How to Set Up and Keep Bees

Categories: On The Farm


Traditional safety clothing worn by beekeepers includes heavy-duty jumpsuits usually made of white canvas, knee high rubber boots, thick leather gloves that reach to the elbow, and a helmet with a face veil. This tends to make beekepers a bit like aliens.

While you don’t have to buy a traditional jumpsuit, you should wear clothes that cover your body, and they should be light in colour because bees don’t like dark colours, and are more likely to get angry when you interfere with the hive. You should also get boots, gloves and suitable helmet with veil, and should take steps to ensure that no bees can get into your clothing otherwise you will surely get stung. For instance, you can use duct tape to secure clothing around your wrists and ankles; just be sure it’s sealed.

It is also wise to have medication for bee stings on hand at all times. Bee stings tend to swell and they can be very itchy and extremely painful. Many people are allergic to bee stings and bees – sometimes to honey as well. Often the reactions get worse over time, causing the throat to swell and making it difficult to breathe. At worst, if a bee stings a very allergic person, it can trigger an anaphylactic reaction that could be fatal. So take precautions, even if you are not allergic.


Beekeepers commonly use smokers that are essentially a type of bellows used to create smoke. This causes the bees to move to the lower deep boxes, to gorge on honey and protect the queen.
However many beekeepers have found that smoker freak their bees out, and use alternative methods. For instance some commercial beekeepers use a specially constructed board with a maze built in. When they want to remove the honey-rich frames in the upper supers, they spray on a proprietary product like the herbal Fischer’s Bee-Quick, and place the board over the top of the lower supers. This causes the bees to move to the bottom of the hive, and the maze prevents them from getting back to the top quickly.

An effective DIY method is to spray sugar water on the bees, or to shake a little dry powdered sugar into the hive so they are distracted and focus on cleaning each other while you do what you need to do at the hive.


The other tools you will need range from items stocked by beekeeping supply shops to everyday items you may already have a home.
• A flat metal hive tool is invaluable for prying hives open, particularly if the honey has gummed up the covers. Alternatively, you can use a wide, flat screwdriver, a big knife, or a carpenter’s moulding ripper.
• A light bee brush that you can use to brush bees off the frames without harming them.
• A frame grabber for times when the boxes are full and you are unable to get your fingers between them without risking damage.
• Elastic bands to keep things together.


Keeping a colony of bees can be incredibly rewarding, not only because you can harvest honey and wax, but it’s also one of those amazing organic pursuits that make life worthwhile. Remember that just about every bite of food you take was made possible by a pollinator, and bees are one of the best and most important. But what sort of bees do you need?

Generally people wanting to keep bees for honey will keep honeybees, and mostly those that have been bred specifically for commercial and small-time honey production are domesticated. That doesn’t make them totally harmless, but it does mean that they will be relatively gentle and they will produce lots and lots of honey. Incredibly, you can even buy these creatures on the Internet, though there are risks particularly since they often have to be shipped long distances. The best advice is to buy bees that are already “working” in your local environment, for instance from local honeybee breeders, or at least bees that are already producing good organic honey close to where you live.

While your local environment (garden or rooftop areas) is going to determine how many hives you can have, each new swarm of honeybees will consist of anything between 4,000 and 6,000 bees plus their queen. Once the hive is fully established, numbers are likely to increase up to 10,000 to 50,000, and the bees will produce anything from 9 kg to 36 kg of honey for you to harvest.

Apart from designing a fail-safe beehive, Langstroth propounded the idea that honeybees wouldn’t ever attack if they were full of honey, and weren’t threatened by the beekeeper. Nevertheless, it is important to wear protective clothing when you transfer bees into (or out of) the hive, or even just work at the hive.


Langstroth hives have a solid base that is intended to sit on the ground. However this can cause damp problems, so people often place them either on wooden pallets or on concrete blocks. This also discourages ants and other pests from getting to the honey. It is also a good idea to position a small screen over the back opening of the hive. If you live in a rural area where honey-eating mammals are common, it’s best to install electric fencing around the hives. These include raccoons, skunks, honey badgers, bears, and even jackals.

Once your hives have been assembled, positioned, and stocked with bees, there’s not a lot that you need to do. Unless they have access to pollen and nectar nearby, you should feed them supplementary “nectar” made from sugar dissolved in warm water, usually either via a top feeder or an entrance feeder. These devices can also be used to medicate unhealthy bees.

Most other tasks are seasonal:

• Just before winter you need to “winterize” the hive to help keep the bees warm. Then just leave them alone. If you want to check on them put your ear against the hive and you’ll normally hear a pleasing buzzing sound.
• In spring you will remove the material used to winterize the hive. You should check the bees for disease – not forgetting the queen bee. Then feeding can begin again, and you can check every now and then.
• Check for disease again in summer and if the queen is not in perfect health, replace her. If the bees are starting to outgrow their supers, add a new one to the hive.
• Fall is when you should extract honey from the top supers. You should also check for disease again. Check and treat for mites just before winter, and feed one last time before you “winterize” the hive.


While you certainly don’t have to check on the bees every time you visit the hives, it’s good practise to keep an eye for moisture, bugs, mites, and any signs of disease.


In a previous article we talked about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that is causing the demise of honeybees worldwide. One of the causes might be the varroa mite since it destroys beehives by attaching itself to the backs of the bees and spreading disease through the hive. On the positive side, these little mites are visible to the naked eye, and you can get rid of them.

There are commercial products that you can use to fight against mites, including strips that are positioned in the hive. Just make sure you use a product that is safe and natural.
You should check for mites in early fall. A reasonably easy method is to scoop out enough bees to fill a standard mason’s jar; add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar; cover with mesh; then shake the jar over a white surface or sheet of paper. If there are mites on the bees, these will drop out and they will probably be alive. If there are any mites in the hive, now is the time to treat.


While a really good cold northern hemisphere winter will usually kill hive beetles and was moths, they can be a real problem in milder climates. A precaution is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the hives, particularly to deter beetles. If you spot moths in or around the hives, don’t be tempted to use mothballs of any sort as they will contaminate your honey. Instead, handpick them off the hive and destroy any cocoons.


Bacterial diseases that can be deadly, foul broods are a real problem, because there don’t seem to be any organic ways to treat them. There are chemicals that might kill the bacteria, but chances are these are going to contaminate your honey.

At the end of the day, the best way to prevent any form of disease is to keep your bees healthy. So keep checking them regularly, and if anything appears to be wrong, take action instantly.


One of the delights of keeping your own beehives is that you will be assured of raw, organic honey. Unlike most commercial honey products, you won’t heat it to a high temperature or strain it multiple times. Instead you will be able to preserve the valuable pollen, proteins and natural enzymes that occur naturally in honey, which is what gives it its wonderful medicinal value, and makes it a broad-spectrum healer and natural allergy combatant.

Early fall or autumn is the time to harvest honey, after the bees have spent the summer producing lots of honey for themselves (for winter) and a whole lot more for you.

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