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First Year Beekeeper

Updated on March 9, 2016
mgeorge1050 profile image

Alan is a veteran of the US Air Force, a master electrician, and a long-time hobby farmer.

Welcome to the Farm

Starting with two nucleus hives, I will attempt to learn the ropes of beekeeping. A nucleus hive, or 'nuc box', is a small hive used to start a larger hive. I am located in a rural area of west central Georgia, on four acres, with no large crop farming operations nearby. My bee yard is bordered by hundreds of acres of forest and pasture land. After six months of internet research, I have decided to use a more natural approach with my hives. This means using NO synthetic chemicals, only naturally occurring compounds.

Honey Bees

Honey Bee Comb Full of Multicolored Pollen
Honey Bee Comb Full of Multicolored Pollen

Two New Hives

New Honey Bee Hives
New Honey Bee Hives

The Setup

I set up a small hive stand using some free tree trunks from the woods near my bee yard. I have two hives which each consist of a screened bottom board, a deep hive body, a hive top feeder, and a telescoping top cover. I am using wooden frames with plastic, wax coated Ritecell foundation. I have entrance reducers on both hives that allow for a three inch opening. As for beekeeping equipment, I have gathered together a smoker, helmet with veil, hive tool, bee brush, elbow length bee gloves, and a long sleeved white cotton shirt.

This is a seasonal blog that will follow my efforts to learn natural beekeeping from spring 2014 until spring 2015. I will update the blog as new information becomes available. I am also attempting to catch a swarm of bees in my swarm trap. Starting with zero experience, I don't have any idea what will happen. Be it good or bad, I will post it all right here for the whole world to see.

New Beekeeper

Beekeeper at Hives
Beekeeper at Hives

Installing the Nucs, April 20, 2014

I picked up two nucleus hives from a local honey bee farmer, Sweetwater Honey Farm, in nearby Douglasville, Georgia. The pickup was on Saturday, and the beekeeper was supposed to install the nucs into my hives. As luck would have it, the weather did not cooperate yesterday, and I was only able to grab the nucs and bring them home in the rain. So of course now I had to transfer the frames full of bees from the nucs into my waiting hives.

While I have known all along I would have to one day stick my hands in a bee hive, I had not planned on doing it today. I must admit that getting stung and accidentally killing the queen were my two worst fears. As an inexperienced beekeeper, my guess has always been that it is normal to get stung dozens of times each year. While this in itself doesn't really bother me, it is the unknown of when it will happen that has me a bit nervous. I have been stung many times by wasps and yellow jackets, so I kind of know what to expect. Nothing to worry about, right?

I put the nucs near the hives this morning and opened the entrances. By lunch time the bees were flying in and out normally. The weather was perfect, so I suited up for the transfer. My outfit is a long sleeved cotton shirt, long pants, a helmet and veil, and elbow length gloves. The shirt is tucked in and the pants are tucked into my socks. I noticed in my trial runs that the veil sometimes rode up in the rear, leaving the back of my neck exposed. A collared shirt would probably fix this, but for now I just had my wife pin it to my shirt.

I got the smoker lit and laid a tiny puff of smoke across each nuc box entrance. I sat the first nuc box up on the hive stand next to the first hive. I opened the lid and smoked the bees a little. I slowly transferred the first frame into the hive. At this point a single bee began furiously ramming my veil over and over. She circled around and around, trying to find a way to get to me. I puffed her with a little smoke, but she would not let up. Not sure of my level of protection, combined with the unnatural feeling of sticking my hands in a beehive got me a bit unnerved at that point.

I slowly walked away from the hives and continued to calmly blow small puffs of smoke at my attacker. The bee lost interest after a minute or so and finally flew away. A little more confident in my armor, I convinced myself to return to the hives and at least work on the transfer until I got stung. I made my way back over and completed the transfer of each nucleus box into the permanent hives. Never got stung one time. As a beginner, I tried to be careful not to use too much smoke, and to move slowly. I was so nervous that I didn't get a great look at any of the frames, but I did see lots of capped brood.

I filled up the hive top feeders with 1:1 syrup and closed up the hives. I plan to make a better inspection after a week or two. Maybe I can get a better look at what is going on inside the colonies.

Ant Free Sugar Syrup with Fat Bee Man

Fat Bee Man Natural Brood Builder

May, 2014

I fed both hives (Hive A and Hive B) 1:1 syrup with Fat Bee Man's essential oil brood builder for one week. The flow started as the blackberries and poplar trees bloomed. Both hives built up to about eight frames quickly. By the end of May, both were at least twelve frames of bee covered combs. I took three frames from each hive and started two small five frame nucs.

Honey Bee Hive Inspection

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Queen BeeCan You Find the QueenBees Wax on Top BarsDrone Bee on Hive Tool
Queen Bee
Queen Bee
Can You Find the Queen
Can You Find the Queen
Bees Wax on Top Bars
Bees Wax on Top Bars
Drone Bee on Hive Tool
Drone Bee on Hive Tool

Bee Yard June 2014

Honey Bees at Work

Honey bee working white clover.
Honey bee working white clover.

June, 2014

The two five frame nucs (Hive C and Hive D) made their own queens and both started laying. Hive B became queenless and I added an open brood frame twice. Hive A was busting with bees and filled the brood chamber with nectar. This hive swarmed near the end of June.

Swarm of Honey Bees from Hive "A"

Swarm of honey bees thirty feet in the air.
Swarm of honey bees thirty feet in the air.
Swarm of honey bees in a tree.
Swarm of honey bees in a tree.

Honey Bees

Honey bees at hive entrance.
Honey bees at hive entrance.

July, 2014

A queenless Hive B could not seem to make themselves a new queen. I ended up combining the small, queen right Hive C with B to provide a laying queen. Hive B began to improve right away. Checked mite levels using a powdered sugar roll. Found five mites in a one hundred bee sample. Decided to start a six week powdered sugar shake mite treatment.

Combining Honey Bee Hives

Combining beehives with newspaper.
Combining beehives with newspaper.

Hive Inspections June 2014

New split hives doing well.
New split hives doing well.

August, 2014

Started a six week powdered sugar shake mite treatment. Followed an outline for the treatments that I found online. I plan to check the mite levels again after the treatment is complete.

Bee Yard

A markerCarrollton Ga -
Carrollton, GA, USA
get directions

Powdered Sugar Shake for Mites

Brushing powdered sugar into a honey bee hive.
Brushing powdered sugar into a honey bee hive.

September, 2014

I stole some capped honey from the hives earlier in the year. I am feeding 2:1 syrup to make sure the bees are prepared for winter. I finished the six week powdered sugar treatment and checked mite levels. I found one mite in a one hundred bee sample. All three hives seemed to have a lowered mite level. Finally got stung a couple of times, and it was not what I was expecting. The pain was minimal, and I had forgotten it in minutes.

October, 2014

Checked mite levels again and found them to be high. I got some oxalic acid and performed an OA dribble based on some online information I found. Experienced an overwhelming mite fall as noted on a sticky board under the screened bottom boards.

Natural Comb on Starter Strip

Natural comb hanging off of strip of starter foundation.
Natural comb hanging off of strip of starter foundation.
Large natural comb full of honey bees.
Large natural comb full of honey bees.
Natural honey bee comb.
Natural honey bee comb.

November, 2014

The small nuc, Hive D, began getting robbed furiously. I installed a robbing screen, but it only deterred the robbers for a little while. We had a very cold night and Hive D was gone, left with only the dead queen surrounded by about twenty bees still stuck to a comb.

December, 2014

Found both Hive A and B empty, with only a few scattered bees. Both hives still had honey and pollen stored. Some folks on the honey bee forum suggested the hives had become overrun with mites. I inspected the hives and found tons of white 'poop' from the mites. I also observed thousands of mites on the board under the screened bottom. Looks like I still have some learning to do.

Lessons Learned

The most important lesson I learned in my first season is to know your mite levels and treat for them. In the future, I will use an alcohol wash to test mite levels and try to keep mites under two percent. As far as the treatments themselves, I have found that a few popular treatments contain natural ingredients. I hope to use those treatments to control my mite populations next season.

Also, be sure the person giving you advice has the experience to know the right advice. Believe it or not, I have seen folks giving tons of advice on forums that have never even owned honey bees!

I have ordered replacement bees for next year and will be starting with five nucleus colonies.

Comments

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    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

      Once our house is finished we hope to start keeping bees (we're lucky enough to live on acres) - hub book-marked for future reference!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information and I thank you for it. Next year we'll start doing this, so we have a year to prepare, and this article helps.

    • mgeorge1050 profile image
      Author

      Alan 4 years ago from West Georgia

      Thanks Shelley, I hope this hub can help a few new beekeepers in the future. During my beekeeping research, I noticed that not many folks write about getting stung or making mistakes. This gave me the idea to record my efforts during my first year, good or bad. So far nothing too exciting has happened, but it has only been a few weeks!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 4 years ago

      What a marvellous hub and great idea - Love what you write about. Up, interesting, useful and shared!

    • mgeorge1050 profile image
      Author

      Alan 4 years ago from West Georgia

      Thanks for the great comments. I have really enjoyed documenting my progress. I can't wait to look back after a year and see what I have learned.

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 4 years ago from Arizona

      Fascinating look into getting your bees established. Wow, so much goes into it. I didn't realize you had to worry about mites and beetles. Didn't think anything would bother bees! Great job documenting your experience. Continued luck as you progress!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 4 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Looks like you did your homework before you even started. I think that will help a lot. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your progress! Good job!

    • mgeorge1050 profile image
      Author

      Alan 4 years ago from West Georgia

      I hope so too!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      mgeorge: I hope you're like my sis-in-laws dad. He had hives and collected the honey for about ten years and never got stung by "his" bees once.

    • mgeorge1050 profile image
      Author

      Alan 4 years ago from West Georgia

      Thanks Sheila, at first I was very nervous about working inside the hives. I just knew I was going to get stung a bunch of times. Now after I have been inside the hives a few times, I am getting a little more comfortable. I love to cook, and occasionally I get burned on a pan or something. That has never stopped me from cooking, and I hope I can learn to think of bee stings the same way. Still waiting on that first sting!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      It's going to be interesting following your bee activity. I don't know anything about it, but it sounds like you're doing good since you already have bees in there.

    • daborn7 profile image

      Rosalie 4 years ago from California

      Mgeorge, your very welcome! I actually know some people who live in Carroll county too. I am in Southern California , near San Diego, been here about 3 years now. Havnt been to Sacramento. I sure do miss home though. Ain't nothing like the smell of Georgia pine, snowballs in the winter and orange leaves in the fall :-)

    • mgeorge1050 profile image
      Author

      Alan 4 years ago from West Georgia

      Hi daborn7, and thanks for your great comments. I am always glad to meet another hubber from Georgia, and I am in Carroll County, not too far from Cobb. I see you now live in California, I was stationed near Sacramento for three years back when I was in the Air Force.

    • daborn7 profile image

      Rosalie 4 years ago from California

      Very cool! I am actually from Georgia, Cobb county. I have been stung by yellow jackets before too, they hurt like heck. I had stepped on their leaf covered dugout on route to look at a house in Atlanta and they attacked. I am very scared of bees for that reason, but I love honey! Bet its cool having a bee farm and fresh honey when you want it. Good luck with it, Voting up!

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