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I dedicate this book to my father, Malcolm Elam Sanford, who instilled in me the value of the written word. I became the published author he longed to be.
The book is also dedicated to the honey bee. This social insect gave me both the platform and the training ground to distill my thoughts into as few words as possible, while clearly communicating complex issues to a wide audience made up of scientists and laypersons alike.
1. Beginning Beekeeping
Eight Basic Tips for Getting Started
Dimensions of Beekeeping
The Beekeeper's Commitment
2. Origin and History of Beekeeping
Honey Bee Evolution
History of Beekeeping
3. A Bee's Life
What Is a Honey Bee?
Inside the Colony
The Varroa Mite
Activities and Behavior
Patterns of Behavior
4. Choosing Hive Location
The Colony and Your Community
5. Getting Equipped
Hive Design and Dimensions
Frames and Foundation
Tools of the Trade
6. Enter the Bees
Installing a Nucleus Colony
Starting with an Established Colony
A Wild or Feral Colony
7. Managing Honey Bee Colonies
Working a Colony
The Beekeeper as Manager
A Colony's Yearly Life Cycle
The Apicultural Calendar
Cooking for the Bees
8. Taking the Crop
The Honey Crop
Harvesting the Crop
Processing the Crop
Storing the Crop
Chunk and Comb Honey
Other Bee Products
Is Pollination for You?
10. Diseases and Pests of the Honey Bee
Innate Defense Mechanisms
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Tolerant or Resistant Stock
Colony Collapse Disorder
Small Hive Beetle
For More Information
11. Additional Strategies
Alternative Management Practices
Toward a Honey Bee–Friendly Future
Sample Pollination Contract
Model Beekeeping Ordinance
A Sampling of U.S. Beekeeping Supply Houses
Sources of Beekeeping Information
Additional Interior Photography Credits
Metric Conversion Chart
Build Up Your Bee Library with More Books from Storey
Storey's Guide to Raising Series
Share Your Experience!
It took the assistance of a great many people to write this book. These include the scientists and curious laypersons who provided insight into honey bee biology over the last two centuries, as well as current associates in both lay and professional groups, who continue to share their knowledge and experiences with me. Thanks to the late Dick Bonney for creating the basic building blocks of the work, and to my editor Deborah Burns for her encouragement and assistance.
I especially want to express my gratitude to Dr. H. Shimanuki, friend and colleague, now retired as research leader of the Honey Bee Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. He reviewed the material in this work, contributing to clarity in his careful and insightful way, as was his custom when we collaborated throughout our professional careers. I would also like to thank Dr. Susan Drake, faculty member in the Family Medicine Residency at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, Tallahassee, Florida, for her review of the section on bee stings and reactions.
All errors and omissions, of course, remain mine.
This volume provides a wider perspective than most of its kind through a sprinkling of new and experienced beekeepers' points of view based on different geographic locations, revealing yet again that "all beekeeping is local." These comments were contributed by current subscribers to my Apis electronic newsletter, in continuous publication for more than two decades (transcending my active career as Cooperative Extension apiculturist at two major universities). These unique, authentic voices cajole, persuade, empathize, and generally encourage all who would take up one of humanity's most challenging callings, culturing honey bees: Laurel Beardsley, Florida; Mark Beardsley, Georgia; Ed Carthell, Washington; Sharon A. Christ, West Virginia; Lynn Davignon, Rhode Island; H. E. Garz, Washington; Debbie Gilmore, Nevada; Dave Hamilton, Nebraska; Lawrence E. Hope, California; Jeffery Maddox, Missouri; Jeanette Momot, Ontario; Peter Smith, United Kingdom; Bill Starrett, Ohio; Paul van Westendorp, British Columbia; and Elise Wheeler, Massachusetts.
The genesis of this work was two volumes originally written by Richard Bonney: Hive Management in 1990, and Beekeeping: A Practical Guide in 1994. Dick owned and operated Charlemont Apiaries in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and later taught beekeeping at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He also served as a state apiary inspector and so had practical experience, as well as academic training, in managing honey bees. This is the perfect mix for writing about the beekeeping craft. It is indeed unfortunate that Dick is no longer with us to continue to act as a mentor to beekeepers.
As for my background, I managed honey bees at the University of Georgia research apiary, worked for a commercial queen breeder for a time, and received extensive academic training, serving as Extension beekeeping specialist at both The Ohio State University (1978–1981) and the University of Florida (1981–2001). I have published articles in U.S. and international beekeeping journals, traveled widely as an apicultural consultant, and presented papers at several international beekeeping congresses. It is an honor to be selected to carry on the work of Dick Bonney by updating his previous works in this now second edition of Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees.
Beekeeping has changed a great deal since the publication of Dick's books. In addition, he wrote principally about beekeeping in the temperate portion of the United States. This reflected his considerable beekeeping experience in the Northeast, corresponding to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone 5, characterized by an average annual low temperature range of –20° to –10°F (–28 to –23°C). The advice in this volume covers a wider set of conditions as found in Zones 6 through 11. We also include stories, insights, and tips from beekeepers in different regions, to help readers find information relevant to their own situation. And finally, by necessity, the book looks at the craft on a larger, more global scale to reflect the realities of beekeeping in the twenty-first century.
The goal of this publication is to retain, as much as possible, Dick's style and content, while providing updated information apiculturists must know to be successful in the current beekeeping environment. The audience is the same as it was for Dick Bonney's work: the novice beekeeper. As such, this work focuses on beginning concepts and provides an introductory vocabulary of the craft. No book could hope to cover all the information that an apiculturist requires to manage honey bees effectively. It is important to keep in mind that although the honey bee has been intensively studied for centuries, there is much that scientists and beekeepers are still learning about what is perhaps one of nature's most complex creatures.
Most new beekeepers come into this exciting endeavor with high hopes, and this approach colors their whole attitude. The craft appears to be casual and looks like fun, so why not try it out? Although enjoyable, beekeeping can be a disappointing failure. It requires preparation and commitment. It demands knowledge of the natural world.
The beekeeper also benefits from a certain amount of interaction with others in the apicultural community. Like the bees in their colony working together to survive, no individual human can succeed alone when it comes to caring for this social insect.
Eight Basic Tips for Getting Started
Beekeeping may appear daunting to the novice, with an overabundant supply of advice on how to ensure success. You cannot know all the pitfalls in advance, but you may find yourself loath to begin and suffering from a case of "analysis paralysis," trying to know it all before getting started. Once a moderate amount of information has been digested, however, it's best simply to plunge in. The following tips are suggested to ease the way.
- 1. Start with new equipment of standard (Langstroth) design and dimensions. Used and homemade equipment has the potential to create problems that the novice is not prepared to recognize or handle.
- 2. Do not experiment during your first year or two. Learn and use basic methods. Master them. This will provide a basis for comparison if you choose to experiment in future years.
- 3. Before buying a so-called beginner's outfit, know how each piece of equipment is used and be sure it is needed.
- 4. It is best to begin with two bee colonies, not one. The reason for this is the real possibility that as a novice you will lose a colony in the first season. Having one in reserve will provide a cushion against a complete disaster that might bring your beekeeping activities to a premature end. Two colonies will also be useful for comparative purposes.
- 5. Start with Italian bees. They are the standard in the United States and most commonly available. Those acquired from a competent producer should be gentle and easy to handle. In future years, you can experiment with other races or strains to form comparisons.
- 6. Start with a package of bees or a nucleus colony (nuc) rather than an established fully populated one. Establishing a nuc or package will help gain confidence. Again, if at all possible, start with two colonies to give a further basis of comparison. The shortcomings of one should be easier to detect, and a second unit can provide an invaluable resource — bees and brood to keep your beekeeping operation alive in case of emergency.
- 7. Start early in the season, but not too early. Seek guidance from local beekeepers and bee inspectors about timing in your specific area. Remember that all beekeeping is local. Advice about managing honey bees from those in other geographic areas, even if they are successful, is fraught with risk.
- 8. Recognize that your colonies will not produce a surplus of honey the first year, especially those developed from package bees. The first year is a learning time for the beekeeper and a building time for the new honey bee colonies.
Dimensions of Beekeeping
Beekeeping is multifaceted and involves much more than placing a hive in a backyard, visiting it a couple of times a year, and reaping the rewards. In fact, it can require a great deal in terms of physical effort, time, and money. The beginner can easily be overwhelmed by having to juggle all the balls required to manage a honey bee colony effectively. The best course of action is to have a plan, start small, and gradually progress in discrete increments, all the time carefully monitoring your goals and modifying them as conditions warrant.
Of all agricultural enterprises, beekeeping may be one of the most difficult to manage. Most livestock are at least under a measure of control. Cattle, horses, and hogs can be tethered, fenced, or otherwise confined. Crops do not move, although this can also be a disadvantage when it comes to their management. It is relatively easy to measure the feed, money, time, and effort a manager might put into most agricultural operations against what is produced. Honey bees, in contrast, are free-flying insects, and a good proportion of a colony's individuals may be foraging within a two-mile radius of the hive. Much of the time the beekeeper has little knowledge of where the bees are, or what they might be doing.
The beekeeping craft continues to undergo rapid changes in our modern, fast-paced world. The human-facilitated movement of biological material around the globe has reached epidemic proportions, and the honey bee has not been spared the unanticipated consequences, including the introduction of alien pests and diseases. Challenges, therefore, can easily become global in nature and often take beekeepers and researchers by surprise. These can quickly add other dimensions to an activity that, in the past, was often considered traditional and unchanging.
Traditionally, beekeepers have been pigeon-holed into categories. Most common are the terms "hobbyist," "sideliner," and "commercial," generally based on the number of colonies being managed. Unfortunately, these labels often do not reflect the actual situation; they are nothing more than reference points along a continuum of the beekeeping experience.
Another problem with these generalizations is that in the modern political climate, words mean a lot. The crafting or framing of messages is now an art. Legislators who are approached to assist beekeepers might be confused about designations such as "hobbyist," as well as other terms defining apiculturists like "sustainable," "organic," "small-scale," and "artisanal." It is probably best to label anyone in the craft simply a beekeeper — a person who cares for and about honey bees — and let it go at that.
A better way to classify beekeepers is by objective. Most are interested in producing honey. Others might principally become pollination managers because they grow their own plants or are near growers who need the service. If honey is your objective, is the goal of marketing it not far in the future? The same can be asked about pollination services.
The craft may indeed be a true hobby or pastime. Many significant advances in beekeeping were not developed by commercial beekeepers, in fact, but by visionaries who also studied philosophy and religion.
The upside to beekeeping usually outweighs the downside. Why else would so many have persisted in carrying on the activity for thousands of years? Go to any gathering of beekeepers and listen to them talk (even about their challenges) with enthusiasm and pride. Go into a beeyard on a pleasant day and sit there, immersed in the calm serenity of the scene. Watch the bees coming and going, sometimes even indulging in what is called "play time." If beekeeping is truly in the blood, it is impossible to resist the allure of the craft. For want of a better term, some call the passion that arises in some novices "bee fever."
Beekeeping is not all pleasure. As with most things in life, it has a downside. Some beekeepers have a mentor or partner, but most are alone when they begin. They are out there by themselves, in the heat, sticky to the elbows, bees buzzing about, and with a veil in place so it is impossible to scratch or blow a nose or drink water.
The bees may become defensive for no particular reason. In this state, they invariably find ways to get under the veil or up the sleeves and pants legs, approaching places that are not polite to discuss when company arrives. There may be no choice on occasion but to leave the field of battle in search of a quiet place to rest and recuperate before again entering the fray.
It is not wise to discount the heat, weight of protective equipment, or discomfort when working in a beeyard. There are times when it becomes obvious that things are not under control, when you ask how you got into such a position, with hive parts strewn about, bees everywhere, sweat stinging the eyes, and a buzzing bee under the veil. Fortunately, these times are the exception rather than the rule and usually quickly forgotten, as bee fever takes hold again.
This book cannot speak to all beekeepers, and no volume is worth much that does not have an audience in mind. In this case, the audience is the novice who wishes to explore the craft, with the possibility that his or her beekeeping activities might expand far beyond current expectations. Typically, that person starts out as a honey producer; thus, the focus of this volume is producing and processing the sweet reward that first caused humans to hunt, and later to keep, honey bees.
The Beekeeper's Commitment
Too many novice beekeepers do not recognize the level of commitment they must have to successfully manage honey bees. For every beekeeper who succeeds, there are probably two or three who do not. You may have been in a classroom or training program where the instructor begins by saying, "Look at the person on your right; now look at the person on your left. One of you won't be here next year or next week or next month." Beekeeping is like that.
Not all beekeepers are truly bee-keepers. Some are bee-havers. The latter develop an initial enthusiasm, acquire some bees, and work with them for a while, eventually losing interest. They never develop any real knowledge or skill. In the end, they have bees, perhaps a colony in the backyard, but are not really keeping bees. Present-day beekeeping challenges continue to winnow out many of these less-than-committed beekeepers. This actually strengthens the beekeeping community in the long run because the members who remain are well informed and truly passionate.
A successful beekeeper learns about honey bees, comes to understand them, and works them on a regular basis, enjoying the process. In the final analysis, the best beekeeper is able to "think like a honey bee." Managing honey bees, therefore, is as much "art" as it is science.
My own apiary has doubled in size since my beginning, to the grand ol' number of two colonies. Although I lost the original queen this spring from each of those hives, I can boast that at least I carried my bees through winter and into spring. I designed and built my own lightweight but sturdy hive stands from PVC pipe, which was slightly criticized and doubted by the male species of beekeepers who saw my setup. While I admit that I was fortunate not to have any foot-deep snows piled atop my hive, they are both still standing.
My hives were inspected in May, and no disease or pests were found. I have applied no commercial chemicals but relied on my "motherly instincts" to keep my bees healthy.
A current favorite pastime of mine involves following my bees around with a camera, which also tells me which flowers are being worked and when. My bees are currently working late sumac.
One of my most interesting observations is the way the bees collect pollen from the wild daisy patches that I mow around. They attach to the center of the flower with their mouths and drag their bodies around the flower in a circular motion collecting pollen on their legs. It almost appears as if they are deformed.
Sharon A. Christ, West Virginia
The Beekeeping Community
Beekeeping is a dynamic endeavor. Problems arise, solutions emerge, research is undertaken, and new knowledge continually comes to the fore. It is difficult to keep bees effectively without connecting to other beekeepers and acquiring new skills demanded by the craft. Much good advice comes from government agencies; universities; and local, state, national, and international beekeepers' associations. All of these organizations are an important part of the overall beekeeping picture. At a minimum, the beginning beekeeper should join a local beekeeping club or association and regularly read a beekeeping magazine.
Some individuals take up beekeeping because they want honey bees for pollination, whether for a small home garden or a commercial growing operation. They may obtain one or several colonies, set the bees up in a far corner of the property, and forget about them, assuming they will take care of themselves. Unfortunately, the facts of honey bee life include disease, drought, harsh winters, and predators; all of these can cause a colony to weaken and perish. It happens regularly in nature — too regularly, perhaps. Thus, a colony of honey bees often has a tenuous grip on life, especially in more northerly regions. People contemplating installing bee colonies strictly for pollination should seriously consider finding a committed beekeeper to look after the hives they've installed.
The time devoted to keeping honey bees does not have to be great, but as with many activities, you get back proportionally what you put into it. The time commitment also varies with the beekeeper's goals. The largest time investment will be in the learning phase as you begin the craft: reading and attending bee schools, workshops, and meetings of local and national associations. Plan on a learning curve that will be steep the first year or so, and continue to expect challenges throughout your beekeeping career.
Many individuals undertake beekeeping with minimal preparation, believing they can simply dive in and pick up the requisite knowledge. More feasible in the past, this has become an increasingly less successful strategy as honey bees have become much more vulnerable to the exotic pests and diseases that continue to plague them, and by extension, the beekeeper.
Visiting the Bees
Plan on visiting the bees an average of every two weeks during the active season, perhaps more often as the new season is getting underway, and less often in the inactive part of the year. Individual examinations per hive can be quite brief, depending on the season and reason for being at the hive. Some may last a minute or two; others involving a specific task might take 20 to 30 minutes per hive at the longest. Most inspections that involve opening the hive are a substantial disruption to colony life, and so should serve an important
“An excellent introduction to beekeeping.” — Kirsten Traynor, Editor in Chief, American Bee Journal
“Confused by all the different opinions on how best to keep bees? This guide will provide a bright light on your beekeeping journey." — Marla Spivak, McKnight Distinguished Professor in Entomology, University of Minnesota
“An excellent introduction to both honey bees and beekeeping. It's well-written, practical, and exceptionally well-illustrated, making it the perfect book to jump-start the adventure of beekeeping or use as a reference for established beekeepers.” — Dr. Mark L. Winston, author of Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive
“This is one of the few beekeeping books written by a beekeeper and an extension apiculturist which bridges the gap between practical beekeeping and science of beekeeping.” — Dr. Medhat Nasr, Alberta Provincial Apiculturist, Albert Agriculture and Forestry and Past President of Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists
“Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees is a thorough treatment of beekeeping for anyone looking to practice the craft. It spans the range of topics from beginning to advanced beekeeping, while including a suite of personal testimonies that humanize the art. It will be an important resource for years to come.” — Jamie Ellis, PhD, Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida
“Written in a readable style, this book blends sound scientific information about honey bees with practical information about beekeeping and is suitable reference for beginner to serious beekeeper. It has been selected as the text book for the University of Montana's Online Beekeeping Certificate, Apprentice Level Course.” — J.J. Bromenshenk, Bee Alert
“This book belongs in every beekeeper’s library. The authors have successfully blended the science and art of beekeeping in a book suitable for beginning and experienced beekeepers.” — Hachiro Shimanuki, retired Laboratory Director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Service
“A must-have book for all types of beekeepers who want good information.” — Dr. James E. Tew, State Extension Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
“A well-balanced and extremely thorough guide for new beekeepers.” — Hilary Kearney, Girl Next Door Honey
“In this well-written guide, Dr. Sanford utilizes his years of experience to give straightforward, practical advice for the beginning beekeeper.” — Randy Oliver, ScientificBeekeeping.com
- On Sale
- Jul 10, 2018
- Page Count
- 224 pages