You have two options for getting bees; you can buy them or capture them. As a beginner, I would suggest buying bees or have an experienced beekeeper help you to capture a swarm. (I will not go into the process of capturing bees in this article.) If you capture a swarm, you must make sure that you capture the queen too.
There are two ways to capture “wild bees”.
- You can capture a group of bees that are swarming. These are bees that are on the move and looking for a new home. They are relatively easy to capture, and this is a good way of protecting and preserving native bees.
- If you or someone you know has an established wild hive that needs to be moved, you can lure these bees away from their hive and take them to your hive box.
Lightly misting the box of bees you have bought with the sugar/water solution will calm them down. Smoke can also be used. I have found the sugar to be more effective when moving bees that I have bought. You will move the bees into the hive box, (talk to the people who sold the bees to you about their advice on the best way to release the bees from their shipping box and into your hive box) and block them inside by sliding the outer cover over the inner cover opening, and closing the lower entrance. Blocking the lower entrance may be done with an entrance reducer, or by using old, clean rags. Old socks work especially well. The feeder fits in the open slot on the reducer. If you do not use a reducer, you will need to put the feeder to one side of the entrance and close the rest of the entrance with rags.
Your bees will need to be confined for one week after putting them in the hive box. During this time, be sure to keep sugar/water in the feeder. After one week, you can open the entrances. Continue to feed the bees for another two or three weeks. This will ensure your bees will be established in their new home and that they will have enough to eat until they find a natural source of food. If you experience drought conditions that kill the sources of nectar for your bees, you may need to feed them during this time too. As mentioned earlier in this article, be sure that your bees have a constant water source.
I like to occasionally inspect the beehives. When you do this, take care to not injure or kill the queen. You need to be sure that you still have bees in the hive and that there are eggs and larvae in the cells of the comb. Check to be sure the bees are producing honey too. When the bottom super has well-established comb on the frames filled with honey, you may add other supers to the top.
This is my favorite part of beekeeping. I love honey and have a long list of people who are willing to purchase any extra that my family and I do not need. Be aware that you will not be able to harvest any honey for at least one year after you start a hive. You must leave enough honey in the hive to feed the bees during the winter months. If you do not, they will die.
Harvesting and storing honey requires more supplies. These supplies include the following:
- Large knife to cut the comb from the frames
- A 5-gallon plastic bucket and lid, used to gather the comb from the hive (See below for additional buckets and lids that will be needed, if you make your own extractor.)
- Honey extractor
- Mason jars and lids
- Honey labels (These are optional. I would only use these if you were selling honey.)
To harvest honey, I wear my protective clothing. I smoke the bees, remove the hive covers, and smoke the bees again. I do not harvest honey from comb that contains eggs or larvae. Next, brush the bees off of the honeycomb. Cut the honeycomb from the frame, allowing it to fall into a five-gallon bucket. If you wish to let your bees make their own comb, you will need to leave a small amount of the comb on the top of the frame for a starter. Put the frames back into the hive boxes, put the covers on, and your bees are ready to start again.
You may use an extractor, but they are expensive to buy, and are not always available to rent. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, extractors will not be available. I believe the best way is the simplest way. Five-gallon buckets, time, and gravity are my chosen extractors.
To set up your own honey extractor:
Take a 5-gallon bucket and attach the honey gate valve according to directions. Place the paint strainer bag inside this bucket. Cut the center out of a plastic lid, leaving a rim of about two inches around the edge, and place the lid on top of the bucket. This will allow another bucket to set on top. (The valve bucket is the lower bucket– the last one in the series of filtering.) Drill several holes about ½ inch in diameter in the bottom of another 5-gallon bucket, being careful that the holes will be within the area of the large hole on the lid of the previously prepared bucket when set on top of it. Set this bucket on top of the previously prepared bucket and lid. I like to set the stack of buckets on my kitchen counter. This makes filling the jars easier.
To clarify and review, from bottom to top, the order is:
- Bottom: Valve bucket lined with paint strainer,
- 2nd (from bottom): Lid with large hole cut out of the middle,
- 3rd (from bottom): Bucket with ½ inch holes drilled in the bottom, and then
- Top: A lid (after you place the crushed comb inside).
I take my heavy-duty grill spatula and crush the honeycomb while it is still in the bucket I used for collection at the hive. After you have broken up the comb, pour it into the top bucket. I loosely place another lid on the very top to keep any insects out of the honey. Now you wait, while gravity does its part. (Backwards Beekeeper’s YouTube video is where I learned this method of honey extraction, and I give him full credit for this method.)
After several hours to a day’s time, the honey should be strained. Now you can fill the clean Mason jars. The difficult part is keeping your fingers out of the honey for a taste or two. I believe in giving into the temptation. After all, you’ve worked hard, and a treat is in order. This is the best time to bake some biscuits and enjoy some honey on top.
I love honey, and it is an integral part of my TEOTWAWKI preps. Honey never spoils. If it does crystalize, just set the jar of honey in warm, not hot, water and wait for the crystals to dissolve. Granulated sugar will not be available at the grocery store in a TEOTWAWKI situation, so I have honey available. Substituting honey for sugar in your recipes is easy. Substitute 2/3 to 3/4 cup of honey per cup of sugar, and decrease the amount of liquids by 1/4 cup per cup of honey used. Stir the mixture very thoroughly. Lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees. Watch the baking time carefully, since foods brown more quickly when honey is used. The taste is a bit different but wonderful in its own right.
Honey also has many health benefits, although it should never be given to a child under one year of age. When TEOTWAWKI occurs, these health benefits will be even more crucial.
If you are like me, you won’t want to waste any part of your labors. I believe responsible beekeepers should also use the beeswax. There are many things you can do with it, and another article could be written on using beeswax. It can be used for health and beauty aids, furniture polish, covering cheese, candle making, crafts, and the list goes on.
I hope I have given you some useful information about beekeeping. I have discovered that the more I know, the more I realize there is to learn. I still consider myself a “newbee”. I hope I have given you enough information to decide if beekeeping is right for you. My hope is that some of you will realize that beekeeping is not scary, and you will give it a try. We live in increasingly disturbing times. Beekeeping is one more way of taking care of your family’s needs. Good luck, and may God bless you in your preps.