Beekeeping Basics

Ask a beekeeper – 5 questions people ask, and answers that might surprise you

  1. Do you get stung a lot?
    Yes and no, I get stung every few times I visit my hives, which is certainly more than someone who stays clear of bees altogether, but considerably less than you would expect for someone who routinely dives elbows deep into a box of live bees.

    And not a sting was stung

    And not a sting was stung

  2. What kind of bees do you keep?
    Almost all beekeepers keep Apis mellifera, the European honey bee, but you hear a lot about different races of that species, Italians, Russians, and Carniolans are common examples of honey bee races. I asked my mentor this same question when I first started learning about bees.The answer that I got from him, it the on I’m proud to borrow today: “Mongrels.” What he meant was that his bees were bred from local stock, without regard to race. The benefit to this approach is that the colonies thatare thriving in your region contribute to the genetics of your bees. They may not be pure bred Italians, but they will be well adapted to thrive in your area. And I’ll take thriving bees over pedigreed bees any day.


    Sarah’s Mongrel Bees

  3. Are they really all girls?
    They are mostly all girls. Nearly all of the bees you will see outside of a hive are female workers, foraging for food and other goods. In a hive of 60,000 bees, a few thousand of them might be male (what we call drones). The males are easily identified because they are fatter and have really big eyes. You usually don’t see them though, because they only leave the hive to mate, and once they successfully mate, they die.

    Worker, Queen, and Drone

    From left to right: Worker, Queen and Drone.

  4. The queen runs the hive, right?
    Not really. Under normal circumstances, the queen is the only bee in the hive whose ovaries are developed, and it is her job to lay eggs. She spends almost all of her time moving from cell to cell depositing eggs in each one. She is able to control whether she deposits a male of female egg, but this decision seems to be made by the workers, who build larger cells for drones and smaller ones for workers. The queen is doted upon by a small group of bees, and her health is essential to the well being of the entire colony, but practically speaking, she is more a servant of the masses than a monarch.

    A queen, surrounded by her royal subjects.

    A queen surrounded by her royal subjects.

  5. Does it take a lot of time?
    I once heard someone say that keeping bees takes more time than a cat, but less time than I dog. It’s fairly accurate, but maintaining a beehive is really more like keeping a garden. There is work to be done in each season, you can expect to spend a few hours and few weeks, and occasionally things need to be done that may take a day or two, but in between you don’t even need to think about them. They are largely self sufficient, so if I were to all off the edge of the world tomorrow, my bees would probably not even notice (unlike my cat, who would be pissed).

Got a question that wasn’t answered? Leave it in a comment or e-mail me, and I will include it in future “Ask a beekeeper” posts!

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  • Reply
    Sarah Plonski
    March 19, 2014 at 5:13 am

    I will hopefully have honey for sale in the Summer and Fall. You can bet that I will be posting about it when it happens!

  • Reply
    Sarah Plonski
    March 19, 2014 at 5:32 am

    I do not personally sell nucs (short for nucleus hives, so called because they contain a tiny nuclear family of bees – queen, workers, brood and all.) Nucs are usually sold in the mid to late Spring, but beekeeper’s often place their orders as early as the Fall of the previous year. It can be pretty tricky to find someone still accepting orders this late, but definitely not impossible.

    The first place to start would be with your local beekeeper’s guild, since it is ideal to get bees that are already thriving in your area. If that doesn’t work for you, there are many large scale bee operations in the south that may still be selling.

    As I am not sure of your location, I will point you to the Philadelphia Beekeeper’s Guild website, which has a short list of people who sell bees both in the PA area, and elsewhere.

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