Raising honey bees is a very expensive, yet rewarding hobby. There are two different ways that honey bees can be collected, by swarm in the wild or by purchasing the honey bees. Believe it or not, in Illinois and Wisconsin there are many places that sell honey bees, even stores such as Farm and Fleet are beginning to sell honey bees as beekeeping is becoming more and more common.
When starting, before you purchase your bees there are some things that you will need to buy in order to prepare for the arrival of your bees. One of the most obvious things you will need are beehives. This is where the bees will live and work to produce honey. The bees’ hives can become expensive, so my dad built our beehives and they work just as well. Once receiving your honey bees, you need to make sure to introduce them to their hive within 24 hours of receiving them. They are sensitive and most likely ate through their feed, so they need to be nourished again. You will probably receive your bees before the flowers bloom depending on where you live so you will need feeders.
For the feeders, all you need is a mason jar, water and sugar. You will poke holes in the mason jar top allowing your mixture to flow out. Mix equal parts sugar and water (over heat) to create a syrupy mixture and place the mason jar upside down on a raised surface so there is access to the mixture.
Bee suits are something many apiarists have but aren’t required. They help protect you from being stung by the bees in case they get aggravated and decide to swarm or begin to sting. These suits can help protect you from both of these cases. This helps especially when introducing bees to the hive or harvesting honey.
If you do not purchase a bee suit, a smoker is something you will need. Once the smoke hits the hive, the bees go away from you meaning you’re less likely to get stung. This applies only for when harvesting the honey, not introducing the bees. You do not want the bees to go away from the hive when introducing them.
For the beehives, you will need frames that go within each hive. You can either have frames that are empty, or frames that have a waxy start to the comb on which the bees will build. With the waxy start, it makes the building of the comb by the bees neater, while empty frames are more of a messy build. In addition, having the wax frames make it easier to harvest the honey when the time comes.
Once you receive your bees, remove a few frames from the box. Your bees will likely come in their own box when you receive them. Remove the feeder, and the queen bee from the box of bees. The queen bee comes in a separate tiny cage of its own, so it is easy to spot. You will notice that there is usually a piece of candy corked within the hole of the cage the queen is within. Do not remove the candy — over the next few days the bees will either accept or reject the queen, and the candy is a way for them to get to the queen. You will need to place or attach the queen cage somewhere within the middle of the hive. Next take your bees and pour them into the hive. You will need to shake the bees in order to get them out. When the majority of the bees are out, carefully place the frames back into the box. Allow the remaining bees from the box you received them in to come out on their own. You can leave the box on top of the hive after placing the lid of the hive on. Leave the box out only for 30 minutes and shake the remaining out again. You do not want the bees to become confused and try to go back in the shipping box.
After that you can place an entrance reducer on the bottom of the frame of the hive that is open to reduce predators and the bees leaving the hive. Something to consider when checking your beehives is that when six or seven of the frames have a built comb, you should add another beehive box to the top of the hive, allowing the bees to continue to build and fill the comb.
For when you are looking to harvest your frames, I would recommend a “hive tool” which is basically a miniature crowbar that allows you to pry the frames from one another as the bees’ propolis acts as glue and causes frames to stick together. A queen catcher is also important as if you are trying to move the queen around or keep her separated as you are going through hives it makes it easy to know where she is, so you won’t lose her.
When getting ready to harvest the honey there are a few more tools, everything listed is inexpensive besides the bees and the beehives. When harvesting, a bee brush gently brushes away the honeybees that may still be on the frames after smoking. It carefully moves the bees away with no harm at all.
Something that you will also need either a hot knife, or an uncapping tool in order to remove the top layer of the comb so the honey can become exposed, letting the honey come out of the frames. While doing this we uncap into a filtered tub, so any of the honey that seeps out while we uncap is filtered and not wasted. Once you uncap the honey you will need to place the frames into an extractor, one that is either hand cranked or electrical. These machines spin the frames at a high speed allowing the honey to come out of the frames without damaging the honeycomb that the bees have built up. The honey goes into the bottom of the machine and from there you can pour the honey into your filters which will filter through any wax that may have fallen into the honey from spinning.
Once you get all the honey out of the frames, place them back into the hives to allow your bees to begin to work again. While you can remove the wax that the bees produce, I personally do not recommend it especially if you are trying to harvest honey more than once a year because then they will have to start over by rebuilding that comb rather than just filling their comb already made.
Once your hives are back intact and your honey is filtered, a tool I recommend purchasing is a honey refractometer. This allows you to see the water content within your honey and the nutrient grade, it determines the quality. It measures brix, and the higher the brix the higher the grade of the honey. The water content should be low and the brix should be high.
When looking to package honey the best way I have used is by mason jar. Fill the jars straight from the filters. Store the packaged honey in a dark cooler place, preferably room temperature. This will prevent the crystallization of honey.
Having your own honey bees to raise is not hard work, but it is time consuming. It is a great learning experience and makes a great profit ßas well. We carry about ten hives currently and try to harvest around twice a year to sell our honey to the community.