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What are the hard parts of beekeeping?

“October is not far away, “ I said at breakfast. Then I ran through a list of questions that typically come in October. Sadly, many are related to the sudden death of previously healthy colonies. I don’t look forward to it.

After listening thoughtfully, my non-beekeeping husband came up with a list of what he considers the “hard parts” of beekeeping. I thought his perspective was interesting because it is based simply on reading my posts and your comments, and watching me work with bees.

He concluded that the hardest parts are those that you need to anticipate and those that leave you with little control. In many cases, if you don’t anticipate a problem, it may be too late once the symptoms appear. In other cases, you basically don’t have much influence over the outcome. Neither type is much fun.

The hard parts

  • Summer dearth. Summer dearth is hard to understand when you are new to beekeeping. The weather is warm, thousands of bees are flying about, and flowers bloom in gardens and along roadways. What could possibly be wrong? In truth, nectar supplies are being consumed, many of the bees you see may be robbers, and the flowers may have little value to such a large number of hungry bees. If you don’t anticipate a colony’s need for feed or defense, it is easy to lose one.
  • Varroa mites. They sneak up on you. Perhaps you counted mites when you first got your colony and maybe again in late spring, but after finding few you became satisfied that your bees have it covered. But mites, like dearths, need to be anticipated. Late summer or early fall mite counts are a necessity simply because knowing  is much more powerful than assuming.
  • Pesticide kills. Someone in your neighborhood sprays a tree in full bloom. Another sprays his flowering hedge to keep his kids safe from bees. This is both hard to anticipate and hard to handle. It’s a difficult part of beekeeping because you have so little control. Your bees may come home and die, or not come home at all.
  • Queenlessness. The problem is not always obvious. Although many colonies are able to raise a queen on their own, many others fail. If you don’t anticipate queen failure as a possible problem, it can quickly become hard or impossible to fix. Queen failure is a difficult aspect of beekeeping because it can leave you with little or no control, especially when it happens in the dead of winter when no replacements are available.
  • Impending swarm. “Reading” a colony for swarming takes practice. Beginners often assume their new colony won’t swarm because it is new, or they assume everything the bees do is swarm preparation. The truth lies somewhere in between. Again, it is hard because unless you read it properly and make the right management decisions, the bees are in control, not you.

What do you think?

I would not have drawn up the same list, but I think his observations may be more accurate than my own. What do you think? What are the hard parts of beekeeping? I would love to hear your opinions.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Honey-bee-in-poppy-2016
Although poppies may bloom in a dearth and provide lots of pollen, they don’t supply nectar. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

DARLENE
Reply

For a non-beekeeper he nailed it.

Linda Beehler
Reply

As a newbee; your hubby’s list is my list. It will be difficult to get our 2 hives through winter because of all the above points that he made. Reading your winter preparation steps and feeding as opposed to letting my bees die without winter food, wrapping hives and using your hive moisture control techniques, all seem like good control steps toward life in the spring.

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

Be sure to let me know how it works out. To me, wintering is the biggest challenge.

cgrey8
Reply

Always something new to learn with bees.

Last week, I had a colony robbed right out of their hive. This was a small swarm (2-2.5 frames worth of bees) that I got from my mother back in early May. They never increased in size, not like my early-May swarm did. This hive grew to maybe 3 full frames. My guess is they were a swarm from an old queen that really should’ve been superseded, rather than allowed to take a swarm.

Anyway, I knew the dearth was coming in early July, so I put entrance reducers in place back then. I was feeding the colony sugar water and they were draining the jar in roughly 2 days. But they just weren’t strong enough to fend off a rival colony intent on taking everything they had. This happened a few weekends ago. My wife and I noticed the back yard just filled with bees in the air. It almost looked like a swarm, but more disorganized. When swarms have left before, they almost looked like a large ball of bees flying through the air together with an obvious grouping and direction. This was more of just a cloud of bees flying in no particular or direction. A few minutes later, the activity died down and things looked normal in the back yard. But things were not normal in the hive. The hive they left from was full of honey bees. At the time, I just assumed that all was normal, but in retrospect there were more bees in there than I remember that hive actually having. My guess is they were all robbers. After 2 days, the number of bees in the hive dropped substantially and I noticed that black ants and moths were getting into the hive. On closer inspection, I found a few dead bees right under the jar feeder, but no substantial number of bodies on the bottom screen. So best I can figure, they just absconded due to robbing. Where they went is a mystery.

But more importantly, I don’t know what I could’ve done to have prevented this. Any thoughts? Or is this just something that happens?

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

I think you did what you could. It’s really hard to help the small colonies if a robbing thing gets going. I used to try to lock them down really well with robbing screens, but now I mostly try to combine the very small ones with other colonies before they get ravaged. I figure that in nature they wouldn’t make it, so I may as well save them by combining them.

I never use feeders that drip or feeding stimulants during a dearth, but I find just replacing a feeder, even without drips, is enough the bring robbers in force. It’s just hard.

Julie
Reply

When I couldn’t sort out who was robbing whom earlier in the year I grounded them both by covering the hives in a soaking wet white sheet. The house bees can figure out how to get around it and into the hive, but it confuses the robbers. Depending on how intent the robbers are, it may take a day or two before they give up. Both times I have had to use it it’s worked like a treat. And I’d install a robbing screen on a weak colony even if they’re not being robbed as extra insurance.

Amanda
Reply

As a new beekeeper, queenlessness has been an ongoing problem with two of my three hives. To buy a queen or not. For one of them after a summer of back and forth I did buy one for one of them and so far so good. My biggest concern when I started keeping bees was the safety of their food supply, so I emailed all my neighbors before they arrived and respectfully laid it all out for them on the pesticide front. One even emailed back a month or two later about how best to combat ticks, which are bad where I live. I have been feeding my bees but have also already been aware of the infamous dearth. You can watch your own garden, especially a newbie like me, and realize that most of the flowering has already happened. Its a big learning year in so many areas. Fall will be an overhaul the garden season with more bunching of the same types of flowers and more late season flowers! Entering October, and even September, I’m now less worried about swarming. In truth, I’ve grown this summer to accept that swarming is only part in my control and part the bee’s own process. Am hoping they won’t swarm this late in the season, though, as it would be tough for them to get going somewhere else in time to survive winter. Varroa is my biggest concern right now, other than the worry of my queens. I think right now those would be my two biggest. So good to know you’re there for all us newbies, though, Rusty! Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Amanda,

That’s an interesting proactive approach on neighbors and pesticides. I haven’t heard of it being done like that before . . . something to keep in mind.

Bob Schotz
Reply

I think the list is pretty accurate. I would add winter survival to the list.
I am in the learning process, I am getting everything ready to get my first bees in the spring. (The nucs are all ready ordered.)
From what I have been reading from others comments and questions online these do seem to be the “Hard Parts”.
My biggest concern is having my colonies survive the first winter. My bees will be from over wintered stock from the north of the area in Wisconsin where I live, so I think I am already working in the right direction for winter survival.
I am really surprised about all the conversations about swarms, I did not know that it happened so much.
I really enjoy your site it is very informative, and will be a place I will continue to reference for information.
Than you for the help you provide.

Rusty
Reply

Bob,

It’s interesting that when my husband read the completed post, he was surprised that I said my list would be different. He wanted to know what I thought the hardest part was and I said “overwintering.” To me, that is the biggest challenge. I’ve been very successful at overwintering, with 80-100% survival most years. But still, I keep thinking that one of these years I’ll do something stupid, or fail to read the signs, or have massive queen failure. I would feel really idiotic if I lost my bees after teaching other people how to overwinter. I pretty much obsess all winter long. Occupational hazard.

Andrea N.
Reply

I would also like to add to your list the Small Hive Beetle. It is very difficult to get anyone to talk or help with issues.

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

Good addition.

michelle
Reply

Andrea, I have found that the Freeman Hive Beetle Trap is very effective. The man who designed it spoke at our beekeepers meeting a couple of years ago and I bought one for testing. I now run every hive with them. I have only seen the occasional SHB since adding them. You can also obtain the plans if you know a woodworker and have them made cheaper.

Andrea N.
Reply

I thank you for your input. I have pulled the plans and showed them to my husband who can build pretty much everything. We were seeing 30-50 SHB strong per hive but have done a ground drench with GardStar. The problems all started when we tried to start 2 nucs side by side in the same hive and something (perhaps a mouse) used some of our coconut mats from plants as nesting material and the SHB came in and was a mess of larva that has totally overwhelmed us as to what to do. Even our experienced beekeepers in our club (30 plus years) have never seen such an infestation. We have incorporated our bees into a strong hive and all seems well. We have done mite counts as well and don’t seem to have any of those.

Tim
Reply

Observant husband. Yes he did nail it. Most know what will happen during the seasons of the year when you have been at this for a while. Always remember the bee waits for no one. It does what nature has programmed it to do for eons. You know what’s coming you just have to act first.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Tim. I agree.

Bill
Reply

It is all good, but of the most difficult things I would list these at or near the top of my list (not necessarily yours or anyone else’s)
1. Meddling in the hives too much- I love to see how they are progressing
2. Not meddling in the hives enough-thinking I can accurately see how they are progressing by watching the entrance (or just being lazy)
3. Accurately reading the combs, which is telling me the hives story and what they need or that they just need to be left alone- I have been known sometimes to jump to conclusions. Got to remember to slow down and read the entire hive.

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

Those are good ones. I used to obsess about meddling/not meddling more than I do now. But I notice that I change over time and I do things differently than I did just a few years ago. I learn a lot from my readers/commenters as I go and I try a lot of the suggestions.

April
Reply

The hardest parts of beekeeping for me are: 1.) Mite control and Africanized ferals. I have made it a priority to keep track of mites this year, ever since finding that the nucs I purchased were badly infested. I typically use MAQS because I like an organic method of treatment, but I have had terrible luck with losing queens with it. This year I started with single strip treatments and they work well, but I have to treat more frequently. I made the mistake of treating with 2 strips on 2 of my hives in early August and lost one queen and weakened the other, requiring both hives to be requeened. My third hive got a single strip treatment and is doing well. Because I live in an area with Africanized ferals, I can never allow normal supersedure to occur. My bees are in a residential area near other homes and allowing a virgin queen to mate with the ferals has dangerous consequences. This year’s severe drought has been a huge challenge, too. I have had to feed nearly non-stop to keep the bees alive. My bees have only made enough honey for them to survive the winter, not enough to extract. Luckily our winters here in Southern California are very mild, but without rain, they create problems for the next year. I know these times are challenging, but they are also times when I learn the most. Oh, and another challenge is the $10,000 fine for beekeeping in my city if a neighbor were to turn me in. This requires me to be extra vigilant that my hives are gentle and out of sight.

Rusty
Reply

April,

$10,000??? Holy cow.

Robert L
Reply

What do I do with all this honey?

Rusty
Reply

So many problems, Robert. Want my address?

Sandra
Reply

For me, the most difficult part of beekeeping this summer was trying to differentiate between the chaos of swarming and the chaos of robbing. I believe I mistook several robbing episodes for late-summer swarming. I believe my colonies were robbed multiple times. Once I caught on, I drastically reduced hive entrances. One week there was curing nectar and capped honey, the following week, empty cells.

Rusty
Reply

Sandra,

I totally get that. It takes awhile to absorb all the nuances, but you will.

David
Reply

Hi Rusty

I was in to my seconded yes my first year
My first hive a friends farther help me set
Up lost the queen in two weeks . Pick up a
New queen I was good she didn’t push the
Hive so the works made a new queen well
I was shocked she was huge she look kind
Of dinasore like maybe just got out of the
Comb . I’m a newbe haha but she was
Beautiful WoW now it’s September she had
Those works working thier butts off . Well winter comes bees dye March comes they are
Holding on .The first week in April is here I know she’s going to make it ! I look at the forecast 50 in the day 7 at night they are all dead . Hey I said to my self this is a journey
So this year I get two hives from down south
The second week in hive one queen goes missing two weeks pick up new queen put the new queen in the hive third day not much going on pock a hole in the candy . Wait two day not out close the hive up two more days queen and a worker still in the box I remove the screen flip it over to get the queen into the racks she gets stuck under the box I pick the box up the new queen flies off never to be seen again . Crazy well my son call me to say he can’t get out of the building thier are bees swomming around can I help him of course I said take a picture
Great they are honey bees I’ll be right down
Well get stuck in traffic as I’m in traffic I need
Suger water to spray on the bees to get them
In to the box ho ya I need a box ?? I have have two new ones so I tape it together cut holes out
Put in screen Windows ok . I’m in shorts and tee shirt I got them about the size of a basketball . One happy dude
David
Thanks Rusty you have help me out so much
????????????????????????????????????????????????

Rusty
Reply

Well, that is some story, David. Glad it all worked out.

Janet Hofmann (via Facebook)
Reply

Thanks for listing the things that keep me awake at night. 🙂

Mill Brook Honey (via Twitter)
Reply

@HoneyBeeSuite for me, remembering all of the bees names.

Rusty
Reply

Mill Brook,

Try embroidering their t-shirts.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Rusty, (and Mill Brook) thanks for the image. Made me laugh!

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Related to dearth might be thirst. The little nursery where I volunteer has plants thick with hb’s on the moist soils — the draw may be a combination of moisture and nutrients. Our suppliers are organic growers, so they are not coming for a neonic fix, but there may be manures in the soil mix — yum. I’ve seen bees drawn to dog urine, assume that THAT is not an added nutrient.

Rusty
Reply

Glen,

Yup, I’ve seen honey bees all over different soil “components” and I think you’re right about thirst. It’s easy to forget.

Tyrel
Reply

From the point of view of a new beekeeper:

1) Deciding who to listen to. As they say, ask 3 beekeepers the same question you get 4 answers. As a brand new beekeeper, it’s hard to know who to believe. (Or worse, it turns out all the answers are right…☺)

Incidentally that’s one of the reasons I like your site, thank you, its an excellent resource that I can trust to be a “reality check”.

2)Varroa. More specifically, diagnosing and also treating varroa. There are too many options, and with little experience, it’s hard to know which to choose. And when I do choose, am I doing it right?

3) Swarm prevention

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Tyrel. As for Varroa treatment, I still struggle with it. Killing a bug on a bug is perilous in many ways. I’m always worried about over-treating or under-treating. Just remember, you are not alone.

Doug
Reply

Pesticide kill – as a first year beekeeper that has been the “hard part” for me but observing the colony recover… Amazing to watch.

Preparing the hives properly for winter – planning how to prep my TB vs. the Langstroth is “hard” not having experience with first year colonies.

Rusty
Reply

Doug,

Interesting. After so many years, I still winter my top-bar hive differently than my Langstroths.

Jerry Garle
Reply

Here in Australia, we are just coming into spring, so have started to add ideals while the weather is warm. We are so lucky not to have the dreaded varroa mite, although it was found in Northern Queensland recently, carried in with a swarm of Asian bees, but thanks to a diligent quarantine procedure we are led to believe that the problem has been eradicated, certainly hope so, as Australia is the only country in the world that is mite free and we would have a lot more to learn if the mites land.

Your husband’s observations are always welcome as none of us really understand the bee world.

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

I read about that varroa find. Sounds like Australia is doing an excellent job of monitoring and quarantine. I keep my fingers crossed for you.

Nancy
Reply

Good list, Rusty and contributors!

We had a rainy July – often we don’t – and still had chicory, black-eyed Susan, buckwheat, smartweed and clover blooming. Been vigilant about robbing, or else lucky, and I was hoping they’d be OK without feeding till the goldenrod, which is budded but about two weeks from bloom.

But last week when one of our club’s beginners and I checked, both hives had almost NO honey – a few corners on the brood frames, and one deep frame – nothing in the supers but a very small area of drawn comb. But brood everywhere! Sealed and some open large and small worker brood, about 5 frames to each box.

It was our beginner beekeeper who speculated that they’ve used up whatever they’d gathered, just to keep all that brood fed. The other possibility is that July was terribly hot: up to 89 or 90 by noon, and 70’s at night for about three weeks. What’s the warmest temps that will still allow them to get out and forage?

Off with the supers, on with the feeder rims and baggies! At least, when all those workers emerge, they’ll have good “staffing levels” to go after the goldenrod.

My one question: both hives are in two deeps. At this late date in the summer, would you add a deep for the Fall buildup, or not?

Thanks!

Nan
Corinth, Kentucky

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

The bees don’t mind the heat. Bees evolved in the deserty regions of the world, and even now, most bee biodiversity is found in the hot and dry regions. It’s the plants that are the problem. Desert plants have mechanisms to survive the hot and dry, but most of our temperate area plants do not. Instead, they more or less dry up. So even though the bees can forage in the heat, there is not much for them to find.

My guess is that a third deep at the time of year will be ignored. Your populations are going to drop as egg laying slows down and the bees will backfill those areas with nectar and pollen. However, there’s no harm in putting another box on if you think they might use the space, or you think it might keep them cooler. You can take it off later if they don’t use it.

Carol
Reply

Rusty,

This is a great topic. I just started keeping bees in the spring. I worry about all of these things. Other than the actual issues, I can also relate to worries about checking too much and too little. I didn’t think beekeeping was going to be something I thought and fretted about so much, but maybe that’s because I didn’t know how much I was going to be amazed by the bees and into this hobby. I probably think about them as often as the time I spend caring for my geriatric dog. Given how bees have a short lifespan, and many thousands of mine have died in the normal course of things, it seems odd how much I dread a whole colony not surviving, since I’m sure that is also a normal occurance in nature.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

I can relate. My daughter didn’t get half the attention my bees get.

Florence hill
Reply

After many years of hobby beekeeping and learning through the school of hard knocks, I now find my major challenge is lifting heavy boxes with my seventy year old, lady arms. I may have to resort to removing frames before lifting — darn!

Rusty
Reply

Florence,

Lifting is one of the items on my list, too. I carefully plan every hive manipulation to minimize lifting but still do what I need to do. It’s an extra layer of complexity, like a puzzle.

Patricia
Reply

For me, the hardest part of beekeeping has been figuring out The Right Thing To Do. This is my second set of hives this year as the two last year died (both old queens, one producing only drones until SHB and wax moth took over, the other colony starved in July). Screened or solid bottom board? Face the opening south, east, or southeast? Put the hives in sun or shade or both? Feed, don’t feed? When should I take out the entrance reducer? Is that a supercedure cell?? Ventilation? But won’t moths get in? Why is this hive bearding but that one not – is there something wrong over there…or is the bearding hive showing stress? Kill bees to check for mites or just treat for mites anyway, and then what’s the best method? OMG WTH am I going to do about all these SHB?!? If I put salt down, will that hurt the girlz? Fire ants – is it safe to treat mounds this close to the hives? How should I keep ants out of the hives? Should I routinely treat for diseases? Barehanded in the hive and risk another bad week due to sting-swollen hands, or struggle with gloves? And it goes on and on. Every beekeeper has their own opinion, and hunting for answers leaves me more confused and worried. I attend local beekeeping assn. meetings, and when I ask my questions, the members start arguing with each other. I guess I should be comforted that evidently there is no Right Thing, just follow what seems the best thing for me and my girlz, and let experience be my guide…which is what others seem to do after all!

Rusty
Reply

Patricia,

Once again I compare it to raising children. You can read all the books and listen to all the experts, but in the end every child is different and responds to different “management.” I try to look at each colony as an individual and ask myself, “What does this colony need?” The one next door doesn’t matter, nor the one across town, or the one belonging to the expert. I look at it and evaluate it and do my best to help in along. It sounds like you’ve already discovered this and that will serve you well in the long run.

Bill
Reply

Beyond a doubt, both in terms of labor and heartbreak, is cleaning up a hive that has fallen to wax moths. Nothing is more disgusting than cleaning up a score of frames where the honey is stinking and rotted out, the wax covered with webbing, and giant white worms hidden in every crevice. If I didn’t have to save money, I’d set the whole thing on fire as a viking funeral for my beloved bees.

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

Yup, that is gross. There are many icky aspects to beekeeping and wax “worms” are right up there.

Michelle Flanagan
Reply

I have to agree with your husband and his astute observation. All of his points are accurate. Sometimes beekeeping seems like walking a tightrope. You never know which side of the danger zone you are going to tip towards. I have to thank you, Rusty, for this fabulous site, for it has helped me immensely in my new beekeeping experiences. Mites are the big thing that keep me awake at night. This fear has escalated since I took the Montana beekeeping course that you completed this year (congratulations!!). I completed the apprentice level course and have changed my mind about mite management (I used to be “hands off”). I find myself checking for mites throughout the spring and summer and have a plan for management in hopes that it will work.

I do have to say, though, that I followed ALL of your posts and directions since I had my first hive last year. I was able to overwinter that hive by following your directions for a hive quilt, a vented roof, and wrapping the hive. So I am considering this a “thank you” note for that advice and energy you pour into your blog. I have seen all of the things you and your husband described above. My original hive remains alive and well, re-queening itself this July. I now have two additional hives. It’s been helpful in comparing hive activity. I am hoping to overwinter them again this year, following your advice again (in Northern Wisconsin).

Also …… one of the most difficult parts of beekeeping is gaining knowledge. I feel like the more I KNOW, the LESS I know!! There is so very much to learn and I have a long long way to go, but glad to have this opportunity. Thanks for all the advice. Keep those keys clicking!!
Michelle

Rusty
Reply

Michelle,

Thank you for the nice compliments! I totally agree about the more you know, the less you know. My notes from the master beekeeper class are filled with questions. When you start out, you think you know some of the answers. But as you get further into it you realize that all aspects of beekeeping come with variations, degrees of good or bad, consequences, trade-offs, and speculation. I suppose that’s why we love it so much.

Just last night someone asked a question about mite biology. It floored me because I just don’t know the answer. I made a list of contacts, people who might know, and I will e-mail them all today and try to figure it out. It’s a never-ending search for information.

Clyde Dildine
Reply

My non-beekeeping spouse made a telling comment to my sister visiting from Oklahoma. When sis asked, “Do bees take a lot of work?”, before I could answer my wife said, “They take a lot of worrying.” I was thunderstruck. Yes, of course. Aren’t we always worrying about something related to our bees? Dearth, mites, rain, robbing, queens, bears, disease, neighbors, laws, the list goes on and on. My mentor assures me that most often our worries are unjustified but we still need to be on the look out for when they are.

Rusty
Reply

Clyde,

Beekeeping from the eyes of a spouse turns out to be a fascinating topic. Your wife is spot on. Someone else recently mentioned that having bees was like having children in that you fret constantly about what you should be doing, while they just ignore you and contentedly do their own thing.

Loralei
Reply

This list is pretty accurate, but for me (a brand new beekeeper in BC), one at the top of my list was keeping my bees away from the neighbours’ hot tub… I also think that maybe I stopped robbing earlier this year, but now I’m in a panic because after treating wih MAQS, it seems that my bees have eaten a good portion of their stores (because of the dearth).. since getting my nuc in June of this year, they have pretty much ignored my sugar syrup (often less than half gone, even after 2 weeks). After feeding them almost 3/4 gallon last week (I didn’t feed during treatment), I was surprised to find the feeder empty this weekend!!! So another 3/4 gallon went in, & I will check again on Wednesday (hoping the rain holds off)…

Also, it seems like there was almost no capped brood in both brood boxes and only a few larvae in the 2nd box.. so now, I’m stressed about the queen as well… successful overwintering has been my main goal this year, but my worries have shifted in accordance with the experience I’m having.

I’m hoping that maybe the lighting wasn’t right for seeing eggs in royal jelly when I last looked.. and I’m hoping that if my queen is okay, I’ll be able to feed them enough to build up for the winter again… Honestly, swarming wasn’t really on my mind for this nuc, but it will be if they make it into next year!!

Rusty
Reply

Loralei,

Egg laying can really slow down during a dearth. You will probably see it pick up a bit when the fall flowers come in, things like goldenrod. All the syrup will help too. I have a couple hives downing a gallon of syrup a day because that is all I give them. I’m sure they’d take more if they could.

Izzy
Reply

Hello Rusty!

As a newbee, this list is very close to what I have been concerned with. I did a TON of research in the 18 months leading up to my decision to start a beehive last fall. Your website has been one of my primary information sources along with bushfarms.com and my local beekeeping community. I decided to run a completely organic and foundation-less hive. I really wanted to have my bees create the closest thing to natural as possible. They have not disappointed me (or my taste-testers).

I live in the San Francisco bay area, and we are blessed with a relatively mild Mediterranean climate with fairly mild winters on average, so getting my hive through the winter is probably the lowest concern on my list. My highest concern is mites. Because I do not want to use any pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, etc in my hive I have almost no options for mite control. I have recently learned that there is an “organic” acid treatment? I need to look into this more.

Three of the others (summer dearth, queenlessness and swarming) are always on my “beedar”. I check for capped brood and larvae once a month and have not seen any problems thus far so I presume my hive is still queen-right. I have not been able to locate her during my inspections, but I have not done a full frame by frame inspection because I am afraid of killing her accidentally or her flying away. I have not seen a slow down of honey production, and I have removed only 3 full frames of capped honeycomb in total from the hive this year. They still have a full box of honey plus whats in the brood chamber. There is plenty of “room” in my hive so they are not crowded enough to induce swarming.

The last concern you mention is something I hadn’t really thought about until now: pesticide kills. I live in a relativity progressive community, and know that many people in my area are very “green” minded. However, I am certain pesticides are being used within the 5 mile radius of my hive. I believe this is one of those things that is mostly out of my control. The only way I can think to help to reduce it is with education of my local community. I plan to do this at my local farmers market next year when I start selling my honeycomb.

Thank you for all of your work and effort in sharing your knowledge and experience with us; I for one am truly grateful for it.

Izzy

P.S. You are the reason I decided to make honeycomb exclusively, thank you for that too!

Rusty
Reply

Izzy,

A honeycomb lover! Good for you. It is the very reason I became a beekeeper in the first place.

As for mite treatments, Mite Away Quick Strips now have organic certification.

Izzy
Reply

I know! I read your entire thread on honeycomb with great interest. I have also been forcing honeycomb in all its glorious goodness on those around me, who as I’m sure you are all too aware, are perplexed by the eating of honey still in the comb. They all now love it as much as we do.

Oh my goodness! I had no idea that was an organic option; I will look into that right away!

Thanks again!

Oleksiy
Reply

This year I had problem with robbing twice. The first time nuc was too small to try to protect or save it as an independent colony. At the same time I lost the queen in another nuc. So I ended up combining queenless nuc with nuc that was robbed. I used newspaper method to combine them. Robbed nuc was placed on top of queenless and that colony doing fine now.

The second time I only noticed that another nuc was being robbed because their honey stores were depleted and they were taking sugar syrup too fast. I did not see a lot dead bees at front of the hive, no fighting. Suspicious was only that it was too active when I opened up this time comparing with last week and there were a lot of “shiny” hairless bees. I could not relocate them because they were in double nuc box and I did not want to unite them with another nuc.

I tried robbing screen for a few days. It made it harder for robbers to get in and out but they quickly figured out how to deal with this. I used wetted sheet over my hive as well but that did not help.

I ended up closing hive entrance with wired mesh that bees could not get out plus I left close robbing screen on. To prevent overheating I used screened inner cover. I kept them closed for 4 day. They had one frame feeder with syrup plus one frame of capped honey. That was 4 frames nuc in double nuc setting. I was planning to strengthen up all my nucs before cold so I decided to rotate my double nuc and open my closed nuc. I rotated my double nuc and opened entrance of robbed nuc at night. I placed branches and some fake flowers so bees could reorient.

Doing that I was planning to give my robbed nuc a lot foragers. Actually it turned out they got tons of foragers from other colony even more I anticipated themselves. A lot of robbers ended up staying in that nuc after being locked in it for 4 days. I ended up adding second 4 frame deep because there were so many bees. Now they could protect themselves, robbers were carrying pollen back to their new home.

Nuc that lost a lot of foragers will be able to build up fast. I was worried that nuc may swarm before but now I am ok.

Rusty
Reply

Oleksiy,

I’m wondering what kind of robbing screen you used. I have never had one breached by robbers, and I always depend on them for my smaller hives, especially when I’m feeding. If you keep a 3/4-inch opening in your reducer, and use a robbing screen with a 3/4-inch opening behind a metal or plastic shield, you should be secure. In all the years I’ve used them, I’ve never had a failure.

Anyway, capturing the robbers works well. I wrote a post on it once called “Captives who change allegiance.”

Oleksiy
Reply

I was using 10 frame moving/robbing screen from Mann Lake company.

That screen failed this time because there were too many robbers. I had probably more bees that were robbing the nuc than original bees from that colony. I had the smallest entrance opened in screen but I could see robbers flying back and force from their hive to nuc and they were going directly to that entrance. And plus that entrance was covered with piece of board so bees could not land near entrance. I just will need to install screens before dearth anticipated. That screen stopped robbing of queenless hive last year.

Rusty
Reply

Oleksiy,

Thanks for your reply. Good to know.

Lisa Principio
Reply

Hi Rusty,

The comments are always terrific here, funny and smart! I am using all mediums and have 2 hives utilizing 4 boxes each and 1 nuc in a deep (there was queen trouble early on and I replaced her but saved her in a nuc). My first year and I have faced all mentioned problems except swarming. I took varroa seriously using vhs queens, drone trapping and oxalic acid vaporizing here in August. Went the whole hog and sequestered the queens for 14 days and vaporized 9 days after I set them free. No capped brood, no where to hide! (Sinister laugh).

But now I’m confused. While queens were caged, the girls plugged up the whole place with syrup. No where to lay. I don’t use foundation so comb building takes a while. They have plenty of capped syrup, so should I just take out and rinse away some uncapped syrup? This would give instant open comb. See it’s situations like these that I don’t find answers to in books. This is the hard stuff, the what do I do now moments.

You are supposed to feed new colonies throughout their first year right? And we have had the worst drought I have ever seen here in my part of Long Island. The queens really need to start laying. Will there be enough bees for winter? They already lost 2 weeks of laying while caged. I should have stopped feeding for that time….
Beekeeping makes me feel stupid, like where’s my common sense and why doesn’t it kick in when it comes to the bees?

Riding the learning curve, Lisa

Rusty
Reply

Lisa,

First rule of any science: Correlation does not mean causation. In this case, I don’t think the backfilling of syrup in the brood nest was caused by anything you did, but rather something that happens this time of year.

But first, let’s go back to “You are supposed to feed new colonies throughout the first year.” This is a so-called rule that doesn’t make sense to me. Colonies are different, locations are different, seasons are different. Rather than making a rule, I believe in looking at the colony and asking yourself if it needs syrup or not. Many do, but some new colonies actually make surplus honey the first year. So it depends. I have a post that describes some of the options called “How long should I feed a new package of bees.”

During a summer dearth the bees will often backfill the nest with syrup or nectar (if they can find it) to reduce egg-laying by the queen. The field workers know if food sources are scarce and they respond by restricting the queen. If too many eggs are laid, they sometimes eat them. The bees “read” the environment and make a decision. So all I am saying, is that you may have seen similar results even if you had not sequestered the queen. Nice plan, on mite control, by the way. Very thorough.

But if you think you are low on bees, you can try to provide room to lay and see what they do. However, I would not wash out the syrup they stored. That is a valuable resource and could make or break the colony during winter. I would take out one of the combs and save it (freeze it to protect from moths) and give the bees an empty frame. Or perhaps sort through the frames and see if you can find any with some empty space. Put any with empty space in the brood area, and move honey frames to the outside. My guess, though, is that the bees will also backfill these areas. When fall forage comes available (let’s hope it does) the bees will probably make room for some egg laying by moving the nectar/honey elsewhere.

Trust the bees a little bit here, but also give them some pollen or pollen substitute if they seem to be short on it. Two things that can stimulate brood rearing are thin syrup (about 1:1 or thinner) and pollen.

John
Reply

I live in New Zealand but I think the list is a fair assessment. I would add constant inspection for the dreaded AFB.

Beekeeping is a type of farming no more no less. In farming animals, the farmer is constantly thinking ahead.

Beekeeping is no different. We are about to come into spring with all the build up issues of varroa, nectar, pollen, swarms, queening etc. I have just written down my pest management strategy for Autumn/Fall and ideas for spring NEXT year. When I first got my own hives, ( I had worked hives on and off for many years!!!), I was told to constantly think and plan at least 6 weeks in advance. BUT even then bees will do what they want to do regardless, which makes us the beekeepers happy, angry, frustrated, tired, anxious. Have I left anything out??? hahahahaha

john zone 5
Reply

Having a very good first year. 2 hives. Took off a full medium super of honey from each one. They both have full 2nd deep with 10 frames of honey for winter. Good weather for bees in midwest?
Concerns. 1. Mites-will treat soon. 2. Robbing-didn’t happen yet but..
3. Why am I always thinking about bees? is this normal?
4. When to replace queen next year. A lot of references say to replace your queen every year? Commercial beekeepers do this?

Rusty
Reply

John,

3. It’s normal for beekeepers. The rest of the world thinks we’re nuts.
4. I don’t replace my queens unless they are failing. I figure, why fix what ain’t broken. It can get depressing when the replacement queen isn’t as good as the original one, but it happens.

John
Reply

A good queen may last me 2 years, no guarantee though. We don’t have the small hive beetle or European foulbrood thank goodness. However they will arrive nothing surer. Hopefully our border protection staff remain very vigilant. Sadly we could have got rid of Varroa soon after it arrived, but as is usually the case Govt agencies acted like Nero.

There are moves about to make this country AFB free. Can be done IF everyone was a responsible BEEK, sadly however we have too many rogue cowboys chasing the $$$$s.

You folk in US may not be aware that no one is allowed to bring any bee related products in. This includes honey, wax, queens, used equipment.

The same with any fruit, seeds, plant matter etc. Sadly the Giant Willow Aphid has arrived and become established in some areas.

Winter here, we had a different problem. It was too warm!! Brood production was high right through and what I thought were ample stores soon disappeared. Let’s not forget about Varroa and wasps.

Still my 15 hives are looking quite good. Three of them have 2 queens each and all happy. I expect to be called out to about 20 swarms this season which is fun. I enjoy collecting them.

Bye for now.

Anna
Reply

Without having read the other comments, I’m going to say “Knowing your options.” There is rarely a time when a very specific ACTION is required, but a very specific RESULT is desired. I think one of the keys to being a successful and thoughtful beekeeper is knowing what your options are for the particular problem you are facing and which action would best fit given the observations you have made. I think that is what most people struggle with; there is much to observe in a hive, the hard part is focusing on what the hive is telling you.

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

I like the way you think! Excellent insight.

Heather Powers
Reply

In the summer in the south, hive beetles have become a HUGE issue. Even with traps in place they are consuming and overtaking many hives of both new and experienced/established beekeepers.

Loralei
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for all of your useful info – I really enjoy reading your posts, as well as everyone’s comments. You mentioned that egg laying can slow down in a dearth, & that you’re feeding a gallon of syrup a day… so, I went into my hive again today, & sure enough, the syrup was gone!! Also, & this really weirds me out, is the ton of capped brood on one frame, after thinking that I hadn’t seen many larvae 4 days ago, let alone eggs… I do recall one frame where even blowing on the bees didn’t move them much.. is it workers who cap the larvae? Could that be why I didn’t see it the other day? Or, maybe I missed checking a frame… either way, I guess that I’ve confirmed that I still have a laying queen after treating with MAQS. But I am now wondering what the greater possibility was – did I miss a frame, or were the workers so busy capping brood that they wouldn’t move to let me see??

Rusty
Reply

Loralei,

Yes, it is the workers who cap the brood. It is very possible that they covered it up so you couldn’t see. Don’t worry about it, at least you know it’s there.

Lisa Principio
Reply

Thanks Rusty, for the lengthy and thorough answer. This site is a treasure. I will give the girls some time and stop feeling so lost on what to do or not do. I have been giving pollen substitute with one hive taking it, one not so much. BTW, I took your advice and hunted down queen yellow jackets in the spring. Killed a dozen back in early May. Although there are some around it seems like much less wasps at the picnic table than last year. I was wondering if there is a usual time frame that robbing takes place. Like 9 times out of 10 it’s in September, or early mornings…what is the general consensus?
Thankyou for all your hard work and help!

Rusty
Reply

Lisa,

Robbing is tightly linked to nectar dearths. It can happen anytime nectar is scarce. I see robbers mostly in the heat of the day, but if they robbed on one day, they will be back bright and early the next.They go home at night.

Leah
Reply

Love the articles and comments! It seems mostly geography that has the major control over our diverse concerns. I identify with the beekeepers concerned with fire ants and africanized swarms taking over a hive (more southern). However every time I have had that suspicion, it has been crankiness brought about by queenlessness or a robbing situation. Winter is on the radar but not HUGE as it is for others up north.

Chris Tornow
Reply

In addition to your original post the hardest thing for me as a first year beekeeper is learning that the bees wait for no man, or woman, as the case may be. I was hopng they would stay a step behind my learning curve. I thought my first challenges this year would be varroa management , robbing and then winter management so I have been cramming on that information. I thought swarming was something I might experience next year and planned to study about it this winter. I think you can guess what happened. And just in case I wasn’t impressed enough with the first swarm, they did it again. At any rate though, this whole thing is just fascinating, and your website helps me make some sense of it. Thanks.

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