Ashley looking into honey bee box

Adventures in Honey Bees: 5 Insane Things You Didn’t Know About Beekeeping

Learning about beekeeping – and now experiencing it first-hand – has been like discovering a whole new world.

From a beginner’s perspective, there are so many quirks to beekeeping that aren’t common knowledge.

From food to housing and everything in between, whether you’re considering getting bees someday or are just interested from afar, here are the top 5 coolest things most people don’t know about beekeeping.

1 – You have to feed your bees.

In Alaska, there are only a few months out of the year when there’s enough pollen around for honey bees to sustain themselves. The rest of the year, beekeepers have to supplement their food with sugar water.

That’s right – honey bees drink straight sugar water (which is super adorable, right?). We stocked up on a 10-lb bag of organic sugar. You generally just mix it with water 1:1.

Here’s a goofy short video of one of our bees drinking sugar water off of a nearby table.

2 – Bees get delivered in a box.

If you get something new (like bees), obviously it needs to be transported somehow. But did you know that when you buy honey bees, they literally get delivered in a box?

It’s called a “bee box,” and its structure consists of a wood frame and mesh walls. Here’s a video with me holding our first bee box, if you want to get a better idea of what a bee box looks like when it’s full of live bees.

3 – New bees need to be “installed.”

Once your bees arrive, you have to get the bees from their short-term travel bee box to their long-term home: the hive.

In the bee keeping community, they call the process of putting new bees into the hive “bee installation.”

The concept of getting a box of potentially angry, flying bees to go into a hive sounds like it requires some technical know-how, so it makes sense that they picked a technical-sounding word to describe the process.

We recently installed a box of bees into a hive for the first time – what an experience! Here’s a video, if you’re interested in watching how a bunch of beginners like us pulled it off.

(Hint: it requires spraying the bees down with sugar water so they can’t fly.)

4 – The queen bee has her own tiny box that’s plugged with candy.

The queen bee is bigger than all of the other bees. When you buy a bee box, the queen bee is placed inside of her own tiny box which is put inside of the main bee box.

In this photo below, we had just pulled the queen box out of the main bee box. The worker bees had already started to build wax comb on it.

plastic pink queen bee box

We were told that traditionally queen bee boxes are wooden, but ours was made of pink plastic.

The tube leading from the main chamber to the cap is filled with a thick candy sugar paste.

pink plastic queen bee box

You remove the cap once you put the queen bee box inside of the hive, then the worker bees eat their way through the candy to release their new queen.

5 – New beekeepers don’t get honey.

When you’re a first-year beekeeper with brand new equipment, all of the frames in the hive are empty. Since there’s no wax comb for the bees to store their honey in, the bees need to spend most of their resources building that wax comb (or “drawing it out”, as they call it).

Your first year keeping bees (particularly in Alaska, where our summer season is so short), you probably won’t get to enjoy harvesting fresh honey from your hive.

But hey – that’s just one more thing to look forward to next year.