I have recently started keeping bees. As I had never kept bees before (if you count out the wild bees we had in the garden when I were a kid), I contacted the local local beekeeping association, Fredericia Biavlerforening, and received a very friendly welcome. A beginner will get practical help and advice from experienced beekepers almost every step on the way. From spring to autumn there is a meeting every second week at the local school apiary, where beginners can learn the do's and don't's of beekeeping. They will even provide beginners with their first bees.
At first, I had the bees in my garden, but when I reached three hives, I started looking for other places to put my bees. Not because the bees were troublesome, but because they had trouble collecting enough food for themselves. In the process, I spotted some empty hives and contacted the owner, who sold them to me cheap. I also took over the sites. Before that, I had managed to secure several other sites, so now I have ten+ good sites for future apiaries, four families and more than twenty empty hives that I'm in the process of restoring.
My beekeeping has evolved in great leaps, which is a thing I'd generally advice against, if you don't want to overextend yourself or your economy. The stories about new beekeepers that overextend and burn themselves out in a few seasons are plenty. In my case, I have teamed up with a local longtime beekeeper who supplies the experience, while I supply the zest and ideas. So far, I have joined what you could call the Danish queen breeders association and have also managed to become officially approved as an importer of bee queens and beekeeping equipment (http://firstname.lastname@example.org). I'm also serve on the board of the local beekeeper association.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoy keeping bees. It gives me great satisfaction and I really relax when working with them.
When I tell people about my interest in bees, the most common reaction is to ask me whatever makes me want to do such a wierd thing - bees sting, don't they ? This question often stems from ignorance, as a surprising number of people cannot tell a bee from a yellowjacket (wasp).
Yes, bees CAN sting, and will do so if sufficiently provoked. However, you should keep in mind that when a bee stings, it is a suicidal act, as it will soon die without the hooked stinger, which is left in the victims skin.
In fact, honey bees produce or collect a variety of products that benefit people. These products include honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Although honey bees can be managed to produce large quantities of these products, they are especially valued for the major role they play in pollination. While other insects and animals play an important role, people have had little control over the actions or numbers of these pollinators. However, honey bees can be placed wherever and whenever they are needed. Also, honey bees have additional advantages over other pollinators, including their availability in large numbers and their instinctive pollen hoarding behavior. Without the pollinating service of honey bees, the cost of many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds would be many times what it is today.
Naturally, I have done some research on the subject of bees, and I have located some books about beekeeping.
I have also set up a (partial) list of plants that bees like (in Danish).
As I like to know how things are put together, I have searched high and low on the web for plans to build a beehive. This is what I found:
Having done that, let me hasten to add that I haven't built my own hives. Partly because I have plenty of other construction project, but more important because I can buy prefabricated hives that are superior to those I can build myself.
There are two main styles of hives in use here in Danmark: The trough hive (left) and the stacking hive (right), which is pretty much taking over from the trough hive. The modern stacking hives are often made from polyurethane or hard styropor, which not only makes them close to maintenance free, as opposed to the older types made of wood, but also "happens" to make the hive well insulated. On top of that, stacking hives are modular and enable you to manage the bees and honey with less work - I have heard claims of twice (or more) the number of hives with the same amount of work. As you may have guessed, I'm prefer the stacked hives.
Here in Danmark we mainly use three kinds of bees, Buckfast, Apis Mellifera Ligustica and, a few A.M. Carnica. We try to maintain the island Læsø as a reserve for what's left of the original Nordic brown bee, but face serious opposition from a few thick-skulled diehards. The bees I have been using so far, are Buckfast, but I'm in the process of switching to Carnica. You can see one of the reasons below.
When you start considering keeping bees, you will probably at some time leaf through a catalog from a beekeping supplier and be overwhelmed by all the different equipment. All of a sudden it looks like you will have to spend countless thousands in order to become a beekeeper. Well, it's not much you will need to start with.
Regardless of the number of hives you want to start out with, there is some personal equipment you will need.
First and foremost, you will need bee-tight clothes. White is the color that disturb the bees the least. A coverall is good. Put on a hat and a veil (the most important part), stuff your feet in a pair of boots and pull on a pair of gloves. Now you can work in peace.
Next item is a hive tool. This is usually just a simple piece of bent iron, but worth its weight in gold to a beekeeper. Used to pry frames loose and many, many other things.
The third important piece of equipment is the smoker, which is used to pacify the bees. In the wild, the smell of smoke (forrest fire) will send the bees indoors to fill up with honey. That way they will have a full belly if they are forced to leave their hive. This behaviour has the advantage that a bee with a full stomach cannot sting - it cannot bend enough. A few puffs of smoke in front of the entrance is usually enough. Some bees, like mine, are so peacefull that you can do without a smoker throughout most of the season, but it is still good practice.
The list of basic beekeeping equipment is not overly complicated. For each bee family you will need a hive consisting of a bottom, a roof and at least four magazines, each with ten frames. Extra frames will come in very handy during the year. You will also need extra honeycomb and some wire for the frames. For keeping Varroa down, you will need a Nassenheider evaporater for formic acid and a special 3-section drone frame. I recommend against using pesticides.
For harvesting the honey you will need a special fork for opening sealed honeycomb, a sieve, a bucket and a stick for stirring the honey.
That's about it - for starters. Later you will feel the need for more equipment, but in the beginning I suggest you cultivate a local beekeeper, who not only can show you the tricks of the trade, but also is likely to offer you the use of various equipment. Usually the best way repay him (or her), is by helping new beekeepers when you yourself have gained experience. At least, that's how it works here.
And _P_L_E_A_S_E_ don't forget the words of Brother Adam: Scientiffic knowledge without practical experience is of no use. While I have had good use of all the stuff I've read, it has not prepared me to do everything right, nor how to recognize e.g. a slow robbery or the early signs of disease. There were also a few things I had misunderstood - practical experience sets everything in a new perspective.
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Updated 01-10-20 at 12:39