Beginning Beekeeping Course Outline

Beginning Beekeeping Course Outline May 2013 
The Honey Company

1. Welcome and Introductions
2. More beekeeping info at www.thehoneycompany.com under “Blog” then “Archive”

3. Expectations for Beginning Beekeepers
a. Expect to have honey surplus.
b. Expect to have bees die. (Winter, 2 years old, when beekeeping)
c. Expect to have disease and pests. 
d. Expect to have swarms. 
e. Expect to get stung. 

4. Equipment: 
a. Parts of the hive
b. What do I really need?  
Now: Hive boxes, bottom board, lid, frames, foundation, hive tool, smoker, gloves, helmet, veil, suit or protective clothing, pallet or hive stand 
Soon: 3 supers with frames and foundation for each hive, inner cover (winter), feeder tray 
c. New Product for comb production
5. What should I focus on my first year?
a. Colony life cycle
b. Timing of nectar flow in your area, plants bees prefer
c. You should have a relatively disease-free first year. Save this stuff for next year. 

6. Moving bees
a. 3 miles for 3 days 
b. When all bees are home (dark or storm)
c. Place hives before dawn tomorrow morning
7. Where should I put my hive?
a. Sun or shade? Which compass direction? Can I mix bees and livestock? How close do hives need to be to water and nectar sources? What about playgrounds and sidewalks? Windbreak? Accessibility (24/7)? Visible or hidden? 

8. Reproduction (see attached sheet)
a. Types of bees (queen, worker, drone)
b. Queens take 14 days to hatch, 1 week to mate, 1 week to lay eggs, total 4 weeks
c. Workers take 21 days to hatch
d. Drones take 24 days to hatch
e. Why do I need to know this?

9. Inside the hive
a. Things bees produce/collect: honey, pollen, propolis
b. Location of honey, pollen, brood chamber within hive
c. How do I know if there is an active queen? 
d. How do I recognize eggs?

10. What do I do when I check on my bees?
a. Timing: inspect your hive every 7-10 days through the summer
b. Look for: eggs, brood, crowding, queen cups, honey stores
c. Continue feeding bees in the spring until they stop eating it.
d. When do I add a super? How do I prime it? 
e. How do I prevent swarms?
f. Why do you use all deep supers? 
g. Demonstration: How to transfer frames from nuc box to hive body box

11. Honey
a. When do I harvest honey?
i. As bees produce it (requires guesswork) –OR— 
ii. All at once in the fall
b. How much honey should I leave for bees in the fall? 
c. Last year’s CRAZY weather
d. Extracting demonstration

12. Wintering bees
a. How long does a queen live?
b. How do I feed bees?
c. What is an inner cover? Do I need one?
d. Do I need to wrap or insulate my bees?
e. How often should I check on them in the winter?

13. Increasing or Maintaining Hives
a. Raising queens/making splits
i. What do queen cells look like? 
ii. How to make a split
b. Need to increase to maintain hive numbers, plan for hive death after second year

14. Bee diseases
a. Diagnostic hive
b. Diseases and pests
i. Verroa Mites
ii. American Foul Brood (bacteria)
iii. Nosema cerenae (intestinal fungus)
c. Integrated Pest Management: Strategies to avoid medications. 
i. See Honeybee Diseases and Pests for awesome IPM strategies! 
ii. Medications are expensive, can be harmful, and diseases become resistant
iii. Monitor disease loads and only medicate as a last resort
d. Hygienic Bee Behavior (Genetic disease resistance)
e. Cleaning wax comb every 3-5 years
f. Laying Workers

Beekeeping in Northern Climates and Honeybee Diseases and Pests by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter of the University of Minnesota Extension Bee Lab. Around $20 for both, including shipping.

The page above was copied from Dadant’s The Hive and the Honey Bee, page 992. We consider this book the Beekeeping Bible.

Bottling honey

Finished Product
The ultimate goal: a beautiful jar of homegrown honey!

For this post, I will assume honey has been extracted from the frames. This is a common way of bottling honey and we think it's easy and fairly inexpensive to do yourself, with a little help from gravity. 

Make sure honey containers (jars, bears, etc.) are washed and dried before beginning. And NEVER leave the room when a honey gate is open. Trust me on this one. 

We use three 5 gallon buckets for bottling. With two buckets, we attach a honey valve. We call these the “settling tank” and “bottling tank.” With the third, we cut off the bottom and use it as a spacer to hold up the screen. I made a diagram of our bottling system. (And to show off my 4th grade drawing skills. Don’t worry, actual photos follow.) 

First, we elevate the settling tank by placing it on a counter. Then we place the screen, spacer, and bottling tank below it, as shown in the photo below. Then we open the honey valve on the settling tank, and allow honey to flow down through the screen and into the bottling tank. 

After it finishes running into the bottling tank, close the valve on the settling tank, place the bottling tank onto the counter, and place your desired honey container under the valve. Open the valve and fill the container. Close valve. Attach the lid to the container tightly and enjoy. 


Bottling tank from top to bottom: 
  • Screen for screening out large wax particles, available from a beekeeping supply company. It rests on top of the spacer or can also rest directly in a 5-gallon bucket.

  • Spacer, a 5-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out. It rests on the lid to the bottling tank, which lid has a hole cut in it so honey can flow through. Most of the lid center has been removed. (Think doughnut). 

Lid with center cut out

In another style of spacer, we cut the spacer bucket about 2 inches below the top rings. The 2 inches rest inside the bottling tank. This works well if you are not trying to fill a 5-gallon bucket clear to the top with honey. 

  • Bottling tank, a 5-gallon bucket with bottling valve attached. The photo below shows bottling tank with smaller spacer on top. 

  • Valve. Beekeeping supply companies sell the gate-style valve pictured above. This can be hard to find locally. Below is another valve we use. It is a food grade ball valve, and can be found at your local plumbing supply store (or Lowes or Home Depot). It needs to be at least 1 inch, otherwise, you will be waiting too long for honey to flow out. (3/4 inch is too small.) You will need a PVC fitting and O ring for the inside of the bucket. You will need to (carefully) cut a circular opening into the side of the bucket for the plumbing to fit. We used a pocket knife. 

Extracting Honey: The Process

Photo of Grandpa Arthur Andersen uncapping a frame of honey with a hot knife.

You have a pile of frames full of honey! Congratulations! Now it is time to get the honey from the frame and into a honey jar. I am assuming that you have harvested the honey from the beehive and moved to a bee-tight place, gathered your extracting equipment, and are ready to extract. 

It is ideal to extract honey the day you remove it from the hive. This ensures that honey does not crystalize in the frame (making it impossible to extract), and that it will not draw moisture from the air and ferment (not a huge problem in the deserts of Utah). Be sure to store honey frames in a warm, dry room. Some beekeepers heat the room to about 95 degrees F to extract so that honey flows better. 

The first step in extracting is uncapping. Below are some photos of Grandpa Arthur as he uncaps a frame of honey. First, he props the frame onto the capping tray stand. (AKA large metal tub). Then he carefully scratches the thin, top cappings layer off of the frame, leaving the comb and honey in tact below. He continued doing this until all of the cappings were removed from the frame. When beekeepers first start uncapping, there is a tendency to scratch too deep into the wax. Practice helps remedy this. Try to keep your scratcher parallel to the foundation in the frame. And be sure to remove all of the capping wax on each frame. 

Here is a photo of Grandpa Andersen uncapping a frame with a hot knife. Whichever uncapping tool you use, try to only remove that thin, top layer of cappings.

After you uncap one frame, place it in the extractor. Continue until extractor is full. Elevate the extractor so that when you open the honey gate, honey can flow into a container below. Some come with a stand, or you can use a counter as well. 

The extractor pictured below is a tangential, hand crank extractor that we use for demonstration at our beekeeping classes. 

Start spinning the extractor slowly, and then increase speed as frames empty. Starting too fast can damage the comb. With a tangential extractor, extract part of the first side , then flip them so the inside is out. Fully extract the second side, and then turn them again to finish the first side. This will help balance the load. 

With a radial extractor, be sure frame ears point away from the center of the load. Bees build comb with a 3 degree slant so honey does not run out. If you put the frame ears in, the honey won’t come out. Not that I tried this when we were first married or anything. . .  Okay, maybe I did. 

It can take between 5 and 30 minutes to remove all the honey. You will need to be there to make sure your extractor does not “walk” away while spinning. 

When honey pools at the bottom of the extractor, open the bottling gate (yellow in the above photos). Allow honey to run into a settling tank. (We use a modified 5 gallon bucket, see post on extracting equipment.) 

After honey is extracted, you can either return frames to the super on the beehive, or store them in a bee-tight place (and rodent-tight and wax moth-tight). Before storing, you can put them back in the hive for the bees to clean up any extra honey. 

At this point, you will have a container full of honey, ready to be bottled! Stay tuned for a post on bottling honey!

Extracting Honey: Equipment Needed

Here is Grandpa Andersen uncapping a frame of honey. The uncapped honey is on the top, and he is removing wax cappings from the bottom.

Get ready for extracting by gathering needed equipment. 

Uncapping tools. Bees bring nectar back to the hive, put it in a honeycomb cell, cure it, and then cap the cell over with wax. This wax cap needs to be removed to get the honey out of the frame. Below is a photo of a frame that shows the foundation, honey in uncapped cells, and honey in capped cells. 

We use a capping scratcher, to remove these wax caps, as we sell raw honey. Below is Grandpa Arthur Andersen is using a hot knife instead. 

You will also need a drip tray to catch the wax cappings and honey. See his metal tub with a piece of wood across the top? It has a nail poked up through the bottom of the piece of wood to suspend the frame. That works well as a drip tray! There is some honey in those cappings, which he is collecting in a container below the drip tray.

Extractor. An extractor is a centrifuge that spins honey out of uncapped honey frames. Honey collects at the bottom of the extractor drum and can be piped out into a container. Extractors can be tangential or radial and motorized or hand crank. Radial extractors remove honey from both sides of a frame at once. Tangential extractors remove honey from one side at a time. The smaller, less expensive models cost around $400. 

A 1960’s version of a hand-crank extractor. 

Strainer. The blurry strainer pictured below (in my hand) fits well over a 5-gallon bucket. It is commercially available. You could also use any coarse screen, nylon cloth, or cheesecloth to strain honey. The strainer removes large wax particles and bees’ knees from the honey. 

NOTE: A strainer is NOT a “filter.” Filtering honey is done primarily by large honey packers. It removes any particles larger than 1 microgram. This includes pollen, wax particles, bees knees, etc. It is not a necessary step to produce honey, and there are benefits to having some of these particles in the honey. 

In this picture, you can also see a hand-crank tangential extractor. This is from our beekeeping class extracting demonstration.

Containers. You will also need a container to store honey until it is bottled. We like to use a modified 5 gallon bucket. We use two modified buckets for bottling. Something with a wide mouth works best. 


Harvesting Honey

Harvesting honey is the process of removing honey frames from the beehive for extraction. There are two management styles for harvesting honey. One is to harvest multiple times in the beekeeping season, extract honey, and put supers and frames back on the hive for a refill. This works if you have a limited number of honey supers or if you have honey customers who want honey all summer (like us). The other method is to continue adding supers to the hive and then harvest all honey at once in the fall. Both can work well. 

1. How much honey should I take? 

In Utah, you will need about 2 full, deep boxes to make it through the winter. Another way to tell if you are leaving enough honey is, when you pick up the bees (including the 2 deep boxes, lid, and bottom board), it should weigh about 100 pounds. If it does not weigh at least 100 pounds, you will need to make it weight 100 pounds. If you use all deep supers, and are under weight, you can trade a frame full of honey into one of the lower boxes. Honey is the best food for bees. Or you could feed heavy syrup to help them amp up their winter stores. Any surplus honey is yours to take.

If you extract throughout the season, you will need to guess how much honey bees will produce so as not to remove too much of it from bees’ winter food storage. This takes weather prediction-skills, a little experience, and some guesswork. 

Here the beekeeper is inspecting his hives, frame by frame, to see which are full of honey to be extracted.

2. Go through the hive, frame by frame, to see which frames are full of honey and ready for extraction. Leave frames full of brood in the hive. If using all deep supers, you can move the frame of brood down into a lower box. The brood will hatch out of the frame in 2 weeks and you can harvest any honey from the frame then.

3. Remove bees from frames of honey that you would like to extract. 
Our favorite method is to shake bees sharply from each frame, one at a time. It is the fastest way to remove the bees. You can shake them back into the box or in front of the hive entrance. This method requires confidence and a sharp jarring motion. Grasp the frame with both hands on the side bars, just below the ears. Then quickly move it downward a few inches and stop abruptly. The bees will fall off. 

You could also use a bee brush, which we think just makes bees mad. Some also use chemical repellents like “Bee Go,” where you place a pad of stinky chemical under the lid of the hive, and the chemical drives the bees out of the hive. You could also use a bee escape, which is a one-way door placed between the super and brood chamber. A bee blower can blow bees right off of the frame. (You can substitute a leaf blower, or Shop-Vac set to blow.) 

Whichever method you choose, remove as many of the bees as you can, and then move the frame to a relatively bee-tight place. We like to use an empty super. (Bees will go right back on frames left in the open.)

Grandpa with bee brush. I love how he is sitting down at the beehive. I think we still have that chair somewhere and that it still has the duct tape on the seat. 

4. Take frames away from the bee yard to extract. Frames of honey will attract bees, and you will want to do this inside a bee-tight space. 

See other posts on “Extracting Honey” and “Bottling Honey.”

Grandpa Arthur Andersen getting ready to extract some honey. This photo was featured in the American Bee Journal. 


Characteristics of Honey

Honey is yummy 
Honey has a delicious, varied, delicate flavor. The flavor depends on the nectar bees gather to make the honey. Honey from dandelion nectar tastes different from honey produced from linden tree nectar or lavender nectar. Nectar variations can result in different color, and texture as well. 

Heating honey above about 110 degrees F changes honey flavor. (The exact temperature is controversial. In Utah honey is raw when it has not been heated above 117 degrees. We don’t recommend heating honey, but it may get hotter than this in a hot beehive in the desert.) Fermentation can also change this flavor. 

Lavender plants yield delicious lavender honey.

Dandelion honey is popular for making mead. 

Honey is viscous
Honey is runny and flows quickly when it is warm, and moves very slowly when it is cold. (Bottling honey in January is tricky business.)

Another retro Grandpa Andersen photo.

Honey has low moisture content
Honey has less than 18.6% moisture. Ours is usually closer to 12%. When water the water level is higher than 18.6%, honey will ferment. In the beehive, the nectar collected is higher in moisture than honey. Bees add enzymes from their body to the nectar, cure it and evaporate water out of it to make it into honey. 

Honey is hygroscopic
Honey will absorb moisture from its surroundings. This can be problematic in humid climates, as honey may absorb enough moisture from the air to ferment. In Utah, this is rarely a problem. Historically, honey has been used on wounds because of its ability to absorb moisture and its antimicrobial properties. 

Honey is acidic
Honey has a pH around 4. (Range 3.4 to 6.1, according to Wikipedia). PH 4 means that it is about 1,000 times more acidic than plain, neutral water. 

Honey lasts
Honey can be stored indefinitely, providing it stored in a dry, pest-free container.