Common Beginner Beekeeping Mistakes
Beekeeping for beginners can seem overwhelming. And everyone is afraid of making mistakes, right? Well, that does happen to all of us. Here are 10 beginner beekeeping mistakes that I most commonly see in my students. Perhaps you can avoid some of them.
If you are a new beekeeper, you can expect to face some common beekeeping mistakes.
If you are an experienced beekeeper, you can expect to have some beekeeping mistakes. Get the picture?
We would all like to be perfect beekeepers but that is not how this activity goes. Beekeeping is full of ups and down. Moments of joy and yes sometimes the agony of defeat!
Working with the bees and never completely controlling them, this is the life of a beekeeper. And, it is a wonderful thing.
After years of helping new beekeepers, I have a pretty good feeling idea of where things tend to go wrong. Let’s explore my top concerns and see if you can avoid them.
Feeding Bees Improperly
– This is a rather easy beekeeping problem to avoid. It requires a schedule for checking food stores.
You can not assume your bees are fine just because you see blooming flowers.
It’s hard to remember everything between hive inspections. Don’t rely on your memory – write it down.
Keep a beekeeping calendar with notes from your inspections. You can write down feeding schedules and mite treatment times too.
In general, most beekeepers feed bees sugar water when the colonies are new. This helps them become established.
Building comb (called drawing Comb) requires a lot of energy. Colonies that are well fed with grow strong faster.
Even if you get a new hive in Spring when things are blooming, you still need to offer sugar water.
Until, they get all of the comb in their boxes, drawn and honey stored feed them! New colonies – FEED until they get ALL the honeycomb in their boxes completed!
If the bees stop taking the sugar water, take a break for 2 – 3 weeks and then offer it again.
Any type of in-hive feeder is suitable for new colonies, some beekeepers like to use top-feeders because they hold a lot of syrup. However, there are many feeder styles.
Often new beekeepers feed their bees well in the beginning. But then they stop too soon. They assume that once Spring arrives – they no longer need help.
Then, they check the hives just before winter and find starving colonies!
We all, fail to feed our bees properly sometimes. Me too! Life gets in the way but good honey bee management requires vigilance.
Opening New Colonies Too Often
I will be the first to say that periodic hive inspections are vital to good bee health.
And, I understand that new beekeepers want and need to look inside the hive more often.
You do need to make sure things are progressing well and it is a great learning opportunity.
However, unless you have an emergency situation, do not open your beehive more than 1 time a week.
The bees have a lot of work to do. They will resent you taking the roof off their house every other day.
Inspections on a too frequent basis will hinder the progress of your colony. They may leave or abscond!
Failure to Check Queen Status
The queen bee is only one bee out of thousands. But, the role of the queen bee is vital to colony survival.
She is the only bee that can lay fertilized eggs. These are the eggs that develop into worker bees.
Common among new beekeepers is assuming that everything is okay without looking. The queen was fine last month – why should I check?
Sometimes a bee colony will decide to replace their queen. Or perhaps their queen is accidentally killed during a hive inspection? Maybe the hive swarms and needs a new queen.
The bee colony has a remarkable plan for replacing their queen but they are not always successful. Sometimes the beekeeper needs to intervene.
I adopt an approach of trusting my bees’ judgement when they decide they want a new queen. If they have to resources to replace a failing queen – that’s great.
But, my role as beekeeper is to ensure that the colony has a queen or the material to make a new queen. If the colony is too low in population to get the job done – I need to help.
Finding Your Queen Bee
Monthly queen checks for established colonies is a good idea. Can’t find your queen? It takes practice to learn how to find the queen bee.
The good news is you don’t have to find her every time. Look for a good pattern of healthy worker brood.
Colonies that are hopelessly queen-less are doomed unless the beekeeper finds the problem and gets a queen for the hive.
Not Having Extra Equipment
Beekeeping is not an inexpensive endeavor. I don’t want to think about all the money I have spent on different parts of beehives over the years.
When you begin, the basic starter hive is fine. You add more boxes as the colony grows and needs space.
One big mistake that many beekeepers make is not having extra equipment on hand.
What if your colony swarms or even better you find a wild swarm in a bush? If you are able to catch a honey bee swarm, you need a box for them.
Imagine the agony of seeing that beautiful large swarm of bees hanging on a low tree limb. Just within reach! And you have nothing to put them in.
Yes, you can work around and use a cardboard box or smaller honey supers in an emergency!
However, it is much easier and smarter to keep an extra deep (or medium if that’s what you use) on hand.
Along with extra frames and a box of foundation, this will prepare you for emergencies.
In a pinch, used beekeeping equipment may be a possibility but use proper precautions to when choosing to use old equipment. There will always be a measure of risk.
Feeling Like a Failure If Your Hive Swarms
Ok guys, bees swarm -it’s what they do. And yes, most of us beekeepers try to stop bees from swarming. It is a risky adventure for the bees and cuts into our honey harvest.
Many books have been written about honey bee swarming. And numerous techniques are used to attempt swarm prevention.
I’ve tried just about all of them. Guess what? Sometimes, they work – sometimes, they don’t.
Swarming is a natural instinct for honey bees. If your bee colony produces a swarm – catch it!
Make sure the original colony is successful in replacing their queen (check in about 2 weeks) and relax. We work with the bees, we don’t completely control them.
Failing to Have A Varroa Mite Plan
Varroa mites are a serious problem for most beekeepers. Some beekeepers claim to be able to maintain their colonies without mite treatments.
I think that is awesome. I also, doubt this is an effective method of bee management for most beekeepers.
Do not attempt to go treatment free with bees that have not been specially bred to be resistant to mites. No one “wants” to put chemicals in their hives but varroa mites kill hives.
Not having a varroa plan is one of the major beekeeping mistakes that kills many colonies each year.
It is unfair to let those bees die. Until you find truly resistant bees, find a method for controlling varroa mites. Several options are available. Find one that you can live with and use it.
Varroa mites can take up to 2 years to kill a colony. You are not out of the woods after the first year with no treatment.
Not Learning From Reputable Sources
The internet is a wonderful source of information on almost any topic. It also contains a lot of mis-information.
Perhaps, you do not know any beekeepers in your local area or you may not like the ones you have found.
No matter, there will still be information about beekeeping in your climate at a local university or library.
Use the internet to shop for beekeeping gifts that you want your relatives to buy – print it out and just give it to them. LOL
Failure to Inspect Colonies in Late Winter
This timing of this issue will depend on where you live. If you live in a cold climate, you sure don’t want to open a bee colony in January!
I live in the south so I can do a brief mini inspection on a warm day in January/Early March.
Many honey bee colonies starve to death in my area during the month of March. So early Spring/late Winter colonies may require some attention.
As the length of daylight grows and the daytime temperatures rise, brood rearing will begin. Those baby bees have to eat.
A warm spell followed by 2 weeks of cold rain can create an emergency for the colony.
If temps allow, do a quick food inspection on your colony in early Spring.
Thinking Your Honey Bee Colony Is Okay Because You See Bee Flight.
Periodic inspections are vital to maintaining a healthy honey bee colony. You may say – well … wild colonies never have any inspections. That is true.
It is also true that only about 20% of wild colonies survive beyond 1 year.
Seeing bees flying in and out of a beehive is not a guarantee that things are okay. You have to look. A quick check of queen status and food availability can save a bee colony.
In fact, those may be your bees foraging but they could be robber bees cleaning out the hive. A look inside is required to confirm the condition of your beehive.
Considering Use of a Smoker To Be Bad
Beekeepers have used smokers for thousands of years. Then along comes the Bee Movie and now many people are reluctant to use their bee smoker.
The proper use of a smoker actually saves bee lives. When bees sting, they usually die. And it is not good for the dynamics of the hive to have the colony in full alert mode for no reason.
A few puffs of cool smoke helps to lessen the alarm reaction. This process saves bees lives, protects you from a lot of stings and protects your neighbors next door.
When will you stop making beekeeping mistakes? Probably, never.
I still make mistakes every year. I do try to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. This is part of the process of becoming a good beekeeper.
Whether you are interested in bees as a hobby or you want to develop a full beekeeping business, some things are trial and error.
Learn from your challenges. Have you made all of these 10 beekeeping mistakes? That’s okay, I have made a lot of them myself.