Note: Check out our Instagram and IGTV to keep up with our TX colony living in a Warre-style hive, started from a 3lb package in April 2018.
First off, is it honeybee or honey bee?
While both spellings are commonly cited, it's argued that "honey bee", as two separate words, is more accurate since we're specifying a type of bee. This is similar to the naming convention of black bear or brown bear and contrasts single-word names such as dragonfly or butterfly that are not actually types of flies.
From the elaborate social structure of the colony to the waggle dance, honey bees are one of the most unique creatures of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many individuals, companies, and a federal Pollinator Health Task Force, drastic decreases in colony health have had a significant impact on the honeybee population. Sometimes lumped into "colony collapse disorder", a number of contributing factors seem to be at work, putting at risk the dependent crops pollinated by honey bees, valued at over $12 billion annually. An estimated 44% of colonies were lost in 2016 alone. For many home beekeepers, helping to preserve and observe the pollinators is often the real reward; the honey and wax are just a bonus.
What type of hive should I buy?
In the wild, honey bees take up residence in a variety of structures, from dead trees to cacti. To "manage" bees, people have been using traditional hive types made of mud, wicker, and wood for thousands of years. The main innovation that's occurred in modern hive design is the use of movable frames. Since they enable inspections for disease, parasites, and honey production, the use of movable frames is now one of the most universal requirements in local beekeeping regulations.
Within the various types of movable-frame hives there are some details to consider when selecting hardware. Since the Langstroth and Warre hive models are among the most common, we've laid out a few points to keep in mind below:
|Designed to||Optimize Production||Mimic Nature|
|New Box Placement||Top||Bottom|
|Internal Structure||Frames with Foundation||Top Bars with Comb Guide|
|Availability of Interchangeable Components||High||Medium|
Where should I place my hive?
Choosing an appropriate location is key to successfully establishing a new colony and maintaining hive health.
Water: It's important that the bees have a nearby water source. Keep in mind that if your neighbor's dog bowl is closer than your pond, the constant efficiency-optimizing bees will choose the former.
Nectar & Pollen: As a rule of thumb, bees will forage within a two-mile radius so don't worry if you don't have a tremendous quantity of nectar and pollen sources on site. Consider adding some bee-friendly flowers or trees for pollinators if you'd like to give them a leg up.
When adding any type of plants to your property, be sure to check for the "neonic free" or "bee-friendly" label. Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticide that are extremely toxic to bees and other pollinators, often used by the nursery industry to protect ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers. The pesticide is applied to the seed, soil, or plant and travels throughout the entire tissue structure, including the nectar and pollen.
No matter your landscape, there will be periods when nectar sources are scarce and feeding is appropriate. During the winter months or the summer "dearth", a standard 1:1 sugar water mix can be provided with a mason jar feeder, similar to the one we built here.
Shade: Early morning sun will encourage the bees to be active but consider a location that offers shade during the midday heat, especially in southern climates. This can limit the need for your bees to carry water and fan the hive to maintain temperature during the hottest days.
Bring on the Bees:
Package: Typically sized as 3 pounds, the package will contain about 10,000 bees and one queen in a special cage. After getting acclimated to their new location and queen, the bees will quickly work to establish comb and brood, similar to how a swarm would build a new colony "from scratch" in the wild. Once the queen starts laying, it will take 21 days for the first new bees to emerge and since their lifespan is just a few weeks to a few months, the bee population may decrease before the laying cycle catches up. Adding some uncontaminated comb from another hive can help kickstart the process.
Nuc: An alternate method to establish a new colony is to install a nucleus, or nuc. With a nuc, 3-6 frames of brood and honey stores are placed in the hive. The queen may or may not be from the same colony that the comb came from. With this head start in the new hive, many beekeepers report higher rates of success over a package installation. One point to consider is that most nucs available are made to fit in Langstroth hives so a special transition box may be necessary for those using a Warre-style hive.
Swarm: Probably not for the beginner, capturing a swarm is one way to grab some free bees. If spotted, a swarm can be caught right off the branch or a home-made swarm trap can help increase the odds of wrangling a new colony. Replacing winter colony losses with swarms mimics the bees' natural cycle as more successful colonies will continue to propagate. Over time, increasingly mite and disease-resistant swarms that result may be part of the solution to the declining bee populations.
Cut Out: Also not recommended for the beginner, bee removals are one way to save some money, get paid, or save a colony from the fate of the exterminator. Local beekeeping clubs often participate in removals and may be a great way to shadow along before tempting on your own.
A Little Help:
When starting out, we've found that joining a local beekeeping group is a great way to enjoy the experience and reduce some anxiety. Having experienced beekeepers to ask questions to, help install new colonies if necessary, and discuss observations through the seasons can help increase the likelihood of success. If there's not one in your area, an online group can be a start.
It's easy to get wrapped-up in a mountain of information, varying opinions, and extensive equipment options but sometimes all that's needed is to get out of the way and let the bees do their thing. Don't forget, honey bees have been quite alright on their own for tens of millions of years...
Hands-on experience and observation are tough to beat but here are a few resources we'd recommend:
Central TX Bee-Friendly Plants (List of trees, shrubs, flowering plants, vines, and vegetables with corresponding blooming season)
Instructional Videos - Sweet Valley Hives (To-the-point videos for Warre hive management)
Fat Bees, Skinny Bees (Drought management, winterization, and interesting bee biology - Free PDF Download)
ScientificBeekeeping.com (Beekeeping through the eyes of a biologist with a number of related articles)
This useful link to more useful links... (from the American Bee Journal)
For a natural beekeeping method, check out our quality Warre-style hives