A Sweet Note to New Beekeepers
I hope you will enjoy your new beekeeping hobby as much as we have enjoyed raising nice, healthy, calm, local honeybees for you! No chemicals ever used.
Several people asks how we raise such nice, successful bees here in Healdsburg, California. I hope some of the following suggestions will help you.
1. Your beehive should be placed on blocks, or a hive stand with open space under the hive, not a solid table top, utilizing a screened bottom board. Debris can then fall down and away from your bees. Your bees from us are clean, however, should your bees come in contact with other bees with mites out while foraging and return to your hive with mites, your bees can perhaps scratch some of the mites off and the mites are dropped through the screened bottom board away from your bees.
2. Place your hive over dirt, not over concrete nor over gravel (too hot), approximately 18 inches off the ground. The opening of the hive should face the rising sun (east), and the hive should be located in full sun, contrary to what is reported in most outdated books. Using our have stands (attractive and for sale here) or two 2×4’s on piers or 8 concrete blocks lets the waste fall through the screen bottom board to the ground, away from your bees. Your bees, to survive, need to be spotlessly clean and this will help them maintain a nice, healthy hive. 18 inches off the ground gives your bees a chance to defend themselves from animals, too.
Some books and teacher indicate a little afternoon dappled shade is ok, but remember, your bees are trying to keep the inside of their hive at 93-98 degrees! In our opinion, dappled shade or any shade equals a dead out hive. So go for full sun. If you do not have full sun, ask a neighbor or friend and locate your bees there. Some wind block from the back is helpful if you are in an extremely breezy location or on a hilltop (not a good hive location choice).
Leave your plexi observation board (provided with our screened bottom board) in for the first month and a half, then leave it out all summer, except when you do your 24 hour inspections, unless you are in a constant wind location, then leave it in.
3. If you have purchased up and running hives, set your hive on the stand and immediately remove the duct tape from the entrance or reducer, opening the entrance. A four inch opening is nice for a new hive. I run mine wide open with no entrance reducer unless you see yellow jackets. They can protect their hive with the small 4 inch opening. If you see bees backing up at the hive entrance, you should fully open the entrance so there isn’t a traffic jamb and the air circulation is increased.
4. If you see one yellow jacket, you have a serious problem. Bait immediately. Reinstall the entrance reducer to the four inch opening. I like the Rescue water yellow jacket traps. Even if you don’t see yellow jackets, bait for the queen in early spring and continue baiting all summer. The yellow jacket problem is at epidemic proportions in our area of California, so bait and catch, no matter what. If you are on a tight budget, you can use a quart cola plastic jug. Drill or poke 8 holes about 2 inches up from the bottom, a little bigger than the size of a pencil. Put a piece of steak, cat food, tuna or salmon every 4 days into the jug, replace the lid and hang (some people use a little apple juice in the jug, too). Keep it fresh and you will see just how many yellow jackets are in your area waiting to eat the young larvae of your honeybees. Alarming! Remember, if you see a single yellow jacket below your hive or trying to enter or even fighting going on at the entrance to your hive, those insects are trying to rob out your hive. Immediately use the entrance reducer at the one inch opening.
5. Hives can only be moved one foot per day… or five miles….nothing in between. The bees orient themselves to the sun, and unfortunately, even though you move your hive just a short distance away, your bees will go back to the old location, wait there and die.
6. PACKAGE INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS: If you have purchased a package, remove the can of sugar syrup by turning the screened carrying box upside down, then remove the queen cage by carefully sliding the silver tab toward the opening. I put one frame over the opening of the package, loosely, while you work on the little queen cage. It doesn’t matter if a few bees fly out. They will again find their queen! Take the cork plug out of the queen cage, using a knife, pin or ice pick. Be careful not to harm your queen. Immediately cover the queen cage hole with your finger. The queen will not sting. Insert the sugar cube tube (provided) into the hole. Hang the queen cage with the tube facing down and the screen to the side so the bees can feed her through the screen between two center frames. Do not smash the screen into the wax on the frame. The metal strip can be fastened over a center frame or onto a shish kabob stick placed across the top of several frames so that the queen is down into the hive between two center frames. Alternatively, you can use a rubber band to fasten the queen cage to a center frame. The bees will feed the queen through the wire mesh of the queen cage. Those bees flying around outside will find and follow your queen inside her new hive box before nightfall.
Note: The bees and the queen will eat thru the sugar cube tube, usually within one to three days, releasing your queen slowly and quietly. After a giggly ride home, you want your hive to become calm and adjusted to their new home, thus the sugar cube allows for a slow and quiet release.
7. Please do not spray your bees with anything!
8. Pour your bees into the hive box. Pull four frames out of the center of your hive, so you have somewhere to pour the majority of the bees. Empty the bees in the package into your hive by shaking them vigorously, even banging the box hard and then pouring the bees into the hive. You will have to shake and bang the screened box several times to get the majority of the bees out. You can then set the screen box down in front of the hive (with the hole up, after getting the majority of the bees inside the hive). The few bees that are left inside the carrying box will rejoin the other bees inside the hive. Do not worry if there are dead bees left in the bottom of the carrying box or now on the bottom of the hive. Bees generally live just 30-40 days, and so some will have died naturally each days, but there are plenty provided to keep the queen warm, fed and to draw out enough comb so she can start laying eggs amazingly at approximately 1,000 -1,500 per day! The undertaker bees will carry the bees out and deposit them outside the hive. (note: After the bees have been introduced to the hive, you can temporarily and gently cover the top of your hive with two or more of the frames you initially removed. This gives the bees a chance to work their way up onto the frames. After ten minutes, the bees will have moved mainly onto the frames inside the box. You can then slowly move the frames in the hive together, towards the center, and replace the removed frames you used on top to cover the hive for l0 minutes, back into the hive into the outside positions filling up the hive with 9 or 10 frames or 7 frames and two follower boards. Put your filled and rinsed out feed tray on top of your hive, with the fresh 50-50 sugar mixture and the cork floats, then add the thicker inner cover (screen down and to the back), then place your metal telescoping lid on top of it all.
9. Congratulations, you have just finished installing your bees! It is good not to disturb your bees for three or four days, at which time you will only have to remove the queen cage and make sure the queen has been released and you can sweep off the dead bees from your bottom screen enlisting a friend to lift your boxes. (worker bees move in and out of the abandoned queen cage, this is not your queen – shake those bees into the hive to be sure and then remove the cage). Close up your hive and leave your bees alone. They know what they are doing. In 35 days you should have a lot of brood, nectar, pollen and honey deposited on the frames. In fact, this is a good time to check to see if an additional hive box with l0 frames needs to be added at this time. Your new bees can build up quickly.
10. For people who pick up ‘nucs’ and up and running hives, some beekeepers place three little blades of grass (that have not been sprayed with any chemicals) on the entrance or landing board, so when the bees come out in their new location, they crawl across something unusual, notifying them they are in a “new” location, and they need to acquaint themselves with their new home in relation to the sun. Do not ‘Block” the entrance with grass and do not keep the front of the hive closed. Open the hive immediately upon placing in it’s new location at your home, garden or farm!
11. Sugar Notes: Use C & H from Costco or Safeway or C and H “bakers sugar” available from Central Milling in Petaluma in 50 LB bags. It dissolves quickly, and is much easier to use than granular sugar. Weigh the same amount of water and sugar. Then stir, do not boil! Let stand for 15 minutes until clear. Then use.
Some beekeepers feed their new bees for at least six weeks. I do. Add a half gallon of freshly mixed 50-50 of sugar mixture every third day for 6 weeks. Do not mix in advance as it will mold. Make sure it doesn’t get moldy while in the hive. If you see mold, remove and wash out the entire feed tray or the 1 quart Boardman Entrance Feeder. Feeding helps hold over the bees until they find their own water, pollen and nectar sources. Bees can go out for up to five miles to find what they need.
Note: It takes 9 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. You can see there is a lot of work to be done by the bees before they can get up to full speed and to provide ample space for the queen to begin laying 1,000 – 1,500 eggs per day. Other brands contain molasses, causing dysentery in honeybees. Do not boil the water and the sugar together. Simply stir the sugar and water together until it dissolves or almost dissolves. It is a good idea to purchase an extra entrance reducer and designate this as your “stir stick”. (Do not use a kitchen utensil with microscopic food particles or oil on it – dedicate a newly purchased wood spoon or a special entrance reducer for this task exclusively). If you are on city water, (with chemicals), fill your new, clean (preferably food grade) water bucket dedicated just to your bees the night before. By morning, your water will be fine to use (most of the chlorine and chemicals etc. have dissipated, hopefully), then mix your sugar-water mixture. Do not mix a whole bunch and reserve in the refrigerator, it does not hold. Mix fresh each time. If they take it all in one day, then give more. Remember, there should be nothing in your bucket or on your stir stick EVER except bee sugar and water.
12. I bait for yellow jackets all year long. No matter what anyone says, they are your bees’ enemy. At first, I thought, how lovely, the yellow jackets and quail are cleaning up the dead bees – isn’t nature just wonderful! However, beware, once the dead bees are eaten, and the yellow jacket population has built up while enjoying a great protein source (your dead bees), they start to eat your live bees and baby bee larvae. It is disheartening to hear a bee scream as it is being hauled away by a yellow jacket. It may even be your queen! A sure sign you have a yellow jacket problem is a single yellow jacket in the area, down low, around the front of your hive. Also, you can watch for bees legs and small chunks of wax on the screened bottom or observation board. This is a sure sign of robbing and/or yellow jackets. Yellow jacket traps with the liquid pheromone from the hardware store, the Rescue Water Yellow Jacket Traps or the screened box with a piece of chicken are all good traps. If you bait early (March and April) and get the queen, you really save yourself a lot of heartache. Be sure to refresh each two weeks.
13. It is hard to discipline yourself, but do not open your hive for the first four and a half weeks, except to feed your bees from the top and after 3 days to remove the queen cage. When you remove the queen cage from the hive, quickly replace the inner cover and top. You don’t want to chill your brand new brood. I know it is difficult not to open your hive, but enjoy watching your bees work from outside.
14. After the initial period, when it is necessary for inspections, always open your hive mid-day between 1 pm and 3 pm, the warmest part of the day, when it is well over 65 degrees and there is no wind. Do not stand in front of the hive and break the flight pattern of your bees. Stand to the back or side. Before even opening your hive, watch it to see what is going on from the outside. Check out the observation board or put on your bee suit and look from under the box. It is exciting to see orange pollen on your bee’s hind legs entering the hive. Pollen signals your queen to start laying a lot of eggs as, together with nectar, her workers can effectively feed the new baby bees. By the fourth or fifth week, there should be capped brood in your boxes. It is quite possible you may need to add another box.
15. We have great quality bee hive boxes, frames, inner covers, feed trays and all sorts of equipment here, both medium and deep and hope you will obtain your beekeeping equipment from us! Be prepared, as your bees can boost up quickly. We will discuss how to add your next box soon.
16. If you wish to do something wonderful for your bees, plant Sedum Autumn Joy and any herb or flower that produces pollen “in mass”. Two or three flowers of one kind are not of great interest to our honeybees. The Sonoma County Beekeeping site at (SonomaBEES.org) has a list of great bee plants compiled by Alice Ford Sala, as does the Sonoma County Master Gardeners website (www.sonomamastergardeners.org), and Kate Frey.
17. After the first five weeks, please remember to remove your observation board and leave it out. This observation board is only for inspections on a 24-48 hour basis. If you wish to check your bees for mites, I suggest you do so in August. The first year, there is a good chance you will not have very many Varroa mites, if any at all! The bees you acquired from us are clean and usually stay that way until the August, two years after you purchased them. To inspect your bees for mites, cover your observation board with 1/8 inch of Crisco, not spray oil. Slide it carefully into the hive, under the screen. Then powder sugar with C and H powdered sugar (using a kitchen sieve) each frame of bees (lightly). Do not put powdered sugar directly into the cells with eggs or larvae. Quickly powder both sides of all frames attempting to coat the bees. The bees love this and think it is a gift from Heaven. They lick and scratch each other, knocking any mites loose and down into the Crisco. Check your observation board after one hour and then again after 24 hours. Count how many mites you see. More on the mite count later.
This Powdered Sugar treatment reduces the number of Varroa mites. While bees are out and about on flowers they come into contact with other bees. Varroa Mites will transfer from an older bee to a younger bee with a longer projected life span. Varroa mites multiply quite rapidly in the hive too. They will place four Varroa destructor mite babies in one single drone cell! If you find mites, you may wish to use powder sugar on your bees 2 x per month as a Varroa mite treatment starting in August, and 4x per month in September. Continue this practice as long as you are seeing over seven mites on your observation board, which you have coated in Crisco to trap the mites within a 24 hour period. I keep the treatment up until i have greatly reduced any mite count. This probably will not be necessary at all for the first year, however, it is always good to check. (I always check in August of the second year).
18. Note: If you are contemplating bringing a swarm into your apiary, I strongly suggest powder sugaring heavily all swarms with C and H powdered sugar and keeping them separated from your“good”, clean bees. When you use the powdered sugar method for mite control (usually in August or September) , if you see 6 – 7 mites in the Crisco, that is not anything to worry about. If you see more, or like 40-70, then consider using the powdered sugar method again each 10 days until your count is down to a reasonable number (6 -7). Some people believe we should let the bees that are strong try to survive the mite infestation we are suffering in California, that way ensuring the bees in our area are more mite resistant. I am not of the same belief. I can’t stand to see good bees infested by other bees, no fault of their own, and like the organic method of mite control with powdered sugar. I find it quite effective, with no harm to your bees. Each beekeeper will develop their own beekeeping philosophy. Mites look small, but can be seen with the naked eye. They are shiny and coffee/caramel colored, and sort of oval shaped. Try not to sift the powdered sugar down into the cells, but at an angle so you are just making your bees ‘white’. The bees are thankful for the free gift of ‘powdered sugar from heaven’ and lick each other frantically, knocking the mites off. (about ¾-1 cup per 20 frames).
Another mite control method: In September, some beekeepers place a frame with no foundation in the hive, let the bees draw it out mainly with drone cells, but you MUST remove it after 14 days. This is called drone trapping. The bees build out drone cells and the mites are so smart, and have evolved to such a level, they know to move themselves and/or their babies onto a drone in a drone cell, which lives so much longer than a worker bees. The drone cells are what get drawn out on the frame without foundation. Can you believe how clever those mites are? You have to be even more clever. You remove the frame of drones before the drone bees hatch, and either freeze the frame or disposing of it a long way away from your bees. Some feed the whole frame to the chickens. This cuts way down on the amount of Varroa mites in your hive, if you have any. Don’t forget to get that frame out of your hive before the 18th day when the drones would normally emerge or – eeek you have just increased your Varroa Mite count! Varroa mites can move extremely fast. One can scoot from one bee to another in just two second, not quite jumping like a flea, but very fast. They know when a bee is aging (dying) and know when to move onto new larvae, into a drone cell or onto a younger host bee. If the world ceases to exist, I believe cockroaches, crab grass and Varroa mites will survive! So be vigilant.
19. Candles and Wax: You can use your wax melter or double boiler to make lovely real bees wax candles that do not smoke, out of that extra wax.
20. Center up your bees. If your bees build to one side of your hive, then remove a few of the empty frames from the less populated side and center up the bees, not changing the order, but just slide the frames over, then on the outside of the crowd, place the unused frames, so the bees are in the middle.
21. Time to add a box? When you see bees and a bit of wax on the second to the last frame on either side of your hive body, it is time to add another box.
Here is the set up for the new box – You are going to pull two frames from each side (the outside) of your original box (the frames next to the wood) and put those four frames into the center of the new box you are about to add to the top of your hive.
Where you have removed the four frames, fill that space with four brand new frames. In other words, you are pulling two frames from each side of your original box, and putting them in the center of box number 2, your new box.
You then fill the empty spaces you have created by using some of the brand new frames from box number two, and are going to place them in the outside positions where you have created space in your original box. You can run either 8 frames with follower boards, 9 or
l0 frames in each box, just make sure it is the same in all boxes. Be sure to push the frames together so the frame “shoulders” touch. By doing so, you avoid big humps in your drawn out honey and wax.
Fill in the new box (box 2) with new frames on the outside of the good smelling, walked on, four frames you have moved into the new box (box 2). Add your follower boards, if you are using them, so they match in number and position with the original box.
Why do we do this? These older “good smelling frames” you have just removed from the sides of your original box and placed in the center of your new box are used to bait your bees up into the new box. The bees have already walked all over them and they smell “right to your bees”. This helps the honeybees immediately accept the new box and immediately go to work filling it! The follower boards should line up on the outside of the 8 frames, if that is the set up you choose. That means the follower boards in the lower box and the upper box will be in the same positions with the same number of frames in each box in the center. Put the new box on the hive. Then put on the feeder tray, then the inner cover with the screen down and to the back, then the metal telescoping lid. Make sure you slide the metal telescoping lid a bit back, so air can escape through the screen. (never remove or rearrange the middle 5 frames in any of your boxes!!!) Congratulations!! You have completed adding your second box. Use the same method for adding additional boxes in the future. Yes you do remove two frames from the sides of EACH box and place those in the center of the new box (box 3 or box 4) to be added.
22. A word about SMOKE! Please SMOKE YOURSELF, NOT YOUR BEES! Go ahead and light your smoker. Use a piece of newspaper in the bottom and some smoker fuel, pine needles, dry grass, or the commercially available cotton discard which is available from us as fuel. (Be sure nothing you put in the smoker is chemically treated). After lighting your smoker, smoke your gloves and smoke yourself under your chin, right by your throat. Set your smoker to the side. I always carry a can of coke. If a small fire starts, you can shake the can vigorously and then poke a small hole in the can with your hive tool. The carbonation shoots the coke right out in a strong stream and allows you to, hopefully, put out the fire quickly. Remember, the bees think you are a bear, raccoon or skunk and are there to steal their honey. These honey eating animals have a lighter growth of hair right under their neck. So that is where the honey bee attempts to sting to make the thief go away.That is why we smoke ourselves at the throat. That may be all you need to do, and find it is not necessary to actually smoke your bees.
If you must smoke your bees, just a few quick puffs under the hive might do the trick, and then a tiny bit after you remove the feed tray and inner cover. Hint: I do not lay the inner cover or the feed tray on the ground, i lean them against the stand or a tree it at an angle, and the l,000 bees that are on the back of it, will just remain there or fly back to the hive, unharmed. Harming a bee by squishing it,or laying down l,000 bees in grass is what causes your bees to releases a pheromone resulting in the bees reacting a bit.
23. WORKING YOUR BEES: If you remove the lid and quietly lift the inner cover letting a little air into the hive, then replace it immediately and wait two minutes, then lift it off, and if you do not squish bees and if you treat your hive gently and move quietly, more than likely your bees will just go about their business and not even notice you are there, performing an inspection, removing a frame or two, etc. (This is hard to do for a beginning beekeeper, so wear your bee suit, gloves and veil… have faith, you will get better at this with time.) Enjoy observing your bees, but don’t leave your hive open too long. A ten minute inspection is a long time to allow outside cold air into your hive, chilling the brood and bees. And always wait until the temperature is well over 65 degrees and there is no wind. I like to work on my bees between one and three pm, the warmest part of the day. Too, that way, half the bees are out foraging and the other half are very busy. The good temperature is less disturbing to the bees (no dead brood due to exposure) and you will enjoy the bees quietly working and not so very interested in you. You will notice, bees become a bit more protective going into winter as the survival of the colony depends on protecting what they have worked so hard to store all during the spring and summer. Don‘t try to work your bees in your shorts without protection as a new beekeeper. Black makes you look like a bear, so avoid fleece, fuzzy black socks, etc).
24. If the bees come pouring out of the hive, mad and ping your veil, that usually means something is out of balance, for example, they are short of space (important hint here) or you have made too much loud noise entering the hive or have squished too many bees, causing them to releasing a warning pheromone. Most times, bees go about their business, but if they are out of room inside the hive (remember half the bees are gone midday, so you have to take this into account) and the bees have no place to lay down new wax, deliver nectar, and/or the queen has no place to lay additional eggs, the temperament of the hive changes quickly. If this is the case, act quickly or your bees might swarm. This probably means it is time to add another box. Remember to bait up as described above and add your next new box. Do not move a frame which is next to a frame with brood and don‘t ever move the center five frames which contain brood. “MAMA Queen bee has her kitchen and nursery set up the way she likes it and YOU should not disturb this layout”.
It is your job to inspect your bees about each four weeks to ensure they have enough space, but don’t overload them with extra space, making it way too cold by creating a big cavity inside your hive. Don’t let your bees get all the way to the “wall” or side of the boxes, either. If you do, they will begin contemplating swarming out. Add a box before this happens. When the nectar flow is on, your bees can build up honey (and bees) quickly; you have to pay attention. Do not say: I am letting my bees do their own thing! You are the beekeeper. I have seen a medium super filled in one week and also take six weeks. Also, if you note the bees are starting to lay wax in the feed tray, on top of the frames, etc., this is also a sure sign they are out of space, in their opinion. Some bees need two boxes, and some need five. Once you get up to four boxes, however, you should start thinking about extracting some honey and giving them back their drawn wax frames as an added box so they can quickly fill them up again for you.
25. The bees need about 12 full frames of honey and some pollen frames to make it through the winter and into the next spring. Once they make more than this, it is up to you to remove the extra honey. If you do not, the large mass of honey can become too cold for your bees to keep warm in the winter.
26. It’s a good idea to be a bee “keeper”-not a bee “haver”. Conversely, it is important not to give your new hive way too much space and way too much attention too early. It is usually a month or month and a half before you need your second box. Too much open space is hard for the bees to keep warm. Too little space, and they want to leave and find a bigger home. Remember, if you find your bees are cranky, they are usually communicating something is wrong in the hive…. and it is usually that they are ‘out of space, ’ but sometimes “under attack by yellow jackets” a skunk or another hive of bees.
Congratulations! you are now an advanced BEEKEEPER!
27. Regarding out of space bees: By giving them space as described above, this allows the bees to work sideways as well as UP… and this seems to satisfy the bees right away. You will notice their temperament changes immediately. If under attack by other bees or yellow jackets, , reduce the entrance or consider moving the bees at least five miles away. Always, always bait for yellow jackets. If you leave the cranky situation tooo long, and the bees make a decision to swarm, there is nothing you can do to change their minds.
That is why it is so important to check your bees regularly, making sure, as a good and conscientious beekeeper, you are providing your bees with what they need: ample room and their fresh, clean water resource 20 feet away from the hive, that is available 24 hours a day, every single day of the week. (bees use water to mix with pollen, to cool the hive and for many more reasons – don’t make them go a great distance to access good, clean water. Bees poop within the first twenty feet of leaving the hive, so make sure their water source is just outside this area)..Also, when bees are unable to get rid of the wax their bodies make automatically and/or do not have a place to deposit nectar or pollen they work so hard to gather, they become agitated… even very calm, nice bees change their disposition. So keep an eye on your bees and help your bees by accommodating their space and water needs. Bees travel up to five miles to find what they need.
28. Smoking: Ok, if they are pinging you and several are landing on your veil and really a nuisance, like more than six bees after you, go ahead and smoke yourself all over, especially your throat area, and put two puffs of smoke under the bottom of your hive and near the front. Please don’t get your smoke too hot or too close, or you will singe the bees wings right off or just cook them. A little smoke goes a long way. That is IT!
After smoking yourself and your hive, wait a minute or two and then reopen your bees. I rarely use smoke, except maybe in very late fall. I hope it will be your goal to accommodate your bees, handle them gently and not require the use of smoke. If you feel you need smoke try to just smoke yourself and your gloves first. Then if there is still a problem, and you have to add smoke to continue, then go ahead, but be mindful you are really setting your bees back. When you use smoke, I am told, the bees think there is a forest fire and they gorge themselves with precious honey. How smoke works? According to the books I have read, the smoke covers the alarm pheromone. Note: If there are only four guard bees flying around you, there is no need to smoke yourself or the bees.
29. OPENING YOUR HIVE: I repeat myself here, because this is so important. When you remove your inner cover, even if you don’t hear it, there is a big cracking noise when the propolis breaks apart the bees have added to ‘seal’ between the boxes and the box lid, and a big gust of cold air goes into the hive. I immediately replace it, wait two minutes, then gently pick it back up again. As a result, usually the bees do not even notice you are there.
30. Make sure you put new sugar water into your feeder tray each 3-4 days. You can put sugar water on one side and there should be enough in there for three to four days. Then put new sugar water on the other side for the next three to four days. After that, remove the entire feeder tray, lean it against your knee or a post to quickly hose it out. Do not lay it flat on the ground or you will squish many bees hanging on the back. Don’t try to brush them off. Just quickly hose out the inside of the feeder box and hose off the cork. Place it immediately back on the hive. Do not keep refilling a dirty feed tray without washing it out each seven to ten days or so. Once you put the whole thing back on your hive you start the feeding ritual all over again.
31. IMPORTANT, YOUR BEES WATER SOURCE: Place a bucket with a big limb or a couple pieces of flat cork (4 x 10 inches) in it about 20- 30 feet away from your beehive. This water source must be filled with water continuously. Do not place your water source in front of your beehives as the bees poop during the first 20 feet of their flight and your water source will be fouled and unusable by your bees. . By putting a rock, a chunk of flat cork, and/or a limb in the water source, your bees have something dry and sunny they can land upon and then hang onto with their back legs while they tip their heads down to safely get a drink. You don’t want them to slide down a slippery slope, like the side of a swimming pool, a smooth dog dish or bird bath with water splashing and drown. Your water source should ALWAYS HAVE FRESH WATER, 24/7, and it should be close to your hives. Your precious bees use water to make nectar into honey, to cool the hive, and for many more tasks. Make it convenient for them and make sure it is fresh water… you will be rewarded. If they are spending ALL of their time working to obtain water for the hive (for making honey and for cooling the hive), they are unable to make ample and necessary amounts of honey for their survival and to share with you.
32. The first fall and winter, enjoy one frame of honey, but LEAVE THE WHOLE BOX OF 35 POUNDS OF HONEY (10-12 medium frames plus all the honey and nectar around the brood in a second full box) for the bees. If they make more than what has been outlined above, then you can take the excess for yourself. I usually freeze a few extra frames wrapped in Saran wrap and then a paper bag. When Spring comes, if there is continuous rain, I am able to bring the stored frames back to room temperature and give the honey filled frames back to the bees.
About saving a few frozen full frames of honey. If we have continuous rains in March and April, I am able bring to room temperature a frame of honey, scratch the surface a bit, about the width of a fork and about six inches long, and give that frame of honey back to the hive. This may ‘save” your bees after winter. Please don’t leave your bees short of food (honey.) Many beginning beekeepers unknowingly starve their bees that first winter by taking away too much of the honey. New beekeepers are so excited and so in love with their bees, they tell everyone about them, then feel obligated to provide jars of honey to each of their friends and family that first year. Don’t do it. The second year, you will have more than ample honey for you and to share. And your bees will survive and be healthy, so please be patient.
33. At tip about extracting. I only remove the caps and then let the frames drain naturally into a pyrex dish in a warm spot inside a sunny window for example. I do not scrape all the wax comb they have worked so hard to draw out. When you return the frames to the hive, the bees will clean them and immediately refill them with ease. If you scrape down to the plasticell, the bees will not accept that frame or that portion where you have scraped too much wax off.
34. Usually there is one day in late winter, January and one day in February when the temperature is well over 65 degrees and you are able to check your hives. Do it. Use a fork to scrape open some of the caps on a frame of honey while you are in the hive, about a forks width and six inches long, or reintroduced a frame above the brood nest,which is easily accessed by your bees. Why? The caps of the honey get very hard during the winter and sometimes the bees are unable to access their own stores, thus we suggest you scrape a bit of capping off so the bees have easy access. Also, your bees will not go to the outside frames for honey as these are too cold and too far away from the brood where they hang out during the winter. So an accessible frame must be above or close to the brood nest. Conversely, do not leave too much honey on the hive over winter, as it can become a big block of very cold wax and honey and the bees will find it impossible to keep the hive at 93 – 98 degrees. 10 to 12 frames filled with honey, plus the bits of honey, nectar and pollen around the brood is ample for your bees. Managing bees is kind of like keeping a house warm in winter. You want space, just not too much.
My suggestion is to leave the bees the boxes they need with room for the brood, and one box of drawn out honey with room to lay down wax and lay down nectar, etc. Bees prefer an up and down configuration, like the inside of a tree, their natural home, so less frames in three boxes (like 7-8 frames, with follower boards on the side) is better than just two boxes, l0 frames wide.
35. Bees also move up during the year. So beware, they may abandon the original ‘bottom box”. Wherever the bees are, as you go into winter, is now known as the brood box. The bees know what they are doing. Man has named the boxes honey supers and brood boxes, etc. But the bees do what they want, and should be able to do so, if you want your bees to be happy and survive. Many times there is brood in the center of three or four boxes. This is just fine. Also, the bottom box may be totally empty. Just leave it there. The bees may move down into that box at the end of winter, or more likely at the beginning of Spring and use it when they start to bring in nectar and the Queen begins heavily laying eggs in the spring. Having an empty box on the bottom does not make the hive cold. It is the empty box on top or two whole boxes of honey on the top that chill your hive. The empty box on the bottom is where the big group of foragers might need to hang out after the queen has laid a lot of eggs. Remember, when you look into your box during the warmest part of the day, you are only seeing about half of your bees. All of the foragers are out, working hard, and they need to hang out when they return home without interfering with the nurse bees and the brood! It is a good idea to make sure you bees always have some new frames on the sides, and a few on the top into which they can deposit nectar, pollen, brood and wax.
36. Winter Feeding: The first year is the hardest on your bees. If you are going into winter and your bee boxes feel light, begin feeding them the 50-50 sugar water mixture as early as September and continue until they stop using it. If you feed 50-50 sugar-water, they will use every bit of it to fill up extra space for their winter stores. If after the second year going into winter and they are light, you need to reevaluate the location of your hives, as they are not in an area where they are able to gather enough to make ample stores.
37. Extracting Honey: Do not extract honey outside, or leave your bee boxes open, or even an empty box outside. After you have removed or extracted honey from any frame, put it back into the beehive or in your freezer for storage. Inside the hive, your bees will clean it up and begin using it again. You can add a box of extracted frames on top temporarily above the feed tray back on the hive, with inner cover and the telescoping cover on the very top. The bees will clean up those frames in that whole box within two or three days, and then you can remove it. Or if they need additional frames, you can give those frames back to them in their new upper super (hive box), so long as they are still collecting pollen and nectar. If you returning a box after spring to your hive and after extracting, and you place it on top, you may be pleasantly surprised as they will begin cleaning and refilling the wax cells with honey immediately. If you leave frames outside, or you leave your hive open too long, you can cause a robbing situation and bees fighting to the death. Also, some bees in the area might be sick and this allows transfer of some diseases to your bees, so use good hygiene practices and work your bees quickly and with purpose.
38. Never feed your bees some other hives honey or “store bought” honey, ever! This honey can and usually does contain disease, not harmful to humans, but can kill off your entire colony or worse yet, your entire apiary. Remember, you have nice, clean, healthy bees. 50% of the bees in the world are sick at the writing of these notes, so beware of pollen substitutes and other honey, the use of used or older equipment is not a good idea.
39. In late fall or early winter, you need to check all of your boxes. Many beekeepers find they need to reduce their hives at this time. Bees have eaten some of the honey they have stored. And the queen lays less bees, in preparation for winter. Where I live, my bees are still working into November, but soon thereafter, I remove a few frames each month and use follower boards to tighten up the hive.
40. Do not open your hive boxes when the temperature is below 65 degrees. When the weather is right, remove one box and set it to the side, on top of an upside down telescoping lid at an angle, not flat down into the lid (which squishes bees). Then cover your hive. Work one box at a time. We do this so you do not squish all the bees on the bottom of your hive box or drop any bees into the dirt or grass, or worse yet, loose your queen into the grass. Cover the boxes you are not working in, usually with an extra inner cover. It is a good idea to just work on one box at a time. It is not a good idea to open your bees when there is wind. The bees will not be happy. I find the best time is usually when the temperature is the warmest. Trying to work on bees at night will surely get you stung, and the bees become heat seeking missiles, up your socks and up your pants legs when normally this would not occur.
41. Lots of questions. Please do not hesitate to email me with any question. ApriLLance@aol.com. I think I took the Santa Rosa Junior College Community Education Beginning bee class several times,and enjoyed the intermediate class a time or two also. I continue to learn and continue to ask questions. I also enjoy the speakers at Sonoma County Beekeeper’s Association meetings, held the second Monday of each month in the 4H building, Rohnert Park, California. Social hour is held at 6pm, the meeting starts at 7pm. Please come as a guest a few times, then consider joining. Members receive a newsletter outlining what more experienced beekeepers are doing in their hives each month. Sonomabees.org has an online discussion group regarding honeybees ( You can sign on by going to Yahoo.com, then click on Pets (who knows why) then go to Sonomabees.org. The association has regional clusters meetings that are smaller and you can get answers to questions. Or locate a beekeeping association in your own area.
My favorite resource of all is the book entitled Backyard Beekeeping, by Kim Flouttum. He keeps bees the way we do, with the exception of no chemicals. You will learn a lot from this book.
41b. There is a lot to learn about bees and honey and other products from the hive. It is normal and good to ask many questions. It is not surprising to learn more information is written on honeybees than any other subject in the world, except the Bible. There is a lot of old, outdated, information out there, too, with heavy chemical treatment suggestions that doesn’t really apply to California beekeeping. So don’t be afraid to ask someone who is knowledgeable. Dr. Eric Mussen, Entomologist, UC Davis, is a very good resource. Contact me for his direct email address. Most everyone is happy to help you with an opinion about your bees. The adage “ask 5 beekeepers a question and you will get 10 different answers” seems to be true.
Very young 4H kids keep bees, disabled people keep bees, old men and young women keep bees, people in the center of cities with only a 5 x 5 foot balcony keep bees, so you can too!
42. ADDITIONAL INFO: There is a lot to learn from your bees and they are so very interesting. Your bees forage up to five miles from their hive. Honey is the only food that does not need to be preserved. Pharaohs and kings considered honey more valuable than gold. Wax provided the first light. The list goes on and on!
43. TWO HIVES. It is a good idea to run two hives next to each other so that you can boost a weaker hive and save it during the year.
44. THANK YOU. We have worked very hard to raise good bees and we appreciate you supporting our tiny backyard beekeeping business with your bee purchase and equipment purchases from us.
Other questions and suggestions have been added below:
45. How do you lift those heavy boxes?
If your hive boxes are too heavy for you. What you can do is open your hive and remove four or five of the honey frames moving them to another box. Then you are more easily able to lift each of the boxes, with only five frames.
46. A precaution: I recommend not leaving more than a total of three full boxes (sometimes four boxes is ok) on the hive over winter. One with brood, one with mixed brood, honey, pollen and nectar, and one with honey on top. The bees have a hard time keeping any additional honey warm, especially over the winter. I suggested removing any excess honey ….over the 12 frames of solid honey plus the bits of honey around the brood… and then extracting it. And if you are able, due to an extra long winter, like we had two or three years ago, when all the bees used every bit of their stored honey, and could have starved, you can reintroducing a few frames of honey you wrapped with saran wrap and then wrapped in a paper bag and have stored in your freezer. Bring to room temperature and reintroduce. If not necessary once spring nectar and pollen collection starts, just extract the honey for your own use, give the frames back to your bees and they will clean them up and refill them quickly.
Note: If we get an extended rainy period in the spring, those first year hives usually do run out of stores of honey…. as do, on occasion, more established hives. So please feed your bees 50-50 sugar stirred with equal amounts of clean water.
47. Biggest mistake I have noticed? Leaving your bees with not enough stores. And, as a consequence, good bees have been lost, not from colony collapse disorder, not from disease, not from yellow jacket attack, but starvation! I know beginning beekeepers would not have done this on purpose. Thank you for putting your honeybees first.
48. Beekeeping records: This is the simple method I use. I am not the best record keeper myself, but what i have done in the past is write right on top of the metal telescoping cover with a black, waterproof thick felt pen ….or inside on the inner cover…..or keep a piece of eight by ten (regular old copy) paper between the metal telescoping cover and the inner cover. I use a big, dark water proof felt pen and write big. This works just fine for me…… Then, before I open the hive, after I have removed the telescoping cover, I can easily refer to my notes before I crack open the hive. I know at once what my intentions will be inside the hive, before I open the inner cover. Those notes help me know what was going on during the last inspection, what I thought I needed to do during this inspection and what I did (any manipulations). I use simple statements, for example: added two frames of brood with X on the top of frames on a specific date (so i can find them) , for example, or no brood seen, or took three frames of brood from this hive on a specific date to add to a box #123 across the bee yard… (so I know not to take more brood away)….or…. if I see tons of brood, tons of nectar and ample new wax being laid down, then I can mark on the top of a new split “really up and running” or “OK to sell!”……….
My memory is short and it is confusing as each hive looks almost like the others… so these short notes help me a lot! Sometimes, when i know it came from a mother hive that was a big honey producer I write (Tons of Honey) or Big propolis maker. I note things like gobs of bees flying way before other hives off to work…… for example, knowing this will be a very strong hive.
49. If it is a new swarm that I have rescued (which, by the way, I keep in a separate yard, on a separate property-not near my own bees) … then my notes might indicate: powdered sugared on a specific date, and mite count was a total of 8 or 80 on that date (so I would automatically know, no need to do it again or need to do it again in 2 weeks on a specific date. If I get a swarm, I treat immediately with powdered sugar and do a mite count. So many swarms are sick, so I suggest, if you are lucky enough to get a swarm in spring, to locate it away from your hives.
Note: I do not give my own hives any treatment whatsoever, so no need to note this when i make up the splits or shake bees for sale.
I hope these hint helps you. My method is simple. Each beekeeper will develop your own method of beekeeping and I would love to hear about it. PS. Please do not hesitate to let me know what I might add to these few pages to make them more helpful to you and other beekeepers.
Please email me to reserve your nice, healthy, local, no chemicals ever used, calm bees at ApriLLance@aol.com.
We sincerely appreciate you adding honeybees to your part of the earth and referring your friends to us for their own hive of honeybees!
April Lance 707-431-1569
leave message AND EMAIL ADDRESS IS A MUST! THANKS!
Providing lovingly raised, good, local, healthy (Italian) honeybees and lots of great beekeeping equipment, made without knots and cracks, at especially attractive prices (as we purchase a truck and trailer load and are able to pass the savings on to you).. No chemicals ever used!
due to an extra long winter, like we had two or three years ago, when all the bees used every bit of their stored honey, and could have starved, reintroducing a few frames of honey you wrapped with saran wrap and have carefully stored in your freezer will come in handy. Bring to room temperature and reintroduce.
Note: If we get an extended rainy period in the spring, those first year hives usually do run out of stores of honey…. as do, on occasion, more established hives.
Usually there is one day in January and one day in February when the temperature is well over 65 degrees and you are able to check your hives. Do it. Use a fork to scrape open some of the caps on a frame of honey in the hive, about a forks width and six inches long, or a reintroduced a frame above the brood nest as discussed above, which is easily accessible by your bees. Note: The caps of the honey get very hard during the winter and sometimes the bees are unable to access their stores. Also, your bees will not go to the outside frames for honey as these are too cold during the winter. So an accessible frame must be above or close to the brood nest.. I am repeating myself, but please do not leave too much honey on the hive over winter, as it can become a big block of very cold wax and honey and your bees will find it impossible to keep the hive at 93 – 98 degrees. 10 to 12 frames filled with honey, plus the bits of honey, nectar and pollen around the brood should be ample for your bees, then do a check in January and February to make sure and reintroduce a ‘saved’ frame, if necessary.
1. Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions
Please do not hesitate to email me with any question. ApriLLance@aol.com. I think every good beekeeper has lots of questions. I know I did. I think I took the beginning bee class through Santa Rosa Junior College Community Education three or four times, and enjoyed the intermediate class several times, too. I continue to ask questions and continue to learn , too. I enjoy the speakers at Sonoma County Beekeeper’s Association meetings, held the second Monday of each month, in the 4H building, Rohnert Park, California. Social hour held at 6 pm, meeting starts at 7 pm. Please come as my guest a few times, then think about joining. Members receive a newsletter outlining what an bee educatator is doing in his hives each month, which can be helpful. . Sonomabees.org is the SCBA’s website and the association has regional clusters that discuss honeybees in your area. Yahoo.com has an online discussion group regarding honeybees. You can sign on by going to Yahoo.com, then click on Pets (who knows why) then go to SonomaBees.
There is a lot to learn about bees and honey. It is normal and good to ask many questions. More information is written on honeybees than any other subject in the world, except the Bible. There is a lot of old, outdated, information out there, too, that doesn’t really apply to California beekeeping. So don’t be afraid to ask someone who is knowledgeable in your area. . Dr. Eric Mussen, Entomologist, UC Davis, is a very good resource. Contact me for his direct email address. Most everyone is happy to help you with your bees., but beware of odd suggestions. I loved the bee book by Kim Flottum. “Backyard Beekeeper”. I thought that book was inline with beekeeping for our area and very well written.
Very young 4H kids keep bees, disabled people keep bees, old men and young women keep bees, people in San Francisco with only a 5 x 5 foot balcony keep bees, so you can too! Just make up your mind and start. The bees know what they are doing. You are just there to help.
There is a lot to learn from your bees ; they are so very interesting. Your bees forage up to five miles from their hive. Honey is the only food that does not need to be preserved. Pharaohs and kings considered Honey more valuable than gold.
We have worked very hard to raise good bees and we appreciate you supporting us with your bee purchase and equipment purchase here. I hope you enjoy your bees as much as we have enjoyed learning about them.
It is a good idea to run two hives next to one another. You can compare what is going on, boost up a failing hive and more. Please email me to reserve your nice, healthy, calm bees at ApriLLance@aol.com. We sincerely appreciate you referring your friends for their own hive of honeybees too!
PS. Please let me know what I might add to these few pages to make them more helpful to you and other beekeepers.