Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Many Hives Should I Start With?
How to start keeping bees can be confusing. The number of hives to start with is entirely up to the individual. We recommend at least two hives because with two hives you can share resources between hives. If one hive becomes queenless and fails to replace their queen, a frame of eggs can be carried over from the other hive and the queenless hive can raise their own queen. If one hives becomes low in numbers, frames of brood from the strong colony can be moved over to strengthen the weak hive. Certainly starting with one hive is acceptable, but there is an advantage to starting with more than one.
2. How Far Apart Should The Hives Bees From Each Other?
In commercial operations, four hives are placed on a single pallet. For the hobbyist, the distance between hives is usually determined based on the comfort of the beekeeper. The beekeeper may want to work all the hives without walking a considerable distance between each hive. I usually recommend at least two feet between hives.
3. Which Direction Should Hives Face?
Traditionally, we recommend the opening of the hive face south or southeast. However, it really does not matter too much.
4. How Close To The House Can I Put My Hives?
Use good judgment. Bees will fly miles away from their hive to find nectar. If a hive is near your house, the bees will still fly up and away. However, it may take six feet from the hive for bees to gain six feet in altitude. Keep this in mind so that hives are not placed near sidewalks, decks and clotheslines. Place them so that when the bees leave the hive, they will not be immediately near people or pets.
5. What Should I Plant To Help My Bees?
Bees will pollinate plants around your house, but not in huge numbers. In other words, if you have 10 tomato plants you will not see thousands of bees in your tomato garden. Certainly many bees will help pollinate your flowers and garden. However, most of your bees will fly out to an area of abundant nectar such as an apple orchard, acres of clover or a large grove of basswood or black locust trees. If you have a half-acre or more, planting buckwheat, clover and other flowering plants will certainly help your bees, but it is not necessary. Bees are quite capable of flying two to three miles to gather nectar.
6. Should I Buy Medication For My Bees?
When various pests and diseases were identified among bees, many chemicals became available. However, some of these chemicals proved to be harmful to bees over time. Certainly some medications do fight certain pests and diseases. However, we prefer not to use chemicals or medication in our hives. This is a personal choice.
7. How Much Honey Will I Get My First Year?
First year beekeepers should not expect much honey from a new hive. It takes eight pounds of nectar for the bees to produce one pound of wax. The first year the colony is producing a lot of wax to build up their comb. Certainly some first year hives can produce a full crop of honey, maybe 70-200 pounds of honey. But this would be in a perfect situation, or from a second year hive. So it is better to have no honey expectations the first year, but if your bees do produce extra honey for you, it is an unexpected surprise. Year two is when you can expect much more.
8. How Much Honey Can One Hive Make Each Year?
An average hive in Illinois produces around 70 pounds per year. This can change to more or less depending on the weather and the health of the bees and the skill of the beekeeper. The most I've produced from one hive in one season is 210 pounds. We sell our honey for $6 per pound. If a hive produces 70 pounds and you sell it for $6 per pound you make $420. My record hive earned me $1,260 in honey sales.
9. Can I Save Money By Using Old Equipment?
There are several diseases that can linger in old equipment. American foul brood is one of the more deadly diseases and AFB spores can live 50-80 years in old comb. It isn't worth taking a chance unless you are absolutely sure the old equipment was not exposed to diseases. There is really no way to test old equipment.
10. Should I Leave My Screen Bottom Board Open In The Winter?
This is a personal preference. However, we prefer to have plenty of ventilation in the hive even during the winter. We leave our screen bottom boards open. If you prefer to close the screen bottom board, simply slide in a thin piece of metal or plastic.
11. What Do You Recommend To Combat Varroa Mites? Varroa destructor will be found in all bee hives. We recommend these natural methods:
12. How Do I Treat Small Hive Beetle?
13. What Do I Do If I Want Northern Bees But Can Only Find Southern Packages?
All package bees come from the sunshine states, southern states and California. There is absolutely NO WAY anyone in the north can provide packages prior to May, and probably not then. Many northern beekeepers like the idea of a nuc, which is four or five frames from a strong hive, and a queen. But nuc producers can never produce the volume of bees to ever replace the number of packages sent to new beekeepers. Therefore, many northern beekeepers purchase southern packages, and if the queen fails, they replace her with a northern produced queen.
14. Should I Start With A Top Bar Hive Or Langstroth Hive?
We believe new beekeepers should start with a traditional hive and only try a top bar hive after they have become more familiar with beekeeping.
15. Which Feeder Is Best? There are many types of hive feeders all serve a different purpose. a. An entrance feeder is placed in the entranced of a hive in the spring. 1:1 Sugar/Water is used. This feeder does not need to be used in the summer and certainly not in the fall or it may cause other hives to rob and kill a hive. But this is the preferred feeder in the spring. b. A top feeder is a large feeder placed on top of the hive and sugar water is held in a large reservoir. This works well, but sometimes stray bees can get under the top cover and drown in the reservoir. Frame Feeders are used inside the hive in place of a frame. It's a frame sized plastic reservoir and requires opening up the hive to refill. It cannot be used in the winter because you cannot open the hive to refill it if the temperature is below 60 (F).
Check out our recent article on Feeding Bees. Click Here.
16. How Important Is It That I Take A Beekeeping Class?
Taking a class is not required or essential, but the more you know the better beekeeper you be. We have a host of classes coming up in just a few months. Click here to visit our class list in our new educational center.
17. Should I Register My Hive? Check your local state requirement. Most states require hives to be registered and we recommend beekeepers register their hives with the Department of Ag or the Department of Natural Resources. Registration affords you the opportunity to receive helpful, free advice from state bee inspectors. This is always a good thing.
18. What Happens To Bees During The Winter?
During the winter bees do not hibernate. Instead, they cluster tightly together in their hive and generate heat to keep each other warm. They eat honey and pollen that they collected during the spring and summer.
19. How Much Time And Commitment Is Required To Keep Bees?
Once your new hive is established, you really do not have to do anything for months. However, we recommend that you inspect your hive every two or three weeks to ensure that your queen is healthy and laying well. Many new beekeepers find beekeeping so fun that they will open up their hive several times a week. This is fine but really not necessary.