and equipment. Some beekeeping starter kits may also have a beekeeping book included.

Beginner beekeepers should carefully go over the various offerings in beekeeping starter kits before deciding which one to buy. Since you will only be buying one starter kit, it pays to get the one with most items included in it.

10. When to Harvest Hawaiian Honey?

Usually most beekeepers wait for the end of nectar flow to go and find out if they can harvest the honey. Conditions will usually vary depending on your location but the best time start harvesting honey is at the start of summer towards the start of fall. During winter, the bees don’t go out of the hive as much, so be sure the have enough honey in the reserves.

The bee colony needs at least one full season for a sizable population to be grown that will be large enough to produce a surplus honey for you to harvest. When the frames contain at least 80% of capped and sealed honey, you can go ahead and do the harvesting. A little patience however can even be more rewarding for you in the long run.

Honey may be harvested using a honey extractor.

Can I Keep Bees and Not Hawaiian Harvest Honey?

The motives and inspirations behind starting beekeeping vary from one individual to the next. Some beekeepers start keeping honeybees for their ecological value. You can keep bees without aiming at harvesting beehive products for their economic value or personal use.

If you do not harvest Hawaiian honey from a beehive, the stocks build up over time. Due to increased availability of food resources, the honeybee colony increases in number of bees rapidly. Ultimately, swarming occurs. This is one of the targets of beekeepers who only keep bees for their pollination activity.

You can prevent a honeybee colony from swarming by splitting the hive yourself. Beginner beekeepers looking to expand their apiary by increasing the number of honeybee colonies have used this method successfully. They can have many colonies in a short period of time. Splitting a hive is a delicate operation that should only be carried out when you have some beekeeping experience. You may invite a more experienced beekeeper to help you out if you are a beginner beekeeper.

11. What are the Threats to Hawaiian Honey Bee Colonies

Honeybee colonies are prey for some predators, pests and parasites. Additionally, there are diseases that affect bees. These threats to honeybees cause defects in bees and lead to low yields of beehive products. Beginner beekeepers should be aware of these threats. The major threats in form of pests, parasites and diseases that are of economic significance are:

Tracheal and Varroa Mites

Mites are a major threat to beekeeping. They suck on bees’ blood (haemolyph) and affect bee larvae. The result of mite infection is bees with deformed wings and a reduced lifespan for bees with mites. Mites are controlled using various methods including miticides, essential oils and mineral oil. Some beekeeping practices also help keep mites in check. Rotation of some mite treatments is necessary so that the mites do not develop resistance to any one treatment method.

Wax Moths

Wax moth larvae are a destructive pest of honeybees. They burrow through brood cells and damage honeycomb in a weak honeybee colony. The larvae prefer comb that has been used for brooding but also eat wax on honeycomb. Wax moths can be successfully controlled even with heavy infestations.

Hornets, Wasps and Yellow Jackets

These often kill bees while out foraging or at the entrance of the hive. They are best controlled by finding their nest and destroying it. An entrance reducer on your beehives also helps bees guard the hive better.

Small Hive Beetle, Termites and Spiders

These cause damage to the beehive and your honeybee colony in various ways. The small hive beetle feeds on pollen in the beehive and lays eggs. It can easily overrun a colony of bees if not controlled. Pesticides work well to control small hive beetle infestations. Termites on the other hand, make burrows in the beehive and lower its structural integrity. Prevent termites reaching your hive by not having the beehive sitting directly on the ground. As for spiders, they are predatory of insects and so may attack bees. Control spiders by removing any webs you find near your beehive.

Robber Bees

Bees from other colonies may attack a weak hives to steal honey. Robber bees are a big threat with new honeybee colonies and weak colonies. They are attracted by feeders placed outside the beehive. Using an entrance reducer is a great way to prevent robber bees attacking your honeybee colony.

Predatory Birds

Some birds eat bees in the wild they are foraging. If these birds know the location of your beehive, they make it a habit to catch bees near the beehive and eat them. The only way to control this is by moving the beehive to a new location. Optionally, you may try trapping the birds.

Hawaiian Toads

These toad wait near the hive entrance and eat the bees as they exit the hive. This is prevented by elevating your hives 12 inches off the ground.

Chalk Brood

Chalkbrood is a disease of bees caused by a fungus. It grows on honeybee larvae and kills it. There is not much you can do to control the disease except requeening the honeybee colony. Strong colonies remove infected larvae from the beehive and may successfully end the infection by themselves.

European Foulbrood

This disease of honeybees is cause by a bacterium. Requeening the colony or caging the queen helps control the disease. Sometimes, it clears by itself when there is strong nectar flow.

American Foulbrood

American Foulbrood is a very contagious honeybee disease. It is caused by bacteria that forms vegetative spores. It can wreck havoc in a beehive. The only solution to controlling American foulbrood in a beehive is burning the affected beehive boxes. Treatment with Terramycin where it is legal to use it prevents infection of your honeybee colony by American Foulbrood bacteria.

Sacbrood

Sacbrood is a viral disease. It affects a small number of brood and weakens the honeybee colony. Requeening the beehive can help.

Nosema

This is diarrhea of bees due to spore formation in their digestive tract. It shortens bees’ lifespans and can interfere with the laying of eggs by the queen if she gets infected. Healthy honeybee colonies with a young queen bee and ample food resources are less likely to suffer Nosema.

Paralysis

Paralysis can be acute or chronic. It is often as a result of bees consuming pollen from certain plants or pollen that has fermented. It resolves without treatment. Susceptibility to paralysis is genetic and can be avoided in future by bringing in a new queen bee for the honeybee colony.

Pesticides

Pesticides are also a significant threat to bees. Spraying insecticides may affect bees since they are insects. This is a human hazard to bees and may be difficult to overcome since bees travel long distances to forage. If you are aware your neighbors will be using pesticides, drape wet burlap over the beehive. It discourages bees from going out of the hive.

When working with some treatments for the threats facing your honeybees, be sure to take safety precautions. Wear protective gloves, goggles and avoid breathing in the treatment compounds. Follow the instructions and take the measures outlined in each treatment you buy and use on honeybees.

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