Before you buy a beekeeping book, read a book about honeybee biology, evolution, behaviour. Learn about bees first, then beekeeping. You’ll be a better beekeeper if you know more about honeybees. You’ll be able to manage your bees once you have a good understanding of what they do. Because honeybees love honey, you’ll be able spot bad beekeeping advice.
There are many options for hive designs. I recommend one that has movable frames. Frames hold the comb in place, but they are also removable so you can do regular inspections, swap boxes, splits, or use an extractor.
Get Foundationless (eventually).
My experience shows that bees prefer to make honeycomb from scratch. This is probably because they have the freedom to create worker and drone cells whenever and wherever it suits them. Foundationless is also less expensive.
Because foundationless is more difficult than using wax or plastic foundation, I recommend that you do it eventually. First, bees are not good at following straight lines and can cause havoc if they don’t get it caught early enough. It is best to start with foundation. As you become more confident, you can slowly replace frames with foundationless-frames. This strategy has the best advantage: a foundationless frame will be sandwiched between two foundation frames. It will be straight and beautiful.
Only one size is needed for honey and brood.
It is common to use deep-boxes in brood, and medium-boxes in honey supers. However, you don’t have to buy two sizes of frames and boxes. You can just use one size for all your needs. This is especially useful for making nucs or splitting colonies. If you use the same size brood boxes and honey supers for all your needs, there is no difference in their contents.
Do not exclude
Remember how I said that 100 beekeepers would share 101 opinions? There are many opinions on queen excluders. Let me know your opinion. It’s not necessary for bees and you don’t. While it might be necessary if you use different sizes of honey and brood boxes, it’s not essential. It would be necessary if the queen moved into a box that was above the brood. Queen excluders artificially reduce the size of broods and can cause excessive swarming.
Swarming is natural, but probably not desirable
A honeybee colony reproduces by swarming. All living things want to reproduce. A swarm is when a hive has outgrown its space and splits in half. It’s frustrating to watch half of your bees and your queen fly away as a beekeeper. Beekeepers have the ability to simulate this division by creating nucleus colonies or splitting hives. I usually split my strongest hives when I notice signs of swarming (swarm cell) in the spring. As a result, I tend to keep smaller colonies. However, it is much easier than trying to chase after swarms. It’s also a joy to see queenless bees make new queens.
Swarming, or making splits, has the added benefit that it causes a break in brood cycles. Varroa mite, a major honeybee pest, reproduces in brood so this breaks down varroa.
Our queens are mostly bred to produce honey and most of them hail from New Zealand or Hawaii. Local mutts are a favorite of mine – they have genetic stock from local bees that survived. Although a mutt will never be better than a greyhound in performance, they are more likely to suffer from health issues.
Splitting your strongest hives can be used to breed mutts. The new queen will mate with drones within the local area when she emerges.
Two Hives Is Better Than One
Although it is more costly to set up two hives, you will have more options for managing them. You can transfer honey, pollen, and brood from one colony to another hive. You can add eggs to your healthy hive if one hive becomes queenless or doesn’t have enough eggs.
Remember that a colony can only live for so long. If you have the zoning permission, keep more hives. Keep two hives if you only need one. You can have ten colonies in Spring. If you need fifteen, keep them all.
Keep them close
Your hives will be more productive if you live closer to them. Although I am always tempted by people offering me land in the suburbs where I can keep my bees, I know that it will take more time to get there so I won’t have to check them as often as I would like. You will give your colonies better care if they are easily accessible. My backyard is where I can see them every day.
Every 7-10 days, inspect
A healthy hive may run out of space, create queen cells, and then swarm in under two weeks. Between Spring and Fall, I inspect my bees seven to ten times a week. Inspections include opening the hive and checking that there is enough space for the bees. Also, physically taking out and inspecting every frame of brood. I look for eggs, larvae, capped brood and queen cells. I will start searching for the queen if I don’t find a healthy brood structure. I budget 30-45 minutes per hive.