Introduction to Beekeeping - A City Bees fundamentals class
Care and Handling of Bees; Colony Health and Vitality
- You should look forward to sunny days as an opportunity to visit your hives where you can do positive things for your bee colony. Do tasks which optimize the good health, happiness and efficient working conditions of your bees.
- When heading to a hive, think ahead about the time of year, weather, time of day, nectar flow and pollen available. For each paraticular hive, consider what you remember from your last visit: general health of the hive, bee population, what you did for them last time and how they have performed over time.
- Given appropriate weather, assume that you will be stung on a regular basis as a beekeeper and that eventually you won't even think about it. Here are some main reasons to always go through each hive completely - never cower or resist looking at each side of every frame in the hive, especially the brood area. Every time you completely work through a hive, you will not only gain tremendous new knowledge and perspective (you can learn something new every time for 100 years), but you will be providing yourself with the opportunity to correct some problem which could save your hive from decline or demise. Generally bees use to survive OK, but with current diseases and pest challenges, it is easy to recognize how much they flourish when given positive attention on a regular basis.
Here are some main points of why you should go through a hive:
Little Handy Tips
- Are the bees flying? How is the general population?
- Check for laying queen or at least find fresh eggs
- Check the brood population, pattern and the quality of laying in brood areas
- Assess for disease present or impact to hive health
- Check for queen cups, swarm cells and work to head off swarming (make splits?)
- Check for adequate food stores (capped and freshly added nectar)
- Check for stuffed honey supers (no space to store new honey, swarm soon?)
- Rearrrange and reconfigure hive for better bee work performance
- Clean up hive, removing burr comb, odd brood comb and erratic comb configurations
- Swap out old nasty comb, broken frames and sad, weak hive boxes
Questions to ask during hive visits throughout the year:
- When getting into a hive, remove the outside or second frame which makes room to pull other frames. The queen will likely not be on the outside frames, so it is less likely that you will "roll" or squish her.
- You can lean the first two or three frames against the hive or bush to keep them out of the way.
- When taking off and stacking each layer of box, put a stick on top of the lower box to act as a spacer so you don't squish all the bees on the top of the lower box and on the bottom of the frames of the upper box you are stacking.
- You can stack as high as you want, just keep spacing with sticks.
- Smoke the bees down before adding another box on top and smoke the bees up from the bottom of the frames of the box you are adding. If they scamper away from where your are dropping the boxes, they won't get killed. Once on, smoke the bees down from the top again to get them down and off the top of the frames so that you can add additional boxes.
- If bees are hanging on the sides of the box, use your bee brush and brush them back onto the top of the frames, then smoke them in if you have to add more boxes.
- When removing honey frames, most of the bees are removed by "shaking" the bees from the frames and then brushing off the few remaining bees
- Always put a rock or cement block on top of the hive so the top doesn't blow off.
Beginning start-up (usually Spring)
Once built up in late Spring and early Summer
- Is the hive getting the most sun that it can throughout the day?
- Will the location get sun in winter or will you have to move them then?
- Is the location too windy?
- Does the location collect cold and moisture during the winter and rains?
- Are you keeping a constant supply of sugar water feed during comb buildup?
- Are they out of sight of neighbors? Have you talked to eveyone who can see the hive and explained about how all the wild bees have been killed off and how there are so many health challenges now. Ask if they have seen "Ulees Gold".
- Are the bees happy and are you happy?
- Have you marked your queen so you know if she has swarmed or been superceeded?
- Keep reading and go with a beekeeper for a site visit.
Late Summer - early Fall
- Check every time that the queen is in the hive and laying?
- Are there supercedure or swarm cells? (do they want to do her in or split the hive)
- Are you providing sugar water feed when you put on a medium super of all new foundation - this provides fuel to draw out the comb.
- Is the population building and is there plenty of brood?
- Have they filled out the comb from side to side? (honey at the sides, brood middle)
- Have they filled up the new honey supers and are they out of storage room?
- Have you added new honey supers rotating the full box to the top?
- Always be on the lookout for mites.
- Have you added your "Queen Excluders"?
Late Fall - preparation for Winter
- Do they still have plenty of room to store honey?
- Swarm season is over (happens in Spring) but are there any cells?
- Have you seen any mites? If so, use screen bottomboards, drone cell trapping frames, dust with powdered sugar.
- Have you seen any still-born larvae (brood chill), brown gook in unhatched cells with bad smell (foul brood)?
- Eliminate foul brood equipment and shake the bees into new equipment with new foundation. Don't move any honey with them - they need to fast for a few days.
- Is there still nectar flow? - Are yellow-jackets or wasps robbing?
- Are ants a problem? (make a barrier using "Tangle Foot" - check it weekly)
- Have you added a new box of frames with new foundation during a nectar flow so that they draw out the comb? (they can't draw comb later in the year - do it early.)
- Have you removed and harvested honey, returning the drawn comb supers? (drawn comb makes it easy on the bees - they don't have to spend the time building comb)
- Are you still looking for mites? (little red dots on the bees, head-of-a-pin size)
- Are you removing most burr comb and crazy comb patterns? (keeping the comb neat will save the lives of bees as you pull the frames in and out of the box)
- Once all frames in a box are drawn out you can switch spacing to 9 frames per - less chance to "roll" or squish the queen, easier to cut off cappings)
- Is the queen still laying well?
- Every time, did you find the queen, how much brood, how is her laying pattern?
- Is the honey collection over? Is anything still blooming?
- Do they have enough food for the winter (full box of honey, at least)
- Is the queen still laying? Brood pattern still look good?
- Have you seen any Varroa Mites? (red dots)
- Are there any bees with deformed wings?
- When will you harvest honey?
- Where will you store your honey supers? (prepare for "Wax Moth invasion")
- Have you cleaned up messy burr comb and erratic brood (this will be your last chance to get the hive cleaned up for winter - it will be too cold later - get them ready now)
When you know Spring is coming (when warm enough to open the hive again)
- Check every couple of weeks that they still have enough food. Lift hive for weight.
- Are the bees still flying on sunny days?
- On very warm, sunny days, you can check the hive once in a while.
- Is the hive getting sun during the winter. This can mean the difference between diseased, dying hives and healthy, happy hives.
- Is this spot dry during the winter and after rains. Bees don't do well in bogs.
- Did the queen stop laying for a time?
- Did they toss out all of the drones?
- Did you remove all unneeded supers?
Early Spring, second year and thereafter
- Did the hive survive the winter?
- Is the queen still intact? - Is she laying again?
- Is she the same old marked queen or did they replace her when not looking?
- Reduce the number of supers to what they need.
- Do they have good, healthy comb in the main brood box for laying?
- Have you built up new equipment and have it ready for spring?
- Do they have space once spring hits?
See: Spring Management for in-depth details ...
- Is the queen laying?
- Check for disease
- Are they building up queen cells and want to swarm? Do they have plenty of room?
- Have you cleaned up messy burr comb after the winter?
- Head off swarm cells and have plenty of supers available
- If they have the tendency to want to swarm, make splits (divide the hive into two or several) or pull several frames of brood which you can add to weak hives and put several frames of fresh foundation frames right into the middle of the brood area. This exercises their wax-producing glands and consumes their swarming energies.
- Repeat the year's cycle ...