Successful beekeeping for beginners begins with understanding the bee colony you will be managing and the structure of its hive. The most common man-made hive structure in use today is a wooden box that looks like stackable drawers. This is called the “hive body”. Inside the hive are 8-10 frames that slide in vertically, resting parallel to one another. These panels are wooden frames containing honeycombed plates. Within the honeycomb network of the plates the queen will lay eggs, the workers will tend to the larvae and pupae, and food for the colony will be produced. If you were to slice a cross-section of the hive you would see an egg-shaped ball stretching across almost all of the combed panels. This is the brood nest. The end comb panels are where the honey and pollen are stored.
The Brood Nest
Although the brood nest may stretch across almost all of the hive’s honeycomb panels, the eggs and larvae are actually located within a small area, usually within a single frame. Above the brood nest will be an arch of cells that stretch across the hive and are filled with pollen. Another honey-filled arch tops the pollen arch. The pollen is used to provide the larvae with a protein-rich diet. The honey is used to add energy to the larvae diet.
Nurse bees are a sub-caste of worker bee. They consume the pollen and honey then secrete royal jelly that is fed to the larvae. Depending on how much they feed to a particular larva depends on whether it is destined to life as a worker bee or if it has been selected for future royal service as a queen.
When a person notices multiple hives stacked atop one another, the additional boxes are called “supers”. The supers rest above the hive that is the brood box. Within the supers are shallower honeycomb panels that are specifically for surplus honey storage. These are the panels harvested for honey without disturbing the colony. This allows beekeepers to harvest honey commercially and at the same time leave behind an ample supply to keep the hive thriving throughout the winter season. Honey shortages within the hive have to supplemented by beekeepers providing corn syrup until the Honeybees can begin producing again in the spring.
The Rhythm of a Hive
Honeybees are predictable creatures. Their life follows the seasons. The best time to start a new Honeybee colony is in the springtime. This is when bees are the most productive and the brood nest grows rapidly with eggs. As soon as the season produces ample supplies of pollen, food is readily available for the bees to nourish hungry larvae with.
Some Honeybee species may begin the production cycle as early as January, particularly in areas where the climate is more temperate. Breeding season usually peaks in May throughout the northern hemisphere. This coincides with the arrival of the flow of nectar throughout a given regions local flora and fauna.
However, depending on particular climates and geographical regions, a beekeeper may experience two nectar flow season. European beekeepers usually enjoy a late spring and late summer nectar flow. Experienced beekeeping practices manage colonies so that their worker population peak coincides with the timing of nectar flows. This allows for maximum production within the hive.
To become skillful in managing a bee colony there is so much to learn, such as swarming behavior and this irresistible impulse within the bee. A beekeeper must know how to recapture a swarm. If a swarm results in a great loss of worker bees, the hive may not be able to produce enough honey for its continued existence. One single event, an unexpected swarm, could result in the entire loss of a hive.
Yet, at the same time that a swarm poses a threat to the survival of the hive, it is also beneficial. By learning how to properly manage a swarm, a beekeeper can encourage breeding behavior, thus growing the colony which will result in a larger bee product harvest.
Beekeeping for beginners is more than just setting up a box with honeycombs. Aspiring apiarists need to absorb as much information as possible. The importance of thorough research cannot be stressed enough. Successful beekeepers must grow their wealth of knowledge beyond what can be provided in a simple “Beekeeping 101” lesson. With adequate knowledge and experience gained by using the best apiary practices, a novice beekeeper can achieve a productive harvest.