Adventures in Beekeeping

If you’ve visited the Butterfly Center in the past year, you’ll see we have updated the upstairs and downstairs exhibit space outside the butterfly flight area.  One of the new sections is on bees, beekeeping, and honey, and we also installed an “observation bee hive” inside the butterfly flight area itself. 

In the course of doing background research on honeybees I met a Houston beekeeper (Donald Burger, who is featured in our video about backyard beekeeping) and also read many books on keeping bees.  The more I learned about these insects, the more fascinating I found them.  As a result, and with Donald’s encouragement, I decided to set up a hive myself!  As of mid-April 2008, I am the proud caretaker of a hive of “Allstar” honeybees.

My next few blogs will be about my experience setting up the hive and what I have learned and continue to learn about bees in general.  I’ll also include insights gained from our observation hive at the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

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The museum’s hive

But back to setting up my own honeybee hive:  Last fall I started ordering equipment, which is available from several beekeeping supply companies around the country.  The ones I used were Dadant, Brushy Mountain, and Rossman Apiaries. They all have pretty much the same equipment at comparable prices.

Basic startup needs include the hive itself, which consists of a box filled with frames called the hive body.  The hive body sits on a stand and has an inner and outer cover.  Here’s a link that shows you all the parts of a hive.  All these components are made of wood and must be assembled and painted – so you need to order these things this well in advance.  You also need a bee suit, a smoker, a hive tool, a Boardman feeder, and a couple of entrance reducers (strips of wood used to control the size of the bees’ entrance to the hive).  It took me quite a while to get all the components and put them together.  However, this helped to increase my sense of anticipation…

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We mark the queen bee
with a blue dot in the museum’s hive

I ordered my bees from a local supplier back in the fall (you need to order bees in advance, as suppliers sometimes run out).  A starter colony consists of 3 pounds of bees (about 10,000 bees, I’m told) and a queen.  The bees come in a wooden box with screened sides – not that big a box, either (maybe about 12″ long by 6″ wide and deep).  The queen is in a much smaller box inside the main box.  In our area starter colonies are available for pickup in early April.  We got our bees from B. Weaver Apiaries in Navasota, one of the main local suppliers of honeybees.  Unfortunately I was out of town on the weekend they were distributed, but my neighbors, who also decided to keep bees this year, picked mine up along with theirs.  Here are a few pictures of the bee breeder’s operation.

As the colony grows I will need to add another hive body and on top of that, the “honey supers” where the bees will store honey that beekeepers periodically “rob.”  A healthy colony makes more than enough honey for itself and a beekeeper – in fact Donald tells me that the main problem with keeping bees is what to do with all the honey they produce!

Next time I’ll tell you about how my five-year old friend Benton and I installed the bees!  In the meantime, there are tons of websites with information about beekeeping.  Here are just two of them:  a beekeeping website with general info; and one on backyard beekeeping