Introduction to the article
Credit: @casportpony from BYC and BYH
Credit: @casportpony from BYC and BYH
This article, written by me in my own words, introduces us to the world of apiculture and caring for honeybees. The western honeybee (Apis mellifera) and eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) have been long domesticated for their honey and other bee products. These insects are good for most expert animal owners but are also good for beginners who have done their research properly. If you or your friends are allergic to bees, don't own them. This is the ultimate care guide for honeybees in the farmyard and in your backyard. It will cover everything you will need to be a good beekeeper, from their hive to protective clothing, raising bees to urban and farm apiculture. This is an occasionally profitable hobby, so if you make good honey, you will earn a lot of money selling them to the general public.
1: The beginning...
The hobby can be pricey at times. Equipment include: A beehive usually cost $120-$200 or more dollars, but some beehives can be more expensive than others. A bee brush costs $5-$10, a hive tool costs $8-$12, a bee smoker which usually costs $30-$45 and protective gear which can cost $25-$200. A special nucleus colony of honeybees are more expensive, $150 or more, than packaged bees which cost $140-$190. You will need to do some research into apiculture, take some online classes on it and check what type of honeybee you want to keep. Before starting urban beekeeping, research your local regulations and ordinances regarding urban apiculture. Many cities and towns have guidelines on hives, distance between neighbours and property lines. You can obtain necessary licenses through local governments' permission.
2: Urban vs Farm apiculture
Urban apiculture involves keeping bees in urban and suburban areas, and is useful for the backyard unless you, a neighbour or a friend are allergic to them. However, you need to put them in a quiet place, away from pets and human traffic. Farm apiculture is practiced in rural areas or on farms with larger acreage. It often involves more extensive hive setups, emphasizing pollination services for large-scale agriculture in addition to honey production on the farmyard.
3: The hive
The number of hives, or apiaries, depend on where you live. In urban areas, the number of hives are less due to government restraints. In farms, however, you can have many hives as you like. The hive must be ventilated and secure. The size of a beehive in beekeeping can vary depending on the type of hive and the specific needs of the beekeeper and the bee colony. There are two main types of beehive: Langstroth and top-bar.
Credit: KsKingBee (BYC)
Langstroth hives are the most widely used beehives in apiculture. They come in several standard sizes, with the most common being the 10-frame and 8-frame Langstroth hives. The 10-frame hive is larger and provides more space for bees, bee larvae and honey storage. The 8-frame hive is slightly smaller and lighter, making it easier to handle. The dimensions of a Langstroth hive can vary by region but a typical 10-frame deep hive box has dimensions of approximately 16.25 inches (41 cm) wide, 19.88 inches (50 cm) long, and 9.5 inches (24 cm) deep. The dimensions of an 8-frame deep hive box are similar but slightly narrower.
Top-bar hives are another type of beehive that is often used, especially in more natural or sustainable beekeeping practices. The size of a top-bar hive does vary, but it is typically longer and narrower compared to a Langstroth hive. The length of the top-bar hive can vary, but common lengths are around 42 to 48 inches (107 to 122 cm). In colder climates a large hive is used for bees to survive the winter. In warmer climates a smaller hive may be used for beekeeping. There are hybrid hives as well, such as the Flow Hive Hybrid.
4: Protective clothing
Protective beekeeping clothing serves several critical functions to ensure the safety of beekeepers while working with bee colonies. Beekeepers wear specialised protective gear to minimize the risk of getting stung and other potential hazards associated with beekeeping. Beekeepers should always approach hives calmly, avoid sudden movements and use smoke to calm the bees during inspections. Protective clothing is a critical safety measure, but it is just one aspect of responsible beekeeping practices.
The primary purpose of protective clothing is to provide a physical barrier against bee stings. Bees can become defensive and sting when they perceive a threat to their hive or queen. Protective clothing includes layers that cover the body to prevent stings from reaching the skin. Even if a bee manages to penetrate the protective clothing, the gear typically includes multiple layers and is designed to reduce the severity of stings. This can prevent painful or allergic reactions that may occur with direct stings to the skin. Wearing protective clothing boosts the confidence of beekeepers. Knowing that they are well-protected allows beekeepers to work more calmly and efficiently, which can reduce the likelihood of disturbing the bees. Bees can be sensitive to certain scents, such as perfumes or lotions and may become more aggressive when exposed to these odours. Protective clothing is typically made of materials that do not contain such scents therefore reducing the risk of provoking bee aggression.
Credit: Anete Lusina on Pexels
Protective clothing often include a veil or hood that covers the head, shielding the eyes from bee stings and preventing bees from getting tangled in hair or clothing. Some beekeeping suits include a zippered veil or a helmet with an integrated mesh faceguard that provides respiratory protection. This prevents bees from flying into the beekeeper's head and potentially being inhaled. Protective clothing typically covers the entire body. This ensures that no part of the beekeeper's body is exposed, reducing the risk of stings in vulnerable areas like the neck, wrists and ankles. The clothing is usually made in light (such as white) colours that make it easier to spot stinging bees. This allows beekeepers to react promptly to bee behavior during hive inspections. They can be easily cleaned and sanitized after use, preventing the transfer of contaminants or diseases between colonies.
5: Purchasing bees
Buying bees are an easy task and a crucial step to start your apiculture hobby. Some species of honeybee include eastern, Africanised and western honeybees. The temperament depends on the bee species you are picking. Here are the steps on how to buy bees and to choose which is the right bee for you.
Determine the type of bees:
Decide on the type of bees you want to buy. Research which species of honeybee is best suited for your region and your beekeeping goals.
Choose a reliable supplier:
Look for reputable bee suppliers or bee breeders in your area or region. You can find them through local beekeeping associations, online directories or by asking experienced beekeepers for recommendations.
Decide on the bee package or hive:
There are a few options for acquiring bees:
- Bee packages: These typically consist of a queen bee and a certain number of worker bees (usually in the thousands). Packages are a common way to start a new hive.
- Nucleus colonies: Nucleus colonies are small colonies with a mated queen, frames of brood, honey and worker bees. They provide a head start for your hive.
- Full hives: You can purchase entire established hives with bees, frames and a queen. This is the hardest type to buy.
Check the health and reputation of the supplier:
Verify the health and reputation of the supplier. Make sure they are known for providing healthy, disease-free bees. Ask for references if necessary. This is important because you don't want bees with disease.
Order in advance:
Bee suppliers often have limited availability, especially during the spring when many beekeepers start new hives. Place your order well in advance to secure your bees. You can order them online or buy them in-store.
Prepare your hive:
Before your bees arrive make sure your beehive is set up and ready to receive them. Ensure you have the necessary equipment, such as frames, hive boxes, protective gear and tools.
Transportation and pickup:
Coordinate with the supplier for the pickup or delivery of your bees. Transport them carefully and gently to avoid stressing the bees.
Install the bees:
If you are installing a packaged bee colony, it will typically come in a wooden or cardboard box with a screened side for ventilation. If transferring bees from another hive or capturing a swarm, prepare a temporary container for transportation. Light your bee smoker and use the smoke to calm the bees down. Lightly spray water or sugar syrup to help your bees build their hive.
Once you have your bees at your apiary location, follow the supplier's instructions for installing them in your hive. This typically involves transferring them from the package or nucleus colony into your prepared hive.
6: Caring for your bees and their hive
Your bees need ongoing care. That's why it's important to make them healthy and happy in their habitat. Choose a location with access to diverse and abundant forage. Urban beekeepers should seek out large gardens and parks with a variety of flowering plants. Farm beekeepers should ensure access to crop fields and wildflowers. Bees need a nearby water source to survive. Place shallow containers with rocks or floating cork pieces to prevent drowning in your apiary. Put it close in the hive and refill daily in case it dries out in hot weather. Conduct weekly hive inspections to monitor colony health, check for diseases and assess the need for more space or supplementary feeding. Implement integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to control common pests like Varroa destructor mites (varroosis) and diseases like American and European foulbrood. Use chemical treatments judiciously, according to local regulations. Ensure clean hives by periodically scraping off propolis and wax buildup. Replace old or mouldy comb as needed. Ventilation is crucial to regulate hive temperature and humidity. Ensure your hives have proper ventilation to prevent moisture buildup and overheating. Do not split hives unless it is necessary to if the hive is overcrowded. Provide supplementary food when natural forage is scarce or during winter months. Sugar syrup and pollen patties can help colonies survive winter periods. Do not leave sugar syrup in the open as they may attract feral bee colonies as well as your own.
Plant bee-friendly flowers, bushes and trees such as lavender, bottlebrush and banksia in your area to enhance forage opportunities and to provide a diverse diet for your bees. A single worker bee may visit 10,000 flowers a day, or in their lifetime, produce a teaspoonful of honey. Handle your bees gently and avoid disturbing them unnecessarily during inspections. Minimise many hive manipulations, especially in harsh weather conditions. In hot climates provide shade for your hives to prevent overheating. Windbreaks can protect them from strong winds. Avoid using harmful pesticides and herbicides in your beekeeping area. Promote sustainable and organic farming practices in your community. Understand the seasonal requirements of your bees, such as preparing them for winter and providing adequate honey stores. Allow bees to engage in natural behaviors like swarming, which is a sign of a healthy colony. Capture swarms when possible to prevent them from becoming feral. Maintain many detailed records of hive inspections, hive health and honey production. This information can help you make informed and good decisions.
7: Monitoring the health of queen bees and worker bees
Monitoring the health of both the queen bee and worker bees is crucial in apiculture to ensure the overall well-being and productivity of the colony. That is important to your beekeeping hobby because bees are vulnerable to Varroa mites, American foulbrood and other diseases that may their colony. You will need to regularly inspect the hive and the colony too see it is healthy or not.
7a Queen bee health monitoring:
Conduct routine hive inspections to observe the behaviour and condition of the queen every day. Look for the presence of the queen bee. You should see her laying eggs, which are neatly arranged in cells. Examine the pattern of eggs in the brood frames. She will lay eggs in a consistent, well-organized pattern. Irregular or spotty egg-laying can indicate queen health issues. Observe the queen's activity level. A healthy queen should move actively across frames and display a calm demeanor. A queen that appears lethargic or reluctant to move may be experiencing health problems such as disease and viruses. If necessary, carefully remove the queen from the hive and inspect her physically. Look for signs of disease, deformities or injuries on the queen bee's body. Consider re-queening if you notice a significant decline in egg-laying or behavioral issues and introduce a new queen if the existing one is old or failing to lay eggs. Do NOT cut the queen's wings off as worker bees will abandon her.
7b Worker bee health monitoring:
Observe the behaviour of worker bees as they enter and exit the hive. Healthy bees should be active, with clear and focused flight patterns. Monitor the foraging activity of worker bees. Sudden decreases in foraging activity may indicate issues with available forage or disease in the colony. Inspect the brood frames for the presence of a healthy brood (capped and uncapped larvae). Discoloured or sunken brood cells can indicate disease or pest infestations. Pay attention to worker bee mortality rates. A significant number of dead or dying bees at the hive entrance may be a sign of problems within the colony. Assess the amount of stored pollen and nectar in the hive. Healthy hives should have sufficient honey stores. A sudden depletion of food stores can signal issues with the colony's ability to forage or having pest problems.
Regularly inspect the bees for signs of common pests like Varroa destructor mites and diseases like American foulbrood and European foulbrood. Treat or manage these issues promptly to maintain bee health. Watch for symptoms of brood diseases such as chalkbrood, sacbrood virus or foulbrood. Take action if you suspect any of these diseases are affecting the colony. Healthy worker bees will exhibit strong hygienic behaviours such as removing dead bees from the hive and cleaning cells for egg-laying. Reduced cleaning behavior can be a sign of stress or disease. Monitor the overall population size of worker bees. It should remain relatively stable and not experience sudden declines. Regularly weigh the hive to track changes in honey and pollen stores. Sudden weight loss may indicate a decline in forage quality or their health.
8: Honey collecting
Collecting honey from bees is a careful and methodical process that ensures the safety of both the beekeeper and the bees while obtaining delicious honey. Prepare equipment including the beekeeper suit, smoker, hive tool, bee brush and the honey extraction equipment (including the honey extractor). Collect honey during a sunny day when most of the bees are out foraging. Avoid collecting honey during rainy or windy weather as this can upset the bees. Light the smoker and let it produce cool smoke. Approach the hive gently and puff smoke around the entrance and into the hive through the top. This will calm the bees and make them less likely to sting you. A beehive typically consists of several supers. The top super is where the bees store honey. Carefully remove the outer and inner covers of the hive, exposing the honey supers. Pry apart the frames using the hive tool and inspect each frame for honey. Use the bee brush to gently brush off bees off the frame.
Credit: Laurel Gougler from Pexels
Once the frames are free of bees, carefully remove them from the super. Place the frames in a transport box or container to take to your honey extraction area. In the honey extraction area, use a honey extractor to remove honey from the frames. The extractor works by spinning the frames, causing the honey to be released from the comb and collected at the bottom of the extractor. Filter the extracted honey to remove any impurities and bits of beeswax. or bee parts. After extracting honey, return the frames to the hive for the bees to clean and refill with honey. Store the filtered honey in clean, food-grade containers. Make sure the containers are sealed tightly to prevent moisture from getting in. Avoid storing honey in direct sunlight or it will crystallise fast. Clean all of your bee equipment (costume, bee brush, etc.) in order to prevent disease spread. Return the empty frames to the beehive so that the bees can clean them and refill them with honey. After you have done all of that, sell your fresh honey to the general public in an indoor area.
9: Diseases (other than Varroa mites)
Varroa mites are the most common bee hive disease. They are red-brown external parasitic hosts of honeybees. They can only reproduce in your colony. It is extremely dangerous for you colony and must be treated immediately. But there are other, lesser known but dangerous diseases for honeybees. These include:
- Nosema disease (Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae): Nosema is a microsporidian parasite that infects the digestive system of bees. It can lead to reduced foraging activity, decreased lifespan, and impaired colony development. Symptoms include dysentery, where infected bees defecate outside the hive.
- American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae): American Foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial disease that affects bee larvae. Infected larvae turn brown and become rope-like, forming a foul-smelling, ropy mass. AFB is highly contagious and can lead to the death of entire colonies if not managed or treated.
- European foulbrood (Melissococcus plutonius): European Foulbrood (EFB) is another bacterial disease that affects bee larvae. Unlike AFB, EFB larvae become yellow and die in a twisted, "s" shape. Although not as deadly as AFB, EFB can weaken colonies and affect honey production.
- Chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis): Chalkbrood is a fungal disease that affects bee larvae. Infected larvae turn chalky white and die before pupation. While not usually lethal to the entire colony, it can reduce brood production.
- Sacbrood virus (SBV):Sacbrood virus affects honeybee larvae, causing them to swell and take on a sac-like appearance. Infected larvae eventually die but the disease typically doesn't cause significant colony losses.
- Deformed wing virus (DWV): Deformed wing virus is often transmitted by Varroa mites. Infected bees have deformed wings, making it difficult for them to forage and fly. DWV can weaken colonies and contribute to their decline.
- Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV): IAPV is ones of the viruses commonly transmitted by Varroa mites. It can lead to the rapid death of adult bees, particularly in winter. This virus can weaken colonies and increase susceptibility to other diseases.
- Stonebrood (Aspergillus spp.): Stonebrood is a fungal disease that can affect both larvae and adult bees. Infected bees may become mummified, resembling small stones. While not as common as some other diseases, it can impact colony health.
- Kashmir bee virus (KBV): KBV is another virus sometimes transmitted by Varroa mites. It can lead to reduced lifespan and impaired flight ability in infected bees. KBV can weaken colonies and contribute to colony collapse.
I have visited Kangaroo Island during the school holidays as part of a trip to Adelaide. The thing that intrigued me the most is the Ligurian bees of Kangaroo Island and their honey. I have visited the Island Beehive near Kingscote with my family to learn more about them. Let me explain more about them.
The Ligurian bees are native south of the Alps and north of Sicily in Italy and were brought to Kangaroo Island in the early 1880s. Several hives of Ligurian bees were imported to the island by August Fiebig, a German immigrant, who recognised the potential for beekeeping on the island due to its abundant flora and favorable climate. Kangaroo Island's geographic isolation played a crucial role in shaping the history of these insects. The island's isolation prevented the introduction of other bee species and diseases, allowing the Ligurian bees to establish a pure and distinct population. In 1885, recognising the uniqueness of Kangaroo Island's Ligurian honeybees the South Australian government implemented strict regulations to protect them. These regulations prohibited the importation of bees and beekeeping equipment to the island to maintain the purity of the Ligurian bee population.
In 1886, the Kangaroo Island Beekeepers' Association (KIBA) was established to oversee the management and conservation of the Ligurian bees on the island. The association played a crucial role in advocating for the protection of the bees and ensuring that beekeepers adhered to strict biosecurity measures. Over the years Kangaroo Island's Ligurian bees faced several challenges, including bushfires and pest threats. However their isolation and the vigilance of local beekeepers and authorities helped them survive these challenges. In modern times, Kangaroo Island continues to prioritize the conservation of its Ligurian honeybee population. Strict biosecurity measures are in place to prevent the introduction of diseases and other bee species to the island. Kangaroo Island's Ligurian bees have become an attraction for tourists interested in apiculture and honey production. Local beekeepers offer tours and products related to Ligurian honey, contributing to the island's economy. Visitors can learn about beekeeping, honey production and the conservation efforts in place to protect these bees. There are also opportunities to taste and purchase Kangaroo Island honey. They are said to be the last remaining pure Italian bees remaining in the world.
11: Are bees abused in the hobby?
While apiculture is primarily focused on the management and cultivation of honeybee colonies for various products, there are concerns about the potential for abuse or unethical practices in some cases. It's important to note that not all beekeeping operations engage in abusive practices, and many beekeepers prioritize the well-being of their bees. These include:
- Honeycomb destruction by beekeepers
- Stress from hive manipulation
- Heating hives up due to hot weather
- Wing and leg clipping
- Deliberate killing of bees by beekeepers to reduce cost (this is rare)
- Artificial insemination of queen bees by beekeepers
- Being overworked for honey
Apiculture not only provides us with sweet honey, but also plays a crucial role in the health of ecosystems and food production. The care and stewardship of bees are essential not only for their survival but for our own well-being. As we navigate the challenges of a changing environment and the threats to bee populations, it becomes increasingly important to prioritise responsible beekeeping practices, habitat preservation and sustainable agriculture.
Through our efforts to protect bee colonies, we not only ensure a stable and diverse food supply but also contribute to the health of our planet Earth. Bees are remarkable insects that deserve our attention and care. By supporting local beekeepers, planting bee-friendly gardens and advocating for policies that protect bee populations, we can all play a role in preserving the invaluable contributions of bees to our world.
In the spirit of cooperation and environmental stewardship let us continue to learn, adapt, and innovate in our approach to apiculture. By doing so, we can secure a more sustainable future for both these remarkable insects and ourselves. The care of honeybees are important and needed in the world of apiculture, so are you ready to become a beekeeper of your own? Get some beekeeping equipment, tools, hives and most importantly, bees!