Except for the bees, you need all of your tools in place before you start. Know how to use them, especially the smoker and hive tool, a special lever used to remove frames from beehives and scrape combs built outside the frame. Talk to members of your beekeeping community and go to meetings to learn more.
Angie's How To start a beehive
A few days before his 35th birthday, Indianapolis resident David Becken learned he was about to become a beekeeper. His wife, Christine, broke the news to him while he was home sick.
“When I told him, he jumped right out of bed,” says Christine, who bought the hive kit from Mike Seib, director-at-large of the Indiana Beekeepers’ Association and owner of Seib’s Hoosier Honey in Mooresville, Indiana.
Beekeepers recommend starting new hives in early spring. The Beckens started later, so Seib recommended a Langstroth hive. The removable frames in this particular hive allow the bees to build honeycomb quickly, creating more space to breed. Honeycomb insulates the hive during winter to ensure survival.
With the assembly instructions, a copy of “Beekeeping for Dummies,” and the help of Indiana’s beekeeping community, David got to work. “When I was growing up, my neighbors had bees,” he says. “So I’ve always wanted a hive.”
Urban beekeeping is growing, but if you live close to your neighbors, it’s a good idea to tell them that docile honeybees — not killer hornets — will be moving in next door. If they’re skeptical, send them some nice articles about the benefits of beekeeping.
Follow your beehive kit instructions. Typically, you build the shell first. Paint the outside with a light color, exterior-grade paint. Dark colors cause the bees to overheat during the summer.
Next, build the honeycomb frames. Some kits include wooden frames without anything in the middle. David’s kit included sheets of beeswax, which help the honeybees build faster.
When it’s ready, set your hive off the ground so rainwater can’t flood in, with the opening facing southeast for early morning sun. Set it near a water source and close to your garden.
A hive starts with about 10,000 bees and grows to nearly 100,000. It’s best to transport them when it’s dark outside and they’re inactive. When you’re ready to release the bees, first calm them with the smoker.
The Beckens purchased their bees from a local beekeeper for $140. These bees had already started building honeycomb on frames, so David simply moved those frames into his hive, then brushed the stragglers out of the box.
You can order a 3-pound package of honeybees for $150 to $200. But you must start early in spring, because they need to build more honeycomb before winter.
Open the package and let them swarm.
It sounds counterintuitive, but honeybees are very docile when swarming. They attack because they’re defending their home; they swarm when they’re looking for a home.
David’s queen, named Elizabeth, came in an easy-to-open queen cage. Some package queens come in a compartment and the worker bees free them.
Beekeepers paint a dot on their queens, according to an international color code, to document their age.
Whether starting from a package or pre-drawn honeycomb, new beehives need all the help they can get. Beekeepers recommend feeding the bees a 1-to-1 mixture of sugar and water in a Mason jar feeder. You can replace a jar as soon as it’s empty.