~by Tammy Taylor~
Welcome back to the Beginning Beekeeping Series. We’re still NewBEES but there are many who are interested in raising bees, so we’ve been asked to blog about our experience. I’ve written about the beekeeping preparation steps that were necessary before we ever obtained our first bees in this Preparation Post, and I’ve written another post about what to do when you actually Obtain your Bees, so if you haven’t read those posts be sure to check them out.
But now that we have our bees we know you don’t just put ’em out there & let them do their thing… There’s a rhythm to tending to the hives to assure a healthy, thriving, productive hive.
Observing New-Hive Activity
RancherMan visually checks the activity at the hives each day by standing outside the bee pen that we’ve sectioned off for the hives. He watches the bee’s activity at the hive, but he doesn’t disturb the bees or their hives during these daily visual inspections. He’s using this visual inspection time to compare general activities of each hive. Do both hives look to be active? Are many bees coming & going from each hive? Are there any stark differences between the two hives’ activities?
Feeding Your Bees
Especially when your hive is new the bees may need a little help with feeding by adding feeders filled with 1 part water to 1 part sugar. The feeder seemed to be emptied about every 5 days so RancherMan would refill the feeder as it was emptied. We loved the external feeder for the ease of refilling and monitoring the feed levels but found external jar feeders leaked so bad that they attracted ants – we didn’t like that at all.
We removed the external jar feeder from the entrance of the hives and RancherMan placed one of the jar feeders on a plastic lid on a cinder block about 10-ft away. It’s a community feeder and both hives use it but so far it hasn’t caused any problems. When it leaks enough to attract ants, RancherMan will move it to the next cinder block. We’ll continue using this method of feeding until we expand the hives.
Then because we’re placing another box and frames on top of the existing hives we’ll be able to use internal feeders instead. We’ll compare results and decide which works best for our hives.
Weekly Physical Hive Inspection
We’ve read that it’s best not to disturb the hive unless you’re doing a physical inspection. From what we’re learning at our beekeepers seminars & association meetings, it’s fairly typical for beekeepers to inspect the inside of new hives about once a week to check the health of the hive. (some beekeepers go into the hives more often, some less often but a week is typical) During these inspections you’ll be answering these questions:
- Do you see any hive beetles or Varroa mites? If so, now is the time to start taking action to assure they don’t compromise the health of your hive.
- Is the queen active & present? The queen is larger and pretty easy to detect.
- What are the stages of the larvae (baby bees)?
- Are new cells being formed and eggs still being laid?
- How much comb is being drawn on the new frames?
You’re basically checking the health & growth of the hive. Now although there are all manner of beekeeping apparel available, RancherMan’s typically comfortable with heavy jeans, a long-sleeve shirt worn OVER a short-sleeve tucked-in for double layering, leather boots, beekeeper’s gloves and beekeeper’s veil. We’ve been told to ALWAYS wear the veil since bee stings in an eye can be very dangerous.
When inspecting the hive it’s best to wait until middle of the day when they’re all out foraging. It’s common to smoke the hive before opening up the boxes to distract the bees. Smoking the hive makes the bees believe there’s a fire close by so they go into a frenzied feeding mode to prepare themselves for this hardship, so you don’t want to get into/smoke the hive any more often than you have to.
Keeping A Bee Journal
Since we’re still NewBEES, RancherMan likes to keep a journal of his observations. He can compare notes from this inspection vs last inspection and see any trends or growth at a glance. His bee journal shows:
Expansion Of Your Hive
It’s important during these weekly inspections inside the hives to determine the appropriate time to place another deep box with frames on a full hive. If the bees have filled up all their current frames with brood and comb, they’ll start looking for a place to expand and oftentimes that means they’ll swarm. When they swarm they will take the queen and go look for another place to live – that’s a losing proposition for a beekeeper that has spent time & money to purchase & care for his own bees.
A second box with frames allows them room to expand and reduces the chances of swarming, as well as an opportunity to grow the hive with more brood, more bees, and of course more HONEY!
More often than not you’ll determine after your hive inspection that all is fine. If so, you’ll carefully close the hive and leave them to their bee bzzzzzness.
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BEGINNING BEEKEEPING SERIES:
(All Beekeeping Posts Can Be Found HERE)