Friday, May 10, 2013

Beekeeping 101: The Bees, Terms & Tools

So I've been receiving a good number of questions from friends and family who have been checking out the blog. Most of which are over beekeeping specific terms, things like "nuc", "nuc box", and "superseding".

Ann suggested a reference post that contained the hive names and origins of each. After some thought I figured that it would make a full post if I instead wrote a short primer that also included the specific information about my bees. This is by no means an overall index of terms and equipment. This post will instead cover all of the equipment and bees that I own or have written about. A part two will, of course, come later on once I acquire more beekeeping equipment!

The Bees (in order of acquisition)

Domesticated Bees:
 Winterfell Hive: Italian-Carniolan bees, purchased as a nuc from Bee Healthy Honey Farms

Feral Bees:
 Dothraki Hive: Collected from a swarm in Deerfield Beach, FL at 2000 EST on April 25, 2013
 Wildling Hive: Collected from a water meter cut-out in Boynton Beach, FL at 0800 EST on May 1, 2013


Personal Equipment

Smoker (blue and yellow thing in the picture) - This one is does exactly as it sounds. It's what the beekeeper uses for pushing smoke into the beehive. It's extremely simple, a bellows is on the back side (same concept as an accordion) and it blows air into a hollow metal cylinder, the cylinder holds wood chips or any other clean burning material.

Veil - This too sounds like what it is. You know how a bride wears a veil which covers her entire head area? I wear one too, except I'm just not as pretty. This too is a fine mesh that surrounds the beekeeper's head area. They come in many styles. Some are a wide brimmed hard or soft hat with a netting hung over it, some are a wide brimmed hard hat with a square frame hanging down in front of the face which keeps the netting taut, some are attached to a jacket and some are not.

Jacket - This is a jacket made of thick material which covers the entire torso of the wearer AND also includes a veil built right into it. So it is a veil/jacket combination. The smallest detail on these jackets, but also incredibly important, are the thumb loops. There's a loop at the end of each sleeve for the beekeeper to slip his thumb through. This makes sure the sleeves stay up around the wrist and don't slip out from the gloves.
These too come in many styles: different combinations of pockets, different styles of attached veil, detachable veil or non-detachable, and thankfully, hot weather jackets! These are a thick mesh material on the outside supported by a more solid material framework underneath that holds the outer material away from the skin. All while letting the breeze through. I can't wait to upgrade to one of these, the intense mid-day Florida heat will dehydrate a beekeeper in minutes!

Hive Tool - To simplify it, this is a flatter, thinner, and wider crowbar. The purpose of this tool is to allow a beekeeper to scrape propolis and wax from undesirable areas of the hive box, separate frames and hive bodies when thickly glued together with propolis, and while it may not be advertised for this... scraping out stingers when your newbee hands get the shakes... resulting in nervous bees... like today. Ow.

Gloves - These are just like they sound. Medium thickness gloves made of supple leather, with a forearm extension of soft canvas. These slip on over top of the jacket sleeves, providing a bee-tight seal over the jacket fabric. This way there are no sneaky bee stings slipping between a jacket/glove gap.

Queen Clip and Queen Cage - Clips look almost exactly clips for women's hair. The difference being that it forms a cage on the side opposite from the thumb grips. This is used for isolating the queen from a swarm or hive. A Queen Cage on the other hand is a little plastic or wooden containment container that a bred queen is held in, with one end being a candy plug. These will be inserted into a hive and she will (ideally) be accepted by the workers once they eat through the candy plug.

Bee Brush - This is a long bristled brush that is extremely soft. This is used for brushing masses of bees off of things they shouldn't be on. For example, today I transferred a hive from a Deep to a Super and some of them hung around on the original box. They were gently brushed off of the original box and into the open top of the new box without being damaged.

Hive Equipment

Deep - This is the box that composes the main hive body. The main purpose of a deep is to house larger frames that gives the queen a ton of laying space. This way a large number of eggs and bees can be raised while the workers are able to build a thick ring of bee bread and honey to support the younglings. Many beekeepers in the South use a single Deep and then just stack supers on top since there's no real need to winter. I'll be using two Deeps for larger, stronger numbers and leeway in case of any problems.

Super (pictured is a "Super" nuc box) - This is box that is 2/3 as tall Deep. These are stacked on top of Deeps and almost exclusively used for honey. Some people have started using Supers instead of Deeps due to weight, and for good reason. A Deep that is fully loaded with only frames of honey can weigh 90lbs / 41kg! A fully loaded Super will weigh about 60lbs / 27kg. I highly recommend going with Supers over Deeps unless you're in your 20s, doing your squats, and eating your oats.

Nuc - This is shorthand for "Nucleus Hive". This is a term for selling and purchasing bees. They are housed in a half size (5-frame) box and is a complete hive. It contains a mature, laying queen, 3-5 frames of drawn out comb, eggs, larvae, capped brood, and a full regiment of worker bees. Up until the moment of purchase, these bees have been doing everything that any other hive does. They become active in the morning, fly out to collect their pollen/nectar, raise and feed young, and guard the hive. These are industrious girls ready to go to work the moment they are relocated to your home/bee yard.

Nuc Box - This is simply the box that a nuc is housed in. These have a ton of different uses, so you should definitely hold onto it if you purchase a nuc! I use these boxes as swarm traps (put some swarm lure in, rig it up in a tree, and cross your fingers that scouts from swarms will like it and tell their sisters to move in), for rehoming bees from cut-outs, and for the future when I do a hive split. It offers less space for pests to hide compared to a full size hive, more security with less interior space to guard, and it's easier for small colonies to regulate the temperature with less air to move.

Package Bees - This is a package of... just bees! A package box is a wooden frame, with screening enclosing the entire thing, a feeder to keep them fed on their journey, and a queen in her own cage with a few baby bees to feed her. These contain between 10,000 and 12,000 bees. I like the idea of package bees, but, as a beginner, I would only recommend package bees in the event that there are no nucs available in your area. It's usually only an extra $25-35 for a nuc, and you'll get a fully working hive + the nuc box itself. The package bees are going to have to draw out completely new comb from bare foundation if you're just starting out, and that means the queen won't be laying eggs until that comb is built up.

Top Cover (aka Telescoping Cover) - This is the lid that goes over the top of the entire hive. It's not a flat lid, but it has edging that comes down over the side of the hive box. This creates a better seal against the elements. I have no idea why... but someone in the club bee yard is using those corrugated plastic, political campaign signs as their top covers with bricks on top. I feel bad for the bees considering this is Florida. There must be so much moisture (and rain) going in those hives, as well as being an open invitation to hive beetles. Don't be that person, especially in a bee yard that you're sharing with other people! There's absolutely no reason to not spend the $18-20 on a top cover.

Inner Cover - This is a flat piece of wood with raised edges and a hole in the center. This provides a nice solid inner roof for the hive. This way the bees don't feel like there is too much room up top. They'll build comb anywhere that they can fit it. I highly, highly recommend one of these. If you don't get one, then don't be surprised when you lift the top cover and find panels of comb coming down off the top cover and attaching to your frames!

Queen Excluder - This is a sheet of plastic or metal that has worker bee sized slots cut into it. This allows workers to fit through, but not queens. This is normally placed between the top Deep and the bottom Super. This way the queen cannot get into the super to lay brood among the honey.
A lot of veterans call them Honey Excluders, since it makes it a bit more difficult for the bees to get into the Supers. If given the choice, nature always takes the path of least resistance. Not just that, but when the Deeps are properly managed then it's supposed to be pretty rare to get brood in the supers. I won't be using queen excluders on the basis that any extra abrasion on a bee's wing will shorten it's lifespan. Bee's work themselves to death due to their wings wearing out and becoming ragged after a certain amount of use.

Frames - These are basically picture frames, except they're for wax combs and not photographs. These hold in and support the wax comb. This way the hive is accessible, easy to work with, and easy to inspect (required by law). Not all hive styles use frames, some use top bars, but the concept remains the same. A wood or plastic support that the comb is attached to in order to meet Dept. of Agriculture requirements and make things easy to work with.

Foundation - This is the plastic or wax sheet that fits into the middle of the frame. Foundation sheets will be imprinted with hexagonal pattern of comb cells. The impressions act as a guide for the bees to
start attaching wax to right away and to skip the wax needed to build supports. When reading entries and you see solid black at the bottom of the comb cells, that is black plastic foundation.

Entrance Feeder - This is a small hollow plate of plastic or wood that an inverted mason jar is screwed into. The lid of the jar is perforated with small holes and attaches to the top of the feeder to act as a "roof". This way the bees can crawl into the feeder from inside of the hive, drink from the small holes in the lid, and then retreat directly into the hive. It cannot be accessed from outside the hive and can be refilled without opening the hive body itself. I really like this feeder setup a lot since I don't even need to touch the hive to measure how much the bees have been consuming.

Entrance Reducer - This is a small bar of wood that is laid across the entrance to the hive in order to reduce the opening. The bar has two openings, one about an inch long for a small setting, and the large setting is about 5 inches long. When a hive is small and new, or low in numbers for any reason, it is best to rotate the reducer to the small hole. That way the hive can be guarded with only a few bees, preventing other hives from coming to rob their honey. Once a hive gets strong it can be rotated to the larger opening, since the bees have both the available guards and the need to accommodate more forager traffic.

Bottom Board - This is simply the board that the Deep rests on. It has raised edging on three sides, allowed the fourth side, without a raised "wall", to act as a hive entrance. There are two options, screened or unscreened. Screened bottom boards have a metal mesh or "fabric" across the bottom that is too small for bees to get through, but large enough for them to push beetles and other debris out. Usually the screened boards have a nice space underneath that can fit either a plastic fast food tray filled with mineral to kill beetles/mites that land in it, or for custom made trays.

Landing Board - This is just an extension of the bottom board, usually in a downward sloping ramp. Honestly, I find these useless, or worse than useless. It's extra space for debris to accumulate, and feral bees have no problem landing on the side of a house to climb up into the roof. It's so much simpler for my bees to drop a dead bee, beetle, or piece of trash off the lip of the bottom board and onto the ground than it is to roll it all the way down a landing board.


Africanized - This is different than African bees. African bees (the breed) was introduced in Brazil, they have since spread into the southern half of the United States. Generally all bees south of the snow are a hybrid of European and African bees. Why are they not anywhere with snow? Because African bees produce massive amounts of brood and are not adapted to a snowy winter. The large amounts of bees will eat through their honey stores before winter is over and die. The gradient is between 10 and 99%, and these bees are Africanized bees, not "killer" African bees. Any wild animal/insect will defend it's young and bees are no different. They don't want to sting you since they will die and it weakens the hive, but if someone goes and knocks down their hive then they will react. The difference being the stronger the African genes, the more bees that will come to the defense.
Take all the news stories with a grain of salt. I was exceptionally rough with the feral bees today due to having to shift their "Super" frames out of the original box and into a "Super" box. No stings, no aggression. After all that knocking around, I lifted the lid on the Italian-Carniolans, pulled the first frame, and had a bee shoot straight out of the hive and zap me in the hand. I have yet to meet a mean feral hive, both in the "wild" and in apiary.

Queenright - A term used to describe a hive as having an established, laying queen.

Small Hive Beetle - These little jerks will sneak into a hive and eat the bee's honey. Afterwards they will lay their larvae in the honey and turn the comb into a wriggling, slimy mess. They won't destroy a hive by themselves, but they will definitely take advantage of a weakened hive. Bees also wont build on comb that has been slimed by the beetle larvae. Eliminate them with extreme prejudice.

Splitting - This is artificial swarming. Once a hive reaches a point where it is safe to remove 3 frames of bees, then a beekeeper can remove 2 frames of eggs+brood and 1 frame of honey. These frames will be set up in a nuc box and moved a few miles away from the original hive for at least a week. This allows the original queen's pheromones to fade and the bees in the nuc to realize "hey, we need a queen!". They will then raise a new queen, and she in turn will go on her maiden flight. Upon mating with drones, she will then return and begin laying eggs, thereby establishing a new hive. At this point it's safe to return the nuc to the original location without fear of the bees migrating back to the original hive.

Supersede - This is when the bees raise a queen cell with the original queen still remaining in the hive. This happens when the queen is damaged, becoming infertile, or simply is not laying consistently. The bees are raising queen cells in the center to top of the frames, and have decided they're going to throw a "surprise retirement" party for the current queen.

Swarming - This is when the original queen takes half the colony and leaves the hive. This happens when the hive is running out of space and there is simply not enough room to grow. Honeybee reproduction is on a hive scale, so the only time honeybees reproduce is when they swarm and establish a second hive. The remaining bees will raise a new queen, normally from the bottom of a frame, who will then take over queen duties for the original hive.

Varroa Mite - The bane of honeybees everywhere. These little mites hitched a ride from Asia and are now found across the entire United States. They are small mites that hop on the back of bees and bite into their abdomens, sucking on the bee's internal juices. They will then lay eggs in bee larvae cells, severely damaging the larvae as they develop. Mites alone aren't what is so devastating, it's the viruses that they carry.

That pretty much sums it up! Once I have more than three hives (which will be a bit more difficult to keep track of for readers) then I'll make a "bee roster" post and keep it updated as things change. I hope this helps :) As always, if anyone has any specific terms or questions they would like answered then please comment. I answer quickly, usually 6 hours or less, due to 5 hour work shifts. If I don't know the answer then I will research it, answer back, and link you references