Becoming a Beekeeper by Bob Falconer

Check out this article published by the OSU Master Gardener (Washington County) newsletter on becoming a beekeeper, written by Journey beekeeper Bob Falconer from Hillsboro! Enjoy!

Becoming a Beekeeper: Reasonable expectations for the first year 

Bob Falconer, OSU Master Gardeners Washington County

2016 Oregon Master Beekeeper Program

Ok. You‘ve spent all winter reading about keeping bees, attended your local bee keeper meetings and beginning bee school, and you still have a lot of questions and maybe some nervousness. That’s normal.

Your club is doing a group buy of nucs or packaged bees and you have ordered (and paid for) your bees. The club says that they “should be in” mid-April. Why is this? Most commercial beekeepers send their bees down to California to work the almond pollination. The hives are usually trucked down sometime in January or February. When the almonds (and plums) start blooming, the bees are hauled to the various orchards that have contracted for their use. The bee populations start building up and, by the middle of March in a good year, the hives are overflowing with bees. Many hives are then brought back to Oregon where the commercial bee keeper will either:

 

Honey bee on Fuji apple. (Ron Spendal)

 

  1. Split the hive: This involves taking four to five frames of bee brood as well as some stored honey and put- ting them in their own box with enough workers to take care of the brood. A new queen is then introduced and within a week she is laying eggs of her own. The hive is allowed to be on its own although the bee keeper will usually provide feed in the form of 1:1 sugar and water, which closely resembles plant nectar.
  2. Make boxes of bees: This involves shaking about three to four pounds of workers from the frames into a funnel that empties into a specially constructed bee shipping box. A qeen is then added in her own little box and the bees are fed. This method produces a salable product faster.

Finally the call comes that the bees will be ready to pick up on a certain date. What should you do?

  1. All your woodenware (hives, bottom board, top covers) should be painted on the outside and in place.
  2. You should have on hand enough sugar (white, not brown or confectioners) to make at least a quart of 1:1 syrup for each hive. This should be checked and refilled as necessary.
  3. Your tools (particularly the J-hook) and protective gear should be ready to use. You probably won’t need your smoker, but, if you want to use it, you should have already practiced lighting it and keeping it lit. (Since you have taken the beginning bee keeping course your club provides, all this will be familiar.)
    1. Make sure you have a reliable source of water near the hive.

 

The big day arrives! Throw your protective gear into the vehicle. I strongly recommend a pick-up truck unless you want loose bees in the car. Don’t worry; you will not be the first bee keeper to drive in protective gear. At the pick-up point there are almost always many loose bees, so don your gear when you arrive and pick up the number of packages you ordered. It always better to go early in the day. If it is a warm day go directly back to your apiary.

Installation

Depending on the equipment you bought you will have eight to ten empty frames in a box. We will discuss only the nuc option here. Take out four to five frames from the center of the box and one by one slide the frames from the nuc box in the same order in the new box. Work as rapidly as you are comfortable. There will be a lot of bees in the air and they won’t know where they are yet, but they will sort it out by scent of their colony-mates. When you have the frames of bees moved:

  1. Put inner cover back on.
    1. Insert the bottle of syrup into your feeder per instructions.
    2. Put a honey super box on with no frames to provide the top cover clearance of the syrup bottle,
      1. Put top cover on.
      2. Place the nuc box near the entrance of the hive as there are probably still bees in it. Examine the bees left in the box to make sure the queen isn’t there.