Choosing a Good Apiary Site

The site you choose for your apiary should have plenty of floral sources within two miles of your hives. In much of the Midwest, wild clover will be a major source of nectar for your bees. Any place that has a mixture of trees and unplowed fields is good. There should be water available within a quarter mile of the hives. The apiary should be accessible at all times of the year. The hives should be placed on hard, dry ground that you can drive up to in a truck. It is best to place the bees near some trees that block the wind from the west and on a slight hill to avoid frost pockets. A protected site with good air drainage will improve the chances that your bees will survive over the winter.

Increasing the Number of Colonies

You can make an increase in your colonies by either buying nucs, installing package bees, or dividing your existing colonies.

Buying nucs

Purchasing nucleus hives or “nucs” is a very good way to increase your colonies. The nuc is a small hive of three to five frames containing comb with bees, brood, honey, and pollen.

A nuc will build up more quickly than a package of bees that is installed on foundation, because there already are some capped brood and empty cells where the queen can lay eggs. Nucs purchased locally are more likely to have queens that produce bees adapted to your local conditions. Ask at beekeeper meetings or look on the Internet for beekeepers that sell nucs. Usually, you will need to supply the brood box and enough frames with foundation or comb to fill out the box.

Installing Packages

Sometimes you cannot find a provider of nucs or they are not available early in the year when you want to get your bees. In this case, buying package bees is a good option. Package bees are produced in southern states early in the year for shipment up north. They can be purchased from a supplier and shipped to you directly, or you can make arrangements with someone who is plans to bring a truckload of packages to your area.

1. Order a 2- to 3-pound package of bees with a marked queen to arrive at a specified date. Order early (preferably by January), because some years they sell out. Packages can usually be installed in the Midwest about April 1.

2. Prepare all of your equipment before your bees arrive. For each colony, you will need the following:

a. Hive stand to keep the bottom off the ground

b. Two deep brood boxes with ten frames of foundation each (or 9 to10 frames with comb)

c. Bottom board

d. Entrance reducer

e. Inner cover 

f. Two supers for the honey flow 

g. Cover 

h. A way to feed the bees (A “friction pail” or gallon jar with small holes in the lid both work well.) 

i. Division board feeders (These can be used with floats to keep the bees from drowning. Entrance, or “Boardman,” feeders are convenient, but don’t work well in temperatures below 40°F.)

3. When the package arrives at the post office, check to make sure the bottom is not covered with dead bees. If there are 2 to 3 inches of dead bees, notify the shipper and ask for compensation. Keep the package in a dark place at about 50° to 70°F. Spray with 1:1 sugar syrup, but do not soak the bees too much. If you need to wait a day or two before installation, spray with sugar syrup twice a day.

Bees and hive Install the package as soon as possible. Just before dusk is ideal. Packages can be installed at other times of the day if it is raining or cool (45°F or less). Installing in the evening keeps the bees from leaving the hive and drifting into others. If you only have one hive, this is not important. If installing during the day, block the entrance with some grass for an hour to keep the bees in the hive, otherwise the bees will tend to drift into the most visible hive (usually the bees fly into the one on the end). Remove the grass after a few hours or the next morning. Spraying the bees with 1:1 sugar syrup right before shaking them into the box can also help keep them from flying. Installation steps:

a. It usually is not necessary to use smoke when installing a package, but it is a good idea to have a smoker lit. It may encourage them to go down into the box. 

b. Pry out the syrup can with your hive tool and set it aside. 

c. Remove the queen cage and put her in your pocket. 

d. Jar the package sharply to knock the bees down to the bottom. Turn it over and shake it vigorously from side to side to get the bees into the box. You may need smoke to encourage the bees to go down between the frames. 

e. Let the bees release the queen by eating the candy. Remove the cork from the candy and put a small hole in it with a frame nail (being careful not to stab the queen). Then, position the cage at an angle between the middle frames with the screen facing down so the bees can feed the queen. It is a good idea to put the candy end of the cage at the bottom, just in case it gets wet. This prevents it from flowing onto the queen. 

4. Feeding packages is very important. Your colony will decline in population until the new brood hatches and the queen needs comb to lay eggs in. Feeding will allow them to draw out the comb from the foundation. Feed the bees with a gallon jar of 1:1 sugar syrup (at least 50 to 60 percent sugar by volume) that is inverted over the 9 hole in the inner cover and has a dozen or so small holes in the lid so the bees can feed on it. In cold weather, it might help if the first two gallons of syrup contain the medication fumagillin, which is sold as a powder called Fumadil-B. This will prevent dysentery (Nosema). Place the feeder jar over the inner cover hole, leaving a space for bees to come out. Cover the jar with an empty hive body. Check the feeder jar regularly and refill it whenever it is empty. You may need about 5 to 7 gallons of 1:1 sugar syrup per package if installing the package onto foundation. If you are installing the package onto comb, much less syrup will be needed. It is also possible to feed the hive with a division board feeder or Boardman feeder. 

5. Check the feeder the next day to make sure your bees have consumed some syrup. If the bees are not clustered in the middle, rearrange the empty frames so that the bees are in the middle.

6. Check the queen in three days. If she is still in the cage, make sure the bees are not biting the cage. It will be easy to push them aside with a finger unless they have latched onto the cage with their mandibles. Then, pry off the screen and allow the queen to walk between the frames. If the bees are latched onto the cage, do not release her, because they will kill her. In this case, you may have another queen in the colony, or it may just require more time for the introduction. If the queen was released by the bees already, check for eggs in the bottom of the comb by tilting the cells up to the light. If there are no eggs and no queen, you may need to order a new one. But it is also possible that she just hasn’t laid any eggs yet because she is too young or because there are no cells to lay them in, and you just can’t find her!

7. Check the bees one week after installing the package. Always carefully remove an outer frame first to avoid crushing the queen. Look for drawn comb containing eggs. If there are no eggs, search for the queen. If you can not find her you will need to buy a replacement queen. If you are planning preventative treatments for American foulbrood disease, Terramycin (mixed with powdered sugar) can be given to the bees now. However, this usually is unnecessary.

8. Inspect the bees every 7 to 10 days to make sure there are eggs and a queen. Observe the expansion of the brood nest, but do not disrupt the nest by putting empty comb in the middle of it. Replace the frames in roughly the same configuration.

9. When all of the comb is drawn from the foundation in the first box, or at least started by the bees, add a second deep 10 box. You can take one or two outer frames of drawn comb that have little or no brood from the first box and place them towards the center of the upper box to encourage the bees to move up and draw out the foundation and expand the nest.

10. Watch. Give the bees new boxes as soon as they fill up the old ones. When adding supers that contain foundation, place them directly above the brood nest even if you have one super of drawn comb and honey in place already. This will encourage them to draw it out. Supers with a foundation should have ten frames; those with comb can have 8 to 9 frames if properly spaced.

Splitting Colonies

There are many ways to divide colonies. Two examples are given below. You need to complete the following preparations before using either method

  • Choose strong colonies to divide. The best time is 4 to 6 weeks before the time swarming usually occurs. This is early to mid-April for most Midwestern states.
  • Ideally, the colony should have brood on 8 to 10 frames or more.
  • Arrange for a new queen to be delivered either the day before you want to divide the colony or the same day that you will divide the colony. She will be shipped in a cage with candy and worker “attendants.” If the queen of the strong colony is more than a year old, you may want to order two queens and replace the older queen with a new one. If necessary, a queen can be kept in the cage with the attendants or several days to a week in a location that is 65-70°F. Give them a tiny droplet of water with your finger once or twice a day on the screen.
  • Have your equipment ready for another colony. You will need the following items.
  • Another hive stand
  • A bottom board
  • Top and inner covers
  • Two deep hive bodies with combs or frames with foundation
  • A feeder is a good idea if there is no nectar coming in from the flowers or you are adding foundation instead of drawn comb (feeder pail or gallon jar with a few nail holes in the lid and 1:1 sugar syrup).
  • An empty, deep hive body to enclose the feeder For Method 2 (below), you will also need a double screen and a queen excluder (if you are not taking the time to find the queen).
1. Simple Divide Method
Four days before the queen you ordered is expected to be delivered, divide the brood up equally between two boxes of the existing hive. If you find the queen, put her in the bottom box or put her in a queen cage while you prepare to remove the top box and move frames around. This is the safest way to avoid hurting her. If the queen was not seen, put a queen excluder between the boxes. The presence of eggs four days later will tell you where the queen is.

When the divide is made, remove the queenless box to a new location and introduce a queen the next day. To make an even split, it is best to move the divide at least a mile away to prevent all the foragers from returning to the new location, but this may be impractical. If placing the divide in the same apiary, put all of the oldest brood (about to emerge as adults) and one frame of very young (larvae in uncapped cells) into the upper box that you are going to remove. You can tell if brood is nearing the time of emergence by uncapping some cells and looking for older pupae. It is also a good idea to make sure both boxes contain pollen and honey. You can also put extra brood into the new hive from other colonies later (after shaking the bees off the brood frame). The new adult bees will help make up for the loss of foragers that will return to the original hive. You can introduce the new queen with the candy-cage 24 hours after you make the divide. If you are requeening the other hive, be sure to wait 24 hours after de-queening before introducing the new queen.

2. Double-Screen Method

This method is similar to the first and can be used for making splits or for making up nucs. The double-screen fits over the brood chamber of the old hive and allows heat and the hive’s odor to be transmitted to the upper part. The heat from the lower box helps to keep the brood warm in the upper box. The double-screen does not permit queen pheromone to pass to the queenless box, because the bees cannot touch each other, so the bees in the queenless box are soon ready to accept a queen. If the upper hive does not accept the queen, the screen can be removed and the hive can be merged again with no fighting, because the bees still share a common colony odor. With this method you can make up many nucs or splits, because you do not have to find the queen.

Double screens are frames that have a screen on each side and that fit over the brood box. They can be purchased or made from parts of hive frames. Use a double screen that has movable pieces of wood to create an upper entrance. You also can make your own double-screen by stapling window screen over both sides of the hole in an inner cover and making a notch in the side of the inner cover to provide an entrance for the bees in the top box.

Choose a strong hive and decide which brood frames you want to move to the top box to make the nuc or split. Use one or two frames of young, uncapped brood and most of the frames of sealed brood that are about to emerge as adults.

Inspect the frames for brood and honey, and decide which ones you want to go in the upper box. It is convenient to bring an empty box to set frames in, or you can just lean them on end against the hive. Replace the frames that you removed from the bottom box with frames from the top box. You can also temporarily add a third brood box and replace frames you move with new frames of comb or foundation. If using frames with foundation, place them between frames containing comb that do not contain much brood. Try to keep the brood in the center of the nest.

Then, place a double-screen over the bottom brood chamber and put the box containing older brood, honey, and pollen above it. Or, if you happened to find the queen, just put these frames of brood in the upper box, put the queen in the lower box and place the double screen in between the top box and the original brood chamber. Make sure that the upper box has an entrance, and face it opposite the direction of the lower entrance. 

Introduce a queen to the queenless box 1-4 days after the brood chambers are separated by the double-screen. It takes three days for an egg to hatch, so if you do not know where the queen is in the beginning you will know which box is queenless in 3-4 days (the one without eggs).

Check the box with the new queen within a week after introducing her. If the queen was accepted, it can be moved it to a new location with a new bottom board and covers. If it needs more bees, you can shake some into it from the bottom box, but be careful you do not shake the old queen into it!
 

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