The Buzz about Beekeeping Equipment

Reader Contribution by Doug Fulbright
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This time we will look at the equipment we use to house the bees. First I will list the equipment we are using to start up these new hives.

The type of bee is Russian. Their main traits are: very resistant to the mites, fast build up in the spring, slow down raising new bees when food supply slow down, gentle to handle, winter in smaller clusters there by needing less food.

The hive body is a polystyrene hive box by BeeMax.

It is 1 ½ inches thick with an R value of at least 3 which will help the bees just like insulation in our walls helps keep our houses at a constant temperature. I will have one hive of wood, since it was cheaper and I hadn’t planned on three complete hives this year. I will wrap it next winter though.

The foundation is small cell 4.9mm pure wax. The cell size is what the bees will naturally build for their brood area if left to their own devices. Someone in the past thought bigger bees would be better, and they where for a time. Researchers have found that the varro mite likes to hatch in the bigger cell, drone cell preferably. So the smaller, natural cell helps to discourage mite population growth. It is hard to find small cell foundation, although suppliers are starting to offer more choices. I did order three plastic frames from Mann-Lake that are small cell. If the bees accept these frames I will probably go to them.

The frames for the comb I bought from Walter T Kelley supply. The included picture shows a grove in the top of the frame into which you insert the foundation. It works really well and saves time installing the foundation. The only drawback is the assembly of the frame. Wintertime is the perfect time for assembly though. When you can’t work with the bees, you can still keep close to your hobby by getting equipment ready for the spring. A sturdy workbench is advisable. It takes time to assemble so you need to be comfortable so it doesn’t turn into a chore.

In the supply catalogs you will see 8-frame equipment and 10-frame equipment. A few years ago they started the 8-frame line to reduce the weight of the hives for easier handling. I am using 10-frame equipment because I like the bigger brood area. Also when it comes to painting the hives, they are usually painted white. This is generally done to keep the hive cooler in the summer, which is fine but. I believe a bee sees basically what we do, so the next time the sun is out go up to a white building and try to look at it. You cannot look directly at the building, so I am going to paint the area above the entrance with a color. Research has been done at what bees recognize best by Dr. Karl Von Frisch. They also use these colors to recognize their own hive. The colors are: yellow, blue, orange, violet.

The bottom board is generally a solid piece of wood raised enough to allow an entrance at the bottom of the hive. Now with the presence of the varro mite, beekeepers are starting to use a screened bottom board that allow any mites that fall from the bees to fall through the bottom board thus eliminating them from the hive. With a solid bottom board the mite falls to the floor and waits for the next available bee. If you have hygienic bees that groom the mites off, this can be a big help and no chemicals are involved. I will be building my own. The ones for sale look okay, but it looks as though they have a very fine mesh wire for the bottom. Common sense says that cappings and other debris will soon fill the holes and you are no better off. My plans are to use a bigger screen size, say like for a rabbit cage, to allow everything to fall through.

Syrup feeders come in many different varieties. My choice is a top feeder from Mann-Lake. The bees feed from the center of the feeder instead of the end. This should allow the bees to feed even when its colder outside since they can stay toward the center of the hive. Also a hive top feeder can be refilled without opening the brood nest and possibly chilling the young brood. Along with syrup feeding which the bees use for their carbohydrates, they also need protein in the form of pollen or pollen substitute. Real pollen is the best, but its expensive. Pollen substitute with real pollen added is a good alternative. Pollen is needed in order for the eggs and larvae to be fed a good healthy diet while growing. The wax makers building new comb need the sugar syrup in order to build new comb. So both are necessary.

Now lets move to the actual apiary site. A good location should have the morning sun, face away from the prevailing wind, have good drainage, be protected from strong winds and look for any potential hazards for the hives like falling limbs. I have a lot of deer around my place so I will place my hives along a fence so the deer don’t run over a hive in the middle of the night. Spacing is another thing to think about. Bees do drift and Italian bees are know for robbing. Place your colonies a ways apart if possible. If not slightly turn the hives at angles from each other. It doesn’t look nice and tidy but that’s not our goal. Also be sure the hive is on a sturdy foundation. A hive full of bees and honey could weight 200 pounds or more. Remember you will also need room to work the hives, needing to sit a hive body to one side sometimes. Running room is sometimes needed too! Don’t forget about ‘WATER’. The bees use lots of water. It is used for cooling the hive along with their other needs. If you see water in burr comb on top of the frames, that is the bees air conditioning. I cools the hive and keeps the humidity level where the bees need it to be. If you don’t have a constant supply of water the bees can count on they will go to the neighbors swimming pool or bird bath which will probably not sit well with them.

The things for you will be a veil, gloves, smoker for quieting the bees, a hive tool, bee brush and clothing the bees cannot get caught in, something like kaki clothing.

Bee catalogs are a wealth of information. They will send you a catalog for free and I would recommend the following suppliers:

Betterbee (my favorite)
Walter T Kelley

In looking through some old photos I found this picture of my grandpa and my dad on a TO-20 Ferguson tractor cultivating a cotton field in July 1958. I noticed a beehive in the background.

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