The Wonderful World of Bees          


A beekeeper and the hives...

Hives can be kept in tall or short stacks.

Keeping bees is different from owning cows or chickens – that’s because honeybees are not really domesticated animals. Bees in a hive behave in just the same way as bees in the wild.   Like wild bees, they collect flower nectar to make honey for food.  They make as much honey as they possibly can.  Since the beekeeper also want a lot of honey, their main job is to assist the bees in doing what come naturally.

The hives

The hive consists of several boxes, or hive bodies which are open at the top and bottom. 

Hanging inside each hive body are movable wooden frames.  The frames hold sheets of wax called foundation, on which bees build the six-sided cells of their combs.


A beekeeper's tools

The bee suit is a kind of overall that fastens tight at the wrists and ankles.  The hat has a very heavy veil.  The zipper at the bottom of the veil connects with a zipper around the neck of the suit.  This outfit is designed to keep out angry bees that might sting someone disturbing their hive.  Despite this protection, beekeepers do get stung, but most eventually develop an immunity to the bee’s venom.

A beekeeper’s equipment also include a hive tool and a smoker. The metal hive tool is used to open hive and loosen frames.  Bees seal up cracks in their hive with a sticky substance called bee glue.  The beekeeper has to break these seals to look inside.

When beekeepers open hives, they puff smoke on the bees, using the bellows attached to the smoker.  Smoke makes bees react as if their hive is on fire. 

Preparing for escape, they hurry to the honey stores and load up on honey.  A bee carrying honey isn't able to sting very well. 

Smoking the bees first makes it safer and easier for the beekeeper to do their work.

Looking for Brood

The beekeeper removes a few frames from each hive to look for brood: eggs and developing young bees.

In spring, the Queen bee starts laying eggs, and the hive brims with new life.

Feeding bees in winter

Inside the hive, the bees huddle together in a cluster extending across several frames.  As the bees on the outside of the cluster begin to feel the cold, they change places with the bees inside.  At the center of the hive, the temperature remains warm, and here the Queen bee spends the winter, protected by a living blanket of bees.

As winter passes, the bees eat the honey that they have so carefully stored.  When the food supply in one part of the hive is gone, the cluster moves to another area where the honey is stored.  Honey is a high energy food, and it keeps the bees warm despite the cold.

If the bees are at risk of running out of their own honey, the beekeeper will feed them syrup or a liquid honey down into the centre of the hive.

Putting new Queens in the hive

Queens are dispatched to the beekeeper in a small wooden or plastic cage with a screen on top.  Also in each cage are some worker bees, which feed and take care of the queen during the journey. 

The old queen is removed from the hive and the new queen inside the cage is placed in the hive.  The queen needs to be in a cage to begin with because the worker bees don’t know her and might even kill her.



At one end of the queen cage is a sugar plug. When the bees discover the cage, they start to chew through the sugar plug which will release her.  It will take them about three days to eat all the candy.  This should give them enough time to get acquainted with the new queen. 

Through the screen of her cage, they will learn her special smell.  By the time the queen crawls out of the cage, the bees should be ready to accept her and work for her.

Preventing Bee Swarms

When bee colonies grow rapidly and bee numbers are reaching their highest, about half the bees fly away to find a new place to live, taking the queen with them.

The hive is then left with a new young queen and fewer workers.  The hive wont produce as much honey for a season.

When things get too crowded, the bees can’t move around freely.  The hive prepares itself for a swarm.

Large queen cells begin to appear along the bottoms of the frames so a new queen can take the place of the old one.  

The young bees that hatch out of eggs laid in these cells will be fed a steady diet of royal jelly – this rich food substance produced by the worker bees’ bodies turns an ordinary female bee into a queen.

When the beekeeper sees lots of queen cells, they have to act fast. The cells are removed by scraping them off with the hive tool.

But the bees will keep on making queen cells.  What they need is more room.  So the beekeeper will layer another hive body filled with frames that already have wax cells on them. 

Or the beekeeper could also divided the crowded hive into two smaller hives.

Honey storage in the hive

One of the beekeeper’s jobs is to give the bees a place to store all the honey they produce.  This is done with a super.  Supers are small boxes containing frames and wax combs.  They are stacked on top of the hive bodies, where the bees live and raise their young.   When the bees find these extra storage places, they begin putting honey in them.  As long as the nectar flow lasts, the bees will fill super after super.

It is necessary to have only honey in these supers, but if the queen gets into this part of the hive, she will lay eggs there.

To prevent this, a queen excluder is used.  A sheet of plastic is placed between the upper hive body and the first honey super. 

The openings in the excluder are too small for the large queen to pass through, but just the right size for the worker bees.  The workers store honey in the cells of the supers and the queen lays eggs in the hive body.

Taking honey from the hive

In late spring, when the supers are full honey, it is time for the beekeepers to collect their share.  A frame of honey is removed when at least ¾ of the cells have wax caps on them.  Bees make these caps to protect the honey from moisture.  Capped honey is ripe and ready to extract.

When frames are removed from the hive, bees can be clinging to them.  Bees need to be brushed off.

The honey-filled supers need to be covered up as soon as possible so the bees from surrounding hives are not attracted by the sweet smell.

The neighboring bees may come zooming into open the cells and steal the honey.  Once bees become robbers, they will invade other bees’ hive to take honey.

Extracting Honey

The first step of the extracting process is cutting the wax caps of the honey-filled cells.  A large knife is heated electrically.  Propping up the frame over the decapping tank, the caps are sliced off from one side then the other. 

The wax caps fall down into the tank along with some trickles of honey.  Most of the honey stays in the cells because the clever bees have built them to slant upward.

Once a frame is uncapped, it is placed in the honey extractor.  This machine has a rack that holds several frames.  When the extractor is full, the machine spins like a washing machine tub. 



The rapid spinning pulls the honey from the cells and throws it against the walls of the extractor.  It runs down and collects at the bottom, where it is drawn out through the spigot (tap).

Honey is drained from the extractor and put into buckets.  Filters over the tops of the buckets catch bits of wax and other impurities. 

After that, honey is ready to be put into jars.



Photos and text excerpts taken from -