Introduction to Beekeeping (Bee Breeding) Part I.

Beekeeping is an activity that consists of raising bees in an organized way, for it several beehives are arranged in a place that meets the adequate conditions so that the bees can live, reproduce and develop, this place is called Apiary and must be far away of human dwellings as well as stables, sheds, paddocks or any other place where domestic animals are raised, in order to avoid the attack of bees that may feel threatened by the presence of other species.

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Beekeeper Kelvin Lorca preparing smoker, in the background you can see the hives arranged in the apiary. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State, Venezuela.

In this extensive article of "Sembrando un País" we are going to explain the fundamental aspects to begin in the breeding of bees, from the construction of the hives, the safety implements that are essential to enter the apiary, how is the behavior of the bees, the most suitable places to set up the apiary and how honey is harvested from the hives.

1. The Beehives:

The bees can inhabit in different types of spaces that they consider adequate and safe for the establishment of their colonies, the space that the bees inhabit is called hive, and inside of them the bees (using the wax that they naturally produce) they will build the combs in which they will deposit the larvae, as well as the honey with which they will feed their young. The hives are divided into 2 sections The Brood Chamber and The Honey Supers: 

-The Brood Chamber is the heart of the hive, this is where the queen bee lives, depositing its eggs in the different hexagons that make up the honeycombs, on the other hand the worker bees will deposit the honey that they produce in each of these hexagons for ensure the feeding of the larvae once they hatch. When the bees have fully developed the breeding chamber, it means that the hive is ready to begin the storage of honey, and when the beekeeper realizes it, he places the first honey super in the hive.

 

-The Honey Supers are the levels that are placed on top of the breeding chamber, this is where the honey production that the beekeeper will harvest. For the bees, the honey supers constitute the space where they will store honey to your feed during the winter period (in the case of the stationary climate regions) and in the rainy season (in the case of the tropical climate regions), in both cases the worker bees will be unable to go out to look for pollen, and to keep all the members of the hive fed they will require the reserve of honey that they have constituted with so much effort. 

Hive without honey supers. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

Hive uncovered with a honey super. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

2. Construction of the Beehives:

It is true that bees have the ability to build their own hive, but when we are dedicated to raising bees it is most convenient for them to inhabit structures that are easy and practical to handle, therefore the need for the beekeeper to build structures that bees will inhabit in your apiary.

 

There are many models and forms to build a hive, in this article "Sembrando un País" is based on the methods used by the Venezuelan Beekeeper Camilo Lorca, who attended us very kindly and gave us his knowledge when we made the recording of the first chapter of our 2nd Season , dedicated to Beekeeping for Honey Production.

Lorca builds his beehives with wood like most of the apicultural producers in Venezuela; To make the walls of the hives a box is constructed consisting of 4 woven woods, which must have a guide on 2 of its sides on which the upper part of the frames that we offer to the bees for the construction of their honeycombs.

 

The measures of the boxes that will make up the brod chamber and the honey supers vary at the beekeeper's criteria, however we recommend making beehives with measures that facilitate the movement on foot of them inside the apiary, so we recommend keeping the width and height of the beehives in measures between 25 cm. and 50 cm. Take into account that the measures we give our brod chamber and honey supers, should be proportional to the measures we give to the frames that will make up each of these spaces. 

 

At this point it is interesting to mention that in Venezuela it is common to see hives whose brood chambers have higher height than the honey supers, the important thing at this point is that both the brood chamber and the honey super have the same width on each of their faces so that there is no difficulty in coupling the super to the brood chamber. If it is desired that the honey supers have lower height than the brood chamber, then the frames that will make up the supers must have less height than the frames of the brood chamber.

In this uncovered honey super can be seen the woven woods that make up the walls of the boxes. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

Beekeeper Camilo Lorca about to harvest in hive developed with 3 honey supers Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

Entrance of a hive sheltered by bees.  Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

The front face (or front wall) of the box that will make up the brood chamber must be a few centimeters less in height than the rest of them, we are talking about a space of 5 cm. approximately. This small opening will be the hive entrace, which in a few words is the door through which the bees will enter and exit. Likewise, the Brood Chamber must have 2 of its sides with the corresponding guides that will be used to place and sustain the frames.

 

It is worth mentioning that in Venezuela it is not common to find stores of agricultural inputs dedicated to distributing hives for bees, or carpenters who manufacture them on a regular basis. In the country, it is the apiculture producer who makes his own hives (or orders them to be made with a carpenter) with the criteria and measures that the producer considers. However, hives can be purchased to some beekeeper who produce them with commercial intentions, which is usually by order.

 

If you wish to incur in the manufacture of hives, we recommend first making a brood chamber and a honey super. If once finished, the characteristics of the same seem appropriate, we can make other honey supers and brood chambers using the same measures. On the other hand you can try to acquire a hive commercially that meets our criteria and based on its measures we can to manufacture the others. 

The wooden board that will make up the floor must have the same width as the breeding chamber on all sides, except in the front (where will be the entrance to our hive) in which you must leave an additional floor space between 5 cm and 10 cm. This space will be the platform from which the bees that leave the hive will take flight, and will also serve to allow a comfortable landing for the bees that return to the hive with pollen.

 

Regarding the roof of the hive, the Beekeeper Camilo Lorca uses a fairly inexpensive method to protect the hives from rain and "pillage" (when bees belonging to a hive attack another hive for being unprotected) which consists of placing a sheet of wood, on which a sheet of rubber is placed, to finally place a sheet of zinc wider than the hive. You can also make more elaborate roofs, but the important thing is that the upper part of the hive is adequately protected and at the same time the roof be easy to remove to monitor the development of the hive and realize the honey harvest. 

 

As for the honey supers, it is important that the box that will conform the walls of the same have on 2 of your sides the guides for the frames, as we saw earlier in the brood chamber. The supers do not need ground, because the idea is that they communicate internally with the brood chamber, they do not need a entrace or side holes on either side.

Bees taking flight and landing on the wooden platform in front of the hive entrace. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

Beehive roof, you can see the rubber sheet and zinc sheet. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

Up: Honey super with 10 frames. 

Down: Brood Chamber of Beehive. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Lomas de Niquel, Aragua State.

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Frame of Brood Chamber with honeycomb in development. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

It is recommended to place up to 3 honey supers at most in each hive to facilitate the handling of them at the time of harvesting, as well as to prevent the weight of the supers (once they are full of honey) causing damage to the brood chamber.

 

When the honey supers are placed on the hives, the roof of the hives is placed on the last honey super, in the same way the floor of all the supers must be hollow so that they communicate with the breeding chamber and the other supers, as well As the roof of the last honey super should be easily removed to allow honey to be harvested.

Finally we have the frames that we will introduce in the brood chamber and in the honey supers, these frames fulfill the function of offering the bees a structure where to construct the honeycombs in an organized way; which facilitates the supervision of the development in the brood chamber, and the harvest of the honey in the supers. The frames should have a width a little less than the width of the guides of the boxes of the brood chamber and the honey super to be able to enter and remove them without getting stuck in the walls, also the upper part of them should be wider than the rest of the frames in order to fit with the box guide.

 

It is advisable to place in each frame 3 or 4 lines of wire, with the intention of adhering to the wire the sheet of beeswax with which the frames will be prepared and on which the bees will build their honeycombs in the apiary.

Frame of brood chamber with 4 lines of wire. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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3. Preparation of the Frames of the Brood Chamber and Honey Super:

Depending on the size of the hives more or less frames can be inserted on them, in the case of the beehives that we had the opportunity to meet in the beekeeper's apiary Camilo Lorca, the brood chamber and the honey supers are conformed of 10 frames each, that is to say that in the case of a strong beehive and with good development we have 40 frames; 10 in the brood chamber and 30 divided between the 3 honey supers. 

 

Frames have a very simple preparation that consists of fixing a sheet of wax to each frame. If these frames were taken to the apiary and introduced into the hives without fixing the sheet, this would not prevent the bees from building their combs in them, but they would do it in a way that for beekeeping purposes would be impractical, taking the risk to the moment to manipulate the boxes to broke honeycombs and lose honey. On the other hand, when the wax sheet is fixed, the bees will build their honeycombs in a way that allows us to extract the frames without any risk of broke the honeycomb or losing the delicious honey.

To prepare the frames we need a tool known as a spur and a wooden board that we will use as a support. Lorca advises wetting the support board to facilitate the work of adhering the sheet to the wires of the frame, then with the spur we are doing pressure to fix the sheet. Finally Lorca uses a candle (made by himself using the wax of the bees) to seal the sheet to the lower part of the frame, using the same melted wax that drips from the candle.

 

When we finish preparing the frames of the brood chamber we introduce them to the beehives that we will take to the apiary for the bees to inhabit. At first we will only place in the apiary the brood chamber of the hives with their respective roofs, the honey supers will begin to be added to the hives once the bees have successfully developed the entire brood chamber; this happens when they have built honeycombs on the total surface of all the frames, and they are full of honey. When we observe this development in the brood chamber we begin to add the supes, which are convenient to be added one by one until each hive has its 3 honey supers.

 

The first time we move a honey super to the field we will do it with their respective assembled and prepared frames. Later, according the honey is harvested in the supers, we will take new frames to the field to replace the ones we have already harvested. To move the new frames to the field, it is convenient to have a structure with the same dimensions that the honey super, which we will only use to move the frames to the apiary and inside it. This structure will not be used as a honey super, but to move the frames avoiding damage to the beeswax sheets.

 

4. Apiary Location:

The bees leave their hives to look for pollen, which is the food of the worker bees. When the worker bees are well fed they are able to produce wax to build their honeycombs, honey to feed their young and royal jelly, which is the food of the queen bee. A bee can be separated from its hive at an approximate radius of 3 km to look for the pollen of the flowers offered by the plants that exist in the area,

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Beekeeper Camilo Lorca placing frame and sheet of beeswax on wooden board. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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Beekeeper Camilo Lorca fixing sheet of beeswax on the wire lines of the frame, making use of an artisanal spur. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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Beekeeper Camilo Lorca sealing sheet of beeswax in the frame, using a craft candle made with beeswax. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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Structure with dimensions similar to those of the honey super to move the new frames to the field. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

for which it is convenient to establish the apiary in places where there is an abundance of floral diversity and vegetation.

 

It is also advisable that there are trees in the place where the apiary is going to be established, since they will also provide flowers so that our bees can collect pollen, also the shade given by the trees will help to maintain a very pleasant temperature in the hives during the day, preventing them from getting too hot.

 

The apiaries can also be established close to areas where agricultural crops are grown, however if they are plantations that are constantly fumigated with agrochemicals apiaries should not be located near them, since the bees will be poisoned by the chemists when they go through the plantation looking for the pollen of flowers. If the plantation that is fumigated is very close to the apiary (200 meters for example) the agrochemicals can reach the hives due to the wind and severely damage all bees in the apiary, therefore it is not advisable to establish apiaries in very close places to plantations in which agrochemicals are used in a usual manner.

 

Bees exist in almost any part of the world and can adapt to almost all types of climate, there are no major limitations to establish the apiary, however a prudent distance of 500 meters should be taken from places where other animal species are reared and where human beings live. This distance is to prevent bees from attacking humans or breeding animals, which can happen if they feel their territory threatened by the presence of other species.

To start the construction of the apiary, only the plants that are in the place where we will place the hives should be removed, for this we can take as an example the beekeeper's apiary Camilo Lorca; the hives in this apiary are located in different sections, which is convenient due to the slope relief we have in this place. In these sections you can locate about 10 beehives, however if you have a wider space we can locate more hives, which must have a small separation distance between one and another, a few centimeters.

 

It is not convenient either for the environment or for bees that cut down trees in areas close to the apiary; The only criterion that should be taken to cut down a tree when establishing an apiary is that it presents one of these 3 conditions; disease, strongly colonized by termites (or "Comején", as we say in Venezuela to these insects), or that its trunk is weakened and can cause the tree to fall in a very close time. In one of these 3 cases you can make the decision to fell the tree to prevent it from falling on our hives.

 

We emphasize that the only area that should be free of plants or vegetation is where the hives will be located and where the access roads to the apiary will be made, in places where the hives will not be located, no trees should be cut down or vegetation removed; because we would be eliminating the sources of food for our bees and forcing them to fly further to look for pollen, we would also be doing unnecessary damage to the environment.

 

It is not convenient to locate a group of very large hives in a single sector of the apiary, it is best to locate them by groups of up to 30 beehives in different sectors of the apiary, in this way a better control of the bees is achieved and the vegetation is not eliminated in continuous areas, since each sector of the apiary is separated by the vegetation that naturally exist in the area. If it is the first time you practice beekeeping, it is best to start with few hives, maximum 10.

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In this photograph you can see the large number of trees and vegetation that Lorca preserved when establishing his Apiary. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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Apiaries must be separated at least 500 meters from areas where human beings live, as well as from areas where they live or graze breeding animals. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

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The most convenient areas for raising bees are rural areas where natural resources abound, as in this case is the Lomas de Niquel Sector of the Aragua State in Venezuela.

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In this photograph you can see the wooden structures that separate the hives from the apiary floor. Bucarán Beekeeping Cooperative, Aragua State.

Once the places where the hives are located are defined and cleaned, structures should be established that allow the hives to be separated by 50 cm. of soil, this to prevent insects such as ants attack the hive, for this you can use wooden sticks tied with wire (as we saw in the apiary of Camilo Lorca), or more elaborate iron structures. The columns of these structures must be covered with products to prevent the ants from climbing on them, this type of products can be found on the market or burned oil can also be used.

 

Once the structures are ready, the first beehives can be brought to the apiary to locate the bees that we commercially acquire, or we can attract the bees that exist in the area to our apiary. We can say that up to this point we can enter the apiary without the apiculture suit that is used to protect the body of the beekeeper, like the veil (or mask) used to protect the face and head. Once our hives begin to be populated by bees, we will not be able to enter the apiary without carrying the aforementioned safety implements.

 

5. Population of the Apiary Hives:

While it is true that there are people or companies that sell queen bees and worker bees, there is also the possibility of attracting bees to our hives. If you want to acquire a specific bee species to populate our apiary, it is advisable to buy the bees from a producer or a trusted company. However, the fact of acquiring an apicultural species does not guarantee that the genetic characteristics of the same will be maintained, because sooner or later they will be able to cross with other species of bees that exist in the area where our apiary is located.

 

The most advisable reason, in our opinion, to buy bees is the immediacy with which we can populate our hives and start our production. On the other hand, if you want to attract wild bees to the hives located in the apiary, the first thing we need to know is if there are bees in abundance in the area where we are located; If we are in a rural area, where there are large green areas, it is more likely that bees live in that area.

Wild bees move in swarms, where several worker bees fly around the queen to protect her. The goal of these bees is to find a suitable place to establish their colony, so if we place the apiary in a place where there is a good abundance of wild bees, we practically only have to place the beehives in the apiary for wild bees to find them . If we have done everything correctly, a group of wild bees will can find our hives and will realize that the place is perfect to settle and will go to find the rest of the swarm to indicate the address of the place they have found to settle. 

 

También se pueden capturar abejas para llevarlas a nuestras colmenas, pero para realizar esta actividad recomendamos que se cuente con el apoyo de un apicultor con experiencia, o con un ingeniero agrónoma que domine esta área.

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Wild bees pollinating Ixora flowers. Las Mercedes de Paparo Urbanization, Miranda State.

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Wild bees pollinating flowers in melon culture. La Llorona Farm, Río Tocuyo, Lara State.

Also to capture bees it is essential to have apiculture suit, veil, gloves and boots that are used as safety implements to work with bees, without these elements approaching swarms of bees is extremely dangerous and completely inadvisable.

 

At this point we conclude this first part of our article "Introduction to Beekeeping", we have decided to continue the points that follow in a second installment because of the extensiveness that has resulted from this publication; this in order to allow a better download time of each of the pages within our website that make up this publication. In the next installment we will deal with the essential safety implements for apicultural work, the preparation to enter the apiary and the behavior that must be kept inside it, as well as the extraction of honeycombs in the honey harvest and how the withdrawal should be from the apiary.

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