Spring is setting in. Though we are under a pandemic crisis to go around and enjoy the blooming flowers, our little buzzing friends are not! Now is the perfect season for an enthusiast to start their journey as a beekeeper.
Known technically as apiculture, the art of bee rearing is not to be taken lightly. Honeybees are the epitome of pollination and the main medium through which some species of flowers get the chance to reproduce. They are tireless workers, and their honeycomb is the amazing treasure house of their hard work. There are many reasons why people prefer the art of apiculture. The multitude of products like honey, beeswax, pollen pellets, royal jelly, etc, that these bees produce, or just maintaining colonies of bees to keep the rate of pollination from reducing are some of them. The byproducts made from honeycomb are used in many industries, especially in the food (for obvious reasons, honey) industry and medical field.
Bees have attracted multiple people in the past; either because they have been stung by them or because they were after the honey. In ancient Greece, where beekeeping is a form of agricultural art, many famous philosophers like Aristotle and Theophrastus started to document their observations about the activities of bees. As “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”, people found ways to avoid getting stung by the bees when they tried to steal the honey from their honeycombs. In the process, they invented the first tools like the screen veils and discovered smoke to be valuable self-defense against the bees.
With time and many curious minds with sharp observational skills, the mysteries and details of bee behaviour and their colony hierarchy came to light. With this information at hand, the development of the wax-comb, a starter cob on which bees build straight combs rather than their natural combs for easy extraction of the honey and wax. Modifications like this brought in other enthusiasts and allowed them to get started.
So, science helped in refining beekeeping strategies and aided in the designing of new tools too. These beekeeping supplies are what a basic apiculturist needs to get started. We’ll look at some of the important ones that will suit any enthusiast of apiculture!
Beekeeping supplies – The basic tools
- The Hive: This is the fundamental tool that acts as the backbone to your entire apiculture cycle. Synthetic honeycombs come with outer covers for better protection against the changing climatic conditions and an inner cover as insulation and a divider between the bees and the outer covering. They also contain regions called ‘Honey supers’ where the bees store the surplus honey, which is collected later. Other components, like the Hive body or brooding chambers and Queen excluders, are installed for better comb organisation so that the bees can store honey for their purposes. It also has a bottom stand which helps maintain a dry and insulated hive.
- A Hive tool: The bees produce a glue-like substance called ‘propolis, and they use it to keep the contents of the hive intact. This resin is pretty strong, and this needs a tool to scrape the comb from the hive sides and borders. There are different types of this hive tool. Generally, it has a flat, sharp, square-shaped end for scraping. Frames and supers are also pried apart with this tool.
- The smoker: This is one of the essential beekeeping supplies and a rendition of the technique which people developed in the 17th century. Smoke was used to driving out the honey bees from their honeycombs, and to collect honey without having to face the stingers. Smoke creates an environment that simulates a wildfire, causing the bees to fly away in alarm. But before they do, they gulp down their honey to prepare themselves for the sudden escape. Therefore, they become docile to attempt to sting those trying to steal their honey. Guard bees release an alarm pheromone (that smells like bananas!), which alerts all the members of the bee community in case of an emergency. But, smoke masks this effect and the guard of the honeycomb is let down. The tool is a stainless steel container with a heat shield covering and a grate at the base to propagate burning embers.
- The jacket with veil and gloves: While the bees carry their stingers as a weapon, the apiculturists need this veiled jacket to shield themselves from the painful stings they will encounter. The main reason that the bees go into attack mode is that humans exhale CO2. Our nervousness displays itself in the form of heavy breathing, and bees can sense that. But, as first-time beekeepers do feel the fear of the stingers, this jacket keeps them protected. These jackets may or may not have ventilation, but ventilated ones are more preferred so that the wearer doesn’t feel suffocated.
One of the beekeeping supplies that cannot be neglected is gloves. In rural areas, people resort to gunny bags that are wrapped around the hands, up until the elbows, to ensure protection. But now, we have developed soft leather materials for this purpose with ventilation above the wrist area.
- Feeders: During the autumn and winter seasons, when nectar is unavailable or sparsely available, the feeders come to the rescue of the bees. They are used to feed sugar syrup to the honey bees. This can be either a container placed outside the hive so that the bees swarm and feed on them. Or they can be plastic bags, placed inside the hive, above the brood combs, within an empty super. During the time of feeding, the beekeeper cuts a small slit into the feeding pouch, allowing the bees access to the sugar syrup.
- Bee Brush: This tool is one of the beekeeping supplies that gets stung a lot! It is mostly used to move bees away from the area the beekeeper is trying to work on. The reasons behind this are usually common ones such as harvesting honey or repairing a hive frame and even repairing a broken comb. An alternative tool would be the bee blowers.
- Uncappers: The honey is stored within the hexagonal cells of the stacked honeycomb. But bees are extra protective of their honey. They encapsulate it by sealing the borders of the cells to keep the honey intact within the cells. This is one of the most helpful beekeeping supplies where the extractor (the person who extracts honey from the comb) can uncap the sealed hexagonal cells. These are knives that need to be dipped in hot water to pop the wax sealing out. Nowadays, there are electrically heated knives that do the trick, only faster.
- Bees: This may be the last thing we’re mentioning, and yet it is the most crucial component, Bees! Swarms of bees are usually caught from a swarm or bought from trusted breeders.
COVID-19 and Beekeeping
For the art that is beekeeping, our love for it might end up with us having to work in the outdoors most of the time. Though we usually have our protective gear on, there are times when we have to interact with other people to ensure the work gets done properly. During these times, we need to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic still is very active and is growing constantly. As a result, proper precautionary measures need to be taken to ensure safety. As cleaning and sanitary conditions are highly essential in the current situation, we provide you with a checklist on how to keep your beekeeping environment safe.
COVID-19 cleaning checklist
- Clean all the storage containers and surfaces with approved disinfectants like 70% ethanol solution or diluted bleach solution. Repeat these processes as frequently as possible.
- Before picking up your bees, make sure to have the sanitised set up with all the essential beekeeping supplies ready. Also, make sure to carry sanitisers and disinfectants.
- Wipe the box containing the bees with disinfectant and avoid getting cleaning products on them.
- Maintain as much social distancing as possible and wash your hands as regularly as you can.
- Disinfect your transport vehicles regularly, most preferably before and after transport.
- Most importantly, wear masks and use disposable gloves where needed.
Maintaining a smooth business regime amidst this chaotic condition is hectic. But, in beekeeping, since bees do most of the work for us, all we need to do is take proper precautions and stay safe! Happy Beekeeping!