Beekeeping Basics -- Bee Management
Back to Basics
Our First Year of Bee Management
Moving a hive of honey bees:
The first topic under management that we are going to discuss is
how to move a hive of bees. I include this topic here first because some
of you may purchase a complete hive of bees and that hive must be moved from the
sellers property to your location.
You should be aware of the fact that bees almost always return to their
own hive. When a young bee (about 20 days old) first leaves the hive, she
takes an orientation flight. She will fly about in front of the hive --
fixing its location in her navigation system. If you move the hive just a
few yards away, the honey bee will return to the exact spot where she knows her
hive should be. In fact, all the field bee "the bees that are out
looking for water, pollen, nectar, or propolis" will return and fly about
very confused over and around the spot where the hive was located.
Certainly you would think that they would discover their own hive just yards
away. These "lost" bees will enter any box that looks like a
shelter placed on that old location. It could even be a cardboard
box. Or if the hive was sitting under a tree, the field bees may gather on
a low hanging limb close to where the hive had been. If their hive is only
a few yards away, they will eventually work there way to it. This
interesting fact can be used in your management of bees.
First, if you have a very weak hive and you would like to
make it stronger, you can just swap positions with a strong hive.
The bees from the strong hive will then enter the weak hive there-by increasing
its population. It is said that bees will fly up to two miles from their
hive to gather nectar. Some studies show that bees will fly even further.
How does all of this affect moving bees? If you
are moving bees to a new location which is more than two miles away, no
problem. If you are moving the hive to a location much less than two
miles, you will loose all of your field bees because they will return to the old
What can you do? If you want to move your bees only a short
distance from where they are now, it would be best to move them to a location
several miles away first. Leave them there for a week or more. After
they get used to the distant location, you can then move them without the loss
of the field bees to your new location.
Tips on moving a hive of bees:
- Night is the best time to move a hive of bees. All the bees are
- If the weather is cold, you can completely seal the hive by taping and
blocking all escape holes.
- If the weather is warm, do not seal the hive entrance. Use wire
screen wire in the shape of a "V". Slide the pointed
"V" of the screen wire into the hive entrance to keep the
bees in but allow air passage.
- Prepare the new location by putting down blocks for the new hive to sit
on. Keep it off the ground to avoid moisture rotting the bottom board.
- Staple, crate, or tie the hive in advance of moving it. There is
no experience like the one you will have if the bottom board drops off
during the move to the vehicle and you are forced to walk through thousands
of bees that fall to the ground.
- Make sure the hive is securely fasten or tied down in the vehicle you
are using to move the bees.
- Avoid quick stops. Drive defensively.
- Do not leave the bees in or on a vehicle until you get up in the
morning to locate them. Do it when you get them to the site.
- Remove any screen wire used to block the entrance. Remove any
block used to seal the entrance. The bees must have air circulation
and they must be able to fly.
- One final important step::::: Check to make sure the queen survived the
move. This should be done four or five days after you have moved
the hive (spring, summer, and early fall). If you wait at least
four day and you see eggs in cells, you have a queen. It takes
eggs three days to hatch into larva. If you see no eggs, then
you have a problem.
If you are beginning with a package of bees, have you read the section
Installing Package Bees ?
Management of bees:
We are going to assume you have
your hive of honey bees started. As your bee colony grows, it will be
necessary to add more boxes "supers" for them to expand into. If
bees become crowded and there is not enough room for expansion of the brood
nest, the bees will swarm (fly off in large numbers along
with the queen to start a new colony). The loss of a swarm my leave
the remaining colony too weak to store surplus honey for the winter. When
a hive swarms the queen leaves with the bees but before leaving, she lays eggs
in special cells called queen cells. These cells (20 or more of them) will
be located at the edge or bottom of
the frames. What can you do if you see queen cells?
- First, you can
try to cut all of them out and this must be done every six or seven
days. Once bees start building queen cells, it is hard to stop them
from building more.
- You can give them more room by putting a new
super on the hive. This doesn't always work.
- You can take several frames with queen cells on
them and start a new hive. The new queens will emerge, fight, and
the survivor will mate and begin to produce more brood. Don't use
this method after mid July. Add new brood frames to the old hive and
cut all remaining queen cells.
- You can clip the wings of the queen so she can
not fly. When she tries to leave the hive with the swarm, she will
be unable to fly and can usually be found on the ground in front of the
hive. The swarm without a queen will return to the hive and wait
until one of the virgin queens emerges and take off again with her.
The bees will swarm before this new virgin queen emerges (hatches- is an
incorrect term). If you again go through the hive and find queen
cells, you can destroy them and put the old queen back into the hive.
- The best thing you can do is just make sure
your bees do not reach the critical point of being too crowded.
A beekeeper should know what his bees are doing. You should
examine the hive every two weeks to make sure they have plenty of room, that
the queen is laying eggs, that they are storing honey, and that the bees are
free of disease. Beekeeping 201 has information about diseases.
You should also keep a notebook of your observations. They will
become important as years come and go. Every bee years seems to present
us with something different. Your notebook will provide some means of
comparison. Our memories seem to fade and are not as reliable as notes
taken at the time an event occurs.
How to open and examine your hive:
You should always wear protective equipment when you work your hive.
You should light your smoker before getting started. I have often been
asked how I keep my smoker going. Seems some people have smokers go
out just about the time they need them. The key is to take time to get the
smoker going before rushing off to the bees. There are many types of
smoker fuel. I can remember learning how to build a fire as a boy
scout. Start small and then add new material slowly to the fire.
Don't dump a lot of smoker fuel onto a newly started fire. You will
smoother the fire and it will go out. The goal is to have a good cool
flow of smoke when you press the bellows on the smoker. One other
thing, inspect the hive during the mid part of the day. Select a day
when the bees are flying and seem very busy. Avoid cloudy overcast
days or days with threatening weather. Bees can be really nasty
during stormy weather.
- First, make sure all is ready. Do you have your hive tool?
Is the smoker going? What about neighbors? Children?
- Approach the hive from the side if possible. Do not stand in
front of the entrance. If you do, you will notice a crowd of bees
in a holding pattern behind you.
- Use your hive tool to remove the top cover. I like to lay the
top cover on the ground next to the hive with the bottom side up.
Blow a little smoke toward the entrance. Notice that I said a
little smoke. You don't need a lot.
- Next remove the inner cover. Bee have a tendency to glue this
down to the inner side of the hive with propolis, so you may have to pry
the inner cover off. Keep your smoker handy.
- Once the inner cover is off the top bars of the frames in the top
box (super) are exposed. Bees will start to migrate toward the
disturbance and you will notice them coming up between the top bars.
You can apply a little smoke to calm them down. A few may become
air borne and fly about you. Ignore them.
What are you doing in the hive? Do you know?
- Move slowly -- avoid quick sudden movement.
- Don't spend a lot of time with the hive open.
- Since this is a new hive, you could or should be looking for:
- Are the bees building new comb on the foundation you put into the
hive? New comb is nice and white or slightly yellow. See the
- Are all frames drawn out? This depends on how long the bees
have been in the hive. If the comb is drawn out (the bees have
made new comb over the foundation), do you have a new super to add to
the colony? I like to add a new super when 3/4 of the comb is
drawn out. The last frames to be drawn out are the ones on the
outside of the hive body. The bees will instinctively store honey
in these outside frames. Don't take it away from them.
- Can you recognize brood?
It will be located in the center of the frame of comb. It is tan
to dark brown in color. It may be hard to see eggs especially in
new comb that is demonstrated above, but you should learn how to spot
them. They look like little spots of sugar at the bottom of cells.
Larva is easier to spot -- they look like pearly white worms coiled
within a cell. The capped brook is brownish in color. Older
comb turns dark in color. This is because of travel stain and also
brood raised in comb turns the comb dark--sometimes almost brown/
black. If you can see eggs you do not need to find the queen to know
that you have one. One exception is with a laying worker which is
described in Beekeeping 201.
- Can you recognize capped honey? Capped honey will be found in
an arch across the top of the comb. If it is unsealed, it will be
a liquid. When sealed, the cappings are a distinct whitish color.
You will also see cells that have a yellow or brownish substance in
them. These cells contain pollen. A normal hive will have
most of the frame filled with brood, a small arch of honey at the top of
the frame and some pollen stored between the two. It is not
unusual to find a frame which is almost all brood in a strong hive.
- Get ready to close the hive if you are satisfied that all is well.
If you have a feeling that all is not right with the hive, you can email
me with some photos and I will try to give you information based upon
what I am able to see.