The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to get new honeybees

Bees building comb

It's best to have at least two hives of honeybees, so one of my goals for this year is to double the size of our apiary.  How exactly to do that has been an issue I've been pondering for months.  Here are your main options for getting new bees:

  • Split an existing hive.  I've done this before with good luck, but it does have three downsides.  First, Warre hive enthusiasts believe you shouldn't open the hive more than once a year, and splitting is majorly intrusive.  Second, since we're in the very early stages of developing a chemical-free apiary, splitting wouldn't give us much genetic diversity.  (The queen for the new hive would have the queen from the old hive as her mother, and would likely mate with drones from the old hive since we're pretty isolated back here in the woods.  Inbreeding can be good...or it can be bad.)  And, finally, we probably wouldn't get much, if any honey, this year if we split the hive.
  • Catching a swarm.  This is the Warre-approved method of getting new bees from your current hive.  If we don't split our current hive, chances are it will swarm this spring because the bees seem to have already filled two boxes and are working on their third.  Putting up a swarm-attractant box could help capture that swarm.  This is chancy, of course, and has the same genetic problems as the option above, but is definitely worth a shot.
  • Buying a new package.  After long thought, we've decided to go with a new package this spring.  I found a new source of chemical-free bees in Maryland (whose bees are actually raised in the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia --- pretty close to us).  The proprietors explained that their bees are a mix of Carniolan and Russian varieties that have been raised on small cell and natural comb without chemicals for several years, so the ones that survived are better adapted to living without miticides and other pharmaceuticals. 

In the long run, our goal is for the apiary to be self-sustaining, but since we've only got one hive at the moment, paying for a new package this year makes sense.  Stay tuned for the big install next week!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Will you also put out a swarm attractant box?
Comment by Brian Sat May 4 13:33:03 2013
This is possibly a dumb question, though the only dumb questions are the ones you never ask. Is "chemical free" a hard thing to find? Is it likely that you'll get bees that have been sprayed with some chemicals or something? How's that work?
Comment by Stephen Sat May 4 16:06:09 2013

Brian --- The swarm attractant box is definitely going on the list. Let's hope I make time for it before the swarm! So, in a perfect world, we'll be going into fall with three hives.

Stephen --- The "chemical" part isn't that bees have been sprayed with chemicals, but that most honeybees in the U.S. have been raised with pharmaceuticals for so long that they can't survive without them. Specifically, varroa mites are so bad in the U.S. that most people treat their bees annually for mites as a matter of course. I should have linked to this post about chemical-free bees for more information.

Comment by anna Sat May 4 17:04:29 2013

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