Key components of maintaining a hive, straight from our own team of beekeepers
Kimberley Navabpour, Kimberly Gomes
Updated June 25, 2018
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Pick the right location
Bees need five things:
1. Sun, or afternoon shade if your weather is hot.
2. Access to fresh water near the hive. Use a large plant saucer with stones in the center for the bees to land on and refresh the water daily.
3. Protection from wind, which can blow rain (or snow) into the hive, making it harder for the bees to keep the hive warm.
4. Bees need privacy. Don’t put the hives near high-traffic areas, play areas, swimming pools, or pet areas. Give each hive plenty of space—50 feet from high-traffic areas is ideal, but if space is limited, position the hive so the entrance is near a tall fence or hedge. This will force their flight path overhead to minimize contact with people and pets. Screening them from view will also keep bees and people happy.
5. Face hives south and keep them off the ground to protect them from dampness and critters.
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Check for potential swarms
When there’s more than one queen in a hive, usually a swarm follows. The bees gather up the excess queen (or queens), and take off for new digs away from the hive. It’s how beehives propagate. The larged cup-shaped cells shown above are queen cells-reliable signs of a prospective swarm.
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Feed young hives
Young colonies have a lot of work to do—storing pollen and nectar, sealing all the cracks and seams in their new home, and taking care of the queen and new brood. To make their adjustment easier, we fed them a “nectar.” Here is how to make it: Dissolve equal parts granulated sugar and water and use to fill the quart jars. Top with the feeder lids and invert the jars into the holes. The lids should not drip; they should be barely moist. The bees will drink what they need from the lids.
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Reduce entrances in winter
A hive with a low colony count may struggle to defend invasions that can occur via large openings. These weak hives can benefit from entrance reducers. Beekeepers use t hese small blocks of wood to protect the hive from robbing honey bees or yellow jackets. While these add-ons aren't reccomended during the height of a honey flow, they can be helpful during winter to discourage drafts, rain, snow, and mice from entering the hive.
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Check for mites
Varroa mites suck the blood of adult bees and lay their eggs in brood cells, where their larvae feed off bee babies, infecting them with viruses and weakening and even killing them. To save their bees, beekeepers use a variety of methods such as, monitoring and trapping mites with cooking spray, powdered sugar, and drone comb. Check out more detailed pest control tips here.
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Check hives regularly
Much of beekeeping is simple observation and response. If you are a novice beekeeper, inspect the hive about once a week for a couple of months so that you can learn. Once you feel comfortable, adjust your routine to every two weeks. Make sure the outside of the hive is clean and free of bee poop, the landing board is free of litter, and there are no ants on the hive. Open the hives and check frames for larvae and eggs (on warm days only).
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Use a smoker
When working in hives beekeepers often user smokers filled with dried leaves, like eucalyptus. Why? Well, the smoke smothers the alarm pheromone bees release when they are squished, or after they’ve stung something. This scent indicates danger and signals other bees to attack. The smoke also triggers a feeding response in the hive causing them to gorge on honey in anticipation of abandoning the hive. Bees with full stomachs have difficulty curving their abdomen into a stinging position, which explains why beekeepers use smokers during hive inspections.
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When to harvest honey
Typically, during the first year bees build up their hive, and if they overwinter, you can begin harvesting in the late spring or early summer of the second year. Beekeepers without an extractor can try a more basic method, which takes a bit more time, but will get the job done nonetheless.
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