Guest post: Getting Started in Beekeeping

by Sarah

This is my 3rd year as a hobby beekeeper, I seriously love being a beekeeper and look forward to heading out to the apiary (technical name for where the beehives are) to see the girls buzzing in and out of their hives. If you look closely at each bee when it returns to the hive you can usually see mounds of pollen clumped to their back legs…sometimes its bright orange or yellow and sometimes its pale almost white. I chose to start beekeeping mostly to help my garden with pollination. I have many fruit trees and a large area planted and loved the idea of greater pollination rates but also “free” honey!

My first step to getting started in beekeeping was to read…I read every book, article and website I could get my hands on. Some of my favorites are Beekeeping for Dummies, , The Hive and The Honeybee, and ABC & XYZ of Bee-Culture. These sources will help you understand the basic terminology involved in beekeeping and the cycle of the colony.

The first item that you need is a hive. The most common hive is the Langstroth hive, developed in 1851 by Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth.

Picture courtesy of E H Thorne (Beehives) Ltd.

The Langstroth hive consists of hive bodies, frames and honey supers, bottom board and cover. The hive body is a deep hive box that placed on the bottom of the stack of boxes. In each of these deeps are 10 frames.

Picture courtesy of E H Thorne (Beehives) Ltd.

Usually a wood or plastic rectangle with wax coated plastic foundation or an all wax foundation held in by wires. This is where the brood will be. The Queen bee will normally stay in these 2 or 3 boxes, laying egg after egg in each of the cells on the frames.

On top of the deeps are the honey “supers”, usually with a depth of 6 5/8”. This is where the worker bees create honey. These boxes get added or removed throughout the year in conjunction with the honey flow. For example, in the spring you add supers and switch them out with empty ones as the bees fill them up. In each of these supers are also frames, same as in the deeps.

Another type of hive used is called a Top Bar Hive. Top Bar Hives consist of a long wooden body with sloped sides and wooden bars along the top. These bars are what the bees attach their comb too, drawing the wax down in the trapezoid shape of the box.

Picture courtesy of BBE-Tech [via from Rourke]

Kenyan Top Bar Hives are usually kept by people interested in more natural beekeeping methods. You can find great info on Top Bar Hives and other natural beekeeping methods at Bush Farms website or at the Bio Bees website.

Other equipment you may need is a jacket/veil combo or bee suit, a smoker, a hive tool, a bee brush and gloves. These items are highly recommended, but not necessary in order to keep bees…they just make it easier. Extra equipment you may also consider is a frame lifting tool, a honey extractor, or a hive carrier. All of these tools are very useful in certain settings and become extremely useful the more hives you have.

Finally, of course, you are going to need bees! There are a couple of different sources you can utilize to stock your hive. Probably the easiest way to get bees is to buy a package.

Picture courtesy Tarboo Valley Bees

Packages of bees can be purchased from bee supply companies; they usually run $75-160 and will ship direct to you in the spring. Bee packages sell out quickly so you have to place your order very early, usually late in the previous year.  Your package of bees will arrive, with your queen suspended in a cage of her own inside the package. You hang your queen cage in your hive and then dump your package of bees into the hive. The bees will chew through the plug in the queen cage and eventually release her.

Another source for bees is to catch a swarm. When a colony of bees grows too large for its hive it will grow a new queen and the old queen with about half of the colony will head out to look for a new home, this is how bees propagate. These swarms are usually very docile and are eager to find a new home.  Give your name and number to local law enforcement and pest control companies and you will most likely get calls for swarms in no time. Catching the swarm is usually pretty easy, as they usually clump on a tree branch. All that’s needed is a cardboard box and some garden clippers. You then hold your cardboard box under the swarm, either clip the branch so it falls into the box or give the branch a good downward shake so the bees fall into the box. If your queen is in the box the bees in the swarm will stay with her, watch the branches around you for small clumps of bees forming to make sure! Close your box up, leaving a small opening for stragglers; give them some time to find their way to their queen. Then, close it up the rest of the way and head home to your hives. You can see a video of a swarm catch here.

Your first year of beekeeping is mainly going to be a year of observation. Hopefully in your reading you have learned that its best to start with 2 hives so you can compare them. You want to spend the first year looking and identifying. Identify the difference between capped brood and honey. See if you can spot your queen. In the early summer take time to see the difference between drone cells and worker cells. Make sure your colony has plenty of room to expand; its brood chambers are not overstocked and they have plenty of empty combs for honey production.

The benefits of beekeeping are numerous; honey, wax, increased pollination, income potential and many more! In a SHTF scenario being a beekeeper could be a prime source of goods for barter and use. Honey obviously, but beeswax is great for weatherproofing, making candles, making beauty products like lip balm and soap and also has many uses in woodworking and machining. You could also raise bees for others to purchase from you.

Note from Rourke: Sarah lives on a small farm in California with her husband and kids. She keeps dairy goats, chickens and hogs along with her bees in an effort to live a self-sufficient and prepared life. She blogs daily about “farmlife” at

Want the Foxfire series? Download before it is too late

I have just recently discovered the Foxfire series of books. I guess I am pretty late to the party as so many have told me about them but alas I have arrived.

The Foxfire Books are a compilation of articles written by high school students for a magazine called Foxfire. The project was started back in 1968 in an effort to preserve the knowledge and traditions of the people of Appalachian Mountains(Ruban Gap, NC to be exact).

The people described in the articles live a “pilgrim” lifestyle growing their own food, raising their own meat, and taking care of themselves while avoiding the rest of the modern world. Skills described and documented are right up there that many preppers would want to learn – or at least have some reference material of.


My understanding is a publishing company has purchased the rights to The Foxfire Books and is now going across the internet taking down websites or links which lead to downloadable versions of the books.

If you are interested in downloading your own copies before they are taken down…..check out the following link. The first 5 in the series  which are the most informative and important – are available there:

If interested in buying hardcopy versions – click HERE.



Video of the Week: Chicken Coop Ideas


YouTube is an absolutely incredible source of information on almost anything you can think of. Every week we feature a new video related to a variety of topics such as firearms, first aid, gardening, security, food storage, water filtration….and current events.

Raising chicken are becoming more and more popular. In this video Becky from Becky’s Homestead shows a few different types of coops to consider. I really like the first and the third one as they look to be simple to build and inexpensive.



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#1 Essential Ingredient for Survival = WATER!!

The Award Winning LifeStraw Personal Water Filter


The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is an inexpensive and effective tool for making suspect water perfectly safe to drink.. Small and portable the LifeStraw – you guessed it – works just like a typical straw except as the water is drawn up through it is filtered clean. Simple! I have used one of these several times and they never fail to work as directed. At around $20 it is a deal!

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We are a frequent user of Amazon to purchase many preparedness-related items. Amazon offers an incredible variety of items at very good prices and excellent shipping times. If you are a Prime member most items ship in 2 days for FREE.  

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Follow the links below to take a look at the many items available from numerous categories. By the way – Amazon is certainly not just for survival & preparedness stuff. If you can think of it Amazon probably carries it.


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Can I Keep Chickens in My Backyard?

If you have made the decision that you would like to try your hand at keeping some chickens in your backyard, there are a few considerations that you might want to make first, and although you have probably thought of some of these, there just might be a few that might come as a surprise.


Legality of Raising Backyard Chickens

Probably the very first question you should ask yourself about raising chickens is, can I raise chickens in my backyard?’ You know, legally. I know, I know. If you are slightly stubborn like I tend to be you are probably saying to yourself, ‘this is my property, so surely I can do whatever I want on it’! Am I right? If that thought crossed your mind, or anything at all along those lines, trust me, I know where you’re coming from. Here’s the deal.

If you live within the boundaries of a city as most (but not all) of us do, you will want to start out by getting info on whether or not you can even keep chickens in your backyard while staying within the confines of the law. The last thing you want to do is to build or buy a chicken coop, purchase a few starter hens, buy some food, get the entire family excited about the adventure that lies ahead, only to have a bureaucrat pay you a visit and let you know (kindly or otherwise), that what you are doing against a city ordinance and that not only will you have to get rid of your new chicks, you will also have to pony up for a fine they’ve decided to hand you. What a slap in the face!


Basic Types of Zoning and Chickens

There are a few different types of zoning that exist, each one having different laws and regulations on what you will and what you will not be able to do. If your property happens to be zoned as agricultural, then you probably won’t have any problem raising chickens or constructing any type of chicken coop you might want to have. Most people reading this article will not fit that description however, and will live on property that is probably zoned as residential. Don’t let that discourage you in regards to chicken-raising, as many, many residential areas will allow people to raise a few chickens on their property. The best thing that you can do to make sure is to contact your city offices and simply ask them if there are any ordinances on raising chickens in your backyard, and what they are. You will find typically that there are two different areas of laws that will affect what you are able to do. First, there are often laws specific to the actual birds. How many birds you are able to have on your property (it might depend on the size of your property), what sex they can be (roosters, anyone?), and in some cases, although not extremely common, you might even have to get written permission from your neighbors! I know, that last one sounds a bit strange. You haven’t burned any bridges there, have you? The second set of laws have to do with the type of housing you use for your chickens. How large can your chicken coop be? Do you have to get a permit to build or even own a chicken coop in your backyard? Will this chicken coop need to be inspected?

I hope I haven’t scared you away from the idea of even wanting to start raising chickens in your backyard, and honestly I believe I have found some of the more extreme laws that you might want to, as your own city ordinance might include anything from having nearly no regulations at all, to maybe just one or two of these issues, which might not seem like much of a problem at all. Remember, as you are going into this and inquiring about the local laws of your city just remember that joy of fresh eggs, chickens and the family experience is all very much worth it in the end!


A Personal Example on Chicken Keeping Laws

It has been a number years now that raising chickens in your backyard has been allowed here in my city. In regards to how many chickens can be kept here, a person can keep up to 12 chickens, depending on the size of your property. Anywhere from house lots as small as 5,000 square feet keeping just two chickens, up to larger lots being allowed 12. There was a small public hearing where people were able to voice their opinions on the matter. For the most part it was thought that people being able to raise chickens in their backyard was fine, and that there wasn’t really any detriment at all.

Even public officials mentioned that when it came to complaints about chickens from neighbors (which were extremely rare as it is), the complaints were never about noise, and never about a smell (neither of those things seemed to be any problem at all). The only complaints on file were for the occasional chicken getting loose, which was always promptly gathered and put back in its place. I’m sure we can all point to that neighbor of ours that would be the first to complain about the slightest inconvenience, or really anything at all.

Whatever the case may be where you live, make sure you have it on good authority that you are able to keep chickens before going out and finding chicks and a chicken coop. Don’t take the advice of a friend or a neighbor or a real estate agent even someone near you that might be raising chickens. Sometimes when laws are passed that ban certain things, those who were practicing before the law came into effect are exempt from the new law; they are grandfathered in.


What if My City Does Not Allow Backyard Chickens?

If you find that your municipality does not allow raising chickens, don’t panic just yet. All might not be lost. The process of getting a simple law like this changed is often times much more simple than you might think. You might be asked to attend a city council meeting to state your case, and often times that will be enough for the city to take a vote on the issue, and I think often times you will find that no one wants to be the lone councilman putting their foot down on people wanting to become more self-sustaining. Be patient on the matter as this process doesn’t usually happen overnight. It can takes months for the ball to get rolling, but you can be a part of making great changes in your area if you stick with it. If you can find others in your area that back you on this issue and will be willing to work with you, even better. 


Nate Smith has been homesteading and dealing with backyard chickens for a number of years. He encourages people who are looking to begin raising chickens to gather information first on the best breeds of chickens, types of chicken coops and requirements that go into raising backyard chickens.


Fuel from chicken $#@%

This post was originally published as part of a Preparedness Guest Post Writing Contest here on ModernSurvivalOnline. It can be seen in its original form HERE. – Rourke


In the event of a collapse, water, shelter, food and fuel are the most basic of necessities.  As most of us who have put some thought into this have at least these bare minimums.  A good water supply and a way of filtering a not so good water supply.  A location that provides shelter from the elements and safety.  A durable food supply that hopefully will last long enough to get through whatever tribulation that comes and a fuel supply for vehicles, machines and cooking.

I have the best of all worlds with a nearly unlimited supply of firewood, a 500 gallon tank of propane and a water well that produces natural gas.  However I have not always had the best of all worlds.  
When I was much younger and newly married we lived on a 40 acre farm in the hardscrabble Arkansas Ozarks.  Although we had a 100 pound cylinder of propane to run our modest  abode, we often didn’t have money to fill the tank.  Of course we had a wood stove which was handy but also caused problems.  Trying to brew a pot of coffee on an indoor wood stove on a hot, humid morning is an exercise in discomfort.  The house would be a hundred degrees before the first cup was poured.  There had to be a better way.
That is when I decided to come up with an alternate to wood fired coffee in the summer.  We had a chicken house with usually a flock of 50 or more birds so the solution was well at hand.
Taking an old 55 gallon drum, through the large bung I filled it about half way full of chicken manure and water, a thin enough mixture to be able to pour it into the drum.  Once that was completed I found some fittings that would adapt to the small hole in the drum, I assume it was a vent, and hooked up a copper pipe where I attached  a propane regulator, pressure gauge and a burner and a valve.  The drum was now sealed and sitting outside in the sun.  I painted the middle of the drum black so it would absorb the heat as the bacteria likes a temperature of 80 to 105 degrees.  It will work a cooler temperatures but the gas production will be considerably less.
At the end of the first day I noticed that the pressure was about 5 pounds.  I opened the valve to vent the tank and smelled rotten eggs.  This was good as the slurry was releasing hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide.  The CO2 would keep oxygen away from the slurry to allow the anaerobic bacteria to get to work.  That bacteria takes feeds on the volatile solids in the manure and organic matter and exhales CH4 — methane.
By day 3 the odor was gone and the tank was pressurizing to over 10 pounds (not a very good idea) but it was producing gas.  More than enough to brew coffee and fix breakfast in the morning and have more gas to boil water in the evening.  The methane digester  continued to produce gas for about 90 days on about 25 gallons of manure slurry.  Not enough to run an oven or a range, but enough to keep from having to build a wood fire for coffee.
Later designs included a 10# relief valve so the drum wouldn’t rupture and a wire mesh flame arrestor both for safety concerns.
The simplest design is inverting a 50 gallon drum with the whole top removed inside a 55 gallon drum.  Attach a plastic gas line to the top of  the inverted drum and place a brick on it.  Sink the drum into the 55 gallon drum of slurry.  As the bacteria get to work the inverted drum will rise as the gas lifts it.  The brick will give you enough pressure to operate a small burner.  Viola – a small comfort.
If you decide to produce methane remember that it is an odorless, colorless, explosive gas.  Use some common sense.  Don’t hook it up or use it inside your house.  Don’t allow the pressure in the digesters rupture the tanks or explode.  Don’t  smoke or have a fire anywhere near your methane digesters.
Once your digester has stopped producing gas you have created the world’s best fertilizer.  Pour the slurry out into you garden.  The volatile solids are gone and the resulting fertilizer will not burn or harm your plants.  It is benign enough that you can plant directly in it.  Fill the digester with more manure (even human) and start again.   The best manures are pig, chicken and human.  Horse manure has too much ammonia (I think it was ammonia, it has been 40 years)  to digest well but will produce gas.
For a constant supply of gas I would have 3 or 4 drums that are sequenced 3 or 4 weeks apart so as one comes off line another will start producing.   Be careful and enjoy clean, blue gas flame.
Wolf Grulkey


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