You’ve set up the ideal honey-making hive for your new bees, and you are sure your colony is happy with their new home.
Congrats! But your work doesn’t end after installing bees, nope, there’s a lot more to do throughout the year while managing a beehive to ensure your bee colony is a healthy, happy, honey-producing machine.
Let’s take a look at what your next steps are, and what the upcoming year looks like with your new hive.
When to Inspect the Hive
A watched pot never boils, and as hard as it may be, you shouldn’t be opening your hive frequently. In general, your bees will want to be left to their own devices once they are established and have begun serving their queen.
However, managing a beehive should not be considered as a set-it and forget-it project. After the initial installation, you should check your hive approximately every two weeks, in Spring and Fall, to ensure your honey factory is operating effectively.
There are a few other criteria to pay attention to, before opening your hive to the elements.
On the day of inspection, ensure that it is a calm, sunny, day. If it’s too windy or cold, your bees will be annoyed when you open the hive. Think of how you feel when you are snuggled up under the blankets on a cold day, and someone decides to take your blankies. If you know how that feels, you can understand why bees will be less than good hosts if they are disturbed in cold weather.
2. Time of Day
Not a morning person? Neither are your bees!
Honeybees will start work around 10 am and return to the hive at dusk. This means the best time to inspect your hive will be when everyone is away at work, foraging. There will be significantly fewer bees in the hive during this time, making it less likely that you get stung.
How to Handle Bees Safely
There won’t be many, or any, instances of actually having to handle a single bee unless you are doing an in-depth inspection. However, you will need to handle the hive as a whole during routine checks.
There are a few things you can do to prepare and make handling your hive easier on you, and your bees.
It may seem humorous, but your bees don’t like poor hygiene…or strong smells in general. So make sure you smell as close to…well, nothing, as possible before approaching your hive for inspection.
Strong shampoos, deodorants, and perfumes are a huge no-no. Some of these smells attract bees, in a way that you probably don’t want, and others annoy them, and you don’t want annoyed bees!
If you are a new beekeeper, you probably won’t go anywhere near your hive without your protective gear. Your suit, veil, and gloves are essential to have when you are first starting with bees. They can protect you from stings, and help you feel more confident when handling your hive.
If you are more comfortable sans gloves, because they can be quite awkward and clumsy, make sure your hands are free from foreign smells, food smells, and any jewelry. Why jewelry? Trust me, you don’t want to have your wedding band cut off a stung swollen finger.
3. Movements and Approach
When you begin your inspection, do yourself, and your bees, a favor by staying out of the way of their beeline. This busy bee highway is extremely important to your colony, and if you are standing in the way of their work, they will become agitated. Frustrated bees equal disorder and quite possibly aggression.
Always approach your hive from behind and allow your bees to continue their daily routine without any disruptions. Once you are in, be sure to move slowly and deliberately. Any quick or jerky movements may appear threatening to your hive. So stay calm, focused, and move as gracefully as possible.
The beekeeper’s best friend is the smoker, and you should have it prepared before you even start thinking about getting close to your hive. Ensure that your smoker is operating correctly, and is producing cool smoke.
Once you approach your hive, lift the corner of the backside of the hive top, and apply 2 or 3 short puffs of smoke into the hive. Then, wait a few seconds for the smoke to take effect before proceeding with your inspection.
What a Healthy Hive Looks Like
Once you have calmed your hive with your smoker, and you have delicately removed the lid, you can begin your inspection. The queen bee is the first thing to look for, and she will be your basis for determining if there are any issues or signs of problems with your colony.
When you are managing a beehive, look for the following things:
1. The Queen
The queen will be leaving you little “bread crumbs” of evidence that will either indicate that either everything is running smoothly…or not. If you are not able to locate her, you can look for her eggs. They will look like teeny tiny tic-tacs, and there should be one per cell. If you can see her eggs, then this is a great sign that the hive is operating as planned.
Should you not be able to locate the queen, and there are no eggs visible, there could be a problem with your hive. If she has died, been killed, or ill, your entire hive is in jeopardy, unless you can locate new queen cells, which are cells that house up-and-coming queens for your hive.
Often, your bees will have known long before you that there was something wrong with the queen, and they are probably already one step ahead of you in their preparations for a new queen.
2. Signs of Capped Cells
Capped cells are cells that have been sealed off by a nurse bee. This indicates that the eggs are developing within, and the hive is working as it should.
If your hive has been functioning for an entire season, you should be able to find young bees in all stages of development. If there is disorder to the pattern of your queen’s egg-laying, she could be old, sick, or even dying. A healthy queen will lay eggs in a regular pattern, only skipping cells once in a while. Extreme disarray needs to be looked at further.
Feeding and Managing a Beehive
A healthy, thriving, hive will take care of itself, for the most part. Bees will do their own foraging, feeding, reproducing, and queen-care. However, there will be times when you will need to provide food for your colony, and there are a few signs to watch for while managing a beehive that will indicate they are not eating well.
1. What Do Bees Eat?
Naturally, bees use components of the plants they are foraging for as their basic food source. In order for a bee to be productive, and thrive, they need to consume nectar from plants, pollen, and of course, water. The majority of their diet is made up of protein and fat.
2. When to Lend a Hand to Your Hive
There are unforeseen circumstances that can occur that are out of your hive’s control, like a late Spring, last minute frost, natural disasters, flooding, or even draughts. If any of these types of problems arise, your hive might need you to provide the food that they are unable to find.
Bees work hard throughout the warm months in order to store up enough food to maintain their entire hive throughout winter. If any unforeseen circumstances pop up throughout their foraging season, you can assume that your bees will need extra help during the winter as well.
What to Feed Your Hive
There are different types of feed to provide your hive with, depending upon the time of year. If it is the middle of winter, liquid food will freeze, and your bees will be unable to consume it, and instead, you should provide semi-solid food for your hungry bees.
During the cold months, bees create a large cluster of themselves, to keep warm. Place the following food options close to this little ball of bees to ensure they can access it for sustenance:
1. Their Favorite Flavor
If you have an established hive, the best thing for your bees is to provide them with their own honey that you’ve stored in a freezer from a previous extraction. You can put an entire frame in the freezer, and when you need to use the honey, scrape the caps off and place the frame close to your ball of bees.
Do not feed store-bought honey to your bees, as it is often diluted with unsavory components that may make your bees sick.
2. Granulated Sugar
Providing granulated sugar is an alternative that some beekeepers will swear by, however, this method may not always work. If you need to provide dry sugar, make sure the bees are utilizing it. If they are not consuming it, they may have decided that it is taking up valuable space in their hive. They will then use their precious energy to remove it, making them even weaker than before.
3. Sugar Syrup
Here is one of your best options for feed if you do not have access to your own hive’s honey from previous harvests. Making a ratio of 1:1 granulated (only) syrup and water will do the trick for this method. In extreme cases, this can be a 2:1 ratio, if needed.
Sugar syrup works best during fair weather seasons as frozen syrup will be too difficult for your bees, who are already weak during this time, to eat.
If you want to create a semi-solid form of food for the cold months, you can add corn syrup and cream of tartar to this mixture.
Seasonal Hive Management
Just as you prepare for different seasons, you must ensure your bees are ready to enter different seasons of their lives. There are a few things you will need to do every season as part of managing a beehive to ensure that your hive will continue to thrive.
Springtime is a tough season for your bees. There will be unpredictable warm vs cold weather patterns, and your hive is already weak from a long cold winter. However, if you have set your bees up for success through the previous months, they should be fine.
During this time of year, your bees will be preparing for the working season. Once it becomes warm consistently they will begin foraging. In turn, they will start building their food supply once again. Make sure you continue to supplement feed until your bees are well-established.
Bees may also swarm during this time of year. Swarming occurs when a colony decides that either they need more space, or they are ready to split into two separate hives. During this time, you can lose an entire hive if you are not careful with managing a beehive. If your hive swarms, make sure a new queen hatches in your beehive. The old queen and an army of worker bees will leave to start a new hive.
Beekeepers should be on the lookout for a swarm because, in some cases, both colonies will leave to find a new hive. If this happens, be ready to capture your swarm!
Tips for Spring
- Only inspect hives during warm days
- Check for your queen and her eggs
- Add supers as your hive grows and replace frames
- If needed, feed supplemental food
Summer months can get hot, and this is the time of year when bees have a long to-do list of foraging in preparation for winter. In general, as part of managing a beehive, you can check every 1-2 weeks to ensure they are self-sufficient. However, if there are droughts or other natural disasters, you may need to supplement feed at this time as well.
Tips for Summer
- Check hive every 1-2 weeks
- Ensure there is a handy water source nearby
- Watch for hive productivity (presence of queen and eggs)
- Add supers as your hive grows in productivity and size
- Be on the lookout for thieves and unwanted guests (wasps, for example) and install an entrance reducer
- Harvest honey! Yes, the best part! But be sure to leave enough for your bees!
Bees are extremely in-tune with their environment, and when Autumn arrives, the queen will slow down in her egg-laying efforts. Worker bees will continue to forage and spend every last minute working, in preparation, for winter.
Tips for Autumn
- Inspect your hive every 2 weeks until it becomes cold
- Check your bee’s food pantry (make sure there is enough food for the winter) and prepare accordingly
- Make sure there is good ventilation, your bees will be in the hive for a long time
- Keep pests out by installing a mouse guard and entrance reducer
- Insulate your hive
If you have prepared your hive well in Autumn, there will be little work to do during the winter aside from providing supplemental feed if needed. Bees will settle in for the winter, forming a tight ball, and only rotate out for food, and occasionally to relieve themselves. Bees are tidy creatures, and they like to keep a clean house. Unfortunately, if some bees decide to leave the hive they may not return.
At this time of year, your hive has most likely shrunk in size, and that is ok. In fact, that’s just the way nature works. While managing a beehive, if you inspect it early in Spring, you will probably see some dead bees on the bottom. This is to be expected during the cold months, and as soon as your live bees are ready, they will remove those that have passed.
Tips for Winter
- Feed supplemental feed as needed
- Do not open the hive, instead tap the hive and listen for buzzing if you are concerned about the vitality of your bees
- Watch for signs of honey-seeking predators
- If possible, provide water in a close, fairly sunny, location
Record keeping is just plain ‘ol good practice for any beekeeper. Doing so will help you identify patterns and potential problems. There are a few things to be sure to include in your notes if you want to establish a good record book:
- The queen’s behavior
- Strange behaviors
- Signs of illness
- Supplemental feeding needs
As part of managing a beehive, there may come a time when you will need to move your hive to a new location. This might be because of a change in the environment, food supply, or simply because you are moving and want to take your hive with you…which, of course, you do!
If you are moving your hive a short distance from where it originally stands, you should prepare to do it in small increments. Bees are habitual creatures and can become confused or lost if the hive isn’t exactly where they expect it to be.
It is best to move your hive when there are few bees inside because it will be significantly lighter to lift. You can move your hive a few feet every day until your hive is in its new location.
If you are moving across the country, wait until late at night to lock your bees into their hive. Locking up during the day will isolate any foragers and they will get lost, die, or become a predator’s meal.
Next, ensure that you have closed off all openings, nooks, and crannies and then triple check to make sure there is sufficient ventilation. You can then take your entire hive, carefully, and secure it in your chosen moving vehicle. Upon arrival, let your bees explore their new location at their own discretion.
No matter where you and your hive go, if you prepare for the changing seasons, provide what the environment lacks, and monitor your hive closely, you will have a steady flow of golden honey for years to come.