For the past several months, I have been trying to decide on which route I should take into my new passion for beekeeping. The beekeeping community is very vast, and there are so many different beekeepers with their own proven methods and opinions of what is the best way to raise bees. For a newbie, like myself, it is down-right confusing and overwhelming.
Take, for instance, the topic of the beehive. Choosing the correct beehive for your bees is very important. It has to be of good quality, and there are several different styles to choose from including the Langstrom beehive (the typical box beehive), and the Kenyan top bar hive.
The Langstrom beehive seems to be my favorite as with top bar hives you have to be careful when removing the honey trays. If you pull the tray straight out, the honeycomb can fall off leaving you with a sticky mess. You have to carefully pull it out then rotate it carefully until you are holding the tray upside down (so the honeycomb does not fall off). I know that sometimes I can be rather klutzy, so I knew a top bar hive would not be for me.
Maybe it’s how I like things well organized, but I really like the set up of the Langstrom beehive. There’s the top followed by shallow supers where the bees will store the honey. Underneath is a queen excluder that keeps the Queen and the Drones trapped within the large Brood super. This ensures that the Queen does not lay any brood in any of the harvestable honey trays, and of course let’s not forget the bottom board where varroa mite trays can be placed to help keep an eye on the health of the colony.
Not only do you have to choose the style of the hive, but you also have to acquire the bees. Reading the opinions of several commercial and non-commercial beekeepers, there are three options in acquiring bees: nucs, packages, and pre-established hives.
Nucs are pretty much mini-hives, consisting of a queen, drones, workers and about 5 trays that hold mostly brood with maybe one or two of the trays holding honey. I’ve heard two different points of view: the first is that nucs are helpful in that you do not need to transfer bees into a new hive. The bees are already in their hive, which can make it easier on new beekeepers. The second opinion is that some found nuc hives more difficult to maintain as you are quickly set off into maintaining a beehive (and all the worry that comes with it).
On the other hand, I’ve heard both good and bad reports of bee packages. A package of bees consists of about 3 lbs of bees with a new queen trapped within a small cage inside a tin can suspended within the larger cage. In a package, there are approximately 10,000 bees, sometimes more or less. Packages of bees are often from hives where the population has become too many, and the hive is ready to swarm or split. Swarming happens when a new queen is ready to build her own colony and a portion of the bees (both workers and drones) leave with her.
The downside to bee packages is that the queen is not acquainted with the workers and drones. There is a several day adjustment period to the new queen; the other bees will even show aggression to the new queen by biting her cage. With the new queen, there is the consideration of how well of a queen she will turn out to be. Remember, she is untested. Will she be a good layer? Will she die prematurely? Or will she be hardy and productive? Then after you receive the package of bees you will have to put the bees into their new hive. As a new beekeeper, the thought of dumping the 3 lb cage of bees into the new hive sounds a little daunting to me.
For more experienced beekeepers getting a package of bees is the way to go. Some have reported few problems having the bees adjust to their queen. There is less chance of a varroa mite infestation as varroa mites lay their eggs on bee larvae. With no brood, there is no chance of varroa mites, and some beekeepers prefer to start fresh.
Lastly, I will talk about pre-established hives. For some time, I struggled with the choice of nucs and packages. I didn’t want to start out with a nuc as I was wanting a full hive and wasn’t wanting to deal with possibly having to split or transfer the colony. A package gives you more bees to start out with, but I really didn’t want to spend the money on an untested queen.
A Fresh Start
I’m starting completely fresh. I have no beekeeping equipment whatsoever. When looking at the prices between buying Langstrom beehives and package bees, I was looking at about $400-$500–sometimes more. Then I stumbled upon Rogers Honey farm out in Horton, Kansas. They don’t sell nucs, packages or empty beehives. They sell pre-established beehives. One beehive comes with a single Langstrom deep super (used for both honey and brood), a queen, drones, workers, and a top and bottom.
I liked the fact that each hive has a proven queen. It helps eliminate the stress of possibly having a faulty queen. I didn’t want to be left with a queen who wasn’t a good brooder or died prematurely by not being proven. Buying a pre-established hive also eliminates the stress of acquainting the bees to a new queen. I don’t have to worry about moving the bees to a new hive. I know that at some point I will have to make the hive bigger, but all I have to do is just add whatever supers (shallow or deep) that I need to my pre-established hive. Best of all, the bees are happy, and they do not need to be moved to a different hive.
It seems to be a win-win situation for both the bees and I. Each hive costs $250, half of what it would cost to buy the hive and colony separately. I’m hoping that someday soon I will be the proud owner of a few beehives. They are such fascinating creatures and we benefit greatly from each other. There are many wonderful benefits of beekeeping. Not only do you get to enjoy the raw honey and beeswax, but raising bees is an intriguing educational experience that I can even share with my children (wearing the proper bee suits, of course). What’s not to love about bees?