People have been collecting honey for thousands of years, but real advances in beekeeping are fairly recent, starting with L.L. Langstroth and the popular box-shaped hive he invented almost two centuries ago.
While we can't know how amenable the first beekeepers were when it came to sharing trade secrets, modern experts (known as apiarists) love to let “new-bees” in on every tip and trick they've acquired. The reason is simple: people depend on the honey bee for plant pollination, so whatever someone does to help another beekeeper get a healthy colony going is an across-the-board win.
Known for being both strong and gentle, the Italian honey bee is popular right now. That said, the best thing you can do is research various honey bee types with an eye toward learning which strains do best in your climate and location.
2. Watch the weather. When bad weather brews, steer clear of any hive. Honey bees are aware of subtle changes in air pressure and hunker down when storms approach. The best thing you can do is let them ride out the wind and rain in peace. However, if a tropical storm or hurricane is coming, additional steps are needed. Secure the hive's lid with ratchet straps or duct tape, particularly when facing winds that gust over 50 mph. If your hive isn't on level ground, consider moving it, as unstable beehives are more likely to get blown over. If your hive is under trees, consider moving it, too, as a falling limb can destroy it.
3. “Bee” patient. When you keep bees, you aren't just collecting honey and periodically checking on the colony's health. You're building a relationship with a group of insects. Every minute you spend getting used to your bees is a minute they spend getting used to you. When you and your honey bees reach a comfortable level of familiarity, stings happen much less often. No worker bee yearns to sting you, since this means her own death. Keeping this in mind during a hive check will help you reach that special level of trust.
4. Have more than one hive, get creative. It's not uncommon for bees to accidentally fly into neighboring beehives, particularly when the hives are close together and facing the same direction. This is how a sick, confused bee can spread disease from one hive to the next. While keeping colonies far apart may not be an option for most backyard or urban beekeepers, you can always put as much space as possible between doorways, turn the hives in different directions, and paint them unique colors. These are simple, effective ways to help a worker bee return to her own colony after a long day foraging. Plus it's always best to start with two colony's that way you have a backup if anything where to go wrong with one.
The Tapcomb ® Wood Composite Six-Frame Hive can be part of a larger beekeeping operation, but is also perfect for rooftops and backyards. If you have only one hive, you can still get creative and paint the wood composite, making your colony's home as colorful or subdued as your heart desires.
5. Know how to start the conversation. We mentioned this at the top of the post but think it bears repeating: when a “new-bee” has a question, expert apiarists are eager to share their knowledge. While the main reasons people get into beekeeping are few (to help the environment, get honey, pollinate a garden, or educate children about the ecosystem) there are as many underlying variations as there are people.
One of the creators of the Tapcomb ® hive system, says asking experienced apiarists about these deeper reasons is a great way to start a conversation, build a relationship, and possibly get a mentor.
His own interest in beekeeping is a good example of this, as it's rooted in environmental concern but has a personal angle, too.
“I want to make sure our children are free from famine, but first we need to save the bees.”