INDIANAPOLIS — Beekeeping is a great way for farmers to make money year-round. Unlike other commodities, honey stores well and lasts for years on the shelf.
“Honeybees can represent a nice way to diversify a farming operation while also rendering pollinator services to your small farm,” said Ashley Adair, Purdue Extension educator in Montgomery County.
Adair led a webinar on beekeeping sponsored by Purdue Women in Agriculture.
“An estimate from USDA was that there were about 8,000 colonies in Indiana in 2018,” she said. “That includes small- and large-scale beekeepers.”
There are many reasons to consider beekeeping, including pollinator services, honey, market opportunities and enjoyment.
“There are a few things you need to do to get started,” Adair said.
“One of those is getting a hold of the necessary equipment. You can expect to spend around $500 for a prefabricated kit.”
If you build one yourself you can spend less money, but a kit can be helpful when you’re starting out, she said.
Hive with at least one brood box. This includes brood frames, honey frames, queen excluder, bottom board, hive stand and inner and outer covers. Hives should be placed facing away from the prevailing winds and away from foot traffic.
Coveralls. Coveralls are meant to protect the wearer from bee stings and “hitchhiking” bees. Usually, they’re made from cotton and can be worn over regular clothing. Gloves are optional — sometimes dexterity is worth the risk of a sting to the hand.
Smoker. Smokers are used to “calm” the hive. Smoke masks the pheromones that would ordinarily be released by the bees when the hive is disturbed. There are many designs available, but all smokers have a bellows and burner.
Hive tool. A hive tool is a multi-purpose tool for working in the hive. It separates hive boxes from each other, pries frames apart and scrapes away beeswax and propolis.
Paint. Light colors of paint are used to protect the wood and keep the hive cool in summer months.
Lastly, you’ll need bees to get your colony started. Bees can be purchased or captured in swarms.
Swarms can be brushed into a box and transferred into a new hive. Swarm season is in May in Indiana.
“These are two kinds of packaged bees — nucs and packages,” Adair said. “Nucs are essentially small nucleus colonies with a queen and her brood. Packages are larger, made up of many unrelated worker bees and a caged-off queen.”
“The nuc includes bees that are related to each other. That means they have an increased chance for success,” she said. “Their queen is well-established. They’re also already going to have some honey stores.”
The disadvantages of nucs are that they tend to be expensive — around $250. They’re also difficult to transport.
“On the other hand, packages are usually wood boxes that are screened and can be shipped,” Adair said. “They are commonly available, and they’re also cheaper — around $150.”
“The disadvantage is the workers and queen are unrelated,” she said. “The queen has not been accepted by workers when they arrive. No stores of honey are established.”
Inside The Hive
There are three types of bees in every hive: worker, drone and queen bees.
“The majority of the hive is made up of worker bees, which are all female,” Adair explained. “Those worker bees do all of the tasks within the hive, the cleaning, cooking, foraging, scouting, guarding — all kinds of things.
“The drone is the only male found in the hive. Its only job is to reproduce with a queen. Drones don’t mate with the queen inside that hive. During mating season, usually in the spring, drones fly out and seek out a different queen.”
The largest bee is the queen. Her primary job is to lay eggs for the colony.
“I think beekeeping is a really fascinating look into the behavior of insects,” Adair said. “The bee is a really advanced type of insect.
“They spend a lot of time together. They form colonies in which they’re working together, day in and day out, to do all of the tasks you might see in a hive.”
Learn more about beekeeping at www.extension.entm.purdue.edu/beehive.