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Want to start raising bees in the spring. Any advice welcome!

Discussion in 'Everything Else Bees' started by manybirds, Dec 3, 2015.

  1. Dec 3, 2015
    manybirds

    manybirds Loving the herd life

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    I live in northern wisconsin so we have a fairly short season and all but I know a fair amount of people raise bees around here and we have a small homestead and I was looking at getting into it. Is there any equipment I can start building on my own over the winter? What do I all need? Is there anyway to overwinter them up here or do I always have to start over in the spring? What kind is the best for my area/needs? Were can I get good equipment and bee packages? Any other advice? I've never done this so anything anybody has to say about it is welcome
     
  2. Dec 3, 2015
    Latestarter

    Latestarter Novice; "Practicing" Animal Husbandry Golden Herd Member

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    Welcome to the world of bees! They are fascinating insects and marvelous to watch.:bow The fruits of their labor is pretty awesome too! :love I would spend some time reading here in the forums and online. There are many sites you can learn from. People in Alaska and Canada keep bees... Don't see any reason why you couldn't as well.

    Probably the first thing you need to do is evaluate the area around where your hive(s) will be placed to determine what their food and water source will be. Probably their first meal of the season will be dandelions. Most folks hate them as weeds, but as a bee person, you'll LOVE to see them start opening! Remember that bees need nectar (primarily flowers) for honey, and pollen for "bee bread" to feed the young.

    The second thing will be to pick what style hive you want to keep/maintain. There are advantages/disadvantages to virtually all of them. The 2 main/most common types are Langstroth (the square stackable boxes most commonly associate with bee hives and used most by commercial beekeeps) and Top Bar Hives, referred to as TBH's, which are long "V" shaped boxes with hanging frames down the length of the "V". There are also "Warre" hives, and other types unique to various areas of the world. I recommend starting out with 2 hives. That way you'll have something to compare your hives against to determine when something isn't right.
    Some folks just keep bees up in their soffits/ceilings or in their walls :barnie most of them, not by choice.:lol:

    The third thing is to decide which "breed" or species of bee will work best for you. Right now, I think the primary thing most beekeeps are looking for is "hygenic" bees... bees that (help) keep themselves clean of the varroa mite that has done so much damage to bees. There are many pests and diseases that affect bees and you'll need to be aware of them and plan to deal with them if and when they come up. Then others want "gentle (er)" bees. Some want other traits like bees that keep smaller clusters in the winter. I would say the 3 most common right now are Italian bees (the gentlest), Carnolians (meaner, slower to expand the hive, more hygenic) and everyone's present favorite; killer bees... :barnie:hide :gigjust kidding and you have no need to consider them as they (right now) can't survive up there in the cold north.

    The fourth thing, which could actually be the first thing if you really want to fast track everything is get in contact with local beekeeps and join a local beekeep association or club! Get a mentor! A good mentor is priceless and most beekeeps that I've met will gladly help a new beekeep in any way they can! There aren't that many of us and we, as well as bees, seem to be an endangered species... It takes a special type person to own/work with/love stinging insects!

    Here's where I started: A multi week course from a group in Maine that video'd & published the classes online for FREE! I watched this material multiple times and still go back on occasion to pick up nuances:
    http://www.klcbee.com/school.shtml
    Here's another (really good place) with FREE lessons online: http://www.ohiostatebeekeepers.org/beekeeping_class/
    There are many more and all sorts of home made videos on Youtube. Enough to keep you occupied for a lifetime really.

    A great site for all manner of information and learning (forums) as well as asking questions: http://www.beesource.com/

    Not everyone uses this tool, but it's free (upgradable) and handy to look around your area to see what might be there and determine placement. Bees will travel up to 3 miles from their hive in search of food. Water needs to be much closer. https://hivetracks.com/logoff.php

    Hope to hear back from you along your journey! Good luck!
     
  3. Dec 3, 2015
    manybirds

    manybirds Loving the herd life

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    Thanks for the advice! Ill try and get in contact with some local beekeepers. I did talk to one once and he said he just bought new hives every spring, can you/is it practical to keep them overwinter?
     
  4. Dec 3, 2015
    Latestarter

    Latestarter Novice; "Practicing" Animal Husbandry Golden Herd Member

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    Oh, absolutely! Overwinter them! Why would you want to have to start from scratch every year? They may or may not survive, it depends on how well they do at building the colony and storing honey and pollen for the winter. Of course there are things YOU can do to help them make it through. The hive is actually the woodware and the bees together... they form the hive. The person you spoke with may have meant either just bees, just woodware, or both... not sure.

    The first year, you'll most likely need to start with package bees. These will most likely come from way down south like GA or somewhere similar. Since you're so far north, they will probably come to you in late April or early to mid May. I don't really know for your area. You'll need to contact a local source who will have them shipped in and you'll go pick them up on the day they arrive. Typical shippers will bring in hundreds of packages at a time and everyone who pre-purchased them will arrive to pick them up from a central location over a couple day period.

    Alternately, you could order packages online, and they will ship them to you through the USPS (wait till you get a FRANTIC call from the PO :barnie that they have arrived and PLEASE come get them ASAP! :lol::gig) Either way, packages are limited in number and go relatively fast. In most cases, if you haven't ordered/reserved yours by mid January, you may be out of luck, so if you really wish to start this coming spring, plan now.

    Alternatively, you could see if any local beekeeps will have packages called "nucs" (short for nucleus) for sale. Typically 3-5 frames of already drawn comb (full frames of wax cells) with brood (eggs/larva) and stores (honey/pollen) as well as the bees and a mated queen. You would take the frames and place them in your hive and they go from there. The nuc is the faster way to start out, but of course more expensive.

    You can also help your bees get off to a faster start by asking other beekeeps nearby if they have a frame or 2 of fully drawn comb that you can (buy/borrow/trade for a new empty frame) place in the hive before you add your package. That way they already have "storage space" for the queen to start laying eggs (faster eggs get laid, faster new bees hatch, faster stores can be brought in) and for the workers to start storing honey and pollen. Obviously with a shorter growing season, anything you can do to help the bees get started is beneficial.

    I was told "do not plan on getting any honey your first year" and I didn't. I started with 2 hives. I lost one of them, they died out for some reason mid summer. Because I didn't know any better and because I didn't move fast enough, I allowed the surviving hive to build out and actually held them back... I didn't put on a 2nd deep for them (I own Langstroth hives) fast enough, and consequently didn't put the first honey super (a medium box vice deep) on soon enough. I ended up with the super being almost completely filled with honey... 26.5 pounds worth that I stole for me. The 2 deeps underneath were LOADED with bees/brood and stores; honey and pollen... enough to hopefully carry them through the winter. Had I put the additional space on sooner, I probably could have gotten 2 full supers of honey from them. You wont learn how things work for you until you actually do it. It's always easier to see what's going on if you have something to compare against, hence why I recommend 2 hives to start. Of course, I don't know what food sources you'll have available and therefore if you can support two hives.

    Anyway... I'm verbose to begin with and when trying to help someone with a subject I like, I can get carried away ;) If there's anything else I can help with, feel free to ask! Meanwhile, just start researching/learning from the sites I gave you or others. The more you read and learn, the easier it becomes. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Most beekeeps LOVE to talk about their bees!:love
     
  5. Dec 3, 2015
    Happy Chooks

    Happy Chooks Loving the herd life

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    Latestarter gave some great information above. I'll add a few things......

    Equipment - you need a hive and an order of bees (obviously), a smoker, a hive tool, a suit or veil/jacket combo. I use a jacket veil combo with white painters pants. Some people use queen excluders, some don't....so that is a personal preference. Don't bother with the beekeeping gloves, I wasn't able to use them. I couldn't feel a darn thing with them, too bulky. Instead, I bought some rubber dish gloves. It makes me feel protected, even though they probably could sting through them. (but haven't) It helps me because I still feel odd when I feel the buzzing under my fingers. Dish gloves are much better than dropping a frame of bees!

    Beekeeping is extremely local. I'd search some of the links above for people in your area. Find a beekeeping association if you can, and they can help you determine the type of bees to get and where to get them. I found a local beekeeper for my supplier, and I'm very happy with my bees. You should be able to overwinter them fine in your area, though you might need to wrap the hives, since you are in a colder climate. You do need to be prepared for losses though, it does happen. I made mistakes (didn't treat for mites) my first year that caused me to lose my hive. I started over the following spring and have been fine since.

    For equipment, there are many, many sources. Off the top of my head, I've ordered equipment from Dadant and Mann Lake. Search for beekeeping stores in your area too.
     
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  6. Dec 3, 2015
    Latestarter

    Latestarter Novice; "Practicing" Animal Husbandry Golden Herd Member

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    :he Never answered about 1/2 your initial Qs... You can build your own woodware, either Langstroth or TBH (far easier), especially if you have some wood working knowledge/experience and some tools. You can find patterns and diagrams/measurements online easy enough. You can build the internal frames as well... Again, there are plenty of "how tos" online. You could buy one of everything and make patterns from them and go from there also. You would need to buy the foundation (plastic sheets covered in bees wax) for inside the frames unless you decide to go foundation free and just let the bees draw all the comb out freestyle. There's lots of information online about that as well.

    Down south, a lot of folks just build plywood boxes (cheap) to put frames in and simple covers for the top. Not the best for insulation purposes where you're at. The most important part is the frames that hold the comb. They need to be as near perfectly vertical as possible and spaced properly or the bees will build comb (bur and bridge comb) all over the place making it near impossible to work the hive or collect honey. Not to mention the amount of comb you'll end up destroying when you try working the hive and how P'd off the bees will get because of it. I don't know ANY beekeep that likes or enjoys P'd off bees.

    The basic equipment (smoker, hive tool, veil, etc) can be purchased online as Chooks said above. As for the bee packages, you really need to contact a local apiary (bee farm), or bee club, or even the state bee association, or a local bee keeper. As Chooks said, it is so locally driven.
     
  7. Dec 6, 2015
    Dogma

    Dogma Loving the herd life

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    Hello beekeeping friends.
    I have failed at my second year keeping bees. :( they have been going strong all year however today, I checked the hive and found tons of capped honey, no bees and a mouse nest with 5 mice!!! No bee bodies?! I'm perplexed at what happened and so sad. Could the mice be the issue? I don't know why they'd leave all their honey?! We are in Ct and the weather has been mild.. Last year the winter was brutal and we lost them to mold and cold. :( I think we are done trying. Anyone have any ideas? Thank you. Heather
     
  8. Dec 6, 2015
    babsbag

    babsbag Herd Master

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    @Happy Chooks...I do use the bee keeping gloves and so does my DH. I am a big chicken and I won't use anything else. I also finally bought an entire bee suit and not just a jacket. I am much more relaxed when I feel more inaccessible to them.

    @Dogma...bees are hard. I have been doing this for about 7 years and it seems that I loose 50% of my hives every year. I had 4 hives in the spring and two right now; at least I did a month ago...haven't visited them lately. Last year I lost 2 out of 4 as well. I am not sure about the mice but I wouldn't think that that is why they left and bees don't leave their honey if they swarm. This is the exact same way mine disappeared; left the honey and no bees, dead or alive. The hives that I lost were new packages so in retrospect I should have treated for mites when I got them. I mistakenly thought that "new" bees wouldn't need it but now I know that isn't the case. I have read that mites are the cause of most lost hives, IDK if that is really true or not. I did treat my two remaining hives and hope that they make it through the winter.

    Sorry you lost yours, I know all too well that feeling of sadness and despair.
     
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  9. Dec 7, 2015
    Latestarter

    Latestarter Novice; "Practicing" Animal Husbandry Golden Herd Member

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    Hi Heather: Mice inside indicates that you waited too long to put a hardware cloth blocker on the entrance and when it got cold at night, the mice moved in and took up residence. In a strong hive, the bees would fight the mice off, but when it gets cold, they ball up at night and the mice can get in.

    Normally you would re-install the entrance reducer as soon as you start getting night time temps below ~50F. Once temps are down ~40F that reduced entrance needs to be covered with hardware cloth to keep mice out.

    Normally in a swarm, the old queen leaves with about 1/2 the adult bees, and a new queen has already been started or gets started right after the old queen goes. When bees abandon the hive it's normally due to stress, which a herd of mice can cause. There's also colony collapse , which is unexplained... just happens I guess.

    If the honey frames are in good shape, I would either harvest it or put the frames in the freezer to kill any pests (wax moths, beetles, etc) and then use them next year to start a new hive with a package. They'll get off to a great start with all those stores and drawn comb to start with.

    I had 2 hives started this spring and lost one for some unknown reason. The other was strong when I stopped checking it because of cold/wet/snow. I hope it survives the winter.
     
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  10. Dec 7, 2015
    Happy Chooks

    Happy Chooks Loving the herd life

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    Did you treat for mites? The mice could have caused them to abscond.
     
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