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Mistakes New Beekeepers Often Make
It is impossible to learn how to be a good beekeeper without having a few problems along the way. No one is the perfect beekeeper all the time. But, we can learn from others. By examining the most common beginner beekeeping mistakes, you may be able to prevent some of them from happening to you.
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 in my online beekeeping classes, I have a pretty good feeling about where things tend to go wrong.
Let’s look at the most common areas where newbies make beginner beekeeping mistakes and cause problems with their colonies.
Top Beginner Beekeeper Mistakes
- failure to feed hives when needed
- failure to feed new colonies long enough
- inspecting hives too frequently
- not checking the status of your queen bee
- not having extra beekeeping equipment
- feeling that a swarm is a beekeeping failure
- failure to control varroa mites
- taking advice from everyone
- placing beehives too close to your house
- failing to do routine hive inspections
- not using your bee smoker
- waiting too late to install a bear fence in bear country
- not using hive stands for your hives
- not respecting bee space – leaving out frames
- harvesting too much honey
Failure to Feed Bees Properly
Poor feeding is a rather easy beekeeping problem to avoid. It requires a schedule for checking food stores and understanding just how much food a bee colony needs.
You can not assume your bees are fine just because you see blooming flowers that bees love. Each colony has different needs based on population and other factors. However, we know for sure that any hive needs incoming nectar during the warm season.
Routine hive inspections throughout the season should verify the presence of incoming nectar and honey being stored. If your colony has no stored honey during mid Summer – there is a problem and you should consider feeding them.
Failure to Feed New Colonies Long Enough
A very common beginner beekeeping mistake involves feeding new colonies – or rather not feeding them well. Many new colonies reach Fall unprepared for Winter.
Often new beekeepers feed their bees well in the beginning. But then, they make the mistake of stopping too soon.
New colonies should be fed until they get all of the comb in their boxes, drawn and honey stored. If the bees stop taking sugar water, take a break for 2-3 weeks and then offer it again.
Inspecting Hives too Frequently
As important as routine inspections are, it is possible to over do a good thing. New beekeepers want and need to look inside the hive more often than an experienced beekeeper.
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. It is not natural to have the top of their home removed.
Inspections on a too frequent basis will hinder the progress of your colony. They may even leave or abscond in hopes of finding a new hive location with fewer interruptions.
Not Checking the Status of Your Queen Bee
The only way to know you have a good quality laying queen bee in your hive is to look. Many new beekeepers make the mistake of assuming the queen is there and laying.
You can not know this without opening the hive and looking for the queen or evidence of a queen.
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. Were they successful in replacing their queen? The bee colony has a remarkable plan for replacing their queen but they are not always successful.
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 bee brood. Do you see bee eggs? Larva and capped brood? If so, chances are she is okay.
Look inside the hive regularly to verify that you have a queen with a good brood pattern. Don’t rely on your memory – write it down.
Keep a beekeeping calendar with notes from your inspections. You can write down queen status, feeding schedules and mite treatment times too.
Not Having Extra Beekeeping Equipment on Hand
Beekeeping is not an inexpensive endeavor. I don’t want to think about all the money I have spent on hives and parts of beehives over the years.
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 the 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.
It is easy 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.
Understanding that Swarms are Natural
Ok guys, bees swarm -it’s what they do. Many books have been written about honey bee swarming. And numerous techniques are used to attempt swarm prevention. Sometimes, they work – sometimes, they don’t.
We work with the bees, we don’t completely control them. A swarm normally means that your colony is healthy enough to do so and that’s not really a bad thing. Don’t feel like a failure if you have a swarm.
Failing to Control Varroa Mites
Varroa mites are a serious problem 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 bees. Not having a varroa plan is one of the major beginner beekeeping mistakes. Many colonies die each year because of this approach.
Find a method for controlling varroa mites that works for you in your apiary. 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.
Taking Advice from Questionable 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. Seek out some local info to go with the beekeeping basics you are learning online.
But don’t make the mistake of trying every beekeeping management strategy that you hear about online. It may not work for your bees in your region and you may do harm.
Bad Beehive Placement
Placing your hive in a bad location is at best an inconvience and at worse a serious problem for you and the honey bees.
Take the time to find the very best location for your beehive. Yes, hives can be moved with proper preparation but it is much better to put them where you intend them to stay.
The temperament of a honey bee colony changes over time. A colony that had been easy going and docile for months – may suddenly become very protective. Don’t place hives too close to your house.
This is especially true in late Summer when colonies are large and have a lot of food stores to protect. A good hive location makes life much easier.
Failure to do Routine Hive Inspections
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. Regular hive inspections are the only way to know that the hive is healthy.
Not Using Your Bee Smoker Improperly
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.
We need cool, white smoker to calm the bees and avoid a full attack mode. This does not harm the colony.
A new beekeeper may make the mistake of using hot black smoke – this will only make the bees angry!
Waiting too Late to Install a Bear Fence
Many regions of the country have a bear population. The timid creatures often so unnoticed until they cause a problem.
Many a new beekeeper has been unaware of bears in the area until their hives are destroyed. If you live in a region with bears build a bear fence to protect your bees.
Not Using Hive Stands in the Bee Yard
Don’t make the mistake of not using hive stands for your beehives. You can purchase commercial hive stands that are ready to use. Or, you can build your own stands from wood, pipes, masonry blocks or other materials.
Hive stands help protect your wooden wear from rot. They raise the hive entrance off the ground to discourage skunks. They also help save the beekeeper’s back due to less lifting and bending.
Not Respecting Bee Space
A honey bee colony makes use of every bit of available space. Our modern Langstroth hive was designed on the principal of bee space.
If you have a 10 frame box, you need to be sure to have 10 frames in the box. (Unless you are using special spacers – but that’s a tale for another day.)
Some new beekeepers make the mistake of forgetting to put the correct number of frames in the hive boxes. When they return, the bees have built a tangle of honeycomb in the empty space.
This burr comb makes hive inspections more difficult and increased the chance that you may kill your queen.
Harvesting too Much Honey
With experience, beekeepers learn how much honey to leave for the bees for Winter. The new beekeeper may not realize the amount of honey needed.
Being impatient or taking too much of a honey harvest, may result in colony starvation. To avoid this, learn when bees in your region produce the most honey and how much honey should be left on the hive.
A Final Word on Beginner Beekeeping Mistakes
When will you stop making mistakes with your bees? Probably, never. But you can avoid making the same ones over and over again. Whether you are interested in bees as a hobby or you want to develop a full beekeeping business, always work to be better.
Have you made any of these beginning beekeeper mistakes? That’s okay, I have made a lot of them myself.