Every house should have a beehive, it has been said. But how do we get started?
It is advisable, but not essential, to have two hives. While you’re busy with one, taking away honeycomb or just checking, the other one can be left alone to get on with its work. Here is a breakdown of your initial needs:
Top Bar Hive:
According to the fundis, this simple type of hive is best for home beekeeping. One gets slightly less honey but the whole process is simpler and cheaper, and better for the honeybee. Gear: The proper Bee Suit or any long-sleeved pale shirt and jeans. White is best. The proper hat with veil and the proper gloves are a must, and can be bought from Beekeeping suppliers in your area. Smoker, a small lamp-type item for sedating the bees while you’re taking away some honeycomb from their home.
Why smoke makes them sluggish is one of the fascinating facts of Mother Nature: She has made them sensitive to fire, so they quickly fill their honey-stomachs as soon as they sense smoke, getting ready to vacate the hive and move to a safe one. They are thus full and heavy, and not interested in stinging you. Soft bee brush to get the bees off the comb you are removing. Things like receiving buckets or basins, a sieve and some muslin or cheesecloth are perhaps things you have already.
For the Serious Beekeeper
- Langstroth or Standard type hives: boxes with several storeys of ‘Supers’ holding the frames of honeycomb. This is the white box one sees in farms and orchards, and is the hive for the serious hobbyist or honey-seller, and needs more equipment:
- Decapping fork, a many-tined fork for removing wax caps from cells just prior to clipping the frame into the extractor, or alternatively, standing it to drain into a basin. Soft bee brush.
- Hive tool: a little metal lever to pry open the ‘Supers’ (the storeys of the hive), as they are nearly always glued fast with brown, sticky propolis.
- Honey extractor: This item is a smallish, hand-cranked, centrifugal tank with clips for the honeycomb frames. But two or more hobby beekeepers can easily get together, buy one and share it.
- Gear: White bee suit, (or any longsleeved shirt and jeans), hat with veil, gloves. Receiving bucket, sieve, muslin or cheesecloth.
You can buy these things at The Honeybee Foundation of Cape Town, and any other Beekeepers’ suppliers. They might also suggest second hand suppliers.
How to make a Top Bar Hive:
It is basically a long open-topped box with sides slanting slightly inward (at an angle of 120) to the floor, a removable pitched roof (for rainy climates) or flat lid, and wooden bars fitted to hang across the top walls. From a groove in these bars, will be fitted a piece of ‘foundation wax’ (printed with honeycomb pattern). This will start the bees off making their own comb. A narrow entrance gap should be near the floor at one end of the box, not on the sides. Materials can be recycled planks or plywood, and can be placed on a stand, blocks or on four removable legs.
There is only one critical dimension in a top bar hive. The top bar width must be about 1 and 3/8 inch wide,or just slightly wider. This is because honey bees like to build their combs this distance apart. Extracting honey from a top bar hive is done by cutting the comb off the top-bar, leaving about 1/2 inch of comb so that the bees will be able to rebuild correctly. Care must be taken not to turn the comb sideways. The comb must be handled in ways that use the comb’s own geometric strength to advantage. It can even be turned upside down. A line of beeswax or a 1/2 inch strip of printed wax foundation helps the bees building the comb in the right places.
The walls of a top bar hive are sloped inward towards the bottom so the bees will build less comb attachment to the walls. In nature, bees attach comb to the ceiling and often to walls, but rarely to the floor. Taking advantage of this, the top bar hive has walls that slope inward towards the bottom. The bees behave as if the walls were a floor, and attach far less brace comb.
This makes the comb easy to remove. If you are using recycled or untreated wood, paint the outside of the hive with 1 litre linseed oil boiled with 50ml of beeswax. Paint on when lukewarm. This will prevent weather damage. (John’s Beekeeping Notebook) The comb in top bar hives is more fragile than in standard hives, because it doesn’t have wooden frames surrounding the comb. Practice makes for good handling!
Getting That Honey for Tea!
Honey is extracted by squeezing the comb into a sieve, or standing your frame in a basin (in your closed kitchen or pantry) and letting the honey drain out. This way you can also have a delicious square of comb-honey. Perhaps you have a friend who would like to put their Standard hive in your garden, for the friend to harvest. Or for you to harvest when you’re experienced.
- If you have a Standard hive: When you go to the hive to ‘harvest,’ i.e. take out a frame or two, it’s advisable to go with an assistant to hold things while you see to the smoking. Here is where you allow smoke out for a second or two while you or assistant raises the top Super with the hive tool. As soon as you can, point your smoker inside for a few minutes. Capensis is soon calm and sluggish. Scutellata, as we now know (from the previous article), might need protection with full gear by everyone near, and all should be quiet and gestures subdued. The little critters are highly defensive, due, it is said, to aeons of being preyed upon by honey badgers, flocks of bee-eaters, apes and people.
- If you have the Top Bar Hive: Removing a bar is much easier, see the pictures above, but full gear and smoker are still necessary, and you can do it alone.
Useful Contact Details The Honeybee Foundation has everything the beekeeper could possibly need, as well as honey products. But they can advise you where to get second-hand gear. So can beekeepers like Brian Fanner (of Luna Designs) who might supply you with recycled wood; Dean Lennox, and John of Honeywood Farm, Western Cape, who will also have advice on any legal issues. Any of them will be happy to answer questions. For readers in Gauteng and other areas, Southerns Beekeepers Association has many services, products and contact details as well. Those in KwaZulu-Natal should contact the Natal Beekeepers Association.
Here are two more very useful DIY items you might like to have to complete your beekeeping venture:
1. Since you’ll want to collect all the wax, here is what you’ll need for a Solar wax melter: a styrofoam box or any box lined with old styrofoam, a sheet of glass or perspex as a lid, a glass jug or any container with a few centimetres of water at the bottom and cheesecloth tied over the top. Stand your pieces of squeezed-out comb on the cheesecloth, put jug in box, cover with glass lid, and stand it in the sun.
2. An idea for gardens or nurseries who don’t exactly want hives, but do want bees to pollinate their citrus trees, herbs or flowers is a Bee Hotel. This will attract the solitary bees, like bumble bees or mason bees. These, say the fundis, are having a hard time finding habitats, as modern building materials are no use to them. Our friendly Bumble Bees by the way, do not sting at all.
What you will need:
A hanging box frame with both ends open. You can make your own with untreated wood like tomato box planks and wood glue, or carpentry staples. Some hollow stems like reed or bamboo; Cuphooks and twine, string, or wire. Once you have a frame, cut your hollow stems (choose the straight ones only) into lengths so that your stems are as long as your frame is deep. Stand your frame on one side and lay the reeds down in it until the frame is stiffly full. Hang your bee hotel with cuphooks and string from a beam or branch beneath the roof of a stoep or shed or seed house, or at a sunny wall, protected from wind and rain and wait for spring! You will find a female has laid an egg inside a stem, stored it with pollen and sealed it with mud. She can lay up to 6 eggs per stem. Even easier is to simply tie bundles of the reeds together and hang them in similar places.
3. A general list of plants bees enjoy. It’s not comprehensive, but any of the beekeeping books and associations can add more information:
- All flowering trees. Conservation fanatics should be advised to leave so-called unwanted exotics, like jacaranda, syringa and so on…alone!
- Included in bee-friendlies are all citrus, flowering eucalypts, maples, liquidambers, and mimosas. Bushes and shrubs such as ilex, bauhinia, buddleia. Also aloes. All fynbos.
- Herbs: borage, parsley (cut and use growth points to encourage massive flowering), salvias, allow all mints and basil to flower by doing the same thing.
- Vegetables: all brassicas, cucumber, granadilla, all garlics. Leave flowering spikes on nearly all veggies…you would in any case if you wanted to collect seed.
- Flowers: Amaranths, leonuris, zinnias, cleome, asters, senecios, tuberoses, ericas, vygies. All convolvulus, morning glories and so on; euphorbias. Rapeseed or canola, which they love.
Isn’t the sound of bees humming away in a garden one of the best sounds of Spring and Summer?