If you or someone in your family has a serious bee allergy, you shouldn’t keep bees.

There’s a saying among beekeepers: “Ask three beekeepers, get five opinions.” This is fairly accurate, not just a joke. What follows here are my own opinions, based on my experience making new mistakes every year.

Some Ultra-Condensed Basic Bee Biology!

A strong beehive can have over fifty thousand bees. Normally only one of these bees is a sexually mature female. This is the queen, who can lay almost two thousand eggs a day at her peak although there have been instances of a queen laying up to 4,000 in a day after swarming into a new “home”. The huge majority of bees in the hive are workers, non-reproducing females who do all the work in the hive. The third kind of bee in a hive is the male, or “drone” bee. Metaphorically, drones eat and drink all day (Except, when they’re out flying around trying to mate with a virgin queen). Unlike queens and worker bees, drones don’t even show particular loyalty to a specific hive — they drift around considerably from one hive to another over the course of their lives. When a hive has plenty of food and is growing, like in late spring/early summer, it tends to produce more drones.

The drone is considerably larger than the workers, with eyes about twice the size of a worker’s. 

Note also the blunt rear of a drone– he has no stinger and is completely defenseless.

Workers and queens are both females, but only a queen can mate and subsequently lay diploid eggs capable of hatching into another worker or a queen. And believe it or not, this difference between worker and queen is solely a matter of nutrition. From the time she is an egg, a queen is fed a substance called “royal jelly.” by attendant bees. Worker larvae get royal jelly only during the first few days of their existence, switching to honey and pollen soon thereafter. This early difference in diet results in a completely different adult body.

Note how fuzzy the workers’ bodies are. This is part of why they’re such good pollinators.

If a queen goes missing or starts to fail reproductively, some workers can spontaneously begin to lay eggs. Eggs laid by workers are not fertilized (workers are incapable of mating) and thus the eggs are haploid (containing just half the genetic material of the “laying worker” mother). Strange as it seems to us mammals, these haploid eggs develop and hatch into normal drones. A queen can lay a drone when she chooses to, by deliberately depositing an unfertilized egg into a cell. The average human beekeeper has no great love for drones, since they’re just another mouth to feed and don’t produce anything marketable. In the fall workers see no use for drones either, and they are all summarily evicted and allowed to freeze or starve to death.

Seasonal Management

A basic quick guide to seasonal management.

Spring is the busiest time of year for beekeepers. Initial hive examinations, Spring feeding and swarm prevention are your main responsibilities now!

Continue monitoring for hives that are out of honey. Early spring is when most hives die of starvation. Feed a 1:1 syrup once bees can regularly break cluster to access the feed.

Start a journal and keep track of what you do to your hives and what do you notice including when you first see pollen coming in and when different plants start to blossom. Make a list of what to do next time so you don’t forget.

Examine each hive, preferably when the temperature is at least 60 degrees to avoid chilling brood. Remove mouse guards and clean bottom boards. If the bottom brood chamber is completely empty, reverse the boxes placing the empty box on top. Check for brood in each hive and consider combining queenless hives with a strong, queen right colony.

 Do your first mite check of the season to determine whether treatments are necessary.

Make sure to keep good records of the weather and notice what’s in bloom. Add supers to colonies as needed. During the main honey flow and add supers rather than too few. Check carefully for elevated might levels. Treat them in August so the winter bees will be able to develop without mites and the viruses they transmit. Try making up one or more nucs for overwintering. By harvesting honey early you have the chance to produce a wider variety of honey. Early honey is often lighter in color and mild in flavor and allows you to have a more diverse product line.

Take supers off and extract the crop but be sure to leave plenty of honey for the winter. Apply mite treatments now if you have not already treated the hives. The goal is to reduce mite levels so that the winter bees, the bees produced from the last few rounds of brewed, are not injured by mites and are healthy enough to survive until spring. Remove all queen excluders. If excluders are left on,  the queen will be confined below the excluder and will not be able to move up with the bees as stores are consumed and the cluster moves upward. 

Complete feeding by mid October. A good rule of thumb is that feeding should be completed while daytime temperatures are still in the 50s. Prepare your hives for winter. Install mouse guards, provide upper entrances for ventilation and exit doing deep snow conditions. Wrap hives ensuring entrances are not blocked.

Review your records and prepare for changes as needed. 
Assemble new equipment and paint hives using exterior latex paint.
Check hives on the warmest days. Feed if bees or cluster are at the top of the hive. If they have no further room to move up it means that their honey stores are low. Order bees for increases or replacements.

  • Watch bees for first signs of a nectar flow and pollen from goldenrod and other early wild flowers.
  • Oxalic sublimation once per week for three weeks.
  • Have boxes/hives and nucs ready to receive splits, packages and swarms in April and May.
    • Place bait hives the second week of April.
    • Prepare the comb honey boxes/frames and nucs.
  • Adjust the entrance for temperature and strength.
    • Open the screen bottom boards at least a little or replace them with solid bottom boards and add inner covers with vents.
    • Rotate out old frames and replace with new foundation if needed.
    • Rotate brood boxes if needed, empty space above brood. Create room for wax building and expand the brood nest to reduce swarming tendencies.
    • Place bait hives.
    • Start early splits and nucs – weather permitting.
    • Start queen rearing – weather permitting.
    • Add supers on strong hives.
    • Add more brood boxes on most hives.
    • Start splitting and paying attention to queen rearing every week (weather permitting).
  • Check hives and nucs especially new colonies for good laying patterns and healthy matted queens.
  • Yellow jacket/wasp and wax moth traps setup around apiaries. Gotta catch them queens!
  • Nectar flow and pollen from goldenrod, dandelion, purple trillium, harbinger of spring, skunk cabbage, Dutchman’s breeches and buttercup should be plentiful.
  • Add boxes early in the month or they start to SWARM for sure!!!
    • Open the screen bottom boards or replace with solids and new vent covers
    • Make sure there is a lot of empty space in the hive. Lots of foundation.
    • Continue rearing new queens and splitting being careful not to hinder the colony’s ability to harvest honey.
    • Check bait boxes
  • Replace poor performing queens with new Buckfast from Ferguson.
  • Continue rearing new queens and making nucs.
  • Check hives and nucs especially new colonies for good laying patterns and healthy queens.
  • Add more supers if possible or needed.
  • Depending on weather, make sure all entrance reducers are removed.
  • Do alcohol wash and check for Varroa.
  • Treat as needed with Oxalic sublimation once per week for three weeks.
    • Check honey production and remove capped honey frames.
  • Check newly added or matted queens and finish any queen rearing plans.
  • Keep an eye out for dearth towards the end of July. Sometimes it comes early!
  • Check and refill yellow jacket/wasp and wax moth traps around apiaries.
  • Dearth is probably here! No more queen rearing for me.
  • Entrance reducers/screens on to ward off yellow jackets and robbers.
  • Check pollen stores.
  • Praying for a nice Fall nectar flow from Goldenrod and wild flowers.
  • Feed any hives that are falling behind.
  • Do alcohol wash and check for Varroa.
  • Treat as needed with Oxalic sublimation once per week for three weeks.
  • Check for pests and honey reserves. Treat as needed.
  • Feed with 2:1 sugar syrup as needed.
  • Use reserve honey stores.
  • Continue feeding 2:1 sugar syrup as needed.
  • Place mouse guards on all hives.
  • Insulate hives and check weight.
  • Watch for warm weather.
  • Warm December I treat with Oxalic sublimation once per week for three weeks.

• On warm days, put ear to the side of the hive and listen for the buzz of live bees
• Pop the lid carefully and if cluster is on top add a sugar cake or dry granulated sugar if hive suffers with humidity.
• Review your records. Which genetic lines did best? Who produced the most honey? Who performed the best. Which lines consistently do well year after year? Plan to breed those lines.
• Make plans for how to achieve the goals the coming year. How many hives do you want? How many nucs to sell?
• Build/prep equipment: frames, foundation, boxes: deeps-mediums-comb, bottoms, lids, hive stands, yards.
• Fix and repair old equipment.

  • Keep a close eye on food stores!!

• Check hives on warm days – Check for dead outs and food.
• Clean dead outs and prep them.
• Build and repair equipment.
• Preparing hives or nuc boxes for splits and swarms.
• Preparing queen rearing frames and Nicot.
• Preparing bait hives and or build new ones.

  • Keep a close eye on food stores!!
  • Add sugar cake to protect the bees if needed.
  • Open the hive entrance at least half way if it’s warmer.
    • Study, study, study for the Master Beekeeper Certification.

Smoker Tips

An easy way to light your smoker is to place crumpled newspaper in the bottom of the smoker, light it, and then place your fuel over the top of it and repeatedly compress the smoker bellows. 

An even easier way to light your smoker is to place you lose fuel in the smoker, and then point a lit propane torch into into it to light the fuel on the fire.

We like to use traditional sources of smoker fuel that may come from our own bee yard! We’ve used dry sumac berries, dried grass with some fresh grass to cool it down and wood chips. Pine shavings, pine needles, burlap and pine cones also work well. 

Avoid products that have chemicals as you will be breeding a lot of smoke.