Beginning Bee Keeping

This is the year I begin my journey into honey bee keeping. Actually it started a few years back when I took a beginning beekeeping course at the Madison Area Technical College. As interesting as it was, and as excited as I was in becoming a beekeeper, I decided I wasn’t quite ready for bees and instead I would take my time and learn as much as I could before actually bringing bees to the farm.

This spring I signed up for another beginning beekeeping class with Richard and Stacy Schneider from Capital Bee Supply.  The classes run from March (my first class) through the end of August, taking us through a beekeeper’s year.  I’m also planning on attending the Dodge Jefferson County Beekeepers Association who meet once a month and hope to hook up with a mentor.  I’m also reading a lot of books on the subject.  Beekeeping hasn’t changed much over the years except in the area of bee pests and diseases.

Of most concern for me is being able to treat and control these pests and diseases such as Varroa mites, tracheal mites, wax moths, Nosema, American Foul Brood, and European Foul Brood.  One has to really want to help and keep bees because this area is very, very daunting.  Keeping up to date with treatments and information is key.  It seems that Varroa mites are the biggest nemesis of bees and checking for them is a must do.  I ordered this nifty Varroa Mite Testing Kit from the University of Minnesota with everything needed tucked neatly inside.

Brian built me a stand for the hives (I hope to build to three hives) out of pressure treated lumber and cement blocks which we situated in an area that I hope will be well suited for them.  The hive entrance is positioned southeast to take advantage of the morning sun and I believe it will be shaded from the afternoon heat.  Once the leaves fill out the trees I’ll be able to see if this is the case.

I ordered my bees back in March and am anxiously awaiting their arrival at the end of April or first part of May.  I’m anxious, but not in a hurry, as the weather here in Wisconsin has put us right smack dab back in the middle of winter.  Starting a new package of bees on new foundation in this kind of weather is not ideal.  This is one of those times when I am willing to be patient.

In the meantime, I’ve been busy with ordering hives and supplies.  First order of business was deciding on hives.  A no brainer for me.  Something tried and tested.  It’s Langstroth hives for me.  I purchased two deep or brood boxes with ten wooden frames and beeswax coated foundation.  I ordered these preassembled and painted.  A screened bottom board, inner cover and telescoping cover complete my first hive.  Later on I’ll be adding honey supers if all goes well.

Another area of concern is swarming.  From what I understand it’s unlikely that a hive will swarm in its first year, but it’s best to be prepared if it does.  Luckily, my bee supplier is a short distance away and if the need should arise, I am confident I can purchase another brood box in a hurry.  The bees are very docile when they swarm and it doesn’t look too hard to hive them, but I’d rather it didn’t happen until next year when I have more experience and confidence to handle it.  In the meantime, I might call upon an experienced beekeeper in the area to help out.  I’ll cross that bridge when and if I have to.

Shopping for bee supplies is like buying candy.  There are so many flavors to chose from and you can’t have enough!  Well, you can, but that’s beside the point.  One of the most important tools in a beekeeper’s toolbox is a hive tool.  This handy little gadget is used for everything from prying apart hive bodies to separating frames and scraping off propolis (a glue-like substance the bees make to seal cracks and holes and too much in between space).  A bee brush is also handy to have on hand should I need to gently move the bees out of my way.

Spring is a very precarious time for bees just coming out of winter when food stores are likely low.  Feeding is very important now with a sugar solution mixed 1:1 with water to encourage them to start building comb.  I’ll be feeding my bees with a one gallon pail with a screened hole for the bees to take the sugar solution from.  I have two buckets so I can switch them out easily.  I’ll also be giving them a pollen patty.  I may also be treating for Nosema if the bee supplier hasn’t done so already.

Another important tool is the smoker which calms the bees with white smoke as you move through the hive.  There is a technique to starting a smoker and I’ll be doing a few practice runs under Brian’s watchful eye (my master fire builder) to ensure I know how to get it going.  I was watching a documentary on honey bees today where they were interviewing some beekeepers in Germany.  They don’t use smokers.  They use cigars!  Men and women puffing on cigars while working with their bees.  Did they look cool or what?!  Of course they weren’t wearing bee suits either!

I’m somewhat sensitive to stings (I swell up like a big balloon) so I purchased a ventilated bee suit.  I took it out of the package on the weekend and it sent the most horrible smell into the air.  It definitely needs to be aired out!  I tried it on for size and once I was all zippered up I started to feel quite claustrophobic and began to hyperventilate.  My husband suggested I go outside, which I promptly did, and being the fresh air helped immensely.  I’m going to put it on a few more times to get used to being inside of it and managing all those zippers.  I also purchased some goatskin gloves that go all the up to my elbows.  I’m hoping over time as I gain experience and confidence, I can do away with the gloves.

As I put my beekeeper’s toolkit together I must remember to throw in some Benadryl and a bottle of water.  My physician wrote me a prescription for an EpiPen just in case I need it.  I’ve only ever swelled to the point of an emergency room visit, but then again I’ve never been bitten more than once or twice.  If something should go terribly wrong, I’ll be prepared.  Oh and must remember the cell phone too when I head out to the hive.

I am prepared for my bees and am looking forward to beginning the season once they arrive.  My plan is to hive my package with Brian as support and encouragement and videographer.  Hopefully it won’t end up on someone’s funniest videos.

Until next time . . .




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