The Beginning Beekeeper: Choosing a Hive and Colony

The past several weeks I have been trying to decided on which route I should take into my new passion of beekeeping.  The beekeeping community is very vast, and there are so many different beekeepers with their own proven methods and opinions of what is the best way to raise bees.  For a newbie, like myself, it is down-right confusing and overwhelming.

Take for instance, the topic of the bee hive.  Choosing the correct bee hive for your bees is very important.  It has to be of good quality, and there are several different styles to choose from including the Langstrom bee hive (the typical box bee hive), and the Kenyan top bar hive.

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Kenya Top Bar Bee Hive

The Langstrom bee hive seems to be my favorite as with top bar hives you have to be careful when removing the honey trays.  If you pull the tray straight out, the honey comb can fall off leaving you with a sticky mess.  You have to carefully pull it out then rotate it carefully until you are holding the tray upside down (so the honeycomb does not fall off).  I know that sometimes I can be rather klutzy, so I knew a top bar hive would not be for me.

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Layout of a Langstrom Bee Hive

Maybe it’s how I like things well organized, but I really like the set up of the Langstrom bee hive.  There’s the top followed by shallow supers where the bees will store the honey.  Underneath is a queen excluder that keeps the Queen and the Drones trapped within the large Brood super.  This ensures that the Queen does not lay any brood in any of the harvestable honey trays, and of course let’s not forget the bottom board where varroa mite trays can be placed to help keep an eye on the health of the colony.

Not only do you have to choose the style of the hive, but you also have to acquire the bees.  Listening to the opinions of several commercial and non-commercial beekeepers, there are three options in acquiring bees: nucs, packages and pre-established hives.

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Nuc Bee Hive Box

Nucs are pretty much mini-hives, consisting of a queen, drones, workers and about 5 trays that hold mostly brood with maybe one or two of the trays holding honey.  I’ve heard two different points of view.  The first is that nucs are helpful in that you do not need to transfer bees into a new hive.  The bees are already in their hive, which can make it easier on newer beekeepers.  The second opinion is that some found nuc hives more difficult to maintain as you are quickly set off into maintaining a bee hive (and all the worry that comes with it).

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3 lb Package of Bees

On the other hand, I’ve heard both good and bad reports of bee packages.  A package of bees consists of about 3 lbs of bees with a new queen trapped into a small cage within the tin can suspended within the larger cage.  In a package, there are approximately 10,000 bees, sometimes more or less.  Packages of bees are often from hives where the population has become too much and the hive is ready to swarm or split.  Swarming happens when a new queen is ready to build her own colony and a portion of the bees (both workers and drones) leave with her.

The downside to bee packages is that the queen is not acquainted with the workers and drones.  There is a several day adjustment period to the new queen; the other bees will even show aggressive to the new queen by biting her cage.  With the new queen there is also the consideration of how well of a queen she will turn out to be.  Remember, she is untested.  Will she be a good layer?  Will she die prematurely?  Or will she be hardy and productive?  Then after you receive the package of bees you will have to put the bees into their new hive.  As a new beekeeper, the thought of dumping the 3 lb cage of bees into the new hive sounds a little daunting to me.

For more experienced beekeepers getting a package of bees is the way to go.  Some have reported few problems having the bees adjust to their queen.  There is less chance of a varroa mite infestation as varroa mites lay their eggs on bee larvae.  With no brood, there is no chance of varroa mites, and some beekeepers prefer to start fresh.

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Single Deep Langstrom Bee Hives with Extended Feeders

Lastly, I will talk about pre-established hives.  For some time, I struggled between the choice of nucs and packages.  I didn’t want to start out with a nuc as I was wanting a full hive and wasn’t wanting to deal with possibly having to split or transfer the colony.  A package gives you more bees to start out with, but I really didn’t want to spend the money on an untested queen.

I’m starting completely fresh.  I have no beekeeping equipment whatsoever.  When looking at the prices between buying Langstrom bee hives and package bees, I was looking at about $400-$500… sometimes more.  Then I stumbled upon Rogers Honey farm out in Horton, Kansas.  They don’t sell nucs, packages or empty bee hives.  They sell pre-established bee hives.  One bee hive comes with a single Langstrom deep super (used for both honey and brood), a queen, drones, workers, and a top and bottom.

I liked the fact that each hive has a proven queen.  It helps eliminate the stress of possibly having a faulty queen.  -Things do happen.  I didn’t want to be left with a queen who layed poorly or died prematurely to not being proven.  Buying a pre-established hive also eliminates the stress of acquainting the bees to a new queen.  I also don’t have to worry about moving the bees to a new hive.  I know that at some point I will have to make the hive bigger, but all I have to do is just add whatever supers (shallow or deep) that I need to my pre-established hive.  Best of all, the bees are happy, and they do not need to be moved to a different hive.

It seems to me a win-win situation for both the bees and I.  Each hive costs $250.  I pre-ordered two hives as there is greater success with two instead of one.  If by any reason one of my queens die, I can take a new queen or brood from the other hive.  The workers will continue with their duties of raising the young, until a new queen is able to take over the colony.

I’ve rather excited about my new venture.  I will be picking up my bee hives in mid April.  I’m so thankful that I found Rogers Honey… not having to stress about the process to making a new hive really helps.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Ellie ❤

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Making Comfrey ointment

Great introduction on how to make a comfrey salve. There are lot of different ways to make comfrey or healing salves with comfrey, but I like the simplicity of this recipe. Have you used comfrey before? What do you use it for? I use it in a healing salve for aches, bruising, sprains and other muscle and joint problems.

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Beautiful healthy comfrey plants Beautiful healthy comfrey plants

The finished product Comfrey ointment The finished product Comfrey ointment

Comfrey ointment/salve
It is inevitable if you are a gardener, spending time planting, weeding, thinning, pruning, hedging, mowing and generally working hard, that you will eventually come of second best and sprain or strain something. At the moment it is my wrists and forearms that are not faring so well and are aching after a day in the garden. The physio says it is an injury caused by over use of the computer, but certainly the gardening is exacerbating it.

So I did some research and according to everything I read comfrey salve is what I need to settle it down.
It has been used forever as a topical application for bruises, strains, sprains and fractures.
Comfrey contains a substance called allantoin which, according to all I have read is responsible for its healing properties. Not only is it reputed to…

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Bees Love Honey Too!

Have you ever stumbled onto something that just ignited a passion?  I am a firm believer that whatever you do, that you should do it with a glad heart.  I am also a firm believer that if you find a hobby or a passion it should be something that you are completely passionate about.

One of the things I’ve mentioned that I want to do this year is become a beekeeper. In one part of my mind it seems completely crazy as I have three young children, but yesterday I had my first close encounter with wild bees (and not just one flying here and there).  I absolutely loved it! (No, I wasn’t wearing anything… and I did NOT get stung!)

Raw honey crystallizes when it reaches cool temperatures.  It has to do with the molecular structure of the honey.  When honey is pasteurized and filtered (the type of honey you see at grocery stores), the pasteurizing and filtration processes alter the molecular structure of the sugars within the honey.  If you will, I’m sure you’ve never seen crystallized honey on the self.

The best way to de-crystallize raw honey is to stick the glass jar in water in a saucepan on the stove.  If you have a plastic jar, it would be best to transfer the honey into a glass jar as plastic will melt.  You don’t want to boil the honey, as that will begin the pasteurization process.  You just want to melt the sugars in the honey a bit.  I do not recommend putting glass jars of honey directly on the stove or in my MIL’s case on a hot wood burning stove.  The end result can only be a hot, exploding mess of honey and broken glass.  However, because of the honey accident, we were able to feed local bees and enjoy their presence.

IMG_20150207_154250_144 This is a picture I took yesterday of the bees flocking to the broken jar of honey inside the bowl. The bowl was not outside… maybe 15 minutes before the bees started flocking to this yummy food source. While taking this photo I was actually standing outside right now to the bowl. Occasionally, a stray bee tried to land on me, but like I told my husband (who was able to experience the friendliness of honey bees) bees are not out to get you.

IMG_20150207_164038_230One of the things that most don’t know about bees is that bees need to drink water.  Water helps keep them cool in the summer time.  It is also very vital in the production of honey.  If you look closely in the picture you can see the bee with its tongue extended licking the water.

Giving the bees the honey to eat was a great idea. It was one of the first foods the bees had to eat while foraging as its been too cold for anything to bloom here.  My MIL wondered how this batch of honey would taste, assuming bees make honey right away, but the truth is bees need to eat.  Winters are very harsh on bees and the first foods of spring such as dandelions, willows and the honey are not used when the bees begin harvesting pollen to make honey to store.  In fact for several weeks, the bees are eating whatever stores of food that are gathered in.

IMG_20150207_163816_421I felt a bit sad for this bee.  Somehow it had gotten hardened honey on its wings, which meant that it couldn’t fly.  In the evening, the bees travel back to their hive, which may be several miles away.  Any bee that’s caught when the cold temperatures hit (as we still have freezing temperatures at night) most likely will die.

As the season grows closer, I cannot wait to become a beekeeper.  Not only will I be able to harvest honey and maybe even a bit of honeycomb come fall, but I’m looking forward to the many learning experiences (hopefully good ones) for my myself and my children.

Ellie ❤

Below are a few more pictures you may enjoy… I know I do.

Dreaming of Spring

Spring is one of my most cherished times of the year.  There’s just something so… inspiring about seeing the winter fade away as the earth comes to life.  However, spring is not here yet and I’ve been dreaming about what I’m going to do this year (for weeks now).

This will be my first year actually homesteading.  I’ve wanted to homestead for quite a few years now, but babies happened and moving concerns appeared.  -But now the time has come, and I’m very much looking forward to the great homesteading adventures this year could hold.

The women in my family have a tendency to take on too much.  My husband says it actually a genetic trait that I cannot control.  I just call it the Proverbs 31 woman trait because like the Proverbs 31 woman I try to do everything I can to provide for my family in ways of food and clothing.  The downside to this fault if you would call it that, I tend to get overwhelmed very easily and then burned out.  This year I have made it my goal to homestead but I am limiting myself to three things: chickens, bees and gardening.  Anything more than that and I feel as if I would be taking on too much.

As a new homesteader, I sometimes find myself wondering where do I start.  That is where I have prioritized my homesteading desires according to need and season placement.  My first priority right now would have to be getting the chicken yard and chicken coop set up.  After it is all set-up (new fencing, yard is raked, old nesting boxes are taken down, etc) I figure the ground should be ready for my husband to start building my raised beds.  Once my raised beds are all built and ready, it will be time to order my bees.  Then plant.. then… so much to do!

In reality, homesteading is very much a juggling act just like mothering can be.  I cannot believe the difference to how I manage my time now (as a mother of three) compared to before I had my daughter (the eldest).  I think to myself, What on earth did I do with all my time?

Are you a new or seasoned homesteader? I would love to hear your thoughts and how you begin spring each year!

-Ellie ❤

Prepping the Chicken Yard / Chicken Coop (Part 1)

I don’t know about all of you, but it seems every warm day we have been getting I’ve been trying to prep my chicken coop.  It’s been unused for several years now and is in pretty rough shape.  Call me picky… as I know some homesteaders just use what they have and go with it, but I’ve grown up with one motto to live by.  If you do something, do it well.  Yes, I could have used the old rusty fencing… and the old layer boxes that had fallen off the wall, but I decided that I want to start fresh and new.  Not only that I want to create a habitat that is very inviting for my children.  My oldest son just LOVES chickens, so I want to create a habitat that is both pleasant for the chickens and for my son.

This is the pellet house I’m contemplating removing. It has several large muddobber nests on top and thick cobwebs inside. (Ew) Can spiders and muddobbers harm pellets?

Inside the chicken coop. When I first walked in, I was very overwhelmed, but thank goodness I have a carpenter for a husband. I think I’m just going to trash all the layer boxes (and other junk you see). Then I’m thinking about having my husband build new layer boxes, just your standard open kind without the little roof (?) on top. That way when my son or daughter is grabbing eggs I don’t have to worry (as much) for black snakes and spiders.

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This repair of the chicken coop, may be my most challenging.  I have a LARGE groundhog that lives on my property.  Its’ tunnels run everywhere in my property, and at times I’m convinced that it lives under our workshop or in the chicken coop.  How do you repair a hole that large?! A decent-sized dog could even get in here…

Although I haven’t really tackled inside the chicken coop, I feel somewhat accomplished that I have removed almost all of the rusty and crappy old chain link and whatever else fencing.  Some parts were different to remove as there were different types of fencing interwoven together with wire ties.  Other parts of the fencing were even more difficult to remove as new saplings grew up interwoven between the chain links.  Then there were old boards and cinder blocks to remove (that held down the bottom edge of fencing).  Oh let’s not forget the 20 or so 15-20ft rods of steel rebarb! -But I did it!

One of the things that I am learning with homesteading is that you always have to been several steps ahead.  There really is never a time to just have a break.  In that I mean winter is not one huge holiday from homesteading.  There are always projects to be done.

-Ellie ❤