Experimental College Course# 559-1
101 Bowley Center
Saturdays, 11:00am — 12:30pm
April 14 — June 2
Contact: ndemik@yahoo.com
Davis Bee Collective
This Experimental College course is no longer active. If you want to teach beekeeping through the EC, please email the Experimental College today!

Getting Started with Honeybees

Basic Equipment

If you plan on keeping bees, get your equipment together as soon as possible so that you are prepared when you find the bees or the bees find you


- Bee Veil - Hive Tool - Smoker


- bottom board (preferably screened) - brood boxes (2 deep size or 3 medium size) - queen excluder - honey boxes (1-3 medium or shallow size) - frames (10 per box, make sure they are the right size for the box) - wax foundation for frames (crimped wire is good) - inner cover - outer cover - feeder (entrance feeder is easiest, frame feeder works okay and it's easy to make your own top feeder out of pails or mason jars)

Getting the Bees

There are three traditional ways to get your own bees — buying packages, catching swarms, or getting a hold of a pre-established hive.

Package Bees

Ordering package bees from a local supplier is the easiest way to get started. The advantage is that you will get a reliable queen and several pounds of good worker bees in a simple little box. All you have to do is follow the directions and your chances of a successful introduction will be very high. The disadvantage of package bees is that they are expensive. See the Beekeeping Resources section on this page for local package suppliers.

Catching Bee Swarms

Every Spring bee colonies begin to multiply themselves by casting swarms. Typically, the old queen will leave with half the colony's workers, and the new queen will inherit the remaining workers and the old nest. The old queen and her workers leave the old nest in a great swarm which they fly around in until they form a cluster on a tree branch, stairwell, or any other object they choose. Once the bees form a cluster, the beekeeper can capture the swarm by knocking it into an empty hive or container.

The advantage of capturing a swarm is that it is free, and sometimes people will even pay you to take them. It might also be assumed that the swarm came from a colony that was strong enough to make it through the winter, so perhaps the genetics are good. The disadvantage is that the queen may be old and past her prime, and the bees might be from feral hives or hives that were not bred for gentleness which results in mean bees.

Buying Pre-established Hives

Occasionally you might come across someone, often in an advertisement, who is selling used equipment with bees already in it. While these deals are often attractive because you get equipment and bees for an often reasonable price, the danger is that the equipment harbors diseases. It is good to have someone with experience check out the hives before you buy them to make sure they are clean of pathogens.

Beekeeping Resources

There are a number of great resources both here in the Sacramento Valley and in the world at large to help the beginning beekeeper get started with bees. Remember that there is no one way to practice beekeeping, so exposing ourselves to a diversity of different methods and philosophies will make us better beekeepers.

Equipment Suppliers

For a huge list of suppliers, check out B-Z Bee's Comprehensive Supplier List

- Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies Davis is blessed to have a retail store dedicated to beekeeping supplies so nearby. While the prices are marked up compared to what you see in the catalogs, it is great to actually be able to see the variety and quality of different products before you buy. Great customer service, too.

- Dadant & Sons The publishers of the American Bee Journal also publish a good equipment catalog. They have a branch in Chico, CA.

- Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Another reliable equipment catalog

Package Bee & Queen Suppliers

- Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies They stock Italians and possibly others. Pricey, but they have a large stock.

- Bz-Bee Apiaries A relatively local operation run out of Esparto by John Foster. Real nice guy that raises good Italian and Carniolan queens. Very large outfit.

- Honey Bee Genetics A local operation in Vacaville run by Tom Parisian, an alum of the UC Davis Entomology Department. Their specialty is raising Russian-Carniolan hybrids that are specifically bred for mite resistance.


It seems that every year a new book on how to keep bees is published. The list below is far from comprehensive, as a quick check of the several hundred titles available at the UC Davis library will confirm. If anyone has titles they wish to add to the list, please edit them in! The links all direct to Amazon.com for reviews, details and availability.


- Getting Started in Beekeeping by Eric C. Mussen Eric Mussen is the Extension Apiculturist at UC Davis. This article is a brief primer geared towards those who are considering getting started.

Beginner Books

- The Beekeepers Handbook by Alphonse Avitabile & Diana Sammataro (3rd Edition) An excellent beginners book that is very up to date (2006), covers a broad range of topics, provides good illustrations, and has an easy to read format. Highly recommendable!

- The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden by Kim Flottum A new book (2005) aimed at the hobby urban and suburban beekeeper. Lots of color photographs and wide format, making it beautiful but more on the expensive side. As of

- Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston Good beginners book that is comprehensive and relatively up to date (2002).

Reference Books

- The Hive and the Honeybee This is the most classic modern text for beekeeping. The most recent edition was published in 1992 and includes 1324 pages on every topic of beekeeping that was relevant (at least back in the early 90's). Although there is a chapter on beginning with bees, this book is as close to a bible as there is for even the biggest beekeeping operations in North America. Where the beginner books scratch only enough of the surface to get your bees up and flying and troubleshoot a few common challenges, The Hive and the Honeybee delves deeply into all subjects pertaining to the biology, craft and business of beekeeping.

- The ABC and Xyz of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia of Beekeeping A true encyclopedia of beekeeping. This book has a long history, and is more for the hooked addict than the naive newbee.

- The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting by Eva Crane The masterpiece culmination of a lifetime's work researching the relationship between bees and humans across time and across the globe. This authoritative treatise is a once in a generation achievement.


- American Bee Journal Most popular bee journal in North America. It is geared towards the hobby and sideline beekeeper and every issue has lots of interesting articles and facts.

- Bee Culture The other major bee journal for North America. The budget isn't as big as ABJ, but it still has lots of good stuff.

Novels & Histories


- BeeSource.com This is the most comprehensive website dedicated to beekeeping on the web. It includes very active forums, including a beginner forum and a forum dedicated to "biological" (non-chemical) beekeeping, great design plans for building equipment, a classifieds section and much more.

- Organic Beekeepers Yahoo Group The description is "To establish a community where beekeepers can learn Organic Beekeeping field management without the use of drugs, chemicals, essential oils, FGMO, acids, fungicides, bacterial/viral inhibitants, micro-organism stimuli, and artificial feeds". Some of the people can be rather dogmatic on their views of what constitutes organic, but stimulating not the less.


Class #2, April 21

Basic Equipment

Installing a Package

Meet at 101 Bowley 11:00am

Class #1, April 14

Beekeeping has been a tradition of the bioregion and the university since before the first ever Picnic Day. The Entomology Department puts on an award winning insect display every Picnic Day that features the biology of honeybees and craft of their keeping. We'll group up at the classroom, walk to the honeybee exhibits and introduce ourselves to the world of beekeeping before finishing off with a couple rounds of honey tasting! - Observation Hives - Equipment - Honey Tasting

Observation Hive

Identify the following ten features

(1) Worker bees — there will be hundreds of them crawling about

(2) Drone bees — fewer of these bees and they will have more robust bodies and HUGE eyes

(3) Queen bee — only one in the hive, long and slender with a beautiful tapering bottom and a paint-marked back

(4) Pollen — look for open cells stuffed with colorful pollen, often orange and yellow

(5) Nectar — look for open cells filled with a syrup-like liquid

(6) Honey — look for closed cells, capped by a light and translucent wax

(7) Capped brood — look for closed cells, capped by a dark and opaque wax

(8) Uncapped brood — look for open cells inhabited by a single white worm-like grub

(9) Eggs — look for "rice grains" stuck the bottom of open cells, usually next to uncapped brood

(10) ???

Observe Behaviors

(1) Look on the frames for "dancing bees"

(2) Find the queen again and watch her for 5 minutes

(3) Do you see the "royal retinue" of bees who surround the queen wherever she trods?

(4) Do you see the queen laying eggs?

(5) Do you see nurse bees feeding the grubs pollen and honey sandwiches?

(6) Find the entrance to the hive against the wall near the window

(7) Do you see bees carrying pollen in their leg baskets?

(8) Do you see "bouncer" bees frisking incoming bees at the entrance?

(9) Follow a single returning forager from the entrance to the frames

(10) Find the queen again and say goodbye

Equipment Hands On

(1) Bee Boxes

(2) Frames with drawn honeycombs

(3) Smoker

(4) Hive Tool

Honey Tasting

(1) Go through the honey line at least three times

(2) Try to describe the relative tastes and colors of the different honeys

(3) Which honeys are local and which are distant?

(4) Which honeys come from plants native to California and which come from introduced plants?