Once bees are established within a suitable hive, they prefer to be left to themselves and do their thing. How to keep bees healthy and happy doesn’t really involve a tremendous amount of work. Typically backyard beekeeping chores are: routine inspection of combs for disease and honey levels, harvesting honey when a comb is full, taking preventative measures against disease and mite infestation or treating them if they are present, and supplemental feeding of the hive throughout winter, initial hive establishment, and medical treatments.
Raising honey bees begins with the right equipment. The easiest route to go is to buy a starter kit that contains all the basic essentials:
- 1-2 Hive brood boxes (where the queen, bees, larvae and eggs live with a supply of honey and pollen, all dwelling and stored with hanging, removable frames)
- 4-6 assorted sizes of supers (boxes with frames for the bees to build combs and store surplus honey… these are the boxes you will harvest)
- Beekeeping suit (a zippered coverall including a veiled hat or hood and leather gloves)
- Smoker (a device used to calm bees and disrupt their communication when working in the hive)
- Hive tool (used to pry apart frames and lids that are stuck together with propolis which is the sticky construction substance created by the bees)
- Bee brush (a soft bristled brush used to gently redirect bees without harming them)
There are many other supplies, tools and gadgets a person will gradually collect over time when engaging in backyard beekeeping. But to get started in raising honey bees these are the basic tools and equipment needed.
Once the supplies are in hand the practical question is, of course, “What do I do with the bees? How to keep bees alive, producing honey, healthy and happy?” First you need to learn about a few things that can make them sick and how to prevent it from happening and treat it if it does and when to feed them supplemental sugar syrup.
Wax Moth – This brown colored moth likes to lay her eggs in beehives. When the caterpillars emerge they smother the combs with tunnels created from their silk and feed on the comb’s beeswax. In other words, Wax Moths will kill your hive. The first thought that comes to mind to prevent your hive from becoming appealing to wax moths is to use moth balls. But don’t do that. They contain naphthalene which is deadly to bees. Reputable beekeeping suppliers will have suitable treatments that will be accompanied with thorough directions on how to use the product.
Mites – Tracheal mites infest the trachea of honey bees and will eventually suffocate them. This type of mite infestation is usually treated with menthol pellets that are designed to evaporate so the bees breathe in the medication that kills the mites. And, no, just in case you’re wondering, cough drops just won’t do.
Another nasty little mite that is troublesome and deadly to your bees is the varroa mite. This one you might actually be able to see. They are about the size of a pinhead and resemble a dog tick. And like a dog tick, they are blood suckers. There are traditional chemical treatments as well as effective organic methods. Do your research, select a method and follow instructions to the letter if you want to save your hive and your backyard beekeeping hobby.
Supplemental Feeding – How to keep bees thriving through the nectar and pollen scarcity of winter involves a two-fold plan. If you are an urban gardener as well as a backyard beekeeper, plant a lush winter garden of vegetables and ornamentals. However, there will be many days it will be too cold for the worker bees to venture out of the hive to forage. Raising honey bees successfully means feeding them throughout the winter. Their diet is supplemented in late fall and early spring with feedings of sugar syrup.
Bees also need to be fed when they are first introduced into a new hive. The supplemental feeding is coupled with a medication that stimulates their wax glands. Bees in a new hive need to produce loads of wax in building a foundation.
Anytime bees are being medicated they will need supplemental feeding. Kind of like how you give a loved one chicken soup because they are too sick to prepare their own meals.
Recipes for sugar syrup for bees abound on the Internet. Commercial formulas can also be purchase if you don’t want to mix up a batch yourself.
So, how to keep bees healthy and happy and productive is really not that hard. Backyard beekeeping can be a fulfilling hobby and lead to years of raising honey bees and enjoying the benefits of collecting your own honey.