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In the spring, beekeepers set up new hives and repair old ones. A beginning beekeeper will have to purchase bees from a dealer. The beekeeper will set up the hive near an orchard or field where nectar will be available for the bees.
A beekeeper's primary task is the care and feeding of the bees. The hives must be inspected regularly for mite infestations and diseases. The bees must also occasionally be fed, especially during the winter months when forage is unavailable.
Beekeepers ensure that the bees and their surroundings are healthy and clean. They watch out for robber bees, who will try to rob food from other hives when they are unable to find enough nectar to make honey. Beekeepers make it easier for the bees to defend the hive by limiting the size of the entrance. Beekeepers must also watch for "swarming," a situation in which about half of the bees from a colony look for a new place to live because the hive has become too crowded or is no longer adequately ventilated. To prevent swarming, the entrance to the hive can be enlarged to improve air circulation, especially during the summer. The beekeeper might also clip the queen's wing to prevent her from leaving with the swarm or move half the bees to a new hive with another queen.
The queen bee also requires special attention. In a properly functioning hive the queen will be almost constantly laying eggs. If she becomes sick or old, the beekeeper will need to replace her.
Beekeepers must wear special equipment when working with bees. A veil and plastic helmet protect the beekeeper's head and neck from the stings of angry bees. Some beekeepers also wear thick clothing and gloves for protection, although many professionals feel that the thick clothes are too bulky and hot. Their choice is to risk the occasional sting to gain the benefit of wearing lighter clothing.
A beekeeper uses smoke to keep the bees from swarming in anger. An angry bee gives off a scent that alarms the rest of the hive. Smoke, produced in a special smoker device, masks the alarm scent, preventing the formation of an attack swarm.
Beekeepers must purchase or construct special enclosures to contain the beehives. The most popular model in the United States is the Langstroth hive, a rectangular wood and metal construction that sits upon a stand to keep it dry.
Harvesting honey is an important part of the beekeeper's job. When the honey is ready for harvesting, beekeepers seal the honeycomb with beeswax. They remove the frames of honeycombs and take them to the extractor, where the honey is spun out of the honeycomb. It is filtered and drained into a tank. The honey is stored in five-gallon buckets or in 55-gallon drums. This is a part of beekeeping where physical strength is important.
Beekeepers also spend time keeping data on their colonies. Their records track information regarding the queens, any extra food that may have been required, honey yields and dates, and so forth.