Starting a new beehive – what it takes

Like just about every other beekeeper in America, we (my beekeeping partner, John, and I) started our new beehives about two weeks ago (March 20, 2018).

A frame of bees from one of the hives

We launched three hives to going along with the one that survived the winter. Last summer we had four good hives. By late fall, we were down to one. We did everything we knew to do to keep that hive going through the winter. Fortunately, it made it.

So here we are in the early spring, and it’s time to start a begin again.

A new hive most often begins with ordering a “package” of bees from a bee farm. Most of our bees in East Tennessee come from bee farms in southern Georgia, and the weather down there had cooperated enough so that the packages were ready a little earlier than usual, which is about the first week in April. A package consists of three pounds of bees, or about 10,000 bees. Each package contains a queen who is put in a separate, protective cage.

Once the packages arrived at our place, we opened them up, extracted the queen cage, and then poured the bees into the hives that we had set up. That’s right, “poured.” To get an idea of this process, watch this video:

After the bees have been poured into the hive, we place the queen cage — with the queen still there — inside the hive carefully, put food for the bees on top of the hive, and close it up for a few days. The queen cages are built so that the queen will be released by the hive in a few days, and by that time, the hive should accept her as queen. If it does not accept her, she will be killed. Then we would have to decide whether to order a replacement queen and try again or to combine the bees in that hive with another hive.

After three or four days, we opened the hives again to see if the queen had been released. Sometimes, it takes a little longer, but this year when I opened the hives, all three queen cages were empty, and it looked as those the hives were beginning their work. I did not go down into the hive to try to find the queen. My general approach to beekeeping is to leave the bees alone as much as possible and let them do their thing.

We’ve had a cold, wet spring in East Tennessee this year, and that kind of weather is not particularly good for bees or their honey production. The crimson clover, which the bees love, still has not bloomed, although it should be at its peak in the first or second week of April. Our attitude is, of necessity, wait and see. There is little else we can do at this point.

I’ll be posting more about bees and our beekeeping adventures in coming days and trying to answer some of the questions you may have about bees.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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