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Beekeeping 101

Mike Angelo, Lower Hackett garden’s resident beekeeper, tends to two hives here. He was kind enough to open up the frames, suit people up, and tour the hives for National Pollinator Week in June.

While you can’t get the full effect unless you were at the workshop, here’s a few terms below to get familiar with beekeeping:

  • Bee package: How can you get thousands of bees shipped to your home? A bee package – literally a wooden box full of bees, some sugar solution to hold them over, and a smaller wooden box to house the queen. If you purchase a bee box, you’ll have to situate them into a hive yourself and start from the ground up.
  • Brood, or brood frame: in short, baby bees. All eggs, larva, and pupa develop in cells on the frame. They grow in that order (eggs grow into a grub-like larva, and then into pupa). When the eggs hatch, they’re fed “royal jelly” (see below) and may either develop into a worker bee, a drone, or even a queen. As they mature into the pupa stage, their cells will become “capped.”
  • Comb: a two-sided collection of wax cells to house either brood or honey. Honeycomb has an iconic hexagonal shape, and can store brood, pollen, and honey.
  • Drone: male bees mate with the queen bee (after which, they die). Drones, unlike worker bees (all female) do not assist to build the hive, collect pollen, or provide other functions – simply they help repopulate the brood.
  • Frame: removeable wooden frames slide into vertical beehives/boxes. The lip on either side of the frame perches it in the box, and bees will build their honeycomb within it. An 8-frame bee box can reach up to 60 pounds!
  • Hive: the “hive body” refers to the box the frames are in. The “hive stand” is the platform the hive is perched on. And the “hive” itself? The general term for where your bees live.
  • Hive tool: this metal tool is multi-purpose – it can pry apart frames (like a paint opener) and scrape propolis off (like a paint scraper). Beekeepers will often use “bee brushes” to swipe away bees off a frame gently, and of course the necessary smoker and veil.
  • Honey extractor: Honeycomb is placed inside the device, which spins quickly to force the honey outwards.
  • “Nuc”: short for nucleus – beekeepers can purchase frames that are ready to go with a full colony of bees, including a honey store and brood. It’s the deluxe version to start your hive compared to a package of bees since they’re all related, are ahead of schedule on honey production, and are already accustomed to their frames/home.
  • Pollen: yep, the same pollen from flowers you’re thinking of. Bees collect and store it for protein.
  • Pollen cakes: a patty of pollen or other food sources that beekeepers can attach to the hive as an extra food source. This is useful in the winter, when hives may die off.
  • Propolis: the sticky mixture of wax and saliva that bees use to stopper off holes in the hive.
  • Pupa: the last stage in the young bee’s life before maturity. Bees will go through a larval phase (like a grub), and then become a pupa. You can peer into the cells and see these little ones.
  • Queen: the exclusive female bee mating with drones for the full population of the hive. As stated in the description of “royal jelly” below, queen bees are chosen by the hive and fed only royal jelly to develop reproductive organs allowing them to mate. There is only one queen in a hive and she can be identified by her larger size and longer abdomen.
  • Royal jelly: a nutrient-dense secretion fed to larva as the bees grow. When certain bees are identified to become queens, they are fed copious amounts of royal jelly to help them develop the necessary anatomy to then mother all (or nearly all) bees in the hive.
  • Smoker: a crucial metal canister tool that allows beekeepers to burn natural items (wood scraps, burlap) and puff smoke into the hive to disorient and calm the bees.
  • Super: there are several categories of “supers.” Physically, they’re the wooden boxes to house your frames – but the depth determines their usage. Deep supers are preferable for brood, and smaller ones are better for honey. They’re kind of like the levels of a building, with a different ‘business’ on each.
  • Varroa mites: the most destructive, parasitic pest which carry disease among bees. Wax moths are also a common problem, which eat brood.