New beekeepers usually have a tough time keeping their bees calm during inspections. My students often wonder why their colony, which was so defensive when they inspected it two weeks ago, is now positively angelic work my way through it. The simple answer is that I have had much more practice, but there are other factors involved in honey bee temperament. Read on for insights into what may be agitating your hive and how to avoid it.
- Stay Calm
- This is a tough one for beginning beekeepers, but it only takes practice. Remember that your bees are animals and just like other animals they will respond to your energy. If you are nervous around horses or dogs, they respond in kind. Bees are the same way. Master yourself and try to relax when you work your hives.
- Don’t Crush Bees
Bees release an alarm pheromone when they are crushed that will set off other bees. It puts them on the defensive. The more bees you crush, the more of this pheromone is floating around your hive. Take care not to crush bees if you can help it. You can read some of my tips on how to crush fewer bees in this article. If you accidentally crush some bees and want to lessen their reaction, use a little smoke to block the alarm pheromone from spreading.
Don’t Breathe on Them
Beekeepers like to joke that bees don’t like morning breath, but the truth is bees have learned to react defensively to carbon dioxide. Many of their predators breathe it out, after all! So, avoid heavy sighs and gusty exhales when working your hive. Train yourself to breather lightly though your nose.
Don’t Cause Vibrations
One of the funniest beginning beekeeping mistakes I’ve heard about came from a student of mine who was told to bang loudly on the outside of his hive before opening it. He did this to let the bees know he would be opening them and could not understand why they were always so aggressive with him. The answer is: bees do not like strong vibrations. So avoid banging things around while you inspect your bees and beware of mowing the lawn near them.
Don’t Open Them in Poor Conditions
There are certain conditions beyond the beekeeper’s control that will agitate bees. Bees dislike being opened on cool or windy days so it is best to avoid inspecting them when the weather is poor. In my experience they also tend to grouchy and more defensive when you open them too close to sunrise or too close to dark. All the forager bees will be at home during this time and they will not be happy to see you. Bees also get “hangry” and will be especially irritable during times of dearth when food stores are low. They can also be touchy during transition periods like when they are going through a supersedure or if you have moved a hive from one location to another. You have to make allowances for your bees in these circumstances. These are times of stress for the bees. However, if your bees are consistently defensive, you may need to requeen your colony.
Want to learn more about inspecting your hives, check out my online hive inspection class! It’s full of practical tips for keeping happy and healthy bees.
Photos by Deb Shields