Beekeeping For Beginners

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I had a lot of people ask me to do a documentary about beekeeping, so stay tuned. So I really didn’t have a clue where to start and I got pretty fortunate because I found a couple, Robert and Gloria, who were actually teaching a class at the 2015 porcupine Freedom Festivalor Porcfest. The class was really jam-packed with just about everything you ever wanted to know about beekeeping. Here take a little listen to the sample.

So this is a picture of the mating flight. The drone has caught a queen from behind. He does his thing and then he dies. The worker is always a female, the worker can lay eggs in absence of a queen but they are all infertile and will only become lazy drones. A worker lives about six weeks during the summer and four to nine months in the winter. The worker bees has many roles in her lifetime. She starts out as a house bee and then a nurse bee, next there are builder, storage bees and guard bees and finally she is out to fly around and forage.

Robert and Gloria Leustek Live on a small farm in Winchester, New Hampshire. That’s a little south of Keene, New Hampshire On their farm they try to grow their own food including chickens. And to guard their chickens they got a baby goose name Lexie who makes several cameos throughout our film Flap your wings?

So my name is Robert and I keep bees. The reason I got into beekeeping is because I also make mead and honey is quite expensive ingredient so I thought that the bees could make honey for me. Hi. I’m Gloria and I’m his other half, better half and her, it and we got into bee keeping one day when I was at work and he called me up and said honey find a place that has beehive and beekeeping supplies and I did and I called. Because he caught a swarm and that we pretty much got into beekeeping at that point. He’s primarily a beekeeper but I’ve been you know helping along the way with getting supplies and stuff like that. It’s been fun. I love watching the bees and helping him going into the hive and inspecting and checking them out. It’s a lot of fun.

The first year we didn’t have honey but after that we’ve been having honey. Extracting is fun thing but its messy. When we reap the harvest of the hive and all the benefits of it it’s it’s just it’s a great thing. European honeybees are actually very calm. We as beekeepers, when we have an aggressive hive will re-queen and put in a calm queen. Many people say they’re afraid to be these are allergic to bees when in actuality that majority and the bee stings that happen in this country are because at Yellow Jackets. Since bees, these bees are vegetarian they only bring in pollen and nectar they’re not the ones that your picnic, but at picnics you find Yellow Jackets because they are meat eaters and they’re extremely aggressive.

A bee colony is primarily one queen, a whole bunch of workers and drones. The queen is a female obviously, the workers are also female. The drones are the only males in the hive and their purpose, their only purpose, is to mate with a queen They sit around the hive, they eat and they do no work. So the bee colony starts in January by February they are laying brewed and eggs for be progressive coming up honey flow, nectar flow. The Queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. and the workers go out and collect the resources necessary to keep the hive going and multiplying. The nectar flow here in New Hampshire lasts from tax day the 15th of April, until right about are now beginning of July is when we’re going into the dearth. The dearth is the time of year during the summer, between nectar flows There’s a spring nectar flow and there’s a fall nectar flow but due to the dry conditions during the middle of the summer there’s not a lot of flowers blooming and so the bees have less resources to sustain the hive.

The Queen cuts back on the amount of eggs she lays every day and the hive shrinks for a short period during summer. and then regains its strength going into the fall for the fall nectar flow. The bees bring in nectar during the two nectar flows, the spring flow and the fall flow. When things are blooming the bees bring in the nectar from flowers. They store it in cells in the hive. They fan it to dehydrate it. they transfer it around to dehydrate it further until it reaches its final location in the hive where it has I believe 15 percent water or less. Now it’s honey. They cap it over and they store it for use later on in the winter. A beehive has many products, honey being the most obvious. but other things that come from the hive would be beeswax for making candles, for making soap. Propolis which is bee glue they use. They collect sap from trees and the use it for caulking the interior of the hive. Propolis, besides being used for cold sores and that sort of thing Propolis is used for the varnish for Stradivarius violins. You mix propolis and wax with alcohol, high grade alcohol and it produces a varnish that’s used on violins. There’s also royal jelly which you can buy in health food stores. Super high nutrients. Pollen is brought into feed the babies but pollen can be harvested at the front of the hive and you can buy it in health food stores It’s very high in vitamins and nutrients.

So the solar wax melter is used primarily to melt wax that comes from the hive when the bees make a comb at a bad location.  I’m cleaning around the hive. As I’m inspecting I’ll pull that out and throw it into the wax melter. Old frames that are there for too many years, we throw those into the melter and melt down the wax. The resulting comb thats got not much wax left in it is called slum gum and it’s exceptionally good as a fire starter for campfires.

During the winter bees will form what’s known as a cluster. What this is is the worker bees. Let me start this by saying that the drones who are useless in the hive except for mating with a queen, are all dragged out  by their feet and thrown off the front doorstep at the beginning of the winter because they don’t provide anything for the hive. So then the the colony is left with workers and a queen and the idea is they have to keep the Queen alive even during the coldest nights, so they form a cluster which is a ball of bees with the queen at the center. and they will keep the queen at about 98 degrees. through the entire winter day and night. They slowly worked their way up through the hive towards the top eating food stores, honey, as they go along very very slowly during the winter. The workers who have an average life span of five weeks, during the winter a worker can live for five months.

Robert and Gloria make it sound easy to raise bees but it’s not that simple or everybody would be doing it. There’s a lot of pitfalls. I wanna take you over to my friends over Foggy Hill Farm to share their experiences other wins and some hardships they had raising bees.

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Hi, I’m Andy Pressman of Foggy Hill Farm in Jaffrey New Hampshire and welcome to our bee yard. We currently have three hives. After a a terrible loss two winters ago, we lost the all our hives in -17 degree weather for about a week. and we are slowly rebuilding, but we’ve been keeping bees for about 15 years and its been an amazing experience. We started really for pollination as we have a small market farm, but also value their honey and other products that come from the hive and I started with an herbalist in southeast Ohio, who actually stung people on a monthly basis as a healing process and now the results I saw after some folks had several surgeries what the bees provided was the most amazing healing process for them and so that really got me thinking about the importance to bees and I slowly started learning more about their community and organization and what they have to offer for community-building and I am just fascinated by the whole process and different types the hives.

It’s been a really great hobby turning into commercial business but it has taken a long time and is also an expensive hobby up until we really started selling honey and in doing well from it. I would say for beginning beekeepers, some of the things I really learned, is one is to really start small. Really learn what you’re doing. Don’t invest in tons of equipment at first, but really get get your skills down before you start scaling up. and also make sure you have a good mentor that is local. Like I said I started beekeeping in Ohio and down to Virginia and as we slowly kept moving north I’m we realized how regional specific bees are, specifically the queen. So we’ve been part of the queen rearing program to localize the queens in hives more as we move more north.

So here we are New Hampshire and its I definitely a much different climate than Virginia. Having someone local who knows beekeeping is great to keep on your speed dial on your cell phone and also just ask a lot of questions. And support your local beekeeping organization. There’s  several throughout every state how many counties have them. They’re just a great resource and a great connection and I urge you all to promote them and support them and be a part of pollination effects and great honey that come from a hive. We have a Facebook page so you can look up Foggy Hill Farm in New Hampshire. I believe there’s another Foggy Hill Farm out there somewhere. I will soon have a website but I am yeah, we’re here in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

Robert and Gloria wanna share some with their mistakes as beekeepers so you guys won’t repeat and when you start out.

Our first year in beekeeping was catching a swarm. and the first place we got information was beekeeping for dummies and while it’s a good resource it wasn’t enough for us to learn what was necessary to be a beekeeper and it was finally when we joined a bee club. We had the fortunate opportunity to speak to people who had been keeping bees for 10 20 30 40 sixty years that we could ask them questions and they could help us out with any issues that came along. Once we had that resource, had other people to speak to, that’s when we started actually producing honey and having hives that could survive the winter. Our first year when we caught a swarm our primary mistake was we didn’t re-queen. why this is important is simply because hives, beehives multiply through swarming. Swarming is not the thing you read in the media where bees attacking people.

The hive when it decides it has it’s time to split, the old queen will signal the workers to create new queens these are called supersedure cells. They’ll create new Queens. When those queens are ready to be born the old queen will take half the workers and half of all the food and the pollen and she’ll leave with them to find a new home and create a new colony. The key word here is it was the old queen that left with all these things. So you when you catch a swarm you don’t know how old that queen is and I believe that in our first year beekeeping the old queen died after we put them into the new hive. We should’ve re-queen’d. we should have bought a new queen and installed her and gotten rid of the old one. we would have had much more success. Our main objective with our bees is producing honey which we use to make mead. But aside from saving the cost of the ingredients,you can sell natural honey for $14 a pound. In this area you can sell the pollen, you can sell the wax, you can sell numerous products from the hive to make money and really when you get into a money-making venture the real key is queen breeding. If you create new queens, you can sell them to other beekeepers in your area and elsewhere and they go for twenty eight dollars to thirty five dollars per queen.

Another product from a beehive that you can make money with is nucs (NUCS) otherwise short for nucleus colony. This is five to six frames from a hive with workers, with honey,with pollen, with a queen. these go for $150 roughly to people who want to start their own beekeeping adventure. The key thing to remember as a new bee keeper. For the first year you will not get any honey. Your objective during the first season is to help the bees build up strength and enough infrastructure in the hive so that they can survive the first winter. If you’ve successfully over-wintered a hive. the following spring you will get honey. So there’s different kinds of honeys that you can get. It basically depends on where your flower sources are from. Most honey that the backyard beekeeper will produce is called a wildflower honey but you don’t really know what source flowers your bees are getting their nectar and honey from. You can get specialized honeys like clover honey, orange blossom honey and buckwheat honey because the beekeepers will put their hives directly in the middle of an orchard or field with clover and stuff like that but you can get all kinds a different specialized honey depending upon where the flower sources are from.

So honey never goes bad. I mean they found honey in the tombs of Tutankhamun that was thousands of years old and it’s fine. Honey naturally crystallizes and as a result what you can do if you can seed your honey with crystallized honey and make what is called the creamed honey and it’s great you can spread it on bread and and muffins and stuff like that. Its an awesome thing. You can also get honeycomb. It is another thing that people do that you can sell. From your your wares, people that will cut actual honeycomb and and sell it with the honey in the wax and that goes for premium. I hope with this information it took some of the fear out of starting your own beekeeping business so give it a try.