Beekeeping 101

I wanted to learn everything I could about beekeeping, so I got books from my local library and watched videos on how to care for bees. I read "Beekeeping For Dummies" by Howland Blackiston [Amazon] and "The Backyard Beekeeper, 4th Edition: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden" by Kim Flottum [Amazon]. I also joined my local beekeeping club and signed up for a beekeeping class that met at the club's apiary every week from March thru October. We focused on what our bees should be doing at that time of year and what management practices we needed to apply to help the bees survive and thrive. After completing this class, I purchased my first two hive kits, extra frames, extra hive boxes, a bee suit, and hive tool from a local beekeeping supply store, Forest Hill Woodworking here. Now that I had a class under my belt and equipment, I felt confident enough to purchase my first set of bees.

transporting bees
Transporting Bees to My Apiary

Getting the Bees

Based on what other beekeepers told me in the class and online, I should start with two hives. The idea is that I could compare the two hives when I run into any issues and troubleshoot based on any differences between the hives. Also, resources from a strong hive can be used to strengthen and save a weak hive from the brink.

I purchased two nucleus hives (five frame hives) from a local beekeeper, Ernest Blevins of Blevins Bees, who sells nucleus hive splits, and we installed them directly into my 10 frame Langstroth hive box. The entrance was sealed up with tape, and the top was strapped down to prevent escape into my car. I transported the bees from their apiary in the back of my car on a highway and bumpy backroads! Once I got them home, I placed them into my apiary and kept the tape across the entrance until dark to let them settle. I didn't want them to abscond or attack the first thing they see out of the entrance – me! I let them be for a week or two to let them settle before I could do my first hive inspection. In the meantime, I fed them a 1:1 ratio of sugar water to help them draw out all the frames.

5 frame nucleus hive installed into a 10 frame langstroth hive.
First Nucleus Hive Installed
Queen spotted in the center of the image during my first hive inspection.
Queen spotted on first hive inspection.

First Hive Inspection

I conducted my first hive inspection around a week after installing my bees. I named my hives "Gage" and "Gracie" after my two dogs. The frames of bees I received were installed in the middle five frames with empty frames on the outside. The empty frames were a plastic foundation with wax coating to give the bees a place to start. If I didn't get frames with wax coating, I'd have to coat the foundation myself. Bees do not like building directly on plastic and will create wonky comb to avoid the plastic foundation. I also had frames with wax foundation that avoids this issue but is harder to work with if you are building the frames yourself. The black plastic frames are also easier to see the white eggs against a black background.

During my first inspection, I found the queen in both hives, found eggs and capped brood on a frame or two. They had pollen stored and nectar that they were starting to turn into honey. They tend to store pollen and extra honey on the outside frames and next to the brood on each frame. The bees were mostly grouped around the middle six or seven frames which contained the brood and started to explore the empty frames. In a week of feeding the two hives, they had mostly drawn out two frames each and were already starting to store pollen in some of the new cells. The queen was even starting to move to the empty frames to lay eggs in the new cells and expand the hive.

Eggs layed in drawn comb
Eggs layed in freshly drawn comb

Rest of the Summer

Each inspection over the course of the summer, I looked for signs of a queenright hive, which means the hive has a queen (obviously), eggs/larva, capped brood, good brood pattern, pollen, and honey. Finding the queen is important, but finding eggs/larva determines if she's strong and laying enough to maintain the size of the hive. A good brood pattern is also a good indicator that she is a strong laying queen. She should be laying in a semi-circle pattern with pollen and honey at the top corners to feed the brood below.

As the bees expanded to every frame, I'd add another deep box of frames, and I fed the bees sugar water until they drew those frames out. Then, after they occupied all of those frames, I installed a queen excluder on top of the second deep and placed a super box on top for honey production. The excluder prevents the queen from moving into the super and laying eggs. They will only store honey in the boxes above the excluder. I had this configuration for both hives, and the bees nearly filled all the super frames with honey. In June, I was able to extract nine frames of capped honey and produced 2.5 gallons of honey!

This configuration (2 deep brood boxes) made inspections last 45 minutes to 1 hour or more per hive. I'd have to set aside two hours just for inspections, which doesn't count getting suited up and gathering my tools. Two brood boxes are more than enough space for the queen to lay eggs. Even one deep and one super is enough for brood space. After doing some research, I stumbled onto single brood chamber beekeeping, where the queen only has a single deep box to lay eggs and any boxes above would be for honey storage when the temperatures are warm enough. Then, in the winter, the excluder would be removed so the whole hive has access to the full space and all the resources. I'll try this out for my second year of beekeeping.

Varroa Mites Alcohol Wash
Varroa Mites in an Alcohol Wash


I also looked for signs of pests like hive beetles, wax moths, and varroa mites. Luckily, I didn't find any wax moths, but I did find some hive beetles. I would kill any I found and installed a hive beetle trap filled partially with mineral oil. I also found that unscented Swiffer pads across the top of the frames were good traps for hive beetles. The bees drive the beetles into tight spaces and use these traps as beetle jails to contain the pests. It's important to keep space between frames tight enough to prevent beetles from nestling into spaces that are too small for bees to get into. The bees will try to seal any gaps with propolis to prevent air, moisture, or pests from entering if there's a space too tight for the bees to travel.

Varroa mites are parasites that attach to the abdomen of the bee and can cause disease. They are very small and are tough to see with the naked eye while looking through the hive. I tested my hives for varroa with an alcohol wash method where bees around the brood nest are shaken into a small container. Then you scoop up about a 1/2 cup of bees, or approximately 300 bees, into a clear cup of alcohol and shake the closed cup for 10 or 15 seconds. Filter out the bees and count how many mites are left at the bottom of the clear cup. If you find 3 mites out of ~300 bees, that's a 1% mite infestation. The idea is to keep the mite count below 3% or 9 out of 300 bees. Anything higher would require treatment.

I started checking for mites in June and initially only found (2) mites in the Gage hive and none in the Gracie Hive, each with a sample size of 300 bees. Around the middle of August, I found (3) mites in the Gage hive and (7)! in the Gracie hive out of 300 bees. This may not have been above the threshold of 3% or (9 out of 300), but with fall approaching and cooler temps, I felt it was time to start treatment to prevent them from growing. I placed two Apivar strips at the 2nd and 8th frame for each brood box with the honey supers removed for 42 days minimum and 56 days max.

Insulation around the hives
Winterizing the hives with insulation


I prepared for winter by adding 2-inch-thick Polystyrene around the two hives to insulate against the cold air and placed an entrance reducer to prevent wind from blasting inside. I added removed queen excluders and added the honey supers of honey I had removed for mite treatment. Then I added a quilt box above the super. A quilt box is a super or deep filled with wood chips or hamster bedding that absorbs any moisture that would normally condense on the top cover and has a mesh or burlap layer stapled to the bottom of the box. The insulation and quilt box kept the bees warm and dry through the winter, but alas, my hives did not make it through winter.

On warm days where the temperature was above 50 or 60°F, I took a peek into the top of the quilt box to see the bees through the mesh bottom. They clustered at the top middle for most of the winter, but the Gracie hive started migrating to the outer frames. We had a mild winter with little to no snow and temps that rarely went below 32°F, but some days it dropped to 20°F, and I'd see many dead bees being pushed out the front. I added sugar bricks to the hive at the end of January and could see they were still clustered and active, but the cluster looked smaller than expected. By the time I checked them again two weeks later in February, the hives had completely collapsed. I was devastated.

hive collapse
Dead bees after a hive collapse
Varroa Mite attached to a honeybee abdomen
Varroa Mite attached to a honeybee abdomen


I could tell they had clustered and not migrated much because they still had a frame or two in each hive full of honey at the end frames, but the rest were completely bare. They both ran out of resources, and as their numbers dwindled, they couldn't keep the heat going to migrate to frames with more food. Once the queen died, the colony was not able to recover. There were hundreds of dead bees in a pile at the bottom. At the bottom, I saw dead mites on the bottom and could even see dead mites still attached to some dead bees.

Lessons Learned

Next year I'm going to treat earlier and test for mites more frequently. I didn't test after treating the hive because the temps dropped after I removed the Apivar strips, and I let too much time pass. Also, I need to feed earlier because I had only given the sugar bricks towards the end of winter; they didn't have time to use any of the sugar. Too little too late. Next winter, I'll give them sugar bricks right at the beginning of the winter with enough to last the full winter. I don't think I gave them enough honey since I had extracted 9 frames total, and both hives only produced capped honey in 15 to 17 frames total across both hives. This first year should have been all theirs. If I had left the honey super in the summer, I think it would have been enough to get them through the winter.

I'll also be starting the beekeeping year with single brood chamber hives. This will make hive inspections quicker and may give the bees more resources to handle pests and general growth. Since my bees had drawn all the frames, the hives next year will be able to hit the ground running. This will give the bees time to build up stores without having to worry about drawing out new frames of foundation from the start. I'll then give the bees the same management practices of a nucleus hive and maintain the hives with preventative treatments. Hopefully, these practices will get my two hives productive and healthy for the 2023 beekeeping season.


Beekeeping is an amazing and rewarding experience that takes a lot of planning, knowledge, and luck. I'm excited to see how my bees will progress in the future with time and experience. If you're just starting beekeeping, I highly suggest getting a beekeeping mentor and taking a course. Start small and work your way up. Every beekeeper will learn something from each success and failure, that's what makes beekeeping a great hobby!