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Beehive Management Practices for Successful Beekeepers

The main task of any beekeeper is to practice good hive management. That’s what beekeeping is all about – keeping honey bees healthy and productive. Some tasks involved in beehive management must be repeated throughout the year. Other beekeeper jobs might need attention once a year or less. Everyone who hopes to be a successful beekeeper must learn about all the aspects of keeping healthy colonies. There are no short cuts.

Frame of honey from a beekeeper managed hive image.

Anyone who imagines that beekeeping is a “hands off” endeavor, would be very wrong. Once you become involved in keeping bees, you learn really quick that they require attention.

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But wait – bees have been doing their thing for a long time without any human help, right? Yes, but managing bees in man-made hives is a different thing all together.

Keeping Honey Bees – Starting a Hive

The new beekeeper (new beek) has a lot to learn and it can feel overwhelming. Relax, take your time – you can not learn everything in one year.

Take a beekeeping class, or several. Each teacher focuses on different things and it will only benefit your beekeeping adventure to learn from different people.

Varied opinions can be frustrating but they give you many different ways to do things. While 10 different answers to one question can seem maddening – they may come in handy some day.

Basic Beekeeping Education

Read, learn everything you can -be sure to check out my article Beekeeping for Beginners. It covers many very basic facts that you want to know.

The new beekeeper who invests time in learning basic skills is more likely to enjoy success with their hives. Yes, you can rush in and do what you think is a good idea but often that leads to problems.

Maintaining a bee hive does take some time. But these jobs can be completed in less time as you become more comfortable and familiar with your bees.

Beekeeping Supplies You Really Need

Hey, I love getting bee stuff as much as the next guy but what do you really need? Getting started with bees is not cheap – make sure you are getting the necessaries first.

Learn everything you can about Beekeeping Supplies & Equipment well before your bees arrive. Do not wait until the day of bee arrival to assemble and paint your hive. Don’t be afraid to invest in quality basic tools and save the special goodies for later.

Setting up your apiary is one of the first tasks for beekeepers. Whether you have 2 hives or 10, where you place them can make your job easier or more difficult.

Over time your needs may change and you might decide to change things. But, in the beginning, give some thought to your layout. Beehives too near the house can be a problem because bee temperament changes.

It is best to avoid moving your beehive around the yard whenever possible. But, if you do need to move a hive, it can be done with proper care. It is not as simple as picking up and go walking away.

Also, you need to be able to get to your colonies in all types of weather and have room to work around them. Honey boxes are heavy. Are your hives placed far enough apart to work comfortably?

Does your municipality participate in spraying pesticides? Many cities are considerate of beekeepers but you need to know the local policy. You need a plan for how to protect your beehives from mosquito spraying?

Beehive management of several hives during inspections image.

Feeding Honey Bees

Getting new colonies off to a good start often requires providing extra nutrition. Many beekeepers invest time and money into feeding bees until they are established.

Feeding bees sugar water allows colonies with small populations to grow faster. Whether you have new hives from packages, small swarms or splits, we need to understand their needs. They are often starting with nothing.

There are several conditions that have to be met if you are trying to get your bees to build comb faster. A good population and ample food are the two biggest factors.

Honey bee colonies need more than just sugar. Foragers collect pollen to serve as a protein source for brood rearing. Beekeepers often feed their colonies extra pollen if natural sources as sparse.

Dry pollen in an outside feeder is one method. For other colonies pollen patties are made and placed inside the hive. But, this must be done with care especially in regions where Small Hive Beetles exist.

This is where good beehive management methods rely on understanding the problems faced by your bees. Local conditions come into play here as well.

Types of honey bee brood on a frame from a hive image.

Importance of Regular Hive Inspections

A lot can be learned from observing the hive entrance, however you don’t really know what’s inside unless you look. Routine hive inspections are an important part of beekeeping. This is a good time to clean up any issues that need your attention.

Even beekeepers who do not harvest honey still need to monitor the condition of their colonies. Disease, queenlessness and other issues still arise.

For those beekeepers who have dreams of a honey harvest, patience is a virtue. Not every hive produces excess honey each year. And, new hives often are not productive until their second year.

Plan ahead and learn all you can about honey harvesting so you will be ready when the big day arrives.

Challenges in the Apiary or Bee Yard

Even flowers that normally produce nectar may be dry due to late frost, drought or days of rain. With little or no natural nectar available, your hives may be experiencing a dearth.

Learn how to detect when a nectar dearth is occurring so you can help with supplemental feeding if needed.

Sometimes, we have to protect the bees from themselves. Strong honey bees colonies will kill and rob out weaker colonies.

If you see bees fighting and wrestling at the hive entrance. It may be honey bee robbing and the beekeepers needs to take steps to stop robber bees!

Swarming is a natural part of beekeeping. Most beekeepers hope to reduce or prevent swarming. Strive to give you bees room to grow and helpful tips to help prevent honey bee swarming.

To increase colony numbers or reduce the swarming urge, the beekeeper may split the hive. Splitting a beehive is an easy process but if you do it wrong or at the wrong time – both colonies are a risk.

As the season progresses, it is not unusual for the mood of your hives to change. Has that sweet gentle hive of bees in your backyard become a holy terror? You need to consider some techniques for dealing with aggressive honey bee colonies.

Alas, it is a said situation when a beekeeper discovers an empty hive. Why did my bees leave? Sometimes we never know but we call this “absconding bees“. This is different than normal swarming.

In spite our your best efforts, the time will come that you lose a hive of bees. Dead beehives often leave the beekeeper with a sense of failure. However, even the best beekeepers lose hives.

Inspect the dead hive and try to form a theory of what you think went wrong. You won’t always find the problem but you may learn something helpful.

Many problems that arise, such as a hive with laying workers, can be remedied if the problem is caught early on. However, not every hive can be saved.

Winter Beekeeping Tasks

What do bees do in Winter? How do these cold blooded insects survive cold temperatures? Our bees have a remarkable system of survival if they have what they need before cold arrives

Row of beehives in a winter snow image.

Winterizing hives includes preparing colonies for Winter as needed. Many colonies will need little or no extra preparation from the beekeeper. Your location and climate plays an important role in the steps to be taken.

Honey bees that are “born” in Fall are different than Spring bees. We call these special late season individuals fat winter bees. They are special and able to live much longer than Summer bees.

In the best beehive management methods, we prepare bees before Winter cold arrives. But, sometimes you need to feed bees during Winter.

Starving bees are considered an emergency! There are several ways to provide emergency food but plain sugar cakes are a simple way of feeding bees in Winter.

Once the bees are calm in the winter hive, and extra equipment put away – what do beekeepers do? Winter beekeeping tasks involve monitoring colony food stores and preparing for the new season.

No matter how much beekeeping experience you develop, you will still be surprised sometimes. Our bees are always doing things that cause us to marvel and wonder.

Observation is one of the best ways to learn more about bee and beekeeping. Sometimes, we struggle to understand what they may be telling us. Take time to observe your hives, you may see their mysterious washboarding behavior

Common Beekeeping Questions

Do beekeepers always get stung?

Yes, most beekeepers do indeed experience a bee sting on occasion. However, by wearing the proper beekeeper protective wear you can avoid most stings.

Also, once a new beekeeper learns how to properly inspect a beehive – the frequency of being stung by honey bees decreases.

How much time is required to keep bees?

Most resources estimate that 20-30 hours per year are needed to care for each beehive.

More important than the number of hours per hive is knowing what your bees need and when. Of course, the more hives you have – the more time is required for beekeeping.

How much does it cost to be a beekeeper?

In considering how much is costs to get started in beekeeping, know that initial startup costs are the largest expenditure.

Many tools, protective wear and wooden hive components last for years. Still, you can count on an average of $250 per hive for the hive and bees.

Protective wear for yourself ranges from $50 for a simple hat and veil to over $200 for a quality beekeeping suit.
beekeeper in a white bee suit

How hard is it to keep bees for honey production?

It is not hard to keep a couple of hives of bees to make honey for your family. You will be required to invest some time and money in the project.

Keeping bees in a hive is not the same as putting out a birdhouse. Bee colonies require inspections and maintenance in order to become good honey producers.

When is the best time to start beekeeping?

The best time to start beekeeping with a new hive is in early Spring. This timeline gives the new colony all of the long warm months to prepare for Winter.

For the beekeeper however, bee preparation should begin in Fall/Winter. Take classes, read beekeeping books and learn everything you can before the bees arrive.

Can I keep bees without harvesting honey?

Yes, many people keep a few beehives without every harvesting honey for themselves.

Honey bees are great pollinators for home garden and small orchards. Having a hive is a good way to learn more about nature in general and a good family project.

However, even hives not intended for honey production will require beekeeper maintenance.

Where can I buy bees?

There are several ways to purchase bees for your hives. Check with local beekeeping clubs for members with bees to sell.

Honey bees can be ordered through the mail and shipped directly to your door. Your region may have a local beekeeping supply within driving distance.

There are many factors to consider when buying honey bees. Consider the reputation of the seller before putting down a deposit.

Honey bee packages are sold from Fall/late Winter into early Spring for April/May deliver. Don’t wait until the last minute to order your bees.

Where can I put a beehive?

Beehives can be kept almost anywhere. Following the guidelines of finding the best place for a hive, you can choose the best spot on your property.

The hive should be away from areas of the yard used by humans and pets. A quite corner of a large backyard is a good location.

And of course, check to insure that you are not breaking any local laws or homeowners association rules by having bees.

What is the best breed of bees to buy?

Deciding on the best type of honey bees to purchase is a difficult task. A lot of beekeeper opinion is involved in extolling the merits of any particular breed.

In most regions, you are limited in bee selection when buying bee packages. Early bee packages come from the southern states. They are mostly Italian or Carni-Italian mixes.

This is a good type of honey bee for beginners. If you later decide to experiment with another breed of bee, it is relatively easy to order a new queen bee.

Keeping honey bees involves some trial and error. Mistakes happen in any beekeeping operation. Sometimes those mistakes will cause the death of a colony. This can be very disheartening.

However, over time your skill in keeping bees will increase. A beekeeper becomes more adept at finding their queen bee, recognizing pest and disease problems and handling colony problems.

At that point, your successes will far outnumber your failures. Don’t give up keeping honey bees is an attainable goal for those who learn and adapt to the needs of the bees.

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