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Honey lovers throughout the world have learned that a single beehive can keep them in honey all year round. There are very few projects that yield so much satisfaction in return for so small an investment. In America, beekeeping dates back to the early colonial period. It was then that British settlers first brought honey bees to the Colonies. While many swarms escaped, establishing themselves in the wild, others remained in the hives made of straw and from hollow logs. Bees reached the far west in the 19th century when they were carried there in wagons by settlers. Today beekeepers have developed much more efficient ways of making homes for their bees.
Beekeeping is a much easier project than one might think. Ninety percent of American beekeepers today use a beehive that was developed in the early 1850's by Lorenzo L. Langstroth. His great contribution was the discovery of the fact that if you separate the frames and move them away from the sides in beehives, the bees would leave the space for the collection of the honey. This allowed Langstroth to design hives that never had to be cut free in order to remove them. It also made the task of inspecting the hives much simpler.
If you are a beginning beekeeper the first thing you will want to do is select the right location for your hive. This will get your colony off to a good start and ensure a productive future. Since dampness leads to disease and encourages mold, it is imperative that the area have good drainage. In the ideal situation, your hive should be placed on a gentle slope so that rain and other moisture can quickly drain off. Your site should be sheltered from the wind since bees are susceptible to cold and can be chilled by the slightest of breezes. This will also reduce their productivity. In winter it is wise to have a windshield around your hive since severe cold can kill bees. Be sure there is plenty of sunlight to warm the hive when you choose your location. The normal inside temperature of a beehive should be 93 degrees fahrenheit since bees must burn honey. Most beekeepers orient the front of their hives toward the east or south to take advantage of the warm morning sun. In the hotter sections of the country, afternoon shade is also important since extreme heat is as deadly to your bees as is extreme cold.
It is a simple matter for bees to forage nectar and pollen up to two miles from the hive, this should not be a problem except in densely built up areas. If this is the case you might plant alfalfa, aster, clover, dandelion, goldenrods, sage or other of the favorite blooms of bees in the area of your hive. To protect the hive from molestation and also to protect any neighbors who live close by, it is wise to screen the hive with a tall hedge or fence. This causes the bees to fly high in the air above passersby.
The tool and equipment you will need for beekeeping will include a hat and wire veil. This will protect your face and neck which are the most vulnerable areas of the body. White or light colored coveralls or light clothing is also recommended when handling your bees. Dark colors tend to irritate the bees making the likelier to sting. Other tools you will need include a hive tool to pry the hive open and loosen frame, an uncapping knife which is an electrically heated knife that makes cutting easier by softening the wax of combs, a hand or motor powered centrifugal extractor which removes the honey without damaging the combs and a smoker to quite the bees. Use wood scrapes or rags in your smoker.
A standard hive should have an outer cover that is metal sheathed for durability and protects the hive from rain, hail or snow. The inner cover should have holes for ventilation. The shallow super is employed for harvesting honey. It is lighter and easier to handle than the deep super when filled with honey. The frames should contain was sheets stamped with a honeycomb pattern to guide the bees in building regular cones with uniform cells. The bee space should be about 5\16 inch and surround frames on all sides. The queen excluder is the flat grill that prevents the queen from leaving her brood chamber to lay eggs in supers. It should allow worker bees, who are smaller, to pass freely through in all parts of the hive. The brood and food chambers are deep supers where the queen lays her eggs to maintain and increase the hives population. This is also where the bees store food supplies for winter. The entrance cleft is a movable wooden block with different sized openings that allows the entrance to be widened or narrowed. Last but not least you will have the bottom board.
It is best to start your colony in early spring so the number of bees can be built up before the honey begins to flow. Many bee supply specialist offer various strains of bees, as well as, bee supplies. Some even offer beginners kits that include the bees. It is suggested you start with Italian bees since they are gentle, good foragers and disease resistant. The best time for placing your bees in the hive is early evening or late afternoons. After putting on protective clothing, place a pail of syrup near the hive. Light your smoker and place the package with your bees beside the hive on its side. Using a brush, spatter some syrup on the wire mesh of the package. This helps to calm the bees and makes them easier to handle. Continue to feed the bees until they stop eating then rap the package on the ground to jar the bees to the bottom. After prying the cover off again gently jar the bees to the bottom. Remove the queens cage and replace the cover. Remove the candy plug from the queens cage and make a small hole to ensure the bees can release the queen by gnawing through. Wedge the queens cage between two frames in the hive. After again knocking the bees down, remove the cover and syrup can from the package. Pour half the bees over the queens cage and rest into the empty spaces in the hive. Leave the package on the ground so any remaining bees can find the hive and replace all the frames but one. This you will replace in a few days. Being careful not to crush the bees, place the inner and outer covers back on the hive.
The entrance to be hive can be stuffed lightly with grass until the bees have made their home. Be sure to fill the feeder so they will have plenty to eat. If you have problems getting the bees down inside the frames a small puff of smoke will send them scurrying for safety. Wait a few days and then remove the queens cage.