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Eight beekeeping mistakes

Beekeeping is full of pot holes, bumps in the road that interfere with success. Here are eight beekeeping mistakes commonly made by newbees that can hinder both the bees and the beekeeper but are easily avoided.

  1. Opening the hive too often: Yes, it is natural to want to see what’s going on, but a hive that is disturbed too often may supersede the queen or abscond. Let them alone to do what bees do.
  2. Not feeding enough syrup after installing a package: The bees have nowhere to live and nowhere to raise brood, especially when you start them on bare frames or foundation. They will need lots of energy to build comb—which means lots of sugar syrup.
  3. Feeding honey to a new package of bees: It’s tempting to help them out with honey, but unless you know that your honey is disease-free, give them sugar syrup instead. Some of the worst bee diseases—such as American foul brood—can be spread by tainted honey.
  4. Skimping on protective clothing: Okay, you’ve seen experienced beekeepers work with minimal protection and they look really cool. But until you are used to working with bees and know how they respond in various situations, go ahead and cover up—both you and the bees will be more comfortable because you won’t be acting weird in front of them. You can be cool later.
  5. Not taking Varroa seriously: There’s a lot to learn when you first begin beekeeping and it seems overwhelming, so thinking about mites is something that is easy to put off until later. After all, your hive is new and it probably doesn’t yet have mites, right? Wrong. You must start tending to mites right away. There are many ways to handle them, but you must pick a way and work it into your beekeeping schedule.
  6. Fretting over swarming: You need to spend your first year learning about bees, watching them, and learning how to handle to them. If they swarm, they swarm. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Certain beekeeping activities—like swarm prevention, queen rearing, and regression to small cell—are exciting and fun, but you need to learn the basics first. No matter how much you’ve read about bees in advance, handling them still requires practice.
  7. Trying to harvest honey in your first year: Bees starting off in a new hive will spend most of their energy building comb, raising brood, and storing honey and pollen for winter. They will be lucky to store enough honey for themselves, let alone anyone else. You will be surprised how much honey they require.
  8. Starting with only one hive: I know this decision is often based on finances, so if you can afford only one hive then that’s the way it is. But it’s a little like learning to swim with one arm tied behind your back—possible, but difficult—and if something goes amiss with the one hive, you will have to start over the following year.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Comments

Nancy
Reply

Really interesting one Rusty. I know I was guilty of a few. I think new beekeepers get a little too excited about the hive and honey.

michelle
Reply

I started with one hive even though our instructors said not to and I now wish I had at least two. I was so afraid of the hobby not going well so I skimped. This year I will have at least two.

Sarah
Reply

“1. Opening the hive too often.” I, a new beekeeper, thought I was being negligent for rarely peeking in at their progress. Good to know I was doing something right.

Mark Lynn Ferguson
Reply

I’m writing a novella that features a mean beekeeper and her grandson. I need the grandson to make a serious mistake — one that kills a large number of bees. The timeframe is April. Any advice?

Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

I love this question, but I have to think about it. I think that applying a pesticide somewhere near the hive would be the most obvious (but not the most creative) idea. Anyone else with a thought about this?

Mark Lynn Ferguson
Reply

Thanks, Rusty! The alternate is to have the boy do something that triggers a swarm about 24 hours after the fact. Is that any easier?

Nancy
Reply

Wow what a question. And what a great plot premise. What if he set out baited antifreeze to kill a coyote that killed something of his?
It’s always effective if the young person was “trying to help,” so maybe setting out poisoned honey to kill yellowjackets?
Mark I will bookmark your site and watch for this.
Nan

Nancy
Reply

Glad you re-posted this, but just for clarity: “3. Feeding a new package with honey…” You mean bought honey from an unknown source, right?

I have honey frames saved from our 2 deadouts (one probably queenless>> chilled brood, the other, maybe mites but not disease). You did say freeze them and they’d be OK to use in splits or swarms.

I have to install 2 new packages at the Nature Center where I’m helping out with their hives. Is it OK to feed them some of my saved frames? There’s a right smart of pollen and they’ve all been frozen too.

Thanks, and thanks for posting Herb’s pictures, I like his method better than the demo we had at our club, slamming the cage down 3 or 4 times.

Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

Number 3 says, “Feeding honey to a new package of bees: It’s tempting to help them out with honey, but unless you know that your honey is disease-free, give them sugar syrup instead. Some of the worst bee diseases—such as American foul brood—can be spread by tainted honey.”

The source could be known or unknown, but it must be disease-free. Obviously, if the source is unknown you don’t know whether or not it is disease-free. If the source is known, you at least have an idea of whether or not it is disease free.

Niki
Reply

I hope you see this because I see that no one has commented on this post in a while. But how often is too often when peeking at a new hive? I installed my package on April 9 and checked on them April 16 to make sure the queen stayed and survived (there was no candy in the end and they seemed to like the queen and I just let her go inside and then panicked later about my decision). The queen was still there, but as I was going foundationless, I couldn’t see any eggs. My dad (who wasn’t home when mom and I installed and did the first check) wanted to see them and I wanted them to check to make sure that one of the combs didn’t fall off (didn’t hold it upright and felt it wiggle), so on April 19, they saw that the queen was on the first frame, still couldn’t see any eggs or baby bees and that one of the combs had fallen off. They left it for the bees to clean because they didn’t know what to do. Should I have them open it and rubber band it? (I sent them pictures) How often should a new package be checked on to be sure that she is laying? And a goodly amount didn’t leave the box and died in the night some I’m worried about the colony size.

I’ve read a lot, but it is hard to find step-by-step instructions after the package is installed for newbies like us. I’m away at college during the week and can only work with them during weekends and summer. I’m getting another package in on April 29 and hope everything will go as well or better than the first time! So far, none have left my new hives!

Also, could you add a tab at the top for new people, like most important tools and equipment to have and what to do in the first week, second week, and so on. I is so hard to know what is necessary and what is recommended and such. Like an inside cover vs. screened cover, entrance reducers and mouse guards (the bees are in the country) and other things like that. I’m reading as much as I can (while working on my creative writing thesis) and am still having trouble finding answers.

Thank you so much for this wonderful website. I’ve learned a lot!

Niki

Kim
Reply

It would be great to have a page such as, “If I started today, my hive would have this equipment…” – a page that was updated as you tweak your equipment preferences, and maybe the only comments would be yours that say why you made certain changes. (Some tweaks get lost in the comments. Also, I’ve made the mistake of taking advice on the Internet only to find out it didn’t work out and the author doesn’t use it any more, so it would be nice to have a page that is clearly current.)

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

I see your point, but what I do changes with individual colonies, with different seasons, and with different bees. I don’t have a list of rules or preferred equipment, because it changes with the situation. That is one of the major points of my website: that fact that you have to evaluate your particular situation before you can made a management decision. Bees are a moving target (no pun intended) and every beekeeper has a unique situation, and within every apiary are different situations. I try to show people options and I encourage beekeepers to evaluate their own bees based on science, not on “recipes.”

Keith Schultz
Reply

I see this is an old thread but here is some of my observations.

Option 1) find some one who can give you a split or buy a NUC. Getting combs with bees on them and some stores and better yet some brood is a great start.

Option 2) Find a “mentor or beekeeping friend” Take a brood box over to them the year before and have it drawn out and extracted, let the bees “dry” it.

I see many challenges with starting bees on Nada, foundationless no comb. Both the above requires you to trust the source of the combs, as we know problems can come from combs. The last several years I have used dead-out combs or extracted combs to get packages started. It is critical to get brood hatching as soon as you can to replace the bees that are dying, and then get net growth. I see the advice all the time “do not take honey the first year” this year 4 of 6 of my packages produced 4 supers of honey, the other 2 had 3 supers. I had the packages early and installed on 10 frames of comb with pollen and honey. The bees did not need to forage for 2 to 3 weeks if the weather was not optimal, and had comb to start laying eggs in. I get it, as well, I “could” be putting the bees on bad comb, but the uphill climb to turn syrup into comb and get brood going is also just as challenging IMO. I feel I can start 2 weeks earlier with comb as opposed to foundation or foundationless. Then the drawn out comb with stores, is another 4 weeks as this is the time it would take to get a deep drawn out. So I am giving a 6 week head start with just these 2 things and there are other things to do as well.

Keep trying
Keith

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