Hive Management
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Beekeeping Basics  -- Bee Management

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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 hive location.   

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 inside then.
  • 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 IMG_0084.jpg (46772 bytes)   the frames.   What can you do if you see queen cells?

  1.       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. 
  2. You can give them more room by putting a new super on the hive.  This doesn't always work.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The best thing you can do is just make sure your bees do not reach the critical point of being too crowded.

Hive inspections:

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.

Now What?

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:
  1. 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 photo below.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.