Beekeeping for Beginners: Honeybee Basics

Discover the basics of the honeybee, propolis, royal jelly benefits and more information on beekeeping for beginners.

  • A bee at rest. Notice the head, thorax and abdomen.
    Photo By Stockphoto/Antagain
  • The three distinct types of bees: worker, queen and drone.
    Illustration Courtesy Emily F. Johnson
  • Two honeybees work the honeycomb; at top right, one bee is completely inside a cell, while a fellow worker begins to enter another cell.
    Photo By Fotolia/sommai
  • Gathering pollen can take honeybees miles away from their home hives. During one collection trip, a honeybee will stop at 50 to 100 flowers. Even so, the average honeybee during its lifetime makes only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.
    Photo By Fotolia/photocreo
  • The Langstroth hive design revolutionized beekeeping and is still the most popular hive design among beekeepers. The top-bar hive is gaining in popularity.
    Photo Courtesy Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson
  • The parts of a bee's anatomy are clearly visible in this detailed photo.
    Photo By iStockphoto/MindStormInc.
  • The queen of this hive stands out; her larger and longer shape is easily spotted as she is surrounded by her busy drones.
    Photo By iStockphoto/picturethatphoto
  • A beekeeper carefully removes a frame full of honey from one of the supers in this Langstroth hive. Many beekeepers work without gloves, though most will continue to wear some type of helmet and veil.
    Photo By Fotolia/Bettina Wehmeyer
  • Weighted down by pollen, this honeybee is helping to pollinate the flowers she visits along the way. Honeybees will fly 55,000 miles and tap 2 million flowers to produce an ounce of honey.
    Photo By Fotolia/paulos1
  • While bumblebees collect pollen and make honey, they do not produce as much as a hive of honeybees. In addition, the smaller hive of bumblebees does not store surplus honey; they need all they produce to survive.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Coffee999
  • Honeybees work endlessly to create honeycomb in which to store honey and raise their young.
    Photo By Fotolia/Ahileos
  • Honeybees can fly for up to 6 miles at a rate of 15 miles per hour. To create their distinctive buzz, honeybees move their wings at about 11,400 strokes per minute.
    Photo By iStockphoto/amite
  • Look closely at this frame, near the bottom, those peanut shell looking things are actually queen cells, this hive is preparing for a new queen.
    Photo Courtesy Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson
  • To help evaporate excess moisture found in the nectar collected, honeybees will start fanning at the hive’s entrance. This also helps regulate the hive’s temperature.
    Photo By Fotolia/Marjan Veljanoski
  • A worker bee lives only six weeks during the hectic summer, but during the slower months of winter, workers will live eight weeks or longer. A queen lives for three to five years.
    Photo By Fotolia/grandaded
  • "The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping" by Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson
    Cover Courtesy Voyegeur Press

The lure of honey seems to have always been a strong incentive to people of all backgrounds across many cultures. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Israelites and Romans are all known to have tended bees in locations as diverse as Africa, Europe and Asia. The ancient Maya also kept a variety of stingless (albeit less prolific) bees in Central America. But the bees we know and use today in North America are descendants of Western honeybees, which were developed in Europe and carried across the ocean by American colonists. Even prior to the 1700s, established beehives were already in place across New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

One problem that beekeepers faced throughout all these times was that there wasn’t a good way of harvesting the honey. Harvesting could involve the destruction of all or part of the hive depending on the type of hive used. Smoking the hives with sulfur was also sometimes used to kill the entire colony of bees, which would leave the physical hive intact but result in the destruction of all the bees.

All of this changed in the mid-1800s, when L.L. Langstroth of Pennsylvania developed a new style of beehive, which is still in use today. The Langstroth hive is special because it is made of individual components that can be easily taken apart and examined without upsetting the bees or destroying their work. The bees in this kind of hive build their combs and store their honey on a series of movable frames, which can be easily and nondestructively removed when it’s time to harvest honey. (For more on the Langstroth hive, see Reverend Langstroth and Beehive History.)

Today, beekeeping means different things to different people. For some it’s a business (of both honey collection and professional crop pollination services), but for many others it’s a lovely, enjoyable hobby that can give a lifetime of pleasure.

Members of the hive

A beehive is made up of three distinct types of bees:

1. Workers

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