As a beekeeper, your role is to manage the environment that your bees live in and to plan so that the colony can thrive. There are several beekeeping techniques that you need to master to be successful.
Beekeeping techniques will include the following:
- Setting up
- Managing your equipment
- Using tools
- Inspecting the bee colony
- Moving the bees when necessary
- Checking the health of your colony
- Extracting honey
- Preparing for winter (where relevant).
Develop Your Beekeeping Techniques
Part of the joy of being a beekeeper is that there is a wide range of tools to use and seasonal variation in the problems that you will encounter. It is advisable to subscribe to beekeeping publications and to join a local beekeeper society so that you can learn new skills and keep up to date with best practices.
Many beekeepers recommend keeping a journal to record what is going on in your hive(s) and what actions you have taken. This article describes some situations where you need to develop beekeeping techniques, but is not comprehensive.
The new beekeeper needs to plan the area where he/she is going to site the hives. The first consideration should be the impact on neighbors and your family. Plan the direction that the hives will face with care so that you will find it convenient to inspect them. Ideally the hives will be screened from view. You also need to ensure there is a water supply nearby.
What to Wear
Protective clothing is desirable. As well as protecting your face, you should protect your ankles and wrists. Boots are advisable as well as gloves and a veil.
The bee year starts in spring, which is when the queen starts producing more eggs and when young bees are emerging in greater numbers. Observing what the bees are doing is important. During winter you will not have inspected the colony.
To do an inspection, you need a smoker; a couple of puffs at the entrance will encourage guard bees to move inside the hive. You then take off the roof and put it upside down on the ground. Use this for resting the supers that you take off. Make sure the boxes line up but rest them diagonally across the roof.
Checking On The Queen
When you get to the brood box, you need to look for the queen. You are looking for evidence of eggs and the types of cells that the bees are making. You also need to look for evidence of disease. You may need to feed the colony if they do not have enough food.
Finding the queen requires a good eye. You are looking for a larger bee; she is likely to be faced by a line of three or four worker bees. The queen can be marked with queen paint when identified. To do this you can use a special comb to trap her.
Getting Your Equipment Ready
As the hive grows, the bees are going to need more room. You need to prepare extra frames and super boxes in advance. Making frames is easy but you need to pay attention to how you assemble the kit. If you are reusing old frames and supers it may be wise to freeze them for at least 24 hours to kill pests such as wax moths.
Manipulating The Hive
The first point of beekeeping technique for working with a hive is never to stand in front of the entrance and to avoid being in the way of the flight path. After smoking, it takes about two minutes for the bees to retreat into the hive so you can inspect it.
You need to use a hive tool to separate each box in the hive from the box below and to separate the crown board and the queen excluder. You also need to use the tool to pry the first frame out of the super so it can be inspected. When taking the frame out, hold the lugs with both hands. Drop one side of the frame so it is vertical and inspect by twisting on its axis. The first frame is placed outside the hive after inspection to make the inspection of the other frames easier.
To improve your beekeeping technique, it can be useful to have someone with more knowledge work with you on inspecting the brood box and give you advice. The things to look out for are:
- sealed brood
- eggs and larvae
- swarming intention
- the physical condition of the comb
- the amount of pollen.
For a beginner, the assessment of these features will take some time. But once you are familiar with what to look for you will be able to assess the condition of the hive in seconds.
Swarming and Making Another Nucleus
Once you have a lot of bees, there is an opportunity to split the hive in two. This could be because your bees have swarmed. While some beekeepers try to discourage their colonies from swarming (because you will not get much honey from the hive) others see it as an opportunity to gain an extra colony. Look out for queen cups when you inspect your frames and note which frames have them. There are very detailed techniques that you need to use to manage swarms. Beekeepers can also learn how to create artificial swarms to populate an extra hive.
Harvesting The Honey
Of course, the purpose of your beekeeping is to extract honey at the end of the summer, and this requires a range of techniques as you manipulate the supers to remove the bees from the frames that you are going to harvest.
It is important to note that full supers are heavy, so you need to have a good technique for lifting and moving frames to avoid back problems.
Uncapping the frames to extract the honey requires a clean working environment. You must ensure that your jars are sterile, and you have the right equipment ready and in place.