Our bee journey started with a Flow Hive and we could never have imagined how much joy it would bring us. Long before any honey, we could stroll over to our hive and watch bees being bees. Flight paths, pollen pants, hanging out on their porch and, eventually, bees in the windows of the Flow super. Fascinating. When our “nuc” (a nucleus of bees is usually 5 frames of bees) was delivered and installed we were blown away. We knew we wanted to beekeep, bigtime, and so we did and we love it and thus…Santa Barbara Hives. We now have close to 700 hives (in ten frame Langstroth hive boxes) sprinkled across Santa Barbara County, Ojai and Ventura and are opening our honey/bee store in Caprinteria in September! We will have Flow hives, regular hives and beekeeping supplies on display (honey, Jun, and much more too) and are happy to help you get started with bees or even maintain your bees if you don’t want to suit up and beekeep.
Here are some tips and things to consider to get started:
- Why do you want bees? Good for the garden? For honey? For your kids?
- If honey is high on the list then you should really consider a Flow hive as opposed to a “regular” (Langstroth”) hive. The Flow hive allows you to extract the honey simply by turning a key and you watch your honey flow into jars. Magic. Incredibly efficient. Without a flow hive you need extracting equipment and a clean enclosed place to extract. It is sticky, messy, can be heavy (a ten frame “deep” super of honey can weigh 100lbs) but also very fulfilling for those who want to do it.
- If you want a hive(s) for your garden any of the hives will be great. The Flow hive does have viewing windows so it doubles as an observation hive. The Flow hive itself is more expensive than a regular hive but doesn’t require additional extracting equipment and is much easier to extract honey.
- It will take some time for your new hive to produce honey as the bees need to build up their population, fill the hive, and start storing nectar in the honey super. Depending on what time of year you setup your hive you should expect it to take at least a year, usually more, for your hive to produce honey. In Santa Barbara, our “flow” (nectar flow coming from bees foraging on blooming plants, trees, etc) starts in March/April and lasts until July/August. From our experience, you should expect 30-36lbs of honey from your fully filled and capped (the bees cap the cells with wax for storage) Flow hive super.
- Are you going to beekeep?
We love it! But we know it is not for everyone and you can still have and enjoy bees without beekeeping yourself. We offer bee hive maintenance if you don’t.
Beekeeping isn’t hard to learn and with a few hives it isn’t terribly taxing physically but when you have bees it needs to be done regularly. Hives should be inspected at least once a month. We check all of our hives every two weeks. Hive inspections are done to check queens health (is she laying eggs), food stores, swarm or e-cells, mites, room to grow, ants, water?
Bees can figure out most of these things on their own but their chances of swarming increase significantly if they run out of room, food, or lose their queen. Even with hive inspections there is always a chance of bees swarming but it is very unlikely when they have what they need. The varroa mite is a very real threat to bees and can be kept in check with regular inspections and treatments. If varroa mites are left unchecked they can decimate a hive.
If you are going to beekeep you will need:
- to determine if you are you allergic? Bee stings are deadly to some and very unpleasant (lots of swelling) for others. A bee suit can reduce the risk greatly but you can still get stung and should consider this before diving into beekeeping. If you are allergic you should definitely consult your doctor and determine if you need an epi pen. If you do you should keep that with you at all times even if you don't have hives on your property.
- a good, level, spot for your hive. Bees love sun. Bees don’t love night lights. Bees definitely don’t love pesticides.
- bee hive
- hive stand (we strongly recommend an ant stand, with tanglefoot, as well, if ants show interest they can overrun a hive in no time)
- BEES! We have bees!
- bee suit or veil
- smoker (burlap is a great fire starter)
- hive tool
- bee brush
Why do I need to feed sugar to my bees? Sugar syrup helps bees when there is no natural nectar flow. Bees need resources to make wax and draw comb on new frames so that the queen can lay eggs and the bees can store pollen and nectar. When the flow is on you don’t need to feed your bees. When your Flow hive super is on you don’t want to feed sugar syrup or you will get sugar water honey.
Sugar syrup, using white cane sugar (not brown sugar or other types of sugar which have impurities and can cause dysentery), is mixed with water in ratios:
1:1 for light or “spring” syrup (one cup sugar, 1 cup water for example) to simulate nectar flow and encourage brood production.
2:1 for heavy or “fall” syrup (two cups sugar, 1 cup water for example) which the bees store as honey for the winter.
Pollen Substitute (“Sub”) or “Patties”
Used to boost brood production as the nurse bees consume it, generating royal jelly which they feed to larvae. We make our own pollen sub, mixed with essential oils and vitamins and will have it for sale in our store. Timing is key. You don’t want to boost brood production during the winter. The colony size will get smaller and the queen will probably take a break from laying for a while. The bees will “cluster” around her and the hive temp can be lower when there is no brood to keep warm. Pollen is usually fed coming out of winter to get the hive going or in late summer to boost a hive before they head into winter. Commercial beekeepers use it more often than backyard beekeepers to ensure hive strength.
Beekeeping is a great way to connect with nature, the seasons, your family, friends and community. Folks might thank you for beekeeping which means they recognize how important bees are and, while that is undeniable, we find that the bees do so much more for us than we do them. Please let us know if we can help you with your beekeeping!
If you have land in the Santa Barbara area and want to host our bees (24 hives minimum) which we take care of please reach out.
If you have crops, orchards in California that need pollinating please reach out as we have 700 hives at the ready.