50 FAQ for Beginners

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This page offers a collection of questions of various topics all centered around beginning beekeeping. The best advice is to read all the questions. It will provide a good solid base of information.

1) Can I keep bees on my property?

With few exceptions, beekeeping is welcome in most municipalities. There are some local ordinances in some townships regulating how many hives you may have on a particular property. But for a backyard beekeeper with 1 or 2 hives, this normally is not a problem.

 

2) Are honey bees dangerous?

Honey bees are kept by beekeepers of all ages, including children. With some proper instruction and training, beekeeping is an enjoyable, safe, and rewarding hobby. Before starting beekeeping, you should determine if your allergic to honey bees.

 

3) Are "killer" or "Africanized" bees a problem?

Africanized honey bees are not a problem in the northern states. Much of the "killer" label has been wrongly applied by media hype and poor factual movies over the years. Less than one person per year had died due to a stinging incident contributed by Africanized bees. You have a better chance of dying by getting struck by lightning, or driving to the store, as compared to bee stings.

 

4) How do I get started?

The best advice is to join a supportive bee association, such as PennApic. This allows you to get newsletters, emails, attend the spring workshop, rub elbows with other beekeepers, and benefit from the other members of the association.

 

5) Can I get some help starting out?

PennApic does have a mentors program. We try to match up beginners with available more experienced beekeepers in your local area. But this does not mean that the mentor will do all the work and take care of your hives. Driving to a mentors bee yard, contacting our county coordinators, or other beekeepers, and helping them is as much of the learning process as anything else. Being active in the association and rubbing elbows with other beekeepers is the best learning opportunity you could have.

6) What do I need to buy?

Regardless of what type hives you want to keep, we suggest four items besides the hives and bees. They include: a bee veil or jacket, hive tool, smoker, and gloves. You may not use your gloves and veil after you become comfortable working bees. But they are nice to have in case of a situation such as a knocked over hive, local swarm capture, or other event. Please read the "Beginning Beekeeping" page of this website.

 

7) I’ve heard about many types of hives? What should a beginner get just starting out?

Most start out with a standard Langstroth hive. Top bar hives, as well as 8 frame equipment is also becoming popular. There is no wrong answer to this question. But your decision will be based on personal preference, based on your goals and desire. The best advice, is to ask plenty of questions before ordering a hive.

 

8) Does it matter where I place my hive on my property?

Site selection impacts the health of your beehive. A good site includes: 1) easy access by the beekeeper. 2) As much sun as possible. 3) Wind protection. While most municipalities allow backyard hives, they may require you to have your hives a distance from property lines or occupied dwellings. Consideration of your neighbors is always good advice.

 

9) How much honey will I harvest?

The first year is always considered a “building” year. The bees need to make new wax, build up reserves, and get things in order. After that, most beekeepers can expect 40-50 pounds or more per hive. The production of honey can be said to be directly related to the beekeepers' experience. And while many beekeepers want honey, it is not the only factor of why most keep bees.

 

10) I’ve heard about beehives dying. Is this still a problem?

Colony Collapse Disorder (referred to as CCD) is just one of the many problems facing beekeepers. CCD has seemed to fade away for the moment. While pesticides, farming practices, homeowner chemicals, disease, and other factors impact beehive survival, this should not deter anyone from starting with beekeeping. The more beekeepers there are, the better informed the public becomes. And with the combined efforts of many beekeepers, we can slowly change the bee industry. Beekeeping is still a worthwhile and exciting hobby for all to enjoy.

11) Do I have to buy bees? Can I just get bees by capturing a swarm?

Nothing beats collecting swarms. Unfortunately, some years just seem to produce a low number of swarms. And for a new beekeeper to sit around most of the summer and realize they will not get bees, is disheartening. We suggest buying your first couple hives, then either splitting, or capturing swarms to increase your numbers.

 

12) How much of an investment will this cost to get started?

If you stick to the basics, you can get started with your first hive, with protective gear, for about 300 dollars. This is a one time price that if figured over 10 years of enjoyment, is a really low cost hobby with many returns.

 

13) Can I make my own equipment?

Many beekeepers make their own wooden ware with some basic tools and limited woodworking ability. Getting a pattern like a new unassembled hive makes it much easier. Most do not take the time to make the frames.


14) How many hives can you keep on one location?

With few exceptions here in Pennsylvania, you can keep 10-15 full size hives in most locations before any reduction of forage or competition begins. We are very lucky to keep bees in an area that has nectar and floral sources almost 8 months per year. And with the diverse landscape we have, there is normally abundant flower sources within a two mile range of most apiaries.

 

15) What happens when I go on vacation or need to travel for work purposes?

Unlike having others pets, like a dog or horse, honey bees are very content taking care of themselves. Not seeing your bees for 3 or 4 weeks, is no problem for the bees. They will take care of themselves as long as you took care of any major problems prior to leaving.

16) How often should I requeen my hives?

In studies, first year queens outperform second year queens, and second year queens outperform, and so on. That is not to say you might have a great queen for three years. It means that on average, the younger the queen, the better she will perform. And with proper swarming prevention, young queens swarm less. In nature (Feral colonies), almost all hives are requeened yearly through swarming.

 

17) I want to plant some flower around the house. What should I plant so the bees have something to work?

Honey bees will normally forage for up to two miles from the beehive. While we encourage every homeowner to build a backyard habitat, we need many backyards with honey plants to really make an impact. But if your going to plant flowers, nectar producing plants is the way to go. Besides honey bees, these plants will also feed butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other beneficial pollinators and insects.

PennApic's "Bee Sanctuary" has some good advice on this topic.

 

18) Do I need to provide water for the bees?

There are few places that do not allow honey bees access to some water source. A stream, pond, plugged up gutter, dripping hose, bird bath, etc. But the closer the water source, the less resources the bees need to spend to bring water back to the hive. It is also best to provide water as a alternative to the bees using your neighbors swimming pool. A water source is also beneficial to other insects and animals, and adds to any backyard wildlife sanctuary.

 

19) How many times can I expect to get stung?

If properly protected, you will not be stung too many times. Some may go all season without a single sting. This number many times is related to the amount of time in the bee yard. Over time, most beekeepers work with less protective gear such as gloves and full bee suits. While most do not like to get stung, it is part of beekeeping. You should protect yourself as much as needed to feel comfortable while working your bees.


20) Is it safe to buy used equipment?

Disease is a concern with buying used equipment. Buying older stored equipment without being able to ask questions, is the number one way of bringing AFB (American Foul Brood) into your bee yard. You should know the history of any equipment you buy. You can also further protect yourself by scorching out wooden ware. The best advice is to never buy frames and comb, except from inspected, certified, and reputable nuc providers.

21) How many hives should I start with?

Beekeepers should start with a minimum of two hives. This allows the ability to compare and learn from both hives and determine how they are doing by comparing progress. Two hives also provides you with increased management opportunities when problems arise such as queenlessness, or a faulty queen.

 

22) Do I need to join an association?

Going it alone in your beekeeping venture can be very costly. Having the resources that an association provides, can be beneficial in so many ways. You reading this website is but one way that PennApic and the Pennsylvania Backyard Beekeepers Association provides to the public and it's members. Bee associations provide assistance and education just not to the members but also the public. Beekeepers should embrace the idea of making an impact beyond the boundaries of their own backyard.

 

23) Should I place the hive in shade or a sunny location?

Beehives should be placed in the sunniest location you can find while considering other factors such as wind, access, etc. Studies have shown that bee colonies have less stress, disease, and are more productive in sunny locations. 

 

24) How many boxes do I need the first year?

After determining what your bees will need for the brood chamber, you should have at least two supers for honey production. This allows for the removal of one to process, while leaving the second for continued use by the bees. After your first year, and based on your management, additional supers may be required.


25) How many boxes or pounds of honey do bees need to survive winter?

In Pennsylvania, colonies should have a minimum of a deep (9-5/8 box) and a medium (6-5/8 box) in the southern half of the state, and a minimum of two deeps in the northern half. Well packed going into winter. This is based on 10 frame equipment. If you are using 8 frame equipment you will need to adjust these numbers with additional boxes. This allows the bees 60-80 pounds of stored honey to survive the potential period of up to 6 months (October through March) of cold weather

For beginners, it seem magical that bees can survive going through winters and heavy snowfalls. Properly prepared strong healthy colonies can survive the toughest of winters.
Water is essential to the bee colony. They need water for honey consumption, cleaning, and providing cooling of the hive. A bird bath serves dual purposes.

26) Is buying a "beginner" kit the best choice?

The short answer....no. Bee catalogs are filled with "stuff" to buy and store in the garage. Beekeepers are notorious for filling up sheds with neat gadgets and equipment that never get used. Some of this usually comes with "beginner" kits. Beginner kits also normally has lower end quality items to make the package more marketable. You would be better off buying only those items absolutely needed to get started.

 

27) I only have small backyard. Can I keep bees there?

You really only need a space equal to what you would need to place a pallet on the ground. Some beekeepers in the city actually keep bees on balconies. So little space is needed. You should however consider the flight path of the bees in placement of the hives. 

 

28) How often can I go into my hives?

Most beekeepers inspect their hives once a week. Some inspect them every few weeks. While inspections are stressful for the bees, you can with proper technique, inspect a couple times  per week without much harm to the bees. Many beekeepers like to monitor the progress of the hive and nothing beats actual hands on learning. Daytime temperatures, time of season, robbing potential, and other factors should determine how long a hive should be opened.

 

 

29) Is smoking the hive good for the bees?

Beekeepers have been smoking bees for many years. Smoke triggers a natural reaction from the bees who think a forest fire is approaching. The smoke covers any alarm pheromone but also triggers the bees to gorge themselves in preparation if fleeing the hive is necessary. Smoke has also been shown to cause the bees to go into a super grooming mode which has benefits in dealing with mites. Unless your smoker is too hot, or you have chemicals in the smoker material (old burlap which has been treated for mice, etc.), smoking will not harm the bees. 

 

30) Is it ok to feed my bees?

Most beekeepers will experience regardless of management, the need to feed a hive in bad forage years. Feeding should be a corrective issue with the beekeeper doing everything they can to leave as much honey as possible for them to survive winter. Honey is the preferred and most healthy feed for bees. Beginners may need to feed the first year to extend the wax building season and get the hive built up enough for the first winter.

31) When do I add the second brood box?

Adding another box is suggested when 8 out of 10 frames (Or 6 of 8 with eight frame equipment) are full. Staying ahead the bees needs is better than waiting too long and having the bees not expand fast enough.

 

 

32) When do I add honey supers?

Coming out of the first winter, you should super just before the apple blossom or dandelion bloom. Many beekeepers wait too long to super. And while supering too early can be detrimental for bees if cold weather is still present, you should super sooner than what you probably think you should.

For new beekeeper in their first season, add supers only when the brood chamber is completely filled with drawn comb. Getting the first year hive ready and strong enough with adequate stores to survive winter is the primary concern the first season.   

 

 

33) When is the main flow?

In central Pennsylvania, it includes the period from Mid-April to Mid- June. The main bloom flowers are locust, fruit trees, dandelion, and clover. Clover is the last of the main bloom flowers. Depending on rain and temperature, the clover may last longer in some years. Most main flows are over by the end of June. This is a good time to take off supers for extraction, complete splitting of colonies, requeen, and start winter prep.

 

34) Can I get a fall season crop of honey?

Depending on your location, and the availability of such fall floral sources as goldenrod, aster, and other late blooming plants, some hives will collect a good deal of fall nectar. But memories of huge harvests as seen many years ago have gone by the wayside in recent years. Overall hive health, the impact of chemicals, and other factors, keep most hives from peak performance. And many feel that any nectar collected nowadays in the fall season should be left for the hives to ensure winter survival.     

 

35) Where or how, do I store my supers? 

36) Is it safe to feed granulated sugar? Or should it only be "cane" sugar?

 

37) I have a traditional farm as a neighbor that plants corn, soybeans, and have some fruit trees? Is this going to be a problem?

Bees certainly will be affected by pesticides and other chemical sprays. Informing your neighbors of your beehives allows you he opportunity to explain the need for responsible management of chemicals. And the farmer should hopefully realize that your bees will be a great benefit to his farm in the way of pollination. Several of these issues, and additional information is posted on the PennApic "Commonsense Approach" page. Click here

 

38) I want to keep bees because of allergy benefits. Does honey really help?

Honey has been shown to decrease allergy symptoms in many folks by some degree. And full allergy relief can be seen in about 25% of those tested using raw local honey. But it will not help everyone. To be most effective, the honey must be from a local source so your body becomes desensitized from the pollen that is causing the allergies. 50 miles is considered "local". And your honey should be what we call raw. Not highly heated, or finely filtered. While most honey is strained to remove large matter, it should contain all the beneficial pollen, active enzymes and other nutrients. You will not get that by buying super market stocked honey. Please read additional information on the PennApic Apitherapy & Health website page, along with any disclaimers. 

 

39) What color should I paint my hives?

Years ago, all hives were painted white. The reasoning was simple. Almost all barns and farm houses were either painted white or red. Red barns and white houses were very common. Since it is easier for bees to deal with the cold by clustering in winter, many painted the hives white. And so it continues for many beekeepers today. This meant the hives were kept cooler in the summer. While we do promote the idea that hives be kept in full sun for health reasons, the hives should not be painted dark colors which would allow the hives to over heat. Many beekeepers today paint their hives in pastels, and earth tone shades. Whatever color you choose, stay on the lighter side of the spectrum. 

 

40) Should I paint the inside of the hive?

No. The hive is a micro-environment with the bees propolizing and sealing the walls, filling crack and coating other surfaces as they know best. The wood boxes provide a certain amount of absorption and control for moisture. There is no benefit of painting the inside of any of your wooden ware. 

41) Is it safe to eat the wax that comes with comb honey?

Many will eat the comb also with no ill effects. Years ago, comb honey was the only way to purchase honey for many consumers. Spreading the comb honey over toast or bisquits was very common. As with all diets, moderation is probably key. It may be safe to eat in the amounts you would get by the daily use of consuming honeycomb products. But it would not be advised to chow down on pure beeswax blocks. 

 

 

42) What treatment products should I buy?

Treatments should be applied as needed. And only as testing and monitoring indicates a need. Never apply prophylactic treatments as this many times promotes resistance to the treatments over time. Besides being costly and not needed, treating for the sake of treating is also detrimental in helping the bees build their own immunity and ability to overcome problems on their own. There are many treatments for vorroa mites, American Foul Brood, Nosema, and other diseases of the hive. Instead of detailing out the pro and con issues of every treatment here, additional information can be found as the need arises. The main message is to not buy on fear, thinking you need too, or some idea that your bees would be better off by treating them "Just in case". Learn to recognize the various disease and pests of the hive, and react and treat accordingly if needed. 

 

43) What type bees should I get?

There are distinct differences in the type bees you can buy. Some are better honey producers, while other types are better with mite resistance. Click Here for a page detailing the types of bees vailable. Many beekeepers worry about the name or type of bees they shoud buy. And the better advice may be to put more weight on "who" to buy from. There are good producers of Italians, and poor producers of Italians. That can be said of all the different strains of honey bees. We suggest you buy first from local sources, then other providers if need be. Knowing a local breeder or producer has many benefits and help after the purchase should always be considered. Do not buy on "silver bullet" promises, marketing hype, and fluff.

 

44) Can I keep both Italians and Russians in the same yard?

Yes you can. Beekeeping should be fun and interesting. Many beekeepers find keeping different type bees very educational and filled with enjoyment. Keep in mind regardless of the type of bees you keep, they all should be monitored and kept healthy. Like a chain with one being a weak link, your beeyard is the same. Russians or any other type colony is only as good as the weakest hive you keep since mites can be transferred from hive to hive. 

 

45) I have read so many blogs and forums, and veiwed so many videos, that I am more confused now than when I started. How do you know what to do when there is so much information?

While the resources of today can be very beneficial to those seeking kowledge on a particular subject, there are certain drawbacks. Everyone has the potential to make a website, start a blog, and market themselves as experts, with little or even no real experience. Some information is clearly wrong. It can be very frustrating and confusing for the beginner. Add in the fact that seemingly every group also promotes their own individual ideology as "natural" and the only way to keep healthy bees, and you can be tugged in many different directions. Keeping an open mind, asking many questions, and not falling for the "Sound too good to be true" ideology is good advice. Belonging to a bee association, asking many questions, and realizing that ego, agenda, and personal ideology all are part of the beekeeping industry is a good way to start.

46) Should I feed pollen patties?

 

47) I see insects on the inner cover. What steps should I tkae to help the bees deal with inects?

The entire hive can be seen as a complete eco-system with bacteria, insects and micro-organisms found throughout the hive. Some work in harmony with the bees, and some are a detriment. Most insects like roaches, earwigs, and even most ants, are easily kept at bay by a normal healthy functioning colony of bees. Think of a colony of feral bees in a tree with no beekeeper to fret and coddle over them. They have wax moth larvae eating the discarded wax at the bottom of the hive, and probably constantly deal with investigative ants and wondering insects.

Additional control of insects such as ants, should probably be along lines of protecting woodenware. But ants also protect comb all summer long in winter killed hives, cleaning out organic matter, while not allowing wax moths from destroying the comb. Many beekeepers have noticed the lack of wax moths or resulting damage from wax moths, no doubt from patrolling ants eating any laid eggs from other insects.

Bees have great defenses against unwanted invaders. They sometimes completely seal the inner cover hole shut with propolis to keep insects out. Honey bees can deal with many situations. Certainly many more than we give them credit.

 

48) After installing my hive(s), I need to move them. Can I move hives short distances in the same yard?

Keeping in mind that forage bees are programmed to go back to the same location, it is possible to move hives. If it is just a few feet, the bees will quickly re-orient to the new location. If the distances is something like 50-100 feet, several smaller moves might be required. If you only have one hive, it becomes easier as the bees will find the new location throughout the day. Just make sure the move is done early in the day to allow the bees time to adjust. You can also seal up the bees for a day or place grass at the entrance which forces the bees to re-orient to the new location. (If you are moving the hives to the next field over, moving them away a couple miles for a week or two may be best, then moving the bees back to the new location.) 

 

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