More to come -- Check back often as we add more beekeeping tips with a focus on the beginning beekeeper.
Painting & Preparing Hives
It is best to paint the outside of your hives, especially new equipment, with a good primer coat followed with two coats of a good quality light-colored paint. A good outdoor latex will work just fine. Do not paint the inside of your hive bodies as this will interfere with moisture movement in the hive. The bees will propolize all parts on the inside.
Used equipment should be scraped on the inside to remove all the old wax and propolis. A propane torch can now be used to lightly scorch the inside of the super (see Used Equipment - Safe to Use?). The outside can be painted if needed.
Bottom boards can be painted, however it would be prudent to only paint those areas on the exterior - not inside the hive. Allow to air-dry forty-eight (48) hours before using.
Hiving Your Bees
Here's an rather long, but excellent, step by step guide to the actual installation of a package of bees. Long Lane Honey Farm (You may need to scroll down a few paragraphs for the lesson.)
After you read through the above blog by Long Lane Honey Farm watch a couple videos below. You may find some variation in the methods but they will all be similar.
Two videos, because there is always more than one way...
Now that your equipment is built and your bees are installed, here's a timeline to follow:
Day 1: Install package using the method with which you feel most comfortable.
Day 3: Make sure queen is out. Remove cage and push frames together so gap is closed.
Day 7: Make sure queen is laying.
Day 17: Check for brood type. If there are no eggs or only drones, there is a problem.
Feeding Honey Bees
Feeding honey bees is a highly debated topic. Some people recommend against any feeding of sugar syrup. Others feed routinely. When new to bees and obtaining packages or nucleus hives you will have to feed or they will perish. Once established, perhaps in their second year, they may very well have enough stores to no longer need feeding. This sometimes depends on how much honey is removed by the beekeeper but during a poor nectar year you may end up feeding regardless.
Our nectar flow in the Midlands is primarily during the months of April and May. Sometime very early in June the nectar flow stops and the bees will get hungry. But let me back up a bit. You may receive your bees in late March before the nectar flow starts. In that case once you hive your package you should start feeding them a 1:1 sugar syrup (by wt.). This will encourage them to build comb, raise brood, and gain strength. Once April and the nectar flow begins your sugar syrup may not be taken by the bees. (Would you eat at McDonald's if you had the choice of Outback?) If the bees stop taking your syrup just remove it and let them gather nectar. Don't worry, you'll be feeding them again in June.
Most mentors I have had say to feed your bees freely during their first year. There are some considerations such as feeding to the point of the queen not having a place to lay. Also, you want to start reducing the moisture level within the hive in the fall by using 2:1 mix or using fondant or plain sugar, However, within reason you shouldn't be stingy with feeding your first year. You may find that it's a pleasant activity to walk out to the bees every few days to check on their syrup and sit and watch them for awhile.
Here's a video on how to easily mix 1:1 syrup for feeding newly hived packages and nucleus hives.
How to Light a Smoker
The smoker is the single most important accessory for minimizing stings - even more important than protective clothing. Smoke has the effect of disrupting the bees normal cascade of defense responses they perceive when their nest is being invaded. Smoked bees tend to flee from the source of smoke (the beekeeper) rather than advance in a defensive reaction. The result is less flight and stinging behavior.
In South Carolina it's hard to beat pine straw as a smoker fuel. It's readily available, flammable, and makes a good dense smoke. To properly light a smoker, it's helpful to remember that air is forced into the fire chamber from below, proceeds through the ignited fuel, and exits from the spout at top. This means that the flame should be below the fuel, not above.
To light a smoker, take a handful of pine straw, ignite it, place it in the fire chamber, and puff several times to encourage a brisk flame. Once the pine straw is fully in flames, pack in more pine straw directly on top. Once this layer is ignited, you may cap the smoker. The objective is a cool, dense smoke.
A smoker is used when one initially opens a colony. Proceed as follows: Crack the lid, direct a puff or two inside the hive, briefly recover the lid, then proceed to open the hive. Then direct several puffs of smoke downward between the frames. It is normal for bees to buzz loudly as they flee the smoke. This degree of smoking is frequently sufficient to allow the beekeeper to do most jobs. However, if the bees get testy, give them another few puffs to defuse their defensive behavior.
The Fat Bee Man: "How to Properly Light a Bee Smoker"
Filmed on location at his training yard, the Fat Bee Man and I thought this quick clip would be helpful to a lot of new beekeepers. This video was shot at about 9:15am and at 5:45pm that afternoon the smoker was still smoking.. It was sitting not being used for most of that time but it wasn't being puffed to keep it going either! This method works. -Craig the Southern Maryland Beekeeper
Here's a link to a slide show by Linda Tillman illustrating a hive inspection. Designed for beginning beekeepers this is definitely a must watch as you start to inspecting your hives:
How to do a hive inspection. This video shows a hive inspection. Probably best for its illustration of questioning everything and attempting to assign a reason for what they see.
Here are links to two hive inspection sheets you can use to begin to remember what you should be hoping to see during an inspection:
Here are some tips shared on our sister Association site,
One of our new beekeepers (newbees) has asked that we provide some tips on what folks should or can be doing to manage their new colonies. Remember when YOU got your first package/s of bees?
I'll start off with a couple of reminders, but I KNOW there are folks in our Association who know a LOT more than I do so hopefully they'll join in and share their knowledge as well OR even correct anything I've said that might not be right!
1. RESIST the urge to go into your boxes too often. The "honey flow" may start early this year so the less you disturb your bees, the better off they'll be.
2. When you DO need to go into the hive (such as to check on whether or not the queen has been released), disturb the hive as little as possible. For example, you don't need to pull out and inspect every frame right now.
3. DON'T forget that you need to feed your package bees sugar water (mixed at a 1:1 sugar/water ratio). You'll probably need to do this for at least a couple of weeks.
4. Remember, it IS possible, especially when you're first learning, to OVER SMOKE your bees. Some beekeepers follow the rule of always lighting their smoker but only using it when the bees seem agitated. You don't want to be trying to light your smoker AFTER you're already in an agitated colony. So, go ahead and light it (you can use the practice anyway) but remember...it doesn't take much smoke and using TOO much can actually have the opposite effect from what you're trying to achieve.
Hopefully someone will find at least one of these tips to be helpful.
It is better to place your hives a good distance from the public. Out of sight; out of mind.
When possible, keep them in a sunny place. They like sun and heat.
Bees cannot tolerate cold and the wet at the same time. It is important to keep them dry.
Some areas may require a permit for keeping your bees. Check your city, town and/or HOA.
At some time, regardless of your protective gear, you will be stung by your bees. It will hurt.
Don't open the hive on wet, rainy days. The bees will be irritable and sting.
Don't eat a banana before a hive visit. The odor of banana is similar to alarm pheromone which may get the bees defensive.
Always keep plenty of Benedryl on hand.
If your smoker runs out, you can breathe on the bees and -- for a gentle colony -- it'll get them to go down into the super. IMPORTANT NOTE: key word there was 'gentle'. If it's not a gentle colony, breathing on them will cause them to fly out of the hive and attempt to sting you right on the kisser.
Always wear at least a head net. Even if you're just going to change a feeder or replace an inner cover. Better safe than sorry. A sting to an arm is one thing but sting to the face is not fun. Cheap mosquito head nets can be purchased at WalMart for a couple dollars. It's good to have a few around.
Be mindful of what you wear while visiting your hives. Bees react to large brown or black objects. Probably a genetically hardwired reaction to bears.
If a bee gets in your bonnet... errr, veil that is: Don't run screaming and flaying about. Your best option is to reach up and, calmly as possible, squish her through the fabric. The bee will fly upward so capitalize on that instinct. It's sad, but a sting to the eye is painful and could be dangerous.
I haven't tried this but one of our members advises that drinking water or other liquids through the screen veil is actually possible. Don't risk dehydration while working in the hot sun. Drink fluids. And if you have your veil on, well try this tip and let us know if it works.
Historically beekeepers smoked pipes while working their bees. Some veils were even made to allow the pipe stem to pass through. Beekeepers would draw on the pipe and blow the tobacco smoke onto the bees as needed. Well, I'm not going to promote or suggest you take up pipe smoking but if you already smoke a pipe give it a try and let us know the results.
Michael Bush's Beekeeping FAQs
After reading Michael Bush's Frequently Asked Questions webpage and being entertained as well as educated, I thought it would be a good resource for this page. I hope you enjoy it as well. Michael Bush's FAQ
This website provides a narrative calendar that helps you know what to look for & expect monthly through out the year. Gives easy to follow advice on what to do during each bee season.
Don't overlook your local library for books on beekeeping!
Queen Color Codes
Ending with #1 or #6 (White)
Ending with #2 or #7 (Yellow)
Ending with #3 or #8 (Red)
Ending with #4 or 9 (Green)
Ending with #5 or #0 (Blue)
Contact your local mosquito/vector control office to keep your honey bees as safe as possible during mosquito spraying season.
In Lexington County contact: Lexington County Vector Control Email Mr. David Mitchum at: email@example.com. 803-785-8440.
In Richland County contact: To get on their list call the Ombudsman's Office at (803) 929-6000.
In Batesburg-Leesville contact: Mosquito Control Program at (803) 532-5405
For a list of various Vector Control offices in other areas visit this link:
Is Used Equipment Safe?
Some parts of used equipment can be cleaned up with a propane torch and would be fairly safe to use, especially for an experienced beekeeper.
Potential problems lie mainly in the brood chamber where the queen lays her eggs. Most diseases that threaten hive health are brood diseases. One of the worst is American Foulbrood, a spore-producing disease. AFB spores have been found to remain active for over forty years. If spores are present on used equipment, they can multiply and devastate a hive.
Old brood comb can be a problem as well. Each cycle of brood will leave behind a cocoon, thus making the cell progressively smaller and smaller, resulting in each generation of bees becoming smaller until finally a point is reached where the queen refuses to lay eggs in these cells.
Moldy, white-ish pollen, not fit for the bees to use and too hard to remove, can also restrict the area that the queen has to use.
The solution for the new beekeeper for the above problems is to start with new equipment, new frames and new foundation. The investment will more than pay for itself in healthy bees and satisfaction to the beekeeper.