Frequently asked questions

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Thinking about Starting Beekeeping Questions:

The first year expenses would typically be about $800 including bees, hives, equipment, suit, and feed, classes and a local association membership. This is for two hives. With two hives, you are able to compare the two through the first first year and better able to recognize any issues that may develop with one of them. Figure $200 for the second year. Either for new bees if they do poorly or new items from catalogs if they do well.
Contact your local beekeeping association, a local beekeeper, or any beekeeping association and they will either help you or direct you to someone who can help you get started. Most beekeeping associations and beekeeping supply stores provide beginning beekeeping classes in the early spring. It is usually timed so that you learn what you will need to buy and where to by it; how to prepare a location for bees; how to prepare yourself for the bees, and how to obtain bees. Most bee associations are all about helping and welcoming people to beekeeping.
The first year you will want to attend a beginning class if possible. You will also want to attend local association meetings to get to know a few beekeepers you can call when you have questions. You can expect to spend a few minutes every few days in the spring to feed the bees. And then a couple hours every week or two for inspections and enjoying your bees. As you gain experience less frequent and quicker inspections are typical. If you find you like beekeeping, you may find yourself getting more bees, spending more time with them, attending association meetings, and have a great time enjoying and sharing your beekeeping experiences.
You can get very creative and put them on a porch, on top of a roof, or in a neighbor's yard (with permission). Another gage is if you can stand with your arms out and twirl around, you have space for a beehive. The bees prefer a sunny location and about 8 feet of open space in front of the hive to swirl around as they fly up and away. If you get two hives, put them a few feet apart and a couple feet free around them in all directions so you can comfortably walk around them.
As a beginning beekeeper, you will need:
  • 1 hive tool (buy the cheap one) mandatory
  • 1 smoker (choose what you want to spend, they all work) mandatory
  • 1 veil/hat combination (various styles available, just pick one) mandatory
  • 1 bee suit (many types optional, some come with a veil) recommended
  • 1 pair bee gloves (many types avail) optional
  • 1 bee brush (I had one for 2 years before I used it, Training required to operate successfully.) optional
  • 1 frame grip (useful in first couple years. I found I dropped more frames when using it and the bees on the frame tend to not like that.) optional
  • 1 capping scratcher (for checking for varroa mites and harvesting honey) recommended
  • 1 spare veil/hat combination (so you can show your hives to friends) recommended
  • 1 beginning beekeeping class Highly recommended
  • 1 local beekeeping association membership Highly recommended
I also recommend you start with 2 hives, this will allow you to compare one hive to the other as they progress and gives you many more options if a catastrophe happens. There are various hive sizes and configurations. The traditional commercial standard is to stack two deep boxes wide enough to hold 10 frames each for a brood chamber. Then use 10 frame medium boxes on top for honey storage. When full, the boxes are very heavy. The trend is more toward using narrower medium boxes that only hold 8 frames for both brood chambers and honey supers. The boxes are lighter, there is only one frame size to deal with, and the bees do just as well if not better. Take a beginner class or talk to a beekeeper with a few years of experience to help you determine what the best option may be best for you. To start, you will need the following for each hive (This is for the standard Langstroth hive):
  • 1 bottom board mandatory
  • 1 single deep hive body or two medium hive bodies filled with frames and foundation mandatory
  • 1 inner hive cover mandatory
  • 1 feeder jar and lid recommended
  • 1 empty hive body (for attic space to hold the feeder jar) recommended
  • 1 telescoping cover mandatory
  • (you may use a migratory cover rather than a telescoping cover)
  • 1 boardman feeder (to feed at entrance rather than in attic space) optional
  • (you may use a frame feeder or a miller top feeder rather than a feeder jar)
  • 1 3# package of bees w/queen mandatory
  • 1 5frame nuc box of bees,frames,brood, new queen (not recommended first year)
  • 25 lb. granulated white sugar mandatory
  • 1 hive stand (concrete pavers, pallet, cinder block and plank, railroad ties, etc.) recommended
  • miticide treatment for varroa control to be applied During package introduction. recommended
Additionally, If both hives have no problems, and you live in the ideal honeybee microclimate, you may need the following for each hive:
  • 1 additional single hive body with frames and foundation about 7 weeks after the package introduction.
  • You will also need more sugar when the sugar runs out.
  • If your bees do very well, you may need to add 1 single western super with frames and foundation about 10 weeks after package introduction.
  • You may want to have an extra hive setup that matches your initial hive setup just in case your hive gets ideal conditions and decides to swarm into your apple tree, you will have an empty hive to put the swarm into.
The above listing should be all that you need during the first year up until August when you need to make a decision about what, if any, medications you may want to use (on the bees, that is). Attend local beekeeping meetings to find common pests and recommended treatments for hives in your area.

There are also popular alternative hives, other than the Langstroth style of hives. Some in particular that some of our members maintain are the top bar hive, the Warre' hive, and the A-Z hive .

Top bar hives are non-standard dimensions, so if you buy from different sources, the parts will not be interchangeable. These are more typically made by the beekeeper following directions in a book or found on a website. Dimensions are not critical so scrap lumber can be used to save money. Management of a top bar hive is different than the typical Langstroth hive but there are a couple good books available and a wealth of information and opinions on websites. If you make a top bar hive, put a window in it.

Warre' hives are a vertical top bar hive structured more like a Langstroth hive using standard parts, but it is managed differently than the top bar hive or a Langstroth hive. If you want to place a hive in your garden for pollination and never bother with it, then the Warre' is your best option. They do generate swarms if not managed like all hives do, But you can get by with less space management than other hive types. These are a standard size. Make sure you get one with windows so you can look in without opening. Unfortunately they are not mass produced so they tend to cost more than typical Langstroth hives.

A-Z hives are another hive type that a few members are starting to use. It is style of hive from Slovenia where the bees are hived in a cabinet that opens in the back and the frames can be slid out rather than up and out as in all other hives. They are generally put into an outbuilding and the hives form a wall. The hives are worked from inside the building. The great advantage is that you work them from inside the building and the only lifting is that of a single frame.

Here are a few popular reasons: (1) bees produce honey and honey is yummy in my tummy. (2) I grow food and I need bees to pollinate the blossoms to grow food that will also be yummy in my tummy. (3) bees are having a tough time surviving and keeping some in my yard allows me to contribute to their and ultimately, my survival (4) Honey bees are so fascinating to watch as individuals and as a collective society, I am fascinated by watching and caring for them, (5) My (Father/Mother/Aunt/grandparent,etc) kept bees and I have always wanted some of my own, (6) Are there people that do not keep bees?
First thing to do is contact an local bee association, a local beekeeper, or your favorite website to find out what is available and close to you.
  • Take a beginner class usually in Feb/March timeframe. One day 8 hour can be overwhelming, It is best if you can find a beginner class spread over multiple days with shorter durations. The class will bring clarity and details to the following items. You will find there is no one way to keep bees. Therefore, you will find various opinions on the details. That is what keeps it interesting.
  • If there is any opportunity of going to a hands-on class, beekeeping field days, or even hive demonstrations it is worth the time to see subtle things that are generally not in the books or mentioned in the beginner classroom setting.
  • You will need to order a package of bees for each hive. It comes with a queen. Orders are usually bundled through local associations or local bee supply stores.
  • Buy or order what you need...see the detailed list on a previous question.
  • Depending upon what you buy and where you get it, there may be some assembly required. You will also want to paint the outside of the hive. I prefer bright colored hives over the boring white ones. Color does not matter (in our pacific northwest climate).
  • When packages arrive,(usually early April) you put bees into the prepared hives and start feeding the hive.
  • Feeding frequency depends upon your feeder, but you want feed in the feeder constantly until the hive is built up and local nectar is flowing
  • You will want to inspect every week or so.
  • You will add more space so the hive can expand.
  • You may need to add a super if the hive does well
  • If you have a swarm, the excitement and thrill is wonderful. Capture it and put it into a box. Maybe your class prepared you. You may have to phone a friend for advice in the capture
  • You may be able to harvest some honey, but usually not in the first year.
  • You will want to treat for mites. Many options available. Visit your local bee association meeting for advice. (Mites come on the bees in the packages and can enter the hive on stray bees from other colonies. If the bees do better than the mites the first year, the mites may not have significant impact on the hive until the second year).
  • Some hives will require summer or fall feeding in preparation for the winter. It all depends upon location, weather, forage available, timing, pests, and the hives genetic propensities for hoarding and survival.
  • Then it is time to check out the bee catalogs and make plans for the second year.
There are no specific laws for beekeeping in Kitsap county. However, beekeeping will be covered by general nuisance laws. If you place 40 hives on your property line so that the flight path covers your neighbors sidewalk, driveway, and porch or they fly directly to opened windows, I think your neighbor will not be amused. You would be required to remove your bees and we would end up with a highly restrictive ordinance that none of us want. Talk to your neighbors about you getting hive or two. If you see fear in their eyes, Place your hives out of site of that neighbor. You might want to take a small jar of honey with you and share it. And in all cases, you should share some of your honey crop with the neighbors. Some neighbors will welcome your bees to the neighborhood and may want to be invited over to look at the bees after you get them. Gig Harbor does have an ordinance but it mostly follows the friendly neighbor nuisance laws. The do have a restriction on the number of hives based upon space. My guess is they had a 40 hives on the property line issue once and did not want to repeat it. I think we have more restrictions on keeping chickens than we do on keeping bees.
If left alone with no care, nearly all colonies be dead within 2 years. The first year looses are generally to starvation but somes mites will cause their demise. It is usually mites that will take them the second year. I would guess survivability to be about 60% on average but it varies greatly depending on the actions of the beekeeper and the nectar flow for the year. As beekeepers get better at recognizing weak hives or hives with problems, Corrective action can be taken to improve the long term survivability of the hive. Prior to the arrival of mites, survival of managed colonies was about 80%.
No problem. If there is food available for the bees either in feeders you provide, or in frames that the bees have hoarded, or in the blossoms of the local area, they will be just fine.
Probably not. Some get a 40# super of honey the first year. I encourage beginners to harvest a pound or two the first year just to get a taste. There is nothing like the first taste of honey scraped from your very own hive.
If a hive is health and strong when a particualar plant is blooming and producing an abundance of honey, then that floral source will influence the flavor of your honey. Some years there is an early flow and a late flow and if you harvest early and again late, you may get two different tastes to the honey. The great thing is that every year is different and the honey you collect from year to year will vary in taste and color. If you want more variation in honey flavors, you can put bees in multiple locations to sample what the local flora produces. Some beekeepers move their bees to higher elevations in the summer chasing after the fireweed honey which is highly prized.
Not really. The queen is the one bee that lays the eggs in the hive. She lays from 0 to 2000 eggs a day depending upon time of year and the conditions of the hive. The rest of the bees do all the work of feeding larva, foraging for food, and all other duties. The queen produces pheromone from glands in her body that are groomed off of her and passed among all the workers in the hive food supply. If the queen is producing the correct mix of pheromone, the hive is happy. If the pheromone mix is not right, the hive will take action, such as initiate swarming or starting to grow a replacement queen.
Very few people are actually allergic to stings. Most react strongly to stings with a welt and local swelling. Allergic reactions are more systemic such as a rash, sympathetic swelling, severe swelling, or respiratory attacks. Allergic reaction are very serious. If someone in your family may be allergic, I would have them tested by an allergist to test for honey bee venom. If the test is positive, I probably would not keep bees on the property. I would also encourage immunotherapy treatment because the risk is always there for them. Some beekeepers develop allergies to venom with exposure over time. Most go through immunotherapy treatments so they can have bees again after the treatment.

NOT Thinking about Starting Beekeeping Questions:

Yes, New beekeepers generally wear veils, suits and gloves to prevent most stings when learning to manage a hive. After building experience and confidence, They work the hives in short pants and a T-shirt then occasionally get stung. ...There is the occasional accident where you may drop a frame of 1000 bees, or drop a hive of 40,000 bees wherein you may end up with more than a few stings. Ouch.
A honeybee stinger has tiny barbs on it, and when the bee stings clothing or flesh the stinger generally gets stuck and is ripped from the bee as it pulls away. As a result, the bee will die as a result. This is not the case for yellowjackets, they are usually the stinging culprits and they can sting over and over with their smooth stinger. Honeybees can sting other insects in defence of the hive and the stinger does not get stuck in insect bodies as they do not have a flesh on bone construction.
If it is flying and buzzing and has not caused pain, Do not make fast movements to swat it as it will be attracted to the fast movement. If outside, move next to a bush a stop moving. You will become invisible to it's compound eyes and it will probably fly away. If you have been stung, look at the sting site for a stinger. It it is present scrape it away quickly to prevent additional venom as the stinger will still inject venom for about a minute after the sting. If you do not find a stinger at the sting site, it was not a honeybee that stung you. If you cannot see the sting site but can only feel it, scrape your fingernail across the site to scrape away a stinger that may be present. As a beekeeper, I keep an antihistamine quick strip in my wallet to use or share in case of a sting. It does not help the minute of pain, but it keeps swelling down as I do not like the itchiness as swelling reduces over a day or two.
Actually, many beekeepers also keep chickens. I Don't know why, they just do. Both chickens and Honeybees are social animals. A gentle flock of chickens generally has a dominant rooster, and several laying hens. The flock establish a pecking order that has an effect of position and duties within the flock. When foraging, They will call to share in the bounty. When threatened, they will sound the alert. A backyard flock is generally a few birds to a few dozen birds. Honeybees have a single queen and a diverse set of roles distributed among the workers. The hive is mostly filled with workers that share in a wide variety of tasks. Tasks are not assigned nor vied for, each worker does what it does because the task needs to be done. The tasks taken on are influenced by the age of the bee, the pheromones distributed though the food they share throughout the hive, and the tasks the individual bee recognizes as needing to be done. They dance to share information about foraging opportunities. They smell for alarm pheromone with there antenna and are ready to defend the hive with their hive sisters. A single hive ranges between 10,000 and 60,000 individual bees throughout the season. And about that sting...That dominant rooster will occasionally challenge the egg collector and may find the back of you leg defenseless against a sharpened hardened spur. For a couple of days you will wish that it was simply a honeybee sting.

Haven't thought about Starting Beekeeping Questions:

It varies from hive to hive, year to year, area to area, beekeeper to beekeeper. In an ideal harvest, 100#s. But sometimes none. The record is over 400# (unfortunately not my hive). Beekeepers have a term "Subsistence Bees" which are colonies that need to be fed in the spring, produce no honey from the nectar flow, and then require feeding in the fall.
The goal is for the bees to collect nectar, turn it into honey, and store enough extra that we can harvest the excess. Beekeepers may harvest some honey from a hive, store it, and then feed it back to the same hive in the spring. Generally, if we have to feed a hive to stimulate it in the spring or keep it from staving in the fall or winter we will feed granulated sugar either dry or mixed with water depending upon the time of year and conditions of the hive.
I once attempted to feed the bees sugar water made with organic sugar...they spit on it! So, nope. I use good old granulated white sugar. And they drink it and they are very very grateful. Becaue then they are not dead. And that is my goal.
If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Many people 'claim' to get relief from their allergies after regularly eating local honey. Perhaps honey coating the throat relieves allergy symptoms as it does in a sore throat mixed with tea. Maybe the traces of pollen in local honey tends to make your immune system less reactive to pollen. Maybe when adding honey to the diet, table sugar or high fructose corn syrup is removed from the diet and maybe that has an effect. Maybe all of these or none of these are true. I don't know for sure but it's really really good.

Questions about the Bees:

Bees have been around for a long time and will be around for a long time to come. However, we depend upon lots of bees for their pollination to produce one third of the food we eat. The trouble is in maintaining healthy bees in sufficient numbers to support our pollination needs. There are many challenges facing beekeepers to help keep their bees free of pests and diseases; away from pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; and in locations suitable for them to prosper.
The Fruit orchards of Eastern Washington have the greatest aggricultural need for honeybees. The same bees used in the Almond pollination in California are used in the Apple orchards of Washington. When you hear of large colony losses either going into or out of the Almonds, those are bees that do not make it to Eastern Washington. Additionally, All around the state including Western Washington in both urban and rural settings, there are a few thousand beekeepers with a few hives in their yards. These bees pollinate trees and berries in their local areas. If you see a honeybee in your yard, there is probably a beekeeper within a mile of your house. In the last 20 years, it has been very difficult for these neighborhood beekeepers to meet the challenges to keep their bees alive. It seems each year brings different challenges. Fortunatly there is a lot of interest in bees and we are gaining in the number of neighborhood beekeepers which is a very good sign. Additionally there are vibrant beekeeping associations stepping up to train beginners and share the local beekeeping knowledge.
A worker honeybee has 21 days to develop from egg to larve to pupa and then emerge as a soft fuzzy bee. She then works in the hive for another 21 days. And then she forages for nectar and pollen for another 21 days at which time she is warn out. However, if she emerges in the fall after it is too cold to fly, she will live until spring (up to 6 months in some areas) to complete her life cycle.

A Queen will typically live 2 to 3 years and sometimes longer. She has one job which is to keep laying eggs. Lot of eggs. The third cast of bee in the hive is the drone. There development time is a few days longer than the worker and lifespan is approx 6 weeks. You will not find drones out on flowers, collecting nectar and pollen is not their job.
Bees fly around pollinating flowers and collecting nectar and get the blame for all wasp attacks. Wasps mostly eat other insects. When wasp populations get large they may not find other insects as easily and have to settle for picnic scraps or picnic fare before it becomes scraps. Wasps often build their nests in the ground and are generally not happy when we walk by and disturb it.

Generally, bees look fuzzy as they have more hair and if you look at the hair under a microscope, you will see the hair has branches. A wasp has less hair or no hair and the microscope shows single hair strands. There are many solitary ground nesting bees and wasps. Many of these actually have not stinger. Most bees and wasps will overwinter in in a single coccoon or in a tiny hole in wood or the ground. The yellojacket wasp does this. It then builds a large population through the spring and summer to prey on honeybees. A honeybee is the one exception that maintains a large population of bees in a cluster though the winter.

If you see a cluster of bees or wasps in a tree on on an eve, if it has a paper nest material, it is wasps, if it is just a large ball of exposed bees, then it is probably a swarm of honeybees that recently landed. Contact a beekeeper and they will be happy to take them away. .
If the queen is in there, then she is walking around looking for a clean and prepared cell to lay an egg in. You may see her stop along the way to be groomed and fed by a retinue of workers. She is sometimes marked with a spot of paint so she is easier to find.

Most of the bees are workers. The older ones are waiting to go outside and forage but the door is blocked so they may start moving around a lot if it gets too warm inside. The younger ones will be feeding larva, cleaning, resting, etc. Sometimes we put in a small piece of tissue and watch bees deal with it. If eventually ends up as paper dust on the bottom of the hive since there is no door to carry it out. There may be some large blocky looking drones in the hive. They do not do much while locked in the hive except eat so they are prepared when the door opens.

Try to focus on a single bee and watch it for a a few moments and see if you can see what that particular bee is doing. .