I am not officially a beekeeper. Thanks to pointers from SEMBA and the folks at Turtlebee Farms, I am now up and running with two hives.
While I have purchased some equipment and supplies on-line, Turtlebee Farms, which is located near Byron Michigan was able to provide me with basically everything I'd need from queen excluders, to frames, to basically everything else. I'll be writing a series of blogs on my beekeeping experiences.
Beekeeping for Beginners
The first thing to understand about bee hives is the basic layout of a modern beehive. Beekeepers have got this down to a science. Here's a diagram of a typical modern beehive:
Typical fully configured beehive
When you start out, like me, in the Spring, you have just the hive stand (for the hive to sit on on the grass), the bottom board, and a hive body. Inside my hive body I have 10 frames. These frames are what the bees use to build the foundation from which the queen will lay eggs into. So at this point, there's no honey talk. The main goal is to provide an area for the queen to lay eggs in. This hive body is typically called the "brood chamber". When around 6 to 7 of these frames are covered with bees, I'll add a second hive body on top of it with another 10 frames in it in order to get them to expand. And when that takes off, I'll probably add a third hive body for another brood chamber. Then I'll put a queen excluder on top of that to keep the queen from laying eggs above that and start putting on hive bodies with 10 frames that will be used for honey production. But that won't be until July at the earliest.
Brad's Bees: May 21, 2007
So specifically what I have done so far is go to SEMBA, which is a local beekeeping club. While there, a nice lady pointed me to Turtlebee Farms which has classes on beekeeping and sells beginner hives, supplies, etc. Everyone I've met so far has been incredibly nice and helpful. And admittedly, a big part of the reason I wanted to get into beekeeping was the opportunity to meet new people.
For my two hives, I've placed them at the back corner of the property I own that Stardock is on. They are near some trees and facing south. There's a ton of wild flowers nearby. Here are some pictures:
The two hives and their surroundings
The land next door to Stardock isn't developed so it's a nice big empty area full of various wild flowers for them to go out onto. For those interested in what Stardock's building looks like:
My office is the top right corner office. The bee hives are essentially behind me as I take this picture
Also on our property is a nice turtle pond.
Inside the beehives looks like this:
Front of bee hives
Inside the bee hives
Right now, 3 of the 10 frames are covered with bees. The same is true with the other one. I'm feeding them some sugar syrup right now to help get them going. The goal is that within the next 2 or 3 weeks that 5 of the 10 frames will be covered in bees.
One of the things I've been surprised at so far is how docile honey bees are. While I have protective head gear, clothing, and a smoker (smokers are used to calm bees by blowing smoke on them), I have not yet needed to use them. I simply go up to the bee hive, open it up and observe. My son and I have the odd genetic thing of having no local reaction to bee stings (my son doesn't even react to the venom). I haven't been stung in awhile so I can't say for sure if I will swell up or not when I get stung. I haven't been stung yet but I expect to get stung quite a bit before the end of the summer.
But you can really get right up close to these guys and they won't bother you. Even standing right in front of the hive is no problem. So those who worry about neighbors keeping bees or whatever have nothing to fear. You could have a beehive 20 feet away and probably not notice any issue with bees. Yellow jackets are a much bigger pain than bees (I hate yellow jackets, they're aggressive and buzz in your face but that's another story).
Some interesting bee facts
80% of our food supply is dependent on honey bees in one form or other. A lot (if not most) beekeepers who make a living on beekeeping make their money through pollination services. In California, you can make $140 to $160 per leased bee hive. So if you have a couple thousand beehives you could definitely make a good living.
This year I'll probably stick with the 2. I'd love to get up to 4 hives this year but I don't see any likelihood of that. I'd love to catch some swarms but those are few and far between around here I suspect. We'll check back in with the bees in week or two to see how they're doing.