10 MISTAKES NEW BEEKEEPERS MAKE

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Many new beekeepers learn things the hard way. As a beekeeping instructor, it’s my job to keep my students from meeting this all too common fate! Read on to find out the mistakes I see most often and how to avoid them.

With so much to learn as a new beekeeper, missteps are as inevitable as beestings! Yet failures do provide an opportunity for learning. I often console my students after such events with the phrase, “It happens to us all” and this is absolutely true. I see the same set of errors over and over again. Many of them I made myself as a beginner! I hope this list will keep some of you from following in my footsteps.

  1. 1. Assessing colony health based solely on the level of ‘bee traffic’.

I encourage beekeepers to observe their hives from the outside on a weekly or even daily basis. There is useful information to gain by doing this. You may observe if your bees are bringing pollen or even catch a pesky ant invasion. It’s also a good idea to make yourself familiar with what is ‘normal’ for your bees in terms of traffic (the number of bees flying in and out of the hive), also in regards to the number of dead bees near your hive. That way you can recognize any changes if and when they happen. Despite these merits, observation from the outside is no substitute for hive inspections. Often if a problem is noticeable from the outside of the hive, it has progressed too far to be remedied. Inspections, when done properly, will catch problems early and give the beekeeper a chance to  fix them before too much damage is done. Inspections also provide new beekeepers with the opportunity to learn. For that reason, I recommend that new beekeepers inspect their hives once every 2-4 weeks, but no more often than that. Inspections are stressful for bees and they disturb the carefully controlled atmospheric conditions within the hive. Many experienced beekeepers perform less frequent inspections on their older, more established colonies because of this. To a new newbee, this can sound like a catch-22, but I firmly believe new beekeepers should inspect their hives regularly for learning purposes and because it is likely that their colonies are also new and therefore less stable.

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2. Not recognizing queelessness.

This was my first big mistake as a new beekeeper and I do my best to make sure others avoid it.  Many new beekeepers have the misconception that colonies that lose their queen will alter their behavior in such a dramatic way that it will be obvious that something is wrong. They observe plentiful bee traffic at the entrance, they inspect and find lots of honey and bees inside! They make the mistake that everything is going well, because they are not looking carefully at their bees. So what happens when your colony loses it’s queen? At first everything will look normal to the untrained eye. The population will remain close to the same, bees will continue to forage, build comb and feed larvae. However, without a queen to lay eggs, your hive’s population will gradually decline. The first sign will be a lack of eggs, then a lack of young larvae, eventually your colony will have no brood at all. A beehive cannot survive without its queen. Every day worker bees will die of old age and they will not be replaced. The population will start to noticeably drop. You may see an increase in honey and pollen because without any larvae to care for the bees can focus entirely on foraging. If your colony is queenless for too long, they hit a point of no return. This is why I make all of my students learn to recognize eggs. Finding eggs in your hive tells you not only that you had a queen as of at least three days ago, but it tells you that she is laying! Her one, all-important function. I check for eggs every single time I inspect a hive and encourage all of my students to do the same. This one rule has saved so many of my students from losing their colonies.

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3. Leaving out frames or placing empty supers.

If there is one practical thing you should know about the behavior of bees as a new beekeeper, it’s that they will build comb in any empty space you give them. Beehive hardware is designed with this in mind and everything fits just so to keep bees building only in the spaces you want them to build in. Langstroth hives are built in two styles meant to hold either 10 or 8 frames. If you put less frames in than the box is meant to hold, the bees will build rogue comb in the empty space. If you add a super to your hive and you do not put in the frames, you will end up with a whole box of cross comb attached to the roof of your hive. This can be a real mess to fix and there is no reason to do it! So, always make sure you have the proper number of frames in your hives. **Some exceptions I should mention are, beekeepers may prefer to use one less frame in their boxes (9 frames instead of 10) to give them more room to work hives during inspections. As long as you space your frames evenly this is acceptable. Also, one feeding technique involves adding an empty super and placing a feeder inside. If you do this, you should place an inner cover between the bees and this empty super with the feeder, you should also take care to remove the super once you are no longer feeding.

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4. Harvesting honey too early or taking too much.

It can be difficult to know how much or when to take honey from your colony. As general rule of thumb, do not take honey from a colony in its first year. Often the bees aren’t strong enough yet to make an excess amount and they need every drop they have to make it through winter. If your colony is strong and has plentiful stores, how much you can harvest varies greatly by geographical location. In Southern California, I like to leave my colonies with at least 40lbs of honey (for reference, a single deep frame filled with honey can weigh 8-10lbs). In cold climates I have been told the bees need at least 100lbs. It is devastating to lose a hive to starvation after a honey harvest. Be conservative. Seek advice from local beeks on how much honey should be left with the bees.

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5. Not feeding new colonies. 

In general, I think beekeepers feed their bees sugar water too readily and often to the detriment of their bees, but there are a few exceptions and this is one of them. When you buy a package of bees, you MUST feed them. Package bees are confused, weak and they have no honey. It takes a least a month of consistent feeding to get them on their feet. If you fail to do this, you will likely lose the colony in the fall. Unless you are in a particularly nectar-rich area, you typically must feed nucleus colonies as well. For those who are hesitant to feed, I suggest you let your nuc sit for a week and then inspect to see if they are building any new comb. If they are not, you need to feed them. Feeding will stimulate starter colonies to build new comb and increase their population. It is critical that new colonies do this in the spring if they are to survive the winter. As far as feeding swarms goes, it’s not always necessary, but if you notice your swarm is not growing in size it is a good idea to step in and feed them. You can read my in depth opinion on feeding in my previous post: Should I Feed My Bees?

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6. Placing your hive in a troublesome location. 

When placing your hive, you want to find a level, clear space in ideally full sun. Make sure you have enough room to stand and work comfortably behind the hive and/or to the side of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to help a new beekeeper and found that they had placed their hive on an unstable slope or in the middle of some thorny rose bushes. Consider also where you face the entrance to the hive. For about 5-10 feet, there will be a high amount of bee activity on that side of the hive. You do not want to face it at a neighbor’s pool or at your vegetable garden. Make sure to place your hive so that there is about a 10ft radius of unfrequented space.

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7. Not properly suiting up. 

New beekeepers tend to have a slightly idealized concept of what beekeeping will be like. They see videos of experienced beekeepers inspecting their hives with no bee suit on and they think they can do the same. The truth is even seasoned beekeepers get stung when they are not wearing their suit, but they know how to keep the bees calm and what to do if they aren’t calm. This is something you may learn with time, but for now it’s better to play it safe and suit up. Even if you do not have an allergy, too many stings can land you in the hospital. Just because your bees were calm during one inspection, does not mean they will always be calm. Bee temperament is influenced by many factors, so resist the urge to draw judgements based on only a few inspections. It takes time to get to know your bees. Be patient. I’ve heard several stories from students who made this mistake. Some deliberately did not wear their suit, others put their suit on only part of the way or wore improper footwear and were taken by surprise when the bees started stinging. Always suit up and double check your zippers and weak points before opening your hive. Ignoring this lesson could seriously jeopardize your health and may turn you off beekeeping prematurely. **This is especially true in Africanized bee zones.

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8. Not using your smoker. 

Natural beekeepers are sometimes reluctant to use their smoker. The smoke makes the bees think a wildfire is near and triggers them to gorge on honey. The bees do this so that if they need to evacuate, they do not lose all their honey. It keeps them distracted from what you are doing and the smell of the smoke also blocks chemical signals the bees send to one another. Signals that might organize a defense attack against you. To a new beekeeper, this can all sound pretty stressful. It might lead them to believe that they are better off not smoking their bees. Or maybe the beekeeper just did not know exactly what the smoke did and they are taken by surprise when the bees attacked them. Either way, I am going to make the case for why you should always have your smoker. When you do not use your smoker the bees will likely react defensively. They will sting your beesuit and they will die. You may end up killing a large number of bees in this way and you could also endanger your neighbors if the bees become especially agitated. Neighbors who get stung tend not to be very understanding. They may report you to the city or worse, they may try to vandalize your hive. At the very least they may result in bad PR for backyard beekeepers and in the end that doesn’t help any of us, including the bees! Now, there are some alternatives to smoke that some believe are less stressful. Essential oil and water mixtures that you can spray in a squirt bottle or some simply spray sugar water. I am not against experimenting with these methods, but you should still have a smoker on hand because it is the most effective. Personally, I think the concept of a wildfire is a whole lot more natural than spraying bees with sugar water or oils so, I prefer to use a smoker.

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9. Starting with just one colony.

I recommend that you start with at least two colonies. Managing two hives instead of one will not take much more work and it has several advantages. First, when you have two colonies, you learn more. Simply being able to compare two hives side by side will provide opportunities for this, but you could also test for specific theories. Maybe you want to try two different hives styles or two different breeds of bees. You might compare the success of a nuc vs. a package. Second, having two hives will give you management advantages. Maybe one colony is weak, while the other is strong. You could take some brood from the strong colony to help boost your weak colony. Maybe you lose a queen in one colony and they fail to make a new one. You can take eggs from your other colony to try and make your queenless colony queenright. Lastly, new beekeepers often lose their hives. Having two gives you a better change of keeping one alive in your first year.

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10. Being satisfied with a limited knowledge of beekeeping. 

I have met many a backyard beekeeper who seemed content with the fact that they do not understand what they are looking at when they go into their hives to do an inspection. They are happy to leave the bees mostly alone and then go in every once in awhile to take honey or to make sure there are still bees inside. Personally, this always shocks me. Learning about the bees is the best part of beekeeping! They are such fascinating creatures, the more I learn, the more I want to know. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the information on beekeeping and just sort of give up on understanding, but anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Make the effort. There are so many resources available. Classes, mentors, books, documentaries, forums, blogs, YouTube videos! Find what works for you and never stop learning. Uneducated hobbyists make us all look the fool.

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Want to make sure you get started off on the right foot? Check out my new online Introduction to Beekeeping class! You can stream it from anywhere in the world and watch it as many times as you’d like! Even intermediate level beekeepers have benefitted from this class, which is offered in person by yours truly in San Diego, California every month. The online version is a combination of fascinating footage and still images with interactive narration throughout. It’s not your typical Introductory class which often only covers the kind of equipment you need to buy with a brief synopsis of the honey bee lifecycle. This class is packed with absolutely everything you need to know to get started with bees! Plus, it focuses on natural, bee-centric, sustainable beekeeping practices. Not convinced this class is for you? Read what others had to say about it on Yelp.

129 Comments

Johan Svensson

Great article, never easy to understand your bees when you are new at it. Thanks.

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Helen Hickey

Amen, 10 times over! ALL of these points we have discussed at one time or another with almost every new beekeepr we mentor. This 10 point presentation needs to be presented to ALL new beeks taking the Beekeeping Class, and is WHY we are successful with those who DO understand these 10 points, as we have not used chemicals since 2003! New beekeepers need to understand the basics, and the FACT that everything you see on the internet may NOT apply to YOUR BEES, YOUR FORAGE AVAILABILITY, OR YOUR GPS LOCATION! I WOULD MAKE PROVIDING ENOUGH DIVERSE BEE FORAGE TO COVER THE WHOLE GROWING SEASON. #11.

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Steve Sweet

Not a word about mites in any of the 10 potential mistakes. A new beek could diligently follow the advice associated with all 10 mistakes. However, without managing your mites, at the end of three years, all you’re going to have is empty boxes and neighbors overrun by the mite bombs created by your dead bees. The advice here is a nothing more than a one-way ticket for a quick trip into the Trough of Disillusionment.

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Hilary

Hi Steve,

Mite treatment is a controversial topic I did not care to tackle in this post. I happen to be a treatment free beekeeper so, I disagree with you completely. I wouldn’t consider not treating for mites a mistake. I’m really tired of the fear mongering mite-bomb theory people have been throwing around. Have you thought about how as a pro treatment beekeeper you are weakening the entire gene pool? Treatments = weaker bees and stronger mites. Aside from all that, this is also not a comprehensive catalogue of every possible mistake a new beekeeper can make so you’ll have to excuse me for not including the other 9,999 other mistakes new beeks make.

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SIBA

It’s a good article Hilary, but I agree with Steve about “doing something” for mites. You have to. The mite-bomb is not a theory. I have yards where I treat… and yards that I don’t just to be able to see and talk both sides. At minimum, you have to do some OTS/splitting/requeening (www.mdasplitter.com) or your mites will eventually outbreed the bees… if not in 3 years, then 4. There’s a list called BEE-L that has all the biggest minds in beekeeping, scientists, and hobbyists alike… all with different points of view, philosophies… and experience. One thing everyone agrees on is that there’s no question you have to actively manage mites. I agree it’s a huge topic for a new beekeeper. I do mite washes (I’ll assume we agree that this gives an incredibly accurate measurement of a mite infestation in a hive). If it’s October (I live in Indiana) and I come up with 6 mites per 100 bees, I would not expect that hive to last the winter. If they did, they would be sick in the spring. So the question is what do we do now? Let it turn in to a mite-bomb… that helps no one… or do something about it. A treatment-free beekeeper can do nothing about it… and in my treatment free yard… I would fold up that hive. I’ll leave it at that. I tell my mentees to use the first year to get to know the bees and do the 10 things you list above, again great article… and not to be discouraged if they lose some bees. It happens. Beekeeping is not like raising chickens. You do have to be watching, and learning. Only time and experience will allow newer beeks to retain what they see and learn and it’s hard to do it right in the first year. Kind regards. Jason

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Hilary

I usually requeen when I see a colony struggling with mites. Treatment free does not mean “do nothing”. If you really want to give treatment free a shot, I find that the reason most people fail is because they cannot find the genetics necessary. It takes time to weed out the strong bees and breed from them. If you aren’t breeding your own, you really have to find a treatment free breeder. You can’t expect to take bees that are dependent on treatment to survive. I intend to write an article about this soon. Thanks for your comment.

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Susan T Rudnicki

Jason and Steve—-the sucesses of venerable beeks like Sam Comfort, (Anarchy Apiaries) Kirk Webster (Vermont), Dee Lusby (Arizona) Michael Bush (Nebraska) and Don Schram (Michigan) —to name just a few—-who are all treatment free, small cell, survivor stock keeping is to put the lie to the “you have to treat” mythology. For all I respect the folks on BEE-L, anyone may participate—and lots of times the above beeks have posted. And the treatment free model is not a rare discussion point. You are not correct that “everyone agrees…you have to actively manage mites” —this is a exaggeration.

For one thing, how do you explain the ability of Apis cerana, of SE Asia, where it lives in harmony with the varroa mite, to continue to prosper if humans are not treating them with chemicals? EHB was not exposed to this pest till very recently, and, like the American Indians mowed down by smallpox and measles on the arrival of Europeans, the evolution of immune response will be the only real answer in the long run. It is Darwinian principles at work—well described by Phil Chandler of BioBees in the UK in the May ’15 article, Nat’l Geographic, pg 97–
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/building-bees/mann-text
The obstinancy of conventional chemical treatment adherents to this evolutionary principle is puzzling. I am using partially Africanized feral bees taken from the urban environment here in LA from situations of conflict with humans. These cutouts, trapouts and swarms are vigorous, resilient, small cell, and never get treatment. They are kept foundationless (bees have been drawing their own combs for 70 million years) so their wax is less contaminated with toxins from foundation, they make great honey crops and are a pleasure to work. I have 27 colonies in the city. I do not run a bee hospital, counting mites. But I have a lot of fun beekeeping and teaching newbees, giving talks, and selling honey.

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Hilary

I’ve been treatment free for 5 years. I have 50 colonies. Typically lose less than 10 in a year. Normally small colonies I rescued late in the season or nucs that never took off.

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Eve

I have been reading your comments about natural beekeeping and am impressed. Here in Australia there are commercial beekeepers, and a bit of monoculture going on as well, but not as extensively as in the USA. So far we are Varoa-free , seemingly the only country in the world, next to new Zealand, which, I understand has had some signs of it recently. Australia is isolated from infected countries, but it is inevitable that it accidentally hitches rides on aircraft and other modes of transport. Fortunately the Australian quarantine has honed its skills to such a degree that airports have bee traps set up around the unloading areas etc, and more traps further afield. We also have sugar coating tests and other methods to check any future infestation, which is bound to occur sooner or later. There is advice about using chemical strips and other drastic methods, but we have a higher percentage of natural bee keepers who would not contaminate the hive and the resulting honey with chemicals. I have used natural methods with my show poultry and have never vaccinated against Marrecks and other contagious diseases, and have found that they build their own immunity, and over the years I have never had any of those diseases . .
Some people like to see the glass half empty and they are not prepared to see the other side of the coin, or learn from the experience of others. Sarcasm is a sign of frustration, not knowledge.
I live in the mountains and a valley with thick Australian bush, and am encouraging beekeepers here to plant bee-friendly plants. I have organized the propagation of Leatherwood and Geraldton Wax plants to plant in their gardens which are Australian native plants famous for their beautiful honey. The health of the bees and strength of the hive depends on the foraging abilities and hive care, and nothing can beat the natural environment and clean living for the production of pure, natural honey.
Keep on promoting Natural Beekeeping, and have a wonderful christmas and New Year.

Susan McElroy

Steve, I have a 7-year old top bar hive that has never had any treatments, and actually very little intervention. They are still thriving.

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Ruby

I have 2 colonies that I’ve had since I started beekeeping 4 years ago. One of these colonies was a swarm and the other was a purchased nuc. I just started beekeeping for the fun of it and to hopefully help the bee population. For that reason, I’ve never added any more colonies. The only mite treatment I’ve ever done is powdered sugar dusting every August/September. Both these same colonies have made it through the winter each year (including this year which is season 5) and are thriving. I live in Georgia south of Atlanta. I believe mite treatment makes weak bees and strong mites. Many beekeepers in my area treat faithfully and they lose at least 10% of their hives every year. I’ve never lost a one. I can’t explain if that’s the reason but if something is working so well, i’m just going to keep doing it.

Eve

Ruby,
the sugar dusting is not a treatment. . If you do it correctly, you put about 200 bees into a container with icing sugar and roll them gently in the sugar, whichi then dislodges any varroa mites attached to the back of the bees. This is a test to check whether there is varroa mite in the hive. When you release the bees they lick the remaining sugar off and get on with their lives. If you think it works as a treatment, you may have no need for treatment in the first place.

Ruby

Yes, this is the technique we use. I don’t use the already powdered sugar you buy, but make my own from granular as I’ve yet to find any without some kind of additive. However, we have measured mite loads before and after the powdered sugar and they have been significantly decreased. Again, as long as things are going well, we will keep doing what we’re doing.

cnbarnes

Eve – what you are describing is a Sugar Roll TEST. But there IS a “Sugar TREATMENT” that some people (mostly commercial guys) use – those guys will take a sifter and sprinkle a generous helping of powdered sugar down into a hive (between the frames).

Eve

I have been trying to understand how sugar dusting can be a ‘treatment’ for mites, but then if you dust the whole colony it would be the same as the sugar rolling except on a large scale. The mites fall off in the roll, and would do the same when used on the entire colony. But you would need to have a mite trap at the bottom of the hive to collect all the mites? Meaning you have to disassemble the hive to get to the base every time you need to clean it

Lucky we don’t have the Varroa in Australia yet, but we are prepared and this seems to be an alternative to chemical strips which bee keepers are talking about here. So far so good, but this sounds interesting, if it works.

Diana

Ruby, out of curiosity, since you are doing it to help the bees, are you taking any honey from them? If so how much do you take? I’m starting two hives this spring and my goal is also to help the bees, I’m not doing it for the honey. That said every family member I have has asked me for honey when the time comes… But I feel like if I just leave the honey for the bees they will be better off… Can you tell me what your policy is for that with your bees?

Hilary

Diana, as a general rule of thumb, you should not harvest any honey from a first year colony. They need all the honey to build up and get strong. When friends and relatives hassle me for honey, I tell them to plant a bee garden and then talk to me. 😉

Ruby

Diana, in 4 years I have taken a total of 2 medium frames of honey. I feel the same about taking their honey as sugar water Is junk food and I can’t justify taking their natural source food and then feeding them junk. A medium frame of honey actually equals about 3 maybe 4 qts of honey to my amazement! So it’s plenty for us. I’ve heard other keepers say it’s a waste to leave more than a super of honey on their hive over winter because they can’t get to it anyway. Well, my bees usually go into winter with 3 supers of honey and they do fine and a small amount will be left in the spring. Again, it’s been working so far so I won’t change what I’ve been doing.

Bryan Chubb

Thanks Hilary for promoting Natural Beekeeping. For me, mites rank very low in my list of apiary issues. Yet, it continues to be a hot topic. I violate #6 (located in full shade) and continue to deal with the elevated beetle level as best I can. But its only been an issue for nucs, queen rearing, cutouts with comb, and hives that have swarmed.

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Diana

Hi Hillary, yes, I was not planning on taking any honey the first year. I had read that and have had several people tell me not to expect any honey the first year. I love your idea about telling them to plant a bee garden then we’ll talk! LOL!

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Diana

Eve, The hives here, or at least the one’s that I’ve seen have a screen bottom and a removable shelf under that that you can take out. The theroy is that if you spray something like olive oil on the shelf then the mites fall through the screen and get stuck on the olive oil on the shelf. This is going to be my first season with bees so I’ve not done this myself but I’m reading as much as I can so this is how I’ve been told it works.

http://www.virginiabeesupply.com/images/45e4cb75f3c663fded925e5c34551133.jpg

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Skye

Excellent article and thought provoking. I would have never thought of keeping two hives, however it makes complete sense.
If people would do their research about beekeeping months to a year prior to keeping bees, it will make a better keeper.

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Debra DiGennaro

Thanks for the information! I’m taking my first class in Jan. There is so much to learn and I’m a person who doesn’t like to make mistakes. It can be very intimidating. I live in PA. I have bears in my backyard daily… Other than in winter. I am concerned about keeping the hive safe from them. Any ideas? Thanks again!

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Jack Seamon

To keep bees safe from bears, use electric fence. There are many ideas how to use it, all work good under certain circumstances. Mine is to use a high joule output charger – delivers 6 joules of strength. That is the sizzle in the snap. Here in Massachusetts, our black bears are well populated, and sometimes mobile, meaning we have locals, and some passers through. Our bee yard utilizes 5′ t-posts, driven 1′ into the ground, with 7 strands of aluminum wire. Bottom strand is 4″ off the ground, with all other (4) electrified wires at 12″ intervals above that. We run 2 grounded wires – lowest at 8″ high and top one is 40″ high, to ensure grounding during both dry spells and frozen ground times – both typically poor to non-existent surface grounding capability. Should a bear try to reach or climb, they will feel the error of their ways, if they dig down to go under, they will hit damp ground even during dry spells, and the 6 joules will send them packing. Overbuilding for security is worth it. If you are not near a standard power source, you can use a smaller output charger and bait the predators in with bacon strips or else peanut butter smeared on aluminum foil wrapped around the hot wires. Both are effective.

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beekeeping.isgood.ca

I feel the biggest problem is not adequately preparing themselves for managing bees. This is somewhat related to number 10 on your list, but I feel it starts way before an individual even first acquires bees. For example I usually recommend the bee-curious spend a few years helping out other beekeepers so they know what they are getting themselves into.

When speaking to urban beekeepers I feel this is doubly important as the potential cost of mistakes is higher. My full list of considerations for aspiring urban beeks is here: http://www.beekeeping.isgood.ca/resources/top-ten-questions-to-think-about-before-getting-started-in-urban-beekeeping-part-1

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Hilary

Hi, yes, I agree. I wrote a whole article on this subject – the post HOW TO SUCCEED IN BEEKEEPING. 🙂

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Dave Martin

Corporate trolls are a big part of the bee keeping experience. Their agenda is to focus on mites and ignore Monsanto, Bayer, etc. created problems (monoculture, top soil loss, over use of herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, over dependence on irrigation, etc.) which threatens everything, not only bees. I am new to bee keeping and treat for mites but that does not make me unaware of the real problems facing the world. Bees are the canary threating a mine closure. Monsanto, Bayer, etc want you to know that the canary died from other causes.

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Hilary

There are some beekeeper who are employed by these chemical giants and try to spread misinformation to distract from the fact that neonicotinoid pesticides are killing the bees. However, there are a lot of other beekeepers who truly believe treating mites is best for bees. In the end most beekeepers want the same thing. To keep their bees alive and healthy. It’s a pity we have to bicker so much over how it should be done.

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TheExpatresse

We joke that a word for a group of Beekeepers is “an argument of beekeepers.” Yes, everyone wants their bees to flourish. I try to take an organic (by EU standards) approach and manage the varroa with minimal pharmaceutical treatment. Bees and varroa can and will coexist as long as the varroa doesn’t overwhelm the bees. The long term answer will lie in natural selection, I believe.

In the meantime, I find it interesting that I watch beekeepers on all ends of the spectrum doing well — it’s reassuring to me as a novice.

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Dave Martin

I own a bee friendly farm. Neonicotinoids are small part of what is killing this planet. I treat because I can’t keep my bees on the farm (and my hives do not look like Tim Ives’s hives yet). I have observed that beehives located away of agriculture have mites but not a mite problem. Thus my feel that farming is killing bees more then mites. Current farming practices can not be sustained. Farmers are just starting to get it. Mostly because they are forced into getting it (loss of irrigation rights, soil being tits up, etc).

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Hilary

I think the correlation between mite load and farms is likely because of neonics. They weaken the bees’ immune system and that makes them more vulnerable to mites and the disease they spread.

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Bill Reynolds

Nice article with some good information, but I also disagree with some of what you said. I am only going to address 8. Not using your Smoker. I’ve been keeping bees more years than I have fingers. I know which hives that I need to smoker and which I don’t. As I approach any hive I take notice of active and their behavior towards me. I knock on the hive, to be polite, prior to popping the cover off. And then proceed into the hive for inspection or harvest. The bees are totally aware I’m moving things around, but other than investigating my hands, fingers and arms, they go about the business. I rarely get stung. I do have colonies that are more aggressive and these I will dawn my veil and use a bit of smoke, but not much. During season, I am constantly around these hives (inside and out) and I am sure they know who I am. Come harvest time, not blowers or chemicals are used to remove the bees for the frames selected. Instead, a Goose feather is all I need. No chemicals are added to the hives for any reason and smoke is used ONLY if I have to, but very little is used. Knowing your colonies and knowing how to work a colony without using aggressive techniques are far superior to scaring the shiite out of your bees with smoke. Now, for new keepers, I would recommend suiting up and have the smoker at ready. But, again, I don’t believe smoke is a must use item.

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Hilary

I agree with you and I actually do the same thing, but this post is written for new beeks. They aren’t skilled enough to physically work a hive without riling the bees and also, they don’t understand bee behavior well enough to judge. Also, keep in mind I am in an Africanized zone. I have seen some pretty frightening behavior from unsmoked bees.

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TheExpatresse

Timing is everything — the season, the weather, even the time of day affect my bees. Yes, the more I work with them, the better I understand them. I aspire to avoid the smoker (I often light it, but don’t use it), but it and my veil are useful tools. I wear a white jacket, but mostly for the pockets and to protect my clothes. (One thing I hate about the smoker is arriving home smelling like a campfire!)

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Chris Barnes

And I’m going to disagree with you. Many years ago, before I even had my first hive of bees, I went to a commercial beekeeper – a man who was the 4th generation in his family to have beehives – and the words he said still ring in my ears to this day. He said:
“the FIRST thing you do is light your smoker. You do it before you put on your veil. Before you ever approach the hives.”

If you think for just a moment what smoke does w/ the bees in the hive – it makes perfect sense. It uses their natural instincts to make them go in and eat a bit of honey – and a fat bee is a happier bee. It also will cover the alarm pheromone that the guard bees of ALL hives will produce. In a nutshell, it WILL reduce the likelihood of a person getting stung.

Now counter that with the downsides to using smoke – of which there are NONE.

It makes the decision on whether or not to use smoker or not a very easy one. And if we’re talking about giving advice to newbies, it is foolish to suggest not to use it.

… ps: I am the director of my club’s youth beekeeping program. I know a little something about teaching newbees…

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Susan T Rudnicki

Hey, Bill—you do not say where you live—urban or rural or in between—or what kind of bees you are keeping. These things matter in regards to using the smoker. For urban Los Angeles, I would always urge beeks to use a smoker to cover the alarm pheromone and divert the guard bees’ attention. Too often, newbees in this environment do not use their smoker with good technique and the fallout can be bees passing over the fence to the next patio, stings to the neighbors and a resulting call to the authorities. This happened to one of my students and the Fire department came out and foamed his 2 hives—yep, killed both of ’em with fire suppressant foam—even though one hive was not even opened. Not all of us may have the distance from neighbors to opt out on smoker use.
Bees that are fractious can be much easier to work—as our partially Africanized ferals can be—with judicious smoking. The package bees I have seen and worked are so complacent, they hardly seem alive at times.
Finally, I do not use the smoker only at the beginning of a inspection. I use it constantly, in tiny puffs, as a tool to “herd” the bees from being squashed at the end bars, to move bees from the last frame against the wall so I can push the frame over, to see down between frames and decide if I even need to pull a frame, and when replacing boxes and covers to, again, avoid squashing bees. The bees do not respond well to having their sisters ground up in the woodware. I break propolis bonds slowly and allow the bees the time to adapt to my movements.

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Paul Tabor

Great artical, I shared it. I am passionate about getting new people into bees. I have different types of hives. This past year I put two styles of hives on a school roof so students could watch them. I had 5 queens emerge from cells placed in an incubator in the classroom. 4 students held , marked and named the queens😉

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Chris Barnes

You left out the one big mistake I see many newbies make – giving the bees too much room. Many pest problems are best treated with “a strong healthy hive” – which is measured in terms of “how high is the bee population based on the volume of space they have”. Too much space makes it too hard for the bees to guard / protect the whole hive.

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Dan Lunt

I tried beekeeping for 4 seasons relying on advice from the local beekeeper’s supply store. My first two years seemed to be my most productive in terms of honey production but the colony died during the second winter (I live in Utah and was using Langstroth style hives. I also stacked bails of straw around the hives during the winter to help provide wind protection.). I bought new packages at the beginning of the 3rd season and started a second hive. They both appeared to be doing well for the first 8 weeks and then one of the hives vacated. I don’t know where or why they went. The other hive appeared to be ok but died during the winter. The 4th season, I again bought packages but had queen problems and neither colony did very well. At that point, one nasty sting was all it took to convince me that I don’t have what it takes so I sold my gear and gave it up. That was 3 years ago. The problem is that I’m still very interested in beekeeping. I read what I can but often see contradictory information in the available literature. I follow your Instagram posts and now your blog and feel that I’ve gotten more good information from that than from anything else. Anyway, I think I’m beginning to understand some of the areas where I was doing the wrong things (or at least not doing the right things), and I’m thinking of giving it another try. My wife and I would love to go to one of your classes. Perhaps a California vacation is coming up. As a bonus, I would love eating honey from my own hives again. Thanks for the helpful and encouraging information.

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Hilary

Hi Dan,

Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad I am helping you to be inspired again. Losing hives can be very frustrating. If you start again, maybe you can try catching a feral hive. They tend to do better than bought bees in my experience.

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Susan T Rudnicki

Dan—I teach beekeeping in Los Angeles and have 27 colonies of feral sourced honey bees—meaning they came from swarms, cutouts, and trapouts and were surviving spendidly in their unconventional location, but were not in acceptable digs for humans. The package bees often have myriad problems due to genetics selected to meet human derived preferences (which often deletes genes that serve the bee’s physiology and disease resistance) due to narrow queen line genetics, due to queens not well mated and pushed to ship before they are really ready, due to queens being packaged with workers not even related to her and due to a history of chemical dependency for treatments for varroa mites. If you can get survivor stock swarms or cutouts, you will likely get bees adapted to their location and with strong genetic diversity.
You need to figure out what type of beekeeping you are interested in doing and then winnow out the educational sources that are not in line with that philosophy. You need to find a mentor or bee club that supports your interest. Personally, Michael Bush of Bush Bees (his whole book is online at http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm) is my go-to guru.
I decided I did not want to run a bee hospital, counting mites and applying in-hive chemicals. Early on, I learned about this “sketchy group that saves feral bees and keeps them with no treatments and no foundation” (that is how they were described—the BackwardsBeekeepers of Los Angeles) The whole philosophy agreed with my organic food raising and biology based educational background. I knew what I wanted to do, so I arranged with a group member to help me with a cutout of some bees I found in a water meter box.
Finally, like a lot of newbees I teach, try to get over the fixation on when you get honey. The keeping of bees is 90% about the society of the superorganism that is the bee colony, the members of the bee family, and all the varied factors that cause it to act as it does. Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, the “Flow-Hive” has made that fixation a even stronger idea in the mind of the newbees I am meeting now.

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Dan Lunt

Thanks Susan. The whole idea of feral sourced colonies sounds promising but foreign to anything I’ve heard from anyone locally. Buying packages in April seems to be the go-to method here (with a rather discouraging resignation to the idea of starting over every other year), but perhaps only because I’ve not sought out the alternatives. I will start looking for people who are in line with that philosophy.
Also, I agree that I was probably too focused on honey during my first attempt and a large portion of my problems was probably related to taking too much honey and trying to make up for it with feeding (sugar water).
In the reading I’ve done since, I’ve become much more interested in the sustainability issues and would like to try it again with those as the higher goals.
In the meantime, it is good to find a community that can provide me some advice and support. Thanks again.

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Hilary

Hey Dan,

Just so you know, L.A. area seems to be the only place with a community of local beekeepers with this philosophy. Most of the rest of us had to go at it solo and were discouraged by local beekeepers. I made a lot of gut decisions as a newbie and decided not to listen to the old timers telling me I was wrong. I got validation from Michael Bush’s website, Les Crowder’s book, forums and just hearing that a group like The Backwards Beekeepers existed.

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Susan T Rudnicki

Hi, Dan—you have not said where you are, but as Hilary says, there are more feral beeks out in LA than a lot of places. BUT—they are out there! Get on a blog like “Feral Bee Project” or Dee Lusby’s “Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group” and state your desires to hook up with like-minded bee folk. Sam Comfort, at Anarchy Apiaries, is all over the US, (check his website) and could probably point out some contacts. There are 4 conventional clubs in LA who brand us feral-keepers as
“the Taliban beeks” !! How’s that for notoriety?

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Dan Lunt

Ha-ha! I’m in the Salt Lake City area. I will start looking for local rebels and see if I can strengthen the movement. Thanks for your advice and information. Merry Christmas!

Ava D Dohn; Rhapsodie McClintick; fawnsfall supporting Ava D Dohn

Back in the 70’s, hear in growing region 4- winter’s are 7 to 8 months with snow, ice, and maybe 20 degrees below and summer’s that may have 4 weeks of 80 or 90 degrees farhenheit, a beek let me know: “It’s where you are, where your bees are from, and how much time you spend.” With our weather he said to make sureto keep honey above 70% full in the spring, above 55% full in the summer, and about 90 to 95% full for the winter. And that was only honey amounts, there was a lot more about bees shared too.

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Sona

Thanks for great info. My first biggest mistake was that I had one hive swarm 4x times. I was devastated, lucky the hive was strong; but I feel no one warned me. I will be telling new beekeepers.

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Stephen Williams

I’m a backyard Warré beekeeper in Victoria, Australia. I found your post very interesting Hilary, with some great advice for newbees.

The one point where I would strongly disagree is the frequency of hive inspections. As you correctly note, hive opening is extremely stressful for the bees. “Learning purposes” is never a reason to open hives, if you’re practising a bee-friendly or apicentric form of beekeeping. It’s all about the bees’ needs, not about the beekeeper’s!

Émile Warré advocated opening the hive only once or twice a year. In Australia we have very strong honey flows which require somewhat more active management of hives, but three to four times a year should be enough.

I don’t have any statistics to back me up, but I strongly suspect that many queenless colonies are a result of beekeepers having injured or killed the queen last time they opened the hive. Both diseases such as chalkbrood and pests such as small hive beetle are known to result from over-frequent hive openings.

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Hilary

Valid points. In my area we have Africanized bees. It becomes a huge problem when new beeks don’t inspect. Their hives grow large, swarm and become aggressive and then they are completely unprepared for how to handle the situation. It can be disastrous in backyard settings. I will also point out that you guys don’t have mites, which also makes things more complicated for a lot of beekeepers.

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Bob Kashwer

Our club in Tulsa (Northeast Oklahoma Beekeepers Association) is working on advancing mentoring as an integral part of its educational activities.

Thanks for this Blog and for this Post which will help us in our efforts!!

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Diana Attuso

Thank you for this article and all the comments and responses are very interesting. I live in central Virginia and will be starting 2 Langstroth hives in the spring. They will be 8 frame medium hives. I have taken a class from Jerry who runs the Virginia Bee Supply in Remington. And will be getting 2 packages of Italian bees from him in mid March. Those bees are coming from Georgia.

That said, I would love to keep my bees chemical treatment free, but being a brand new beekeeper I’m afraid I will lose my bees. I feel pretty sure that after I learn the ins and outs I could probably do it but I have asked Jerry about going treatment free and he does not recommend it, so I would have no support from him.

Like Dan, I too was a biology major in college and understand the need for our bees to evolve natural resistance to the varroa mite. I even understand the process. But I don’t feel that I would be able to put it into practice with any success.

The other problem is, from what I understand, the foundations for the frames cause the bees to draw out ‘large’ cells in their comb. but if I put empty frames in for them to build their own smaller size cells then I will encounter problems with cross combs and burr comb,even though I know the smaller cells tend to not host the varroa mite the way a larger cell does.

Finally, I’m not getting into keeping bees for the honey, I’m doing it to help preserve the species. Even tough everybody in my family asks the same question, When can we get some honey? Sigh. That’s not why I’m doing it. So that’s my story so far… Maybe if I got some foundation that have a smaller cell foundation. Does that exist?

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Hilary

Hi Diana,

I intend to write an article soon on how to be a treatment free beekeeper. Just from reading your comment here, I think Jerry is probably right in this case. If you want to be a treatment free beekeeper you need to be careful where you get your bees. Check with your breeder. If they treat for mites, then you probably can’t keep those bees alive without treating them. You need to find someone who is breeding “survivor queens”. Also, when you get bees from a different climate, they don’t always thrive in yours. So, that is something to keep in mind. Lastly, it is unlikely that you will find support for most natural beekeeping practices in your local area. When I first started out, everyone in the beekeeping group here told me I was crazy. Now, they want me to be a board member. If you are interested in foundationless beekeeping or small cell beekeeping, check out my two most recent posts.

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Susan T Rudnicki

Diana—this was in Susan’s comment, not Dan’s “Like Dan, I too was a biology major in college and understand the need for our bees to evolve natural resistance to the varroa mite. “

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Susan T Rudnicki

Diana—your description here —“And will be getting 2 packages of Italian bees from him in mid March. Those bees are coming from Georgia.” is a almost certainty that the bees will not be well adapted to going treatment free—-Jerry knows the typical stock mailed out of Georgia, which is why he “doesn’t recommend it” Read the note I posted on the problems with Package Bee Queens, above. They are always large cell stock bees, and you must regress them with small cell foundation (well described by Michael Bush and Dee Lusby) This process is a whole other advanced technique, but you could do it if you had a experienced mentor. Small cell foundation is sold by a few bee suppliers in the US. I don’t remember the suppliers names (since I have foundationless, feral, small cell bees already) but posing the question on the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo site or checking Michael Bush’s on-line book will turn up something.
Your fear that not providing them foundation means they will become crosscombed is missing a understanding of the in between issue—-that large cell bees will tend to draw large cells in their brood nest. Cross combs don’t just “happen” with due diligence. (to clarify, when we speak of large v.s. small cell we mean a cell size average of 5.4 v.s. 4. 7mm across. The average cell size can be assessed by measuring with a millimeter marked ruler, horizontally, across 10 cells and dividing by 10 to get the average per cell)
The theory with encouraging small cell bees is that their development time for the worker brood is shorter than the time required for the full development of the mites within the cell, so the brood hatches before the mite has completed development. Our SMALL cell drones are more timed to the mite’s development, so the drone brood in a small cell colony tends to act as a “sink” for varroa mites. Since the drones are more expendable in terms of the work needing to be done in the hive, the drones can be sacrificed. Hope this helps!

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Gary

Excellent advice. I would add “not joining a beekeeping club if you can.” The advice of local beekeepers has been invaluable to us in our first year and we have a very strong colony as a result.

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John C. King

The only mistake I’ve made as a first-year beekeeper on your list is not suiting up every time very thoroughly. My two biggest mistakes not on your list have been 1) opening up the hive after it got too dark. The bees got very very defensive and I got stung through my vented gloves 15 times on the wrists. They even found a little opening under the velcro and got inside my hood and stung my neck and 2) not making sure the cinder blocks under my hive were secure. We had a very long lasting rainstorm and the ground shifted and my hive collapsed.

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Hilary

Thanks for sharing. Those are good ones. Opening too close to dark is definitely one I see a lot.

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cnbarnes

I just thought of one other item that all newbee beekeepers should be told:

All beekeepers will loose a hive. The only ones that have never lost a hive simply haven’t been doing it long enough. The key is that WHEN you loose a hive, don’t get discouraged and quit. Instead, try to to learn from it.

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Bryan Chubb

I don’t know if this should be on the first list or the followup list. When I started several years ago, I lost hives to moisture buildup at the top of the hive during the winter. Some beginners don’t understand that colonies die from being cold and wet while only a few bees die from just being cold. We had someone convert their strong hive to bee-cycles by covering her hive with a tarp to keep them warm.

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Mike

Mike’s Beehives LLC: Hilary has obviously put a lot of time and thought into writing this article. It is for your benefit. Please read the entire article as it has a lot of useful information. I do not know Hilary, but I can tell she is passionate about the Honeybee. I too care about raising Honeybees. If I may add a little more to this article I would say join your local Beekeeping Club and ATTEND the meetings. I have been raising Honeybees for 6 years now and I still go to every class that my mentor gives, every year. You can never have too much knowledge. Things change and new information comes out. I know beekeepers who have been doing it for 30 plus years, and they still ask questions. When I give a class I tell my students to ASK every question they can think of. Because if they don’t know the answer, then then may never find out the answer and that could be a costly mistake. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and yes you will get stung, but it is definitely worth the effort. You will only get out what you put in. Enjoy!

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AnnH

I am thrilled and overwhelmed with the amount of information there is to learn about beekeeping. I live in a rural area in the mountains of Virginia and am going into my first winter with two hives. I’ve bought all the equipment and gear I was told I needed and/or thought I needed, I’ve taken the classes, read the books, and there is still so much to learn and experience. One thing I’ve learned is that what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone. Some people like to do things one way and others swear by another way. Some people are very methodical about how they approach their bees and others are less so. Some people use so-and-so and others don’t. I figure you just have to figure out what works for YOU and YOUR bees and learn from your experiences. As I mentioned, I’ve got two hives. Since I began this endeavor in the Spring, I’ve used my smoker a total of 3 times. I, honestly, have not felt that I needed to use it and when I did, I didn’t see that big of a difference in their demeanor. Of course, I’m a newbie, so I may not have been observant enough, but that is MY experience and I’ll use it going forward. I still enjoy reading about others experiences. I look at these experiences as resources for my continued growth and knowledge.

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Sheldon Hill

I liked your article, I do think that you gave a good insight for new beekeepers, I am a commercial beekeeper and I do agree that the ultimate answer to mite issue’s is evolution. One question I had was the selection for queens that you are using for mite control. Second is noticed no talk of AFB, and your control methods that you have used. Thirdly I know you didn’t comment this but the lack of knowledge of how our food system has gotten to the place where we now find it. There is this thought that it is the farmers fault, Monsanto fault,etc . The urban dwellers do not understand that we got here so food would be cheaper and more plentiful, for the public, so you want change,pay for it, support a farmer directly if possible, reward the ones that are sticking their necks out for change, but this whole thought that it’s some one else’s fault, well I take it personally, do something that’s how change begins.

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Hilary

Hi Sheldon,

In regards to queens, I think their success for mite resistance is also hinged on their adaptation to the local climate. I had good success with local breeder Wildflower Meadows and Florida breeder Carpenter Apiary, but I confess a lot of my bees are feral rescues. In regards to AFB I have never seen it and the old timers in my area say they have not heard of a case for 18 years. I think it is one of those things that afflicts commercial beekeepers more probably because you have so many bees in one places and the other stressors that go along with that system. I 100% agree with you about the food system. Everyone is apart of it and we are all to blame. I think, as beekeepers, we may hold more cards than we realize in changing the system.

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Susan T Rudnicki

hmmmm—Mr Hill, I am not sure how you are so certain “urban dwellers” are not doing the very things you urge…..
I remember the quote that Earl Butz, Nixon’s Sect’y of Agriculture, said during the dismantling of the family farm—“get big or get out!” This set the mold for agriculture to develop on a industrial scale, with all the heavy capitalization and massive acreage defined as “progress” The growth in chemically supported agriculture came out of the poisons left over from WW2 and a re-purposing that embraced the pharmaceutical industry, too. What a ironic duo—companies like Bayer make drugs and pesticides.

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Eve

As an interested bystander an eavesdropper to your discussion concerning Urban Dwellers etc. we have a similar problem in Australia with the only people aware of what chemical farming and mono-culture can do to not only to our health but to the welfare of our bees are the bio-dynamic and permaculture followers. Most of our commercial honey producers follow a code of ethics and guidelines presented by our government department of environment, and very few will use chemicals, although the mono-cultures that are increasing also demand bees trucked to the orchards for a single season, then get moved on to the next blossoming season. You are lucky not to have encountered AFB yet. I had it in my first ever hive, and had to destroy the colony and hive, notifying the Dept of Environment, and following their instructions closely. They also now provide apiarists with sugar shake kits to be able to trace any varoa mite that has the temerity to sneak into Australia.

Monsanto is the only culprit still promoting and using glyphosate and other poisons for profit. The same applies to their trying to control the fruit and vegetable market by manipulating seed production that have been tailored to GMO standards, and requires farmers to buy a new lot of seed every season instead of being able to grow and collect their own.

If anyone reading this has seen the movie: “More than Honey”, they will know how confronting the information in it is, and how the Alpine countries like Switzerland and Austria cope with bee health, and compare that to the mono-culture commercial beekeeping. The scariest part is the end result of using chemicals in countries like China which has NO bees left. They have to collect pollen manually, package it at a profit and sell it to other farmers who then use tiny paint brushes and pollinate huge almond and apple orchards BY HAND. Lucky they have people power. I do recommend that everyone watch “More than Honey”. It answers a lot of questions..

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Susan T Rudnicki

Eve—Regarding “More Than Honey”–very important plot device you did not mention—the last part of the movie shows the resilience and advantages of feral bees with their diverse genetics and lack of treatment regimen history. Remember the guy doing a cutout from the eaves of the house?
The media coverage of “dying honey bees” almost uniformly fails to mention the beekeepers putting pesticides in their hives, killing a mite on a insect. Acaracides affect the fertility of the Queen, the health of the brood, and the navigational ability of the workers.
Varroa will show up in Australia. It is only a matter of time. The impact and explosion of international trade via ships, planes and other artificial means, has removed former natural barriers that stopped invasives in the historical past.

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Eve

Susan – you are quite right about bees – all animals for that matter – build up their own immunity, and feral bees are equivalent to hybrid vigour. I wasn’t going to go into the detail of the movie, and was going to leave it to the readers to form their own conclusions. I did mention that Australia has strict quarantine and border controls, and that there are bee traps specifically set up at harbours and airports, meant to trap hitchhikers. It is not the ultimate safeguard, just the first step. I have been pontificating about inoculating poultry. I breed and show Orpington chickens, and have lost a few valuable clutches to vaccinations. I have decided to let them build up their own immunity , and although wild birds (we have 20 different types of parrots and cockatoos amongst other indigienous birds) do transmit some bugs, but they are easily dealt with, I have never had Marecks in over ten years of breeding, or any other ‘popular’ poultry diseases. I think varoa has created panic waves globally, and yet I have not heard of hives dying out from varoa. I might be wrong, but they are unlike bird mites which can suck the blood out of their hosts to the extent of causing anaemia and death. One varoa mite per bee is going to fall off sated and build immunity for future attacks. It may take a few generations, but if people don’t panic and start spraying their bees, which also contaminates the honey, they will eventually get a resistant line which will be worth its weight in gold.

Susan T Rudnicki

Hi, Eve—thanks for the reply. Hives of highly inbred, medication-dependent bees (such as used in all commercial pollinator operations) DO die out completely. The problem is the diseases vectored by the mites are sometimes worse than the direct feeding, Deformed wing virus and Parasitic mite syndrome are just two of the diseases. (I have chickens for many years, so familiar with your analogies—partially apt, in this case.)
Bees that originated with varroa, (read about Apis cerana to learn about this) exist with the mite as a background stressor, in the same way as you exist with incidental exposure to rhinovirus (the common cold) The challenge to the immune system is REQUIRED to elicit a response. Sterilizing hives of all varroa is not the answer, since it does not mimic the realities of the environment. The strong, resilient hives will prosper, the weak ones die.

Dave Martin

Monsanto, Bayer, etc. way of farming has no future. More and more farmers are starting to understand this and are looking into no till methods. Urban Dwellers understand this better then the new farmers. We are old farmers that never could afford the new ways and thus in the end will be saved. My family owns two old style farms.

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Susan T Rudnicki

Hi, Diana—I am well aware of Rusty Berlew’s site. She often won’t post my remarks, and I did make one on this link you sent. I try to read very widely on the issue of varroa and resistance and chemical treatment, and that is the best any beek can do to figure out what to do.

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Diana Attuso

I’m sorry to hear that she wont post your comments. I guess there are a lot of politics and strong feelings about this subject…

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Eve

Thank you, Diane for the brilliant link and informative article. Does so differ from the genetics of mammals, and I think this is the difficulty getting your head around the issue. Nobody would visualize dogs eating their male pups if they have a diploid gene, but that also means that the bees know best! how to keep their colony pure. Tampering with genetics can be dangerous to a certain extent.

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Susan T Rudnicki

#10 in this listing is the most common and intractable barrier I encounter as a “mentor” to new beeks. I enclose the title in quotes because I have come to believe that most folks seeking a mentor are not seeking wisdom on beekeeping, but a “set-up” operation or “crisis response” operation. Deep down, many have this belief that bees can just exist in the urban environment with no particular plan or knowledge or management on the part of the owner. The colony is a little “set-piece” to enhance the garden and conversation they have with friends and visitors to the home. I have to chase after these folks to continue the communication after a visit and THEY are the one ostensibly in need of knowledge—-not me. I no longer chase them. And I now have a strict contract of understanding they must read and sign before I work with them or I say so-long. Many interactions of less than a quality experience have toughened my resolve that I don’t need this aggravation.

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Marianne

Hi Hilary,

Here in the Netherlands I’ve just discovered your blog and tips/advices.
I love your blog and the name, just as I’m calling myself. As a young female beek I’m very proud of being a girl with bees. And do is my husband 😍
I’m so glad I have found this great hobby.
Because our children are learning from us, I like to give some guestlessons at schools.

Please keep on posting, here in the Netherlands I’m looking forward to your posts!

Oh, and if you ever need to know how we are keeping our bees, please contact. I’m very willing to tell you. 😉

Sincerely,
Marianne

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Abeilles | Pearltrees

[…] Beekeeping Like A Girl 10 MISTAKES NEW BEEKEEPERS MAKE. Many new beekeepers learn things the hard way. As a beekeeping instructor, it’s my job to keep my students from meeting this all too common fate! Read on to find out the mistakes I see most often and how to avoid them. With so much to learn as a new beekeeper, missteps are as inevitable as beestings! Yet failures do provide an opportunity for learning. 1. I encourage beekeepers to observe their hives from the outside on a weekly or even daily basis. 2. This was my first big mistake as a new beekeeper and I do my best to make sure others avoid it. 3. If there is one practical thing you should know about the behavior of bees as a new beekeeper, it’s that they will build comb in any empty space you give them. 4. […]

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Tami

My daughter lives in Naples Florida. Her neighbor is a bee keeper for aprox 3 years now. My daughter can no longer let her children play outside, due to being stung by bees. Particularly our little red headed girl. They seem to be attracted to her. The neighbor will do nothing. to help. His Bee hives are located aproximately 20 yards from where the children play. What can we do? The yard has no flowers, only grass and trees.

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Hilary

Do you have Africanized bees in your area? Do they children know not to swat at the bees?

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Ava D Dohn; Rhapsodie McClintick; fawnsfall supporting Ava D Dohn

Tami,

The bees live life in patterns there are some things that can help the family in decreasing maybe even eliminating stings. #1. Converse with the beek, try to learn patterns of life for the bees. Noises, high pitch cries may exacerbate tense times, there may be tones of value that are good. #2. Flowers of attraction and when are the bees most interested in them, will it be easier for the children to try to play away or change voices? Are there plants the bees REALLY LOVE that may be where the kids are commonly? #3. Sorry if this is a repeat, garlic, I use the vitamin gels through the summer, the mosquitos hate me, and the bees aren’t a problem even when within 20 feet of their active hive. Garlic mash mixed in sun cream may work. #4. This could be a repeat also, wide brim hats are useful in shading away bugs, the Mexican sombrero has similar value. #5. Some plants like “tobacco leaves” are actually avoided by moths. ( H. Argentari) There may be plants to add to the yard to keep the bees away also.

Hope this helps some.

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EyesOnHives (@keltronixinc)

Was going to say something about the first point – there’s an amazing amount you can learn from hive entrance activity, especially if you have data for the whole day – but inspecting every 2 weeks is definitely a good idea too!

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Jason

Hi Hilary. I broke rule #9. I’m a brand-new bee keeper this year. I got the equipment and ordered a package of bees that were mailed to me two days ago. The bees arrived very healthy with very few dead ones, however, the queen was dead in her cage.

I installed the bees in the new hive and hung the queen cage so the bees would smell the queen and begin the colony. I ordered a new queen and she should arrive in about two weeks.

First, is this colony a lost cause? Should I start over with a new package of bees? Or will a new queen get things started?

Second, Most of the videos online of new bee packages show the bee keeper installing the bees with old comb to get them started. I don’t have old comb, but I have foundation frames. Would building the comb from scratch be too much for this colony?

I live in a pretty remote area so getting a nuc or finding a bee-club is pretty difficult.

Thanks.

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Hilary

Hi Jason, this colony should be fine if you get them a new queen. Having old comb is just a nice advantage, but it is not required. As far as foundation goes… you should read my two posts on this and decide what is best for you. 🙂

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I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. many thanks

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Hilary

Hi, I designed the header and picked all the elements I wanted, but paid someone to set it up for me.

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Barry

Oh great–I just moved away from San Diego (to Ojai) and now I discover you! Thanks for a lot of good information. Hope to get started in the Spring (that’s the best season to start new hives, right?).

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Hilary

Hi Barry, Yes, the spring is the best time to get bees, but you can start doing some research and legwork now. One great thing to do in the fall is to plant a ton of bee plants for incoming bees. The rainy season will help them get established and then you will have a nice spring bloom! I also have good news, my Intro to Beekeeping class now has an online version that you can stream any time! I realize I am biased here, but I highly recommend this class as a first step: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/gndhoney

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Barry

Thanks Hilary. I notice in your video that the frames do not have the preformed beeswax foundations. Pros and Cons? I understand some of the issues have to do with “natural” vs commercial production, but from the perspective of a small number of hives, what do you suggest? Why do the bees make hive hanging so nicely from the top of the frame as opposed to interlinking a bunch of frames?

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Susan Rudnicki

Hi, Barry—I and Hilary are proponents of allowing bees to draw the natural wax combs they are very skilled at drawing without foundation. This sheet is a human invention. Bees put cells of several different sizes on a frame of comb—small for workers, large for drones, very large for honey/nectar. Foundation is imprinted with just one size, so the bees have to “fudge” it to make them correctly for their needs. Natural combs are also not pre-loaded with pesticide residues, which are inherent in commercial foundation gathered from many commercial beekeeping sources where the bees are treated for diseases and pests. I read of one Canadian study which found 144 chemical residues in commercial foundation. Bees will make nice straight foundationless combs if you help them get started with a comb guide on the underside of the top bar. Also, to make sure they don’t go wonky, I check new colonies frequently to realign tiny deviations before they have got very far out of alignment. Hilary has some blogs on foundationless methods—look over her site. I have 30 colonies and have never used foundation in 5 years of beekeeping. Michael Bush, author of “the Practical Beekeeper—Beekeeping Naturally” (entire book is on-line) is a strong proponent of foundationless, too. His book is here—bushfarms.com/bees.htm

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Barry

Thank you! Great info and will definitely check out the reference. I am pretty old school–measure twice, cut once. It will be about 9 months before I actually have bees, so sorting out this type of stuff before hand will hopefully enable me to be a better companion for my bees.

Susan Rudnicki

Barry—I commend you for your caution in becoming educated before rushing into it! So many beeks get ‘bee fever’ and don’t do the proper preparation mentally. You’ll do well! Susan

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Jason

I think I have bad news. Just checked my new hive. The previous inspection was about 3-4 weeks ago. I see, what seems like, way too many Drones, raised drone cells, and about 6 or so queen cells.

First, it seems to me that the queen, whom I could not find, is either failing, or dead. Second, the presence of too many drones means that I have laying worker bees. And, Third, the presence of queen cells means?? What?

Is my new hive doomed? What do I do?

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Hilary

Just having drone cells does not mean you have laying workers. The combo of lots of drones AND queen cells *might mean that you have a failing queen. Did you look in the cells for eggs? There should be one egg per cell. If there are multiple eggs that is laying workers for sure. Where are the queen cells located? On the face of the combs or on the edges?

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Jason

I didn’t know the answers to your questions and I didn’t want to open up the hive again to find out.

I just opened up the hive today and found good news. I found a queen. It’s not my original queen and I could not find any eggs. There were three queen cells, all toward the middle of the comb and all empty and being ‘cleaned out’. Very little capped brood. It’s possible that she has started to lay eggs, I just couldn’t find any and the frame she was on was very full of bees, not giving me much of a view of the comb.

On the down side, I couldn’t find even one cell of honey? I found some pollen cells, but not many.

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Hilary

It sounds like your bees hatched out a new queen. I would make the effort next time to look for eggs. Have you seen my article on Hive Inspection notes? There is a nice print out form available for you to use there. It may be a helpful guide during inspections. When bees are in the way, I like to use a feather to gently move them so I can look in the cells.

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Tara

Got my first 2 hives this past spring….broke rule #3 for one of them (long story about why….but it happened and I will never let it happen again). I just found your site today but have been reading books and watching videos for about 3 years. I am going to purchase your bee class lecture so maybe you talk about correcting it? If not, any advice, or a resource specifically talking about that? My bottom brood chamber has all 10 frames. My top deep box has only 7 of the 10 frames and of course there is a large amount of comb and honey in all the open space. Most of it is not capped—just wet. I don’t know if I should remove it (and how to do that and not loose the queen and make a ridiculously huge mess?) and put all 10 frames in or just let it go? My mentor was supposed to come out and help me earlier this summer but has been traveling and hasn’t been available. I’m pretty clueless on what to do. I will be spending all my free time in the coming weeks reading your blog posts! 🙂 Thank you for this article….and the class I’m going to start watching here momentarily.

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Tara

I’m in Michigan—so long cold winters. I will probably just leave it there for now—maybe it will be a bit easier to fix in the spring (wishful hoping here!). I can probably deal with the mess (hoping I won’t drowned to many bees in the clean up process) but my biggest fear is loosing the queen in that mess. All a learning process I suppose. Loving the Intro to Beekeeping Online class so far!

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Hilary

All valid concerns. The combs are probably attached to the roof or inner cover, so hopefully you can lift them out entirely and do the “surgery” away from the the hive bodies. If you can get someone to help you who has done it before, that will help!

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Susan Rudnicki

Hi, I am a beekeeper in the South Bay—where are you? I would get another mentor, and one more responsive. You should be able to speak over the phone or email if you have a good mentoring relationship. All my students know it is their job to pursue ME, the giver of wisdom, not my job to pursue them to ask how their colony is doing—-just sayn’ to make that clear. If you want a clear answer to a problem from others, it is important to give as much information as possible to let us understand your thought process. In other words, being loathe to tell “the long story about why” is not helping you. When you ask, give the run-down on these issues—When exactly did you get the colony? where was it sourced—package breeder bees, feral swarm, cutout? Size and number of boxes—2 deeps and a top medium? A medium, a deep, and another medium? (not all stack configurations are the same or “typical”) Are they on foundation—plastic, wax? Are they foundationless? What has been the inspection cycle? Are you keeping written or elec. records of what you do and when and what you see? When was the LAST inspection? With lots of nectar filled soft white comb, if it were me, I would allow them to finish it, and cap it. Depending on forage conditions, they may need it fed back to them in a baggie feeder since they don’t have excess and can’t handle a harvest by you yet. If there is no brood in the mess section, it is unlikely the queen is in there, either. Queens don’t hang around in the honey nest. But creating a lot of broken honey cells could drown her, so I would not go in there cutting without a experienced mentor. Let us know the answers to the above questions good luck!

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Tara

Thanks Susan. I am seeking out a new mentor as mine has been much less responsive and helpful than I had hoped. I have written emails, called, asked to help with his hives, offered to pay him to come do an inspection with me on my hives…..I always get “busy this week but I’ll let you know” and 5 months later I’m still asking with no results. I love learning and sharing about my hives—I just didn’t want to turn the forum into a “solve my problem” page. But since you asked 🙂 I am in southwest Michigan (just south of Grand Rapids). I got the bees at the end of April. Package bees through a local guy but they are from Georgia. When installing the queen initially I did something wrong (I assume) because 6 days later the entire hive was empty (I noticed there were none outside the hive and the feeder stopped being empty so I opened it up and empty). But, my other hive was just fine so I’m really not sure what happened to this hive. It was early in the season so I got another package of bees and installed them being extra careful with the queen. I left the bee cage upside down on top of the bottom frames (I read many places this was less stressful on the bees than “bonking them all out”). I use 10 frame with plastic foundation. I planned to go back out and remove the cage and empty super 2 days later as I did with my first hive but I was 8 months pregnant and had some complications so I was not able to do that. I instilled the help of my husband who did wonderfully (he hasn’t read any of the books or watched any videos but suited right up to help graciously) but just added frames to the super that was empty. He added 7 frames and left the bee cage. I got back to the hive about 3 days later (so total 5 days from bee installation) and removed the bee cage. There was a large piece of comb (about 8 inches by 4 inches and about an inch thick) already built (it was “empty” comb). I realize now that I should have removed that comb all together since it was so early. BUT, I didn’t. I left it in there and somehow also forgot to add the other 3 frames to complete the box (I guess my brain wasn’t working after being in the hospital for a few days or something). When I went back 22 days later there was so much empty space that had been filled in with comb and brood and honey. I immediately took pictures and sent explanation to my mentor—who said “just leave it.” I inspect the hive from the outside at least every 2 days. I open it up every 5 or 6 weeks for an inspection. I do have a written log with dates and inspection results. I also take pictures of my hive at each inspection (1. to send my mentor with questions on what I am seeing and 2. so I can compare to books and 3. for future reference). The last inspection was on July 23 at 11am. I’d love to show someone pictures! I again immediately wrote a long letter to my mentor and asked for advise, help etc. I was told “the bees are doing what they are supposed to do. Just leave it” So as it stands right now I have a bottom deep chamber with 10 frames. Then I have another deep chamber with 7 frames and lots of natural comb going in all kind of directions. It appears that 2 on one side and 1 on the other side of the rouge comb are full. It also looks (at least from what I can see only looking down from the top) that those frames are capped. The open space was all open soft looking liquid honey and comb. I did not remove any of the 3 frames that were “stuck” with the rouge comb as I was afraid to tear it all apart, making a huge mess, and drowning bees and/or the queen. Then I have a queen excluder and a medium box with 10 frames. I wasn’t going to put the honey super on yet but that is one thing my mentor did tell me after seeing my pictures so I did add that on July 1. Because of the condition of this upper deep super I did not take it off and inspect the bottom chamber at all so I do not know the condition of it. I am due for my next inspection this weekend so the timing of my reading this blog (and knowing my mistake is not unique to me) was perfect. But, with no direction other than “just leave it” I’m not exactly sure what to do. Even if that is the answer a little more teaching about why would be nice! I am not planning to extract any honey this year, of course. And we do have long harsh winters so they likely will need the honey. But, will it be any easier to fix in the spring? Maybe they will cap it off before winter and I could fix it this year? I haven’t seen the bottom chamber since near the beginning of June—is that ok or should I pull the top chamber off (breaking the comb and causing the upper chamber honey to drain down)? I have SO many questions. I have signed up for my local Bee Club but with the new baby haven’t been able to go to a meeting yet. I am going in Sept though for the first time. I don’t know, however, how long it will take to find a new mentor. My current mentor is the only person I know that has bees. So, that is my story! 🙂

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Susan Rudnicki

Wow, thanks for the comprehensive answer! You have definitely been ill respected by the “mentor” who is not acting much like a good teacher. I don’t know if this will help, but I heard a fine treatment free beek speak at the American Beekeeping Federation conference in ’14 who is from Michigan, Don Schram, and maybe reaching out to him would help you locate someone better. He is very responsive. Here’s his FB https://www.facebook.com/don.schram.14 and website http://huroncitybeeco.com/ I don’t use package bees, so the queen cage is not a familiar model for me—my bees are all wild caught from swarms and cutouts. But if you do not know of Michael Bush and his book, “The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally” I remember his warnings about positioning the cage and timing. His entire book of over 600 pages is all available on-line here—http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm
The package you “lost” just did something called ‘absconding’ They hit the road for reasons we can’t know. It could easily not be anything you did.
NIce Husband to be so helpful! In 5 years of being a beek, my husband has never even looked at my hives. Yours gets a gold star. It is rough to be starting this when you are
pregnant! If it were me, I would just leave the messy comb part until next Spring—they will cap it and possibly use it over Winter. I know very lttle about overwintering and clustering—we have swarms in December. Here’s the thing—you have a package from Georgia and unless they are selected for VSH (varroa sensitive hygiene) they will probably not be acclimated to your severe winters and not genetically strong against mites. Most of those package bees are raised with chemical supports and require continued monitoring of mites and treatments. Get with Don and the Treatment Free folks if you want to learn more about that. Michael Bush has a LOT in his book about this subject. But you should have a treatment regimen plan in place for these bees if you want them to survive. The messy comb is the LEAST of the problems, really. I would pull off the queen excluder (I don’t use them anyway) and the top medium to allow them to manage their thermoregulation better and guard what they have. Not taking off honey from a young hive is the best move, too. Reduce the entrance, if you have not already. Be sure to plan for snow piling up in front of the entrance, as I read about in other places is a normal thing.

You sound like a good, conscientious student and I am sorry I can’t be more hands on to help you! Keep up the records as this allows you to examine where the bees have been, where they are now and where you think they may be going and this helps you learn faster. I am pretty sure you are getting pretty cold there by now, so I would not inspect the brood box (box #1) now, but just leave them be and hope they get through winter. Use the time to learn more about TF beekeeping! and take care of the baby. (my two are grown up and gone)
Good luck and let us know what contacts you make! Susan

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Sad beekeeper

First year bee keeper here. Lost both colonies in mid November in u.p. Of Michigan. Had checked hives a week ago, all was good. Plenty of honey and supplement with sucrose blend. Temp in 30 to 40 degree range. Bees are gone. Where did I go wrong?

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Christine

Hi Hilary! So happy I found your blog! I live in Illinois and plan on getting bees this Spring! I am currently enrolled in an 8 week course locally. Bees are so fascinating! I have enjoyed the class and doing my own research. I am a bit nervous, but can’t wait for Spring!!
I am excited to find you are in San Diego. My daughter just relocated there, and I hope we can take one of your tours when I visit! I know she would love a first hand look! She, along with the rest of family are excited to learn and just blown away by all of the bee knowledge I have been dropping 😉 Thank you!!

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brett duck

Bee Protection – Suiting up !
If the bees are annoyed they can sting you through both the suit and denim jeans .
Wear a hat as well to protect your ears and face as the bees can still sting through the veil
A swollen ear hurts. Use the smoker and carry a can of fly spray in case you get the couple of bees that will chase you and won’t let up.
I wore a t -shirt one time and the bees stung me multiple times in the one spot where the t shirt arm stopped and bare arm under the suit existed. Wear a thick shirt !

I used to get the rash shown in the picture but I got stung twice yesterday and it hurt for 3 minutes and no swelling or rash. I have built up an immunity to the sting probably from the arm stings as I got stung about 10 times in the one location and it hurt for days because of the T-shirt !

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Amy

I am into my second year of beekeeping, my I lost one colony but had another’s colony survive strong. However, they have slowly been depleting and I am struggling to figure out why. They were great in February up until mid march and then All of a sudden they got worse and worse. They stopped eating sugar syrup and the pollen patty and the queen is still laying. But the bees don’t seem to be feeding the brood. I have one frame with three stages of brood, the other frames dried up. I tried I tested for mites, but the count didn’t seem crazy and put of hand. If I move the bees to a nuc and switch the frames, will that help?

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Hilary

What does their brood pattern look like? Are you seeing signs of brood disease? Usually moving a small colony to a nuc box and getting rid of frames they are not using is a good idea.

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