The history of beekeeping can be traced back to roughly 5000 years ago when the Egyptians began raising and breeding honey bees in mud beehives along the Nile Valley.
The advancements made in the 18th and 19th centuries by men like Swammerdam, Reaumur, Bonnet, Huber, Wildman, Dzierzon and Langstroth, with regards to bee biology and the beekeeping practice, must however be credited for giving today’s apiculture industry a firm foundation.
The U.S. beekeeping industry was worth $341 million in 2017; between 2012 and 2017 it recorded a 2.1% annual growth.
Total honey production in 2016 from beekeepers with five or more colonies was 162 million pounds, up 3% from 2015. Total production in the same year by beekeepers with less than five colonies was 766,000 pounds, up 6% from 2015. All this honey was worth $336 million.
The health benefits of honey and other beekeeping products like royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, pollen, and honey bee venom are well documented.
Today’s discerning customers will however be reluctant to spend money on your apiary’s products if they aren’t convinced that what you’re offering is of the highest quality.
Starting a beekeeping small business can be a good way to augment your income stream; lots of people have also gone all in and made a success of it.
If this is something you wish to consider then there are several things you must know as follows:
1. Introduction to bees – A colony and its organization
Before you start keeping your own bees it’s definitely important to know more about this species of insect.
Bees are social insects i.e. they live together in large, well-organized family groups.
Being social, they jointly engage in tasks that are generally not practiced by many solitary-type insects. These tasks include communication, environmental control, complex nest construction, defense, and division of labor.
A bee colony typically consists of three types of adult bees i.e. workers (these number in the thousands), drones (they number in the hundreds), and a queen (there is normally a single queen in a colony).
- The queen is the only sexually developed female in a colony and she therefore has her primary function as being reproduction
- She produces both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. In peak production she can lay up to 1500 eggs daily. A queen is capable of laying 250,000 eggs annually and well over 1 million eggs in her lifetime. Her second year is the most prolific in terms of egg production.
- A queen’s body is typically longer than that of a worker or a drone, she has neither pollen baskets nor functional wax glands, her throat is slightly larger than that of a worker, and her stinger is curved and longer than a worker’s although it has fewer and shorter barbs. A queen typically uses her stinger to kill rival queens i.e. antipathy; she rarely stings humans.
- She can live for up to 5 years but her average productive lifespan is 2-3 years
- The queen is responsible for producing pheromones that serve as a social “glue”. These are what help to unify a colony and give it an individual identity. One of the major pheromones is referred to as ‘queen substance’
- Her egg-laying and chemical production capabilities are generally what determine a colony’s characteristics; her genetic makeup – and that of the males she has mated with – significantly contribute to the colony’s quality, size, temperament and productivity
- When the weather is agreeable an adult queen emerges from her cell and mates with several drones (7-15) in flight in the drone congregation area (DCA); if the weather isn’t agreeable and her flight is delayed by more than 20 days then she loses her ability to mate and will therefore only lay unfertilized eggs which will result in drones. The queen mates with drones from different colonies; this helps to prevent in-breeding and maintain genetic diversity.
- Upon successful mating the queen returns to the hive and begins laying eggs some 48 hours later. Mating only occurs once and the queen, now with enough sperm to last a lifetime, will never leave the nest again unless if she has to lead the swarm to a new home, or if you, the beekeeper, drop her, whereupon she’ll fly away and may never be seen again
- She releases sperm from her sperm sac (spermatheca) each time she lays an egg that will become either a worker or queen; if she lays an egg in a larger drone-sized cell she’ll normally not release sperm and the resulting individual will become a drone
- The queen is constantly attended to and fed royal jelly by worker bees. The number of eggs she can lay depends on the amount of food she will receive, and the number of workers capable of preparing beeswax cells for her eggs and caring for the larva that will hatch in 3 days. The eggs, larva and pupae are collectively referred to as brood.
- When the queen can longer produce enough queen substance the workers prepare to replace (supersede) her.
- New (virgin) queens develop from fertilized eggs or from young worker larvae not more than three days old. Such queens are only raised in response to three events i.e. supersedure, emergency or swarming. Swarming happens when an old queen and up to half the workers and a number of drones depart the colony to start a new one and leave the rest of the workers preparing to raise a new queen who’ll retain the exiting nest, stores and brood.
- These are male bees and they are the largest bees in a colony
- They are generally only present during late spring and summer
- They have no stinger, pollen baskets, or wax glands
- Their main task is to fertilize the queen; only a few of them do this though
- Drones are fed by workers until they are about a week old. They remain in the nest until they become sexually mature at about 12-13 days old. Those that mate with the queen die instantly after the act. The others have no further purpose; they are typically pushed out of the hive when there is little forage or when winter approaches
- They are the smallest bodied adults and are the majority of the bees in a colony
- They are sexually underdeveloped females and typically don’t lay eggs
- They have specialized structures including brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands and pollen baskets, all which enable them to carry out their tasks
- Their roles include: cleaning and polishing cells, feeding the brood, caring for the queen, handling incoming nectar, removing debris, building beeswax combs, guarding the entrance, and air-conditioning and ventilating the hive
- A worker’s lifespan in summer is about 6 weeks; workers raised in fall may live for up to six months
The laying workers
- When a colony becomes queenless for several weeks several of the workers ovaries develop thereby enabling them to lay unfertilized eggs. If a queen isn’t replaced in this way, or by the beekeeper, the colony will rapidly diminish and finally disappear.
- In such a colony with laying workers you can find 5-15 eggs per cell and small-bodied drones reared in worker-sized cells. Eggs will also be randomly scattered over the brood combs; some can be found on the sides of the cells instead of at the bases where a queen would have placed them
- Some of these eggs won’t hatch and many of the drone larvae that will hatch won’t survive to maturity in the smaller cells
- To provide your bees with appropriate shelter from the elements
- To place colonies in a position where the bees can access plenty of water and forage
- To protect a colony from predators and disease
- To feed a colony if and when required
- To encourage honey production by providing a colony with adequate storage room
- To know how to increase the number of colonies available if required or to avoid doing so when this isn’t required
2. Bee hives and the beekeeping equipment
For your beekeeping small business you’ll need the following equipment:
- Hive components
- Protective gear
- Smoker and hive tool
- Equipment for handling the honey crop
Your equipment needs will in turn be informed by the size of your operation, number of colonies, and the type of honey you intend to produce.
A hive is the structure in which your bee colony will live.
It is advisable to start with two or more hives. Having two hives will give you an immediate source of replacement in case one of the colonies begins to fail thanks to a bad queen or becoming queenless.
There are many types of hives; many beekeepers use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive.
A typical hive consists of the following:
- A hive stand
- A bottom board with entrance cleat or reducer
- A series of boxes or hive bodies with suspended frames containing foundation or comb
- Inner and outer covers
- The hive bodies containing the brood nest may be separated from the honey supers (storage for excess honey) with a queen excluder
Types of beehives
There are many different types of beehives including:
- Duvauchelle hives
- Voirnot hives
- Dadant hives
- WBC hive
- National hive (UK)
- Smith hive (Scotland)
- Layens hives
- Jarry hives
- Congres hives
- Pot hives
- Log hives
- Basket hives
- Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH) and
- Langstroth hives
Langstroth hives are far and away the most common of these and will therefore be the subject of this guide’s focus.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that a hive is only as good as you manage it; no type of hive will result in automatically increased honey yields.
Understanding the details of your Langstroth hive
The Langstroth beehive consists of the following components:
- The hive stand – This is an optional piece that’s used to raise the hive’s bottom board off the ground. In doing so it helps to prevent dampness in the hive, prolong the bottom board’s life, and ensure that the hive entrance is free of grass and weeds. The hive stand can support one, two, or a row of several colonies. Rather than buying one you can improvise using concrete blocks, bricks, pallets, or simple wooden stands
- The floor – This serves as the floor of the colony and it’s also the platform that foraging bees use as a takeoff and landing. It’s primarily a stainless steel mesh in a wooden frame that has a ridge around the edge of three of its sides. The mesh is essential; you should ensure that your floor has one. It will help in ventilating the hive during hot weather, aid in varroa mite control (if a mite falls through it won’t be able to get back into the hive), and also ensure that the hive is immediately and completely drained of any water that enters it.
- The brood box aka brood chamber – This is the first box and it’s usually the larger size of box compared to the rest. It is the box that holds the queen, where the queen lays eggs, and where brood-rearing occurs. If the colony builds up quickly thanks to a productive queen you may have to deal with an overcrowded brood box, a situation that could result in swarming. To avoid this you can install a second brood box on top of the first one and then move the queen excluder up one level. This second brood chamber can be a ¾ box instead of a full one.
- The queen excluder – This is a flat grid of slotted zinc, plastic or wire that lies on top of the brood box. To avert the risk of ripping worker bees’ wings off it is advisable to use a plastic queen excluder; these are both cheap and less prone to warping/bending. Worker bees can pass through the slots to the upper boxes to store honey but the queen’s size won’t allow her to pass through. You’ll therefore rest assured that the upper boxes will only contain stored honey and honeycomb; there’ll be no brood or queen bee there. Note that damage to the excluder can allow the queen into the honey chambers and once here she’ll start laying eggs all through the hive – very undesirable. You should therefore handle it with care to avoid damaging it.
- The supers aka honey supers – These boxes are referred to as such because they are ‘super’ imposed on the brood chamber. You may want to install ¾-sized supers because full-size ones get pretty heavy when full of honey. Also, in case your supers regularly get filled up quickly, you can always install more.
- Frames – Frames, critical pieces of beekeeping equipment, hang inside the boxes. These may be made of wood or plastic.
Wooden frames can be purchased with or without pre-wired sheets of beeswax. In case you buy the ones without pre-wired sheets you’ll have to do the embedding yourself as explained in this guide. It is these wires that will hold the sheet of beeswax (foundation wax) that has been stamped with hexagonal shapes in place and prevent damage to it. Foundation wax is what the bees will use to make more wax and develop the hexagonal shapes into cells.
Plastic frames comprise of sheets of plastic molded into a frame. A sheet is formed with hexagons or cell bases; you’ll just need to dip such a frame into molten wax. These frames are strong, less easily damaged during honey extraction, easy to clean, and convenient to use.
You’ll need to find frames that can fit your hive. Also, when the frames are hanging inside the box you must ensure that there is an even distance between them. This is because when bees draw out the honeycomb from the sheet of wax you’ve provided they’ll always maintain a distance between one comb and the next i.e. bee space (7.5 mm +/ 1.5 mm).
You can simply understand bee space as the crawling space that a bee will need to easily pass between two structures. If your frames are too close they will be glued together with propolis; if they are too far apart brace comb will be built between them. This will apply in any part of the hive.
There are two important types of frames i.e. Manley frames and Hoffman frames. The former are best used in the honey supers while that latter are recommended for the brood box.
- Feeders – Frame feeders are plastic frames with sides and an open top. You’ll use these to feed sugar syrup to your bees when required. All you’ll have to do is remove the outer frame in the brood box, replace it with a frame feeder, and fill the feeder with sugar syrup while remembering to place some material like bits of wood into the feeder to act as footholds for the bees ensuring that they won’t drown in the syrup. Options include bucket feeders and lid feeders.
- Foundation wax – Your frames should have a wax foundation in them – this is unless you are buying a hive already stocked with bees. Foundation wax is a sheet of wax that fits inside a frame and bears the hexagonal shapes of a honeycomb. The bees will the use this sheet as the foundation for building their honeycomb; they’ll produce wax and add it to the pattern until a honeycomb is formed.
- The crown board aka inner cover – This is a board that sits on top of the top box under the lid. It prevents the bees from gluing the outer cover to the super with propolis and wax. It also provides an air space immediately under the outer cover for insulation. During summer it helps to protect the hive’s interior from direct sun rays; in winter it prevents moisture-laden air from directly contacting cold surfaces.
- The lid – These come in a variety of designs including the telescopic variety, those that fit over the lid completely, those that need to be strapped on, some that fit over a hive at the front and back, and the flat but gabled varieties which are the majority but which won’t allow you to stack hives on top of each other during moving.
Using flat, telescopic lids is recommended because they offer flexibility, they are convenient for moving bees, and they stay put when it’s windy. Your lid must have a tin/zinc cover to prevent rain from getting in. Also, if you live in a hot climate place it will be prudent to paint the lid white for the sake of the bees’ thermoregulation.
You can purchase a second-hand hive but you won’t be sure about whether or not it’s holding disease, specifically American Foul Brood (AFB).
If therefore you purchase a used hive the first thing you must do is run a flame gun all over it, being very particular about the cracks, corners and undersurfaces. Scorching (not lighting up) the woodwork in this way will kill all the spores.
Alternatively, you can soak the hive in a tank of potassium hypochlorite (inconvenient option).
The hive tool
A hive tool is a simple but tough metal bar with two basic designs.
You’ll need it to prise apart parts of the hive that have been glued together with propolis. You should regularly clean your hive tool to rid it of propolis, wax and honey. Cleaning by stabbing it into the ground or burning it in the hot firepot of a smoker will also help to prevent the spread of bee diseases.
This tool is used to deliver puffs of smoke at the hive entrance causing the bees to calm down as they become induced to swallow large amounts of honey. The smoker is also used to deliver smoke along the top of the frames of each box you remove; doing this will compel the bees to keep their heads down.
Your smoker should have a protective grid around it that will allow you to pick it up even without gloves and not get burned. It should also be of decent size, not too small as it won’t hold much fuel and you’ll therefore have to relight it constantly. The smoker’s bellows should also be made of strong material considering that bellows are prone to wearing out quickly.
Common materials that you can use as fuel include corrugated cardboard, newspaper and old sacking. This will allow you to produce cool, dense smoke.
Alternatively, you can use liquid smoke. This is mixed with water and then sprayed onto the bees using a mister-type applicator.
The division board
This is a board that is of similar size with the boxes and with a rim around it; this rim features a small cut-out.
You can make one simply.
It’s used to split a hive into two separate units, both with an entrance; bees in the lower part of the hive will use the normal entrance while those above the division board will use the cut-out in the rim.
Such a board will come in handy in case you want to start a two-queen hive to maximize honey production.
The bee suit
In choosing a bee suit it’s advisable to go for the type that has a hood that unzips. You can also purchase one with a hoop in the hood and which will then help to keep the wire or fabric veil away from your face.
Bee suits can be of light or thick material; the former are good for working in hot weather but they tend to get torn fast. Those made from thicker materials should last longer and will also be effective against bee species (like the Iberian bee) capable of delivering a sting through a person’s clothing.
It is recommended to tuck your suit’s legs inside gumboots – angry bees will often attack your ankles first since the ankles will be at hive entrance level. Open wrists are also typical sting spots.
Colors matter as well; white and tan are most suitable when working with bees.
Strong scents like those from colognes, after-shave and perfumes attract curious bees. You should therefore avoid wearing these when going for beekeeping work.
While wearing gloves is in some quarters frowned upon for being the cause of clumsiness, failing to wear them and then getting stung repeatedly will be worse.
Investing in a good pair of canvas gloves or leather gloves with gauntlets is recommended for beginners. As you get more experienced you’ll decide whether or not gloves are necessary for you.
3. Obtaining your bees
There are four ways through which you can acquire bees for your small business as follows:
Already installed bees
You may opt to purchase hives that already have bees installed in them.
If this is the case then you will need to do some ascertaining of your own; there’ll be need for precaution since you won’t know whether or not the bees have some sort of disease or whatever other problem(s) that could literally sting you in the future.
It’s also worth appreciating the fact that acquiring a complete colony means that there’ll be guard bees ready to defend the nest. Dealing with these can be challenging.
ii. Hiving a swarm
While hiving a swarm will be an interesting way to get started, it is quite unlikely that you will opt to do this without the assistance of a seasoned beekeeper, however gentle the bees may be.
There are three considerations that you’ll have to weigh before collecting a swarm:
- How long the swarm has been there
- The location of the swarm, and
- The size of the swarm
Swarms will typically be found clustered on tree limbs, shrubs, fence posts, the sides of a building, etc. You’ll need to find a way to gently transfer such a swarm into an enclosed container e.g. a cardboard box with a tight-fitting lid or even directly into a hive.
If you are fortunate enough to get the queen along with the rest of the bees then you can expect the swarm to adopt your hive. It is recommended to use drawn combs rather than foundation when introducing such swarms to an empty hive.
iii. Buying a nucleus of bees i.e. nuc
A nucleus (nuc) is a box with only 4-5 frames in it, and it’ll also contain 1-2 frames of brood, 1-2 frames of honey, and a frame of comb or even foundation. Somewhere in your nucleus, typically in the brood frame, will be a laying queen.
The frames will need to be the same size as those in your hive so you’ll need to specify this size to your supplier e.g. if you buy a five-frame nucleus you’ll need to remove five frames from your brood box and replace them with the five nucleus frames.
This approach is advantageous for two reasons i.e. the brood is ready to emerge and augment the colony’s development, and the queen will have already laid eggs.
iv. Buying a package of bees
Your package of bees will weigh some 1-1.5Kgs and will contain approximately 8000-12000 bees. The package box will have four wooden sides and a screen material in the front and back; its dimensions will be 8.5” height X 16” width X 5.5” depth.
Inside the box there’ll be an inverted can containing sugar syrup and which will be the bees’ food during transit.
Your package will contain a young, laying queen in a small wooden cage with one screened side. She’ll be well protected in there and will be fed through the screen by the bees, a relationship that will facilitate her acceptance when you finally hive the package.
The downside of this approach is that you’ll need to wait some three weeks before a brood can emerge and start contributing to your colony’s development.
Upon your package’s arrival you should immediately inspect it for an unusual number of dead bees. If you find that there is more than ½” of dead bees at the bottom of the shipping cage or that the queen bee is dead on arrival you should file a damage claim to the postal clerk and package producer so that your losses can be replaced.
The need to acquire gentle bees
While you may have a choice about the race/strain of bees you’ll acquire by purchasing, this is typically a matter of chance when hiving a swarm or purchasing hives that already have bees.
Bees’ race/strain is an important consideration especially if you want to start beekeeping in an urban area and also for commercial purposes. Here the need for gentle bees will be paramount.
In this case you may want to go for Italian or Cecropian (Greek) bees which are reputed to be among the gentlest.
Italian bees however present problems like weak orientation which results in bees drifting from one colony to the next, and a strong penchant for robbing – this can abet the spread of disease.
Africanized bees and Iberian/Spanish bees have a reputation for savagery – you don’t want these.
The best time to obtain your bees
Early spring is a preferred time to buy/obtain your bees as this will allow you to see how they’ll develop in their own year, from small colony/nucleus, to rapid growth, swarming, honey stores building, and finally, slowing down for winter.
When starting at spring your bees will be small and gentle; they’ll grow bigger and fiercer as time rolls on and in this time you’ll also be gaining in experience and handling capability.
4. Starting your small beekeeping business operation
There are a number of things you’ll need to do when starting you apiary in order to ensure that you’ll obtain a surplus of honey and optimize your harvests as follows:
Suitably locating your hives
i. If you are based in the countryside the following guidelines will apply
- Ensuring that the location is easily accessible by foot and by vehicle
- If you’re thinking of a permanent site ensure that there are good nectar sources within 2Km
- There must be a water source and it should preferably be in the full sun and out of the wind
- If you are in temperate climate place your hives in a spot in the sun and with some dappled shade
- There should be early sources of pollen for brood rearing e.g. rock rose, gorse or willow
- The site should be sheltered from wind
- The site shouldn’t be prone to flooding
- The site shouldn’t be in a winter/spring frost hollow
- It should preferably be out of sight of roads
- Don’t have the hives under trees where they can be dripped on during and after rain
- The site should be away from high tension power lines
- The area around the hives should be cleared of tall weeds and grass; do this by cutting the grass and weeds – don’t use any spray
To minimize your bees ‘drifting’ i.e. entering the wrong hive
This problem typically arises when:
- You place hives in straight rows
- All the hives are identical and facing the same way
- There is a prevailing wind
Research has shown that bees tend to better notice hives that are at the ends of rows than those that are within rows, as well as hives in the front and back rows rather than those in the middle rows.
Drifting is therefore attributed to the conspicuousness of such hives.
Drifting brings about several undesirable effects i.e. the depletion of foragers in some hives resulting in diminished honey-gathering ability and in some cases abetting the spread of disease.
It’s prudent to be keen about drifting as a problem because you may notice that your hives are recording large variations in yield and you could possibly misdiagnose the problem, say, attributing it to a poor queen. This may see you take the wrong steps towards addressing the situation.
How you can prevent drifting
- Arrange the hives in an irregular manner. You can also place hives among trees and shrubs and have their entrances facing different directions. This will help to make hives distinct to respective bees and the trees and shrubs will act as landmarks
- You can grow landmarks in your apiary
- You can also arrange the hives in a horse-shoe pattern or in wavy lines
- You can arrange the hives in pairs and have a 2-3 meters space between the pairs
- You can paint different-colored symbols on hive entrances
- If the hives are in rows you should ensure that the rows are separated by at least 3 meters
ii. If you are in an urban area
In an urban area you’ll have to contend with complaints from neighbors about:
- Swarms settling on their property
- Bees angrily buzzing and stinging them as you are inspecting/collecting honey
- Bees using water sources on their property
- Bees droppings which will leave yellow staining on washing and cars
In locating your hives in such areas there are two places you’ll want to consider i.e. rooftops and enclosed gardens. In the latter you’ll need to ensure that the hives have high walls in front of and behind them thereby forcing the bees to fly high enough – where neighbors won’t be annoyed.
The water source can be just a trickle of water, a tap leak, or a small pond. Try to ensure that this can be your bees’ source for the long-term as bees will need much convincing if they have to move to a new water source.
Also, bees prefer water with some odor rather than fresh; a source with some mud and weed will therefore be quite appropriate for them.
It will be essential to obtain some form of insurance for your bees; third-party insurance (at least) should do for an urban apiary and comprehensive cover will be suitable for a countryside apiary.
What to do when your bees arrive
Having found an ideal site and located your hives there, your next task will be bee installation.
Your first step in this task will be to prepare 4 liters of sugar syrup for your two hives i.e. 2 liters per hive. You can do this by mixing 1Kg of sugar with 1Lt of water. The water should be warm enough – stir until the water is clear.
i. Placing a hive full of bees
After the hives arrive take them to the location and have them facing the sun’s direction; early sunlight can stimulate the bees to an early start. Note that the hives may arrive with their entrances blocked.
You will now need to take the following steps:
- Place the hives on their stands (this should keep them off the ground)
- Slightly tilt each hive forward and unblock the entrances
- Leave the hives for a couple of days to allow the bees to settle down. You’ll have already ascertained from the seller that the bees have adequate food stores. If this is the case let the bees take care of themselves for some days
ii. Installing nucleus bees in empty hives with frames of foundation
- Place each nucleus on top of the hive it’s to be installed in and have the entrance facing the same way as the hive entrance
- Open the nucleus entrance and leave the bees overnight
- The following evening place the nucleus to one side, open up the hive’s brood box and remove 4 or 5 (depending on the number frames in the nucleus) frames from the center of the box. Carefully replace these frames with those from the nucleus, taking care not to drop the queen; the queen must be in one of the frames you’re moving over
- Use a bar of wood to close up the hive entrance in such a way that only one bee can enter or exit at a time
- Remove one more frame from the edge of the box and replace it with the frame feeder
- Fill the feeder about ¾ with 1:1 sugar syrup
- Close the hive and leave it for a week; return to inspect that the queen is alive and laying
- Ensure that the hive is slightly tilted forward to prevent rainwater from entering and/or accumulating
Installing a package of bees
- Start by placing the package in a dark, cool room; temperature range should be 18°-20°C
- Brush or sprinkle some sugar syrup over the screen surface
- Install the bees in the late afternoon so that they’ll settle down and not drift. It’s also unlikely that other bees will be willing to rob the small colony at this time
- Block the entrance as described above
- Lightly bang the cage’s floor so that clustered bees will fall on it
- Remove the cage’s wooden cover
- This will expose the feeder can – remove it
- Remove the queen cage and check to see if she’s still alive
- Using a nail, puncture the candy in the queen cage to allow the workers to easily release the queen
- Remove half of the ten frames; five will be left in the hive. Place the queen cage with the candy end up between two frames. The cage screen should be exposed to the bees
- Replace the frames you had removed
- Place the package in front of the hive’s entrance to allow the few remaining bees to crawl into the hive
- Finally, provide the bees with sugar syrup in the frame feeder
An alternative to this:
- Put an empty hive body on top of the new hive
- Place the syrup can that came with the package inside the hive body – have it rest on the top bars of the frames
- After about a week inspect the colony for eggs and larvae; while doing this refill the frame feeder
- Remove the empty queen cage and ensure that the queen has got out
- Look for eggs in the cells
- If the queen fails introduce another one immediately. If none is available you can unite the package with another colony or package, or you can give the bees a frame of young larvae and allow them to raise another queen
- Ensure that the hive is tilted slightly forward
5. Managing your colony of bees starting in springtime
The following are the typical management tasks that you’ll have to carry out for your nascent beekeeping small business:
Checking the hives
After you have left your bees to settle in your hopes will be for the colony to expand and after some time produce a surplus of honey that you can extract.
Before this can happen though you’ll have to make sure that the bees are making good progress. Checking the hives regularly, say, once a month or more frequently, will help you to do this.
The following are what you’ll be looking to see:
- Presence of the queen and if she’s laying eggs
- If brood of all ages is present
- If there are any signs of pests or disease (you’ll need to also check on a hive’s general cleanliness, more so the floor)
- Confirming if each colony has enough food stores i.e. honey and pollen
- Confirming whether or not each colony has built up in numbers and also the number frames covered since you installed them (or since your last visit)
- If a colony has expanded you must confirm whether or not it has enough room
Closed hive inspection
When making inspections you ought to begin by looking at closed hives’ entrances. Inspecting a closed hive may be suitable when you don’t have time to make a full inspection.
Here are some of the observations you may make:
Making a full, open inspection
Until a colony has grown and almost filled the brood box there’ll hardly be need for you to use smoke. Small colonies tend to be calm.
The following are the steps you’ll take during inspection:
a. Lifting the lid
- Approach the hive from the side, gently lift of the lid and place it on the ground upside down so that you can place the other boxes on it
- You can apply a very small amount of smoke over the top bars quickly; the bees at that location will quickly disappear and start gorging on honey
b. Checking for eggs
- Remove one of the end frames of the box (or remove the feeder if it’s empty); you’ll now have enough room to move the other frames about
- Gently separate the frames with your hive tool so that you can lift out the center frames without rolling the bees against wax as you do it
- A small colony’s center frames will hold the brood – this is what you want to see
- Take out a frame with brood and see if there are any eggs in the cells; hold it to the light to see the eggs better
- The base of each cell should have an egg
- If there is more than one egg in a cell and they are laid up from the cell’s base you have the problem of laying workers. Your colony might as well be doomed – seek for advice
- If there are no eggs then you either have no queen or a non-laying queen. In these circumstances having a virgin queen would be unlikely
c. Finding the queen
- Look over the frame for the queen; she’ll typically be on a frame of brood
- She’ll be walking slower than the other bees; her longer, tanned abdomen will be quickly recognizable
- Upon seeing her take a quick look and then gently lower the frame back into the box; if you see eggs and a queen, barring signs of disease, this is a sign all is well
- If you ordered for bees with a marked queen it will be easy to spot her; if you can’t find her and her eggs are visible it’s highly likely that she’s around somewhere
- Note that eggs are eggs for 3 days only; if you therefore saw the queen three days before then you probably still have one
- If you see eggs but can’t find the queen, note the hive and then return 3-4 days later and look again
- The eggs you saw last time round will now be young larvae
- If there are eggs then you’ll know that the queen is around but keeping a low profile when you come looking
d. Investigating the brood nest
- Observe to see if there’s a sealed brood and unsealed brood in various stages of development
- This is normal in a healthy colony, with brood as eggs, young larvae, larvae and larvae in capped brood cells
- Presence of sealed brood will indicate what was happening in the colony 9-21 days ago
- Young, unsealed brood will show what was happening more recently
- Eggs and tiny larvae will show you what is happening in the present
- The young larvae should be pearly white and neatly coiled in their cells
- Sealed brood should be covered in neat and clean, slightly convex wax coverings with no holes and no sunken parts
e. Inspecting the stores
- The bees must have stores of honey and pollen for survival, or at least a full feeder of sugar syrup. If none is available make plans for feeding them immediately
- Stores are placed in an arc around the brood area
- If you are in an area where pollen and nectar sources are limited in supply, say, a huge monocrop area, or an area where beekeeping may only just have been introduced and there is therefore a dearth of local plants capable of providing these for the bees, you may need to provide pollen patties, i.e. substitute pollen, that the bees can feed on
- Lack of pollen is a major cause of a colony’s failure to build up and thrive
f. Checking the amount of room
- There should be enough empty cells for the queen to lay eggs (noting that this can be 1000-2000 eggs daily) and for the workers to store food
- A 1-week old nuc will have plenty of space but as time goes on you’ll have to provide another brood box. Failure to do this will bring congestion and encourage swarming which will lead to you losing up to half your workforce
g. Looking for signs of disease
- The signs you should look for will be described in the chapter covering diseases
h. Eradicating pests
- Kill any wax moths that you’ll find skittering on the frames
- Investigate any signs of wax moth damage – this typically indicates that something is wrong
- A healthy colony can control these pests though
i. Inspecting the floor
- Look at the state of the floor
- Gently lift the brood box and gently place it on the upturned lid – you don’t want to dislodge the queen and lose her
- The floor will now be visible. If you don’t have a stainless-steel mesh floor then your floor should be clean and free of debris. If it does have debris you can scrape it clean or swap it with a new floor
- A very dirty floor is a sign of a problem – check around for other signs of trouble
j. Observing the bees
- Hold up some of the frames and try to observe what the bees are doing
- It is possible to see: a bee dancing thereby telling mates about a good food source, pollen-carrying bees moving towards the pollen storage area, and new adults emerging through the wax cappings of their cells whilst other bees walk about above their heads
- You may also be lucky to see the queen laying an egg; take a quick look and then lower her frame – it’s quite easy to lose her
k. Reassembling the hive
- Carefully reassemble the hive and move on to the next one
Dealing with varroa mites infestation
Unless you deal with a varroa mites infestation effectively the mites will destroy your colony and in its place the hive will now house wax moths. There are a couple of treatment methods for varroa; choose the one that’s effective in your locale and apply it immediately.
The problem that is swarming
As your colony grows rapidly in spring you’ll need to ensure that it has enough room. If you don’t avail new room the bees will swarm.
Upon swarming your colony’s development will endure a long break because a new queen will need to be mated and built up in the egg-laying stakes. Your hive will have fewer bees that can gather honey, and the colony will have to wait for a number of weeks before enough eggs can develop into forager bees.
The colony may therefore not have adequate time to make surplus honey, and if it does, the quantity will be much reduced.
How to prevent swarming
An effective way to do this is to obtain a strain of bees that has a lower tendency to swarm. This is however not always possible.
The following techniques are more practical. You should use them in conjunction with each other, not in isolation:
i. Annual re-queening (or at least biannually) – This is an effective method, more so if you have lots of hives and keeping eyes on them is therefore quite difficult. This technique will assure you of low swarming even in your absence. You should ideally re-queen every year so that no queen is over 12 months old.
ii. Reversing hive bodies – This useful and effective technique is based on the principle that bees tend to work upwards. It involves swapping the positions of the upper and lower brood boxes (if you have them). Alternatively, you can place a second brood box on top of the first. This box should have frames of empty comb, and a frame of capped brood from the existing brood box should be placed in the middle of it.
Start the swapping immediately or before you see a number of queen cups. Reverse the boxes and after about 2 weeks reverse them again if the bees have moved up. Do this until the end of the swarming season.
iii. Supering up – This involves putting honey supers on to the brood body(s) in time for the honey flow. The first box should be filled with comb, especially if the season is early considering that bees have difficulty producing wax early in the year.
Putting on supers in time is essential for both honey storage preparation and limiting swarming by giving the bees more room in the hive.
iv. Keeping your colonies equal in strength
The first way to do this is to move frames of brood from strong colonies in danger of overcrowding to weaker colonies.
The second way is to swap the position of weak and strong hives. This particular technique should also work for hives that are near to swarming. Ensure that none of the hives is diseased.
v. Ventilating your hives
This is done by ensuring that in hot weather the lids are painted white, your hives are using stainless-steel mesh floors (also effective for varroa control), and that the entrances are appropriate for the time of the year
How to control swarming
The following methods will help you to control swarming just in case you’ve missed the signs and suddenly discovered queen cells:
i. The artificial swarm (1)
To do this you will split a hive into two colonies in the following way:
- Place a brood box on a floor on top of the opposite hive, with its entrance facing the opposite way to the hive, or place it nearby in the apiary
- Take two frames of brood (capped and uncapped) with as many adhering bees as possible and place them in this brood box
- Place a frame of honey and pollen either side of these frames of brood
- Fill the rest of the box with foundation and comb
- In between the two brood frames place a caged queen or queen cell
- If necessary shake in some more bees from a brood frame to make up the numbers
- Give the new colony sugar syrup in the frame feeder and place it near to the other occupied frames and close the hive
- Reduce the entrance to one bee space to avert robbing and also prevent the bees in this new hive from returning to the old hive
- Fill the old hive with comb and close it up
What you’ll have done is lessen the chances of swarming in the old colony and you’ll now have an extra colony aka a ‘top’. You can keep the top separate or reunite it with the original to take advantage of a major honey flow.
Reuniting will help you to ensure a good harvest which would have been lowered by swarming.
This manipulation will need you to ensure that the queen is in the original chamber. Locating the queen is therefore a prerequisite.
ii. The Demaree method
This technique involves keeping the hive together so that you can take advantage of honey flow. It is however time-consuming and will therefore be inconvenient for a large scale operation.
Upon finding queen cells in the colony do the following:
- Destroy all the queen cells; don’t miss any
- Place all the frames of brood into a new brood chamber
- Place empty frames of comb in the original brood chamber
- Find the queen and place her into this empty brood chamber; she’ll probably be with the brood in the new brood chamber
- On this new brood chamber place a queen excluder or a super of honey that will act as a queen excluder
- Place the new brood chamber(s) above this
- After 7-8 days destroy all queen cells in the upper brood chamber(s)
In this technique you are effectively giving the queen a new nest that has plenty of room for laying eggs. You’re also stopping the bees in the upper brood chambers from swarming because they have no queen up there; you are also allowing for the colony’s normalization by keeping it together while preventing the upper part from raising new queens by destroying any queen cells. The colony retains its bees and is therefore in a position to take advantage of any honey flow.
iii. The artificial swarm (2)
The procedure is as follows:
- Move the entire hive to a new position
- Place a new brood box with floor in the old position
- Put the queen on a frame of brood in the new box
- Fill the new box with frames of foundation or comb
- Place the original supers with or without the queen excluder in the new hive
- Position the old hive anywhere in the apiary
- Cut out all the queen cells in the old hive
- One week later, again cut out all the new queen cells in the old hive except one
- Leave the cells and let the bees choose; or
- Cut out all the queen cells and put in a new caged queen; or
- Put in a queen cell from elsewhere
This procedure is effective and easier than it seems but it also involves splitting the colony into two. You should therefore unite the two halves before the nectar slow starts if you want of take advantage of it. This technique will however also require you to find the queen and also destroy all the queen cells.
What if you’re unable to find the queen?
If you are unable to, and you want a complete artificial swarm, do the following:
- Cut out all the queen cells
- Split the colony into two ensuring that each half has eggs and young brood
- Place one half elsewhere in the apiary
- Block the entrances with grass. The bees will eventually remove this grass and by the time they do it they’ll already be accustomed to their new hive and will not want to fly back to the original
- After 3 days look at each half. The half with eggs will have the queen and the other half will probably have queen cells
- In the queenless colony cut out the queen cells, except one. The bees will raise a queen from this.
- Alternatively you can introduce a queen you have purchased in a queen cage
iv. The queen removal method
It is also an effective but time-consuming technique. No extra equipment or boxes are required and this can be implemented with your annual queen replacement.
Nevertheless, the time between finding and removing the queen and a new queen laying eggs can be as much as three weeks. During this time the colony may do little work, even during a honey flow.
The procedure is as follows:
- Find and remove the queen. If you intend to re-queen your hive with a new queen or a queen cell you must kill the old queen
- If you intend to retain her place her on a frame of brood and bees into a nucleus box, add some frames of comb and set aside
- Destroy all the queens except one. Or destroy the queen cells and replace with one of your own. Or destroy all queen cells; repeat a week later and, a week after this, introduce a new queen in a cage or reintroduce the original queen
- Seven days after each step, inspect the colony and remove any new queen cells
If after removing the queen at the first step above you see a virgin queen on the comb – which does happen – you can leave her on the comb. The colony with the new virgin will probably not swarm.
If during inspection you come across two queens on the frame you are probably observing a natural phenomenon known as supersedure.
This occurs when a colony replaces its queen without swarming, a rare occurrence.
Supersedure can therefore lead to increased honey crops with less of an effort in swarm control on your behalf.
Identifying the supersedure cell:
- It’s not easy to differentiate a supersedure cell from a swarm cell
- There however tend to be fewer supersedure cells than swarm cells
- The queen cells’ position can also be indicative of supersedure cells; if a few queen cells are built along the top edge of the frame or in the center of the brood frame these are likely going to be supersedure cells
How to build up your colony
There are two ways adjusting a hive and helping the bees to get the best out of the main honey flow and therefore probably help to increase your harvest:
i. Spreading the brood
This will help a colony that is headed by a good queen and is disease-free to grow rapidly. The technique is however labor-intensive and ought to be repeated severally. The procedure is as follows:
- Move the whole brood to one side
- To protect this from the cold place a comb of stores between it and the side wall (probably unnecessary in warm areas)
- Find the comb with the most sealed brood (see comb 4 in fig.20 (a) below)
- Place it to the right of comb 7. This will induce the queen to move to comb 6 (which was comb 7), in which she’ll lay because this comb is in between two brood combs and is warmer (see fig.20 (b))
- Some 7-10 days later, make another such shift (see fig.20 (c) and (d))
- Continue until you see a large, even brood pattern
This technique is advantageous in that you’ll be moving frames within the hive and therefore preempting the danger of introducing disease from another hive. Also, because the brood chamber tends to expand in one direction, access will be easier
Nevertheless, never transfer a frame of brood over an empty frame lest you end up with chilled and dead brood.
ii. Using two queens
This involves using two queens in one hive; two queen colonies have been shown to consistently produce better honey yields than single queen colonies. The drawback, of course, is that unless you keep the two queens apart they will fight.
The procedure is as follows:
- Use a strong colony, preferably one that has been treated for nosema
- Two months before the expected start of the honey flow, divide the colony
- Place the old queen, young brood (uncapped), and about half the bees in the bottom chamber
- Above this, place a brood chamber with drawn comb, if available
- Cover with a division board
- Place a new queen with capped brood and half the bees in the upper chamber
- Above this, put an empty brood chamber with drawn comb, if available
- Carry out brood chamber reversals as swarm-prevention methods in both the upper and lower levels, if required
- After two weeks replace the division board with a queen excluder
- As the flow starts super up as required
- About one month before the flow ends, remove the queen excluder to combine both colonies. The old queen is usually killed
- Winter the colony with the young queen
To effectively carry out this technique you’ll really need to know your local plants and when they give nectar; unless you can determine this accurately implementing this technique won’t be worth it.
This technique tends to reduce/eliminate swarming thanks to splitting the brood nest up and the use of a young queen. Apiary management is also aided as colonies tend to be equalized during the set-up.
6. Honey production and processing in your beekeeping small business
Thanks to observing the previously discussed management practices the state of your apiary is as follows:
- You inspect your bees every 10 days or so
- You ensure that your colonies are growing; they have young queens who have been treated for varroa
- You have implemented swarm prevention and/or swarm control as required
- Your bees have sufficient room for expansion
- Your bees have sufficient storage space for honey in the supers
Your management strategy should now be to assist your colonies to build up their numbers to maximum strength before the main flow starts.
Having high bee numbers is vital as illustrated below:
As you can see, two colonies of 30,000 bees each (total bee count equal to that in one colony with 60,000 bees) will produce 5Kg less; six separate colonies with the same 60,000 bee count in total will produce 10Kg less.
Key takeaway: Each bee in a large colony will collect more honey than each bee in a smaller colony over its foraging lifetime.
At the onset of the honey flow therefore you should ensure that any colony that is still not occupying at least one brood box to overflowing is united with another colony.
Upon inspection you should be noticing increased foraging activity and fresh nectar in the combs.
After implementing manipulations intended at optimizing honey production, i.e. swarming prevention and keeping the colonies healthy, and, if good nectar sources are available, you should provide the bees with sufficient space to store the nectar.
Your first step will be to add honey boxes to the hive i.e. supering up. This is based on the observation that bees can be induced to store more honey than they require for their own use if they are provided with drawn comb in which to store it.
Placing honey boxes
For this to work, you’ll need to have your hives positioned in such a way that they can take advantage of the local honey flow. You’ll then need to place several honey boxes on each hive at once. At the time of your next site visit you should also add some more boxes if required.
You only need to ensure that box placing is done before the main flow starts. This will work to help prevent swarming, stop bees from storing nectar in the brood nest, and effectively decrease the queen’s egg-laying space.
Placing too many boxes is okay; placing too few will present problems for the bees and lessen your honey crop.
Nevertheless, you should ensure that a hive has enough bees to move up into the new supers, more so the top ones. If the bees are insufficient in numbers to do this and you have placed frames of comb in these boxes then you may have to contend with damage courtesy of wax moths.
It is however unlikely that wax moths will tamper with foundation. You can therefore have comb frames in the first one or two boxes and then have the rest of the boxes carrying foundation.
Assisting your bees with honey storage
There are a few ways to do this:
- If there is heavy honey flow you can super up with supers that are full of comb
- In each of these supers you can make entrances by drilling a hole that is 0.5” long across. This hole will convenience the bees task of storage by allowing them direct access to the storage area rather than having to climb all the way through the various hive parts
- If you don’t wish to drill such holes you can slightly stagger the boxes thus allowing the bees direct access to the top super
Harvesting the honey
You can harvest honey as the season progresses or at the end of the season. Your decision will typically be based on the existence of the honey flows in your area.
For example, if you have an early flow of, say, dandelion and then a later flow of thistle, you may wish to sell these honeys separately.
Alternatively, if this doesn’t really matter for you, you can let the honey accumulate and then extract it all later.
Knowing the right time to harvest honey
The following indicators will be helpful:
- You can extract honey when it has been capped over by the bees on the comb; this honey will have been ‘matured’ by the bees, sealed up, and ready to eat
- Since it so happens that when you need to remove honey not all of it will have been sealed, you can remove it when you find that ¾ of it is sealed
- Extracting honey that has not been sealed means that its water content will be too high. This honey will ferment in storage and explode if you seal it in a jar or tank. It will also taste foul.
- You must therefore only extract honey if the majority of it has been sealed over
The equipment you need for honey extraction
The equipment will include an extractor, an uncapping knife or machine, filters, food-grade containers, and a bee-proof location to do the job.
There are two types of extractors:
- A radial extractor – When using this one you simply rotate the spinner the opposite way to extract honey from both sides; turning the extractor’s frame over isn’t necessary
- A tangential extractor – To extract honey from both sides you’ll need to spin the frames one way quickly and then remove them, turn them around and then continue spinning. This extractor can destroy combs because enormous strain is placed on the frames’ wax. Nevertheless, the extraction is more efficient and more honey is cleared out – though not so much more.
If you decide to buy an extractor, rather than hire or borrow one, it will be a good idea to purchase one that has a motor.
The uncapping knife
You will use this tool to slice off the honey cells’ cappings so that the honey can flow out of the cells. For this you can also use a serrated bread knife.
Using your uncapping knife when it’s hot will make you more efficient as slicing the wax will be easier. You can therefore have a bowl of hot water nearby in which you’ll be regularly dipping your knife. You can, of course, always go for a steam-heated or electrically-heated model.
Seeing as your honey extractor will extract everything on the comb including pollen, bee bits, twigs, pieces of broken frame, etc, there will be need for you to filter the honey before you pack it in jars.
Your filter can be anything that can prevent microscopic particles from going through. It can therefore be a simple muslin bag or a complicated high-pressure filter that uses diatomaceous earth. Nevertheless, there are a good number of filter types available in bee-supply shops and they are all easy to operate.
Removing the honey
After gathering all the equipment you need and also finding a good location for honey extraction, the next step will be to go remove the honey.
Of course, you’ll have to contend with the numerous numbers of bees in the honey supers on the combs; you’ll need to get rid of them.
An important thing to do before getting started will be to inspect each hive for signs of American Foul Brood and European Foul Brood. This is because after honey removal is complete you can return the empty frames to any hive; doing this will facilitate the spread of the disease.
Techniques for removing bees from the supers
- Using bee escape boards – Placing a bee escape board between a brood box and a super will ensure that bees will enter the brood box through the escape board and be unable to pass up through it. This can be pretty effective but problems may arise during warm weather when many of the bees will remain on the honeycombs overnight.
2. Fume board – This is a frame with similar dimensions to a hive lid covered with tin. In this board is an absorbent fabric that soaks up a liquid bee repellent. The tin is typically black so that the board will warm up in the sun and therefore help the liquid to evaporate more easily. With this board on the top of the frames in the top box you can expect that the bees will move downwards rapidly. Using smoke to start this movement is however preferred.
You should use the board and liquid correctly; overdoing either i.e. placing the board too long or using too much liquid will confuse the bees and they’ll end up clinging to the comb where they’ll be more difficult to dislodge. Simply place the board on the first super, wait, check to see if majority of the bees have moved down to the next super, if so remove the first super and place the board on the second super, gradually all the way down the hive.
You’ll need to block all the drilled holes you had made in the honey super boxes or arrange the supers correctly if you had staggered them.
iii. Brushing bees off the frames
The best way to remove bees will be to ensure that you have a spare empty super available. You should then pull out each frame, shake it to remove most of the bees, and then use a bee brush to brush the rest off in front of the hive entrance. You should then place the now bee-less honey frames into the spare super and then after its full cover it up.
Alternatively, you can use a motorized bee blower.
Transporting the supers
This step will involve loading the supers into your vehicle. If you have to do this on a very warm day and you have many supers to transport then you should be prepared for lots of stickiness, slipperiness, and, of course, plenty of angry bees that want their honey back.
Upon delivering the supers you should store them in a secure shed pending extraction.
The honey extraction process
i. Preparing to extract
Being ready will mean that you have everything in place i.e. all the boxes on the newspaper-covered floor (to take care of dripping), your serrated knife and bowl of hot water, and your honey extractor. You’ll also need a spare empty super which you’ll place next to the full supers.
ii. Steps for extraction
- Take the first frame out of the first box and, over a large bowl, run your hot knife cleanly up the comb slicing off the wax cappings covering the cells i.e. uncapping
- Turn the frame over and do the same for the other side
- Place the frame in the extractor
- This step should be easy unless the comb is badly formed and you have to wind the knife in and out of its protrusions and depressions
- Once the extractor is full you’ll need to really wind its handle thereby turning the machine and causing the honey to spill into the extractor’s base
- In case of a tangential extractor you’ll need to turn the frames and spin again until you’ve extracted all the honey
- It will be much simpler if you have a motorized extractor. In this case you’ll only need to ensure that your placement of frames is such that the weight is evenly spread in the extractor
Filtering the honey
- As you continue extraction the honey will accumulate at the base of the extractor
- Once the honey’s level gets to the spinner’s level you should open the tap and pour this honey into your filtering system before continuing with extraction
- Resist the urge to over-filter your honey; just get out enough particles to achieve a clean-looking product
- Cold-filtered honey is loved in the market as it has retained its value and goodness
Pre- and post-harvest work
The following are two problems you may have to deal with during extraction:
1. Swiftly crystallizing honey
Thanks to some crops like canola, i.e. oil seed rape, your honey may crystallize swiftly. Crystallization may even happen in the comb unless you extract it as soon as it is capped over. When this happens you are going to end up with some solid combs of crystallized honey.
To deal with this you can do two things:
- You can break the combs up, melt them in a large container set in a hot-water bath that’s heated from below. The combs and honey will melt and you can then pour this into buckets for recycling or selling
- You can also place the frames of comb in a warm room (if you have one) and allow them time to loosen up
- Knowing that you’ll always have to deal with this problem if your area has such plants, it will be prudent to not wait for the season’s end to deal with this. You should make a point of frequently checking your hives and removing individual supers that are ¾ full
2. Finding brood in the supers
This will be a sign that the queen excluder has failed either courtesy of damage from your hive tool or because the queen found her way up to the supers. The queen could therefore still be there and was probably damaged as you were using the fume board or brush. You should therefore check the hive that super came from to confirm the situation.
Analyzing the extracted honey
You should store the honey in honey buckets and/or bins that can be tightly sealed. Honey is hygroscopic and therefore absorbs moisture from the air.
Your analysis will include:
1. Testing the honey’s moisture content
Honey can ferment naturally if it contains wild yeasts and sugar; this fermentation may or may not occur – the occurrence will be determined by your honey’s water content and you can test for this using a calibrated refractometer.
Since refractometer aka honey hydrometer (see below) can be quite expensive you may need to borrow one. Nonetheless, if you persistently stick to only removing frames that are ≥¾ capped it is quite unlikely that you’ll have a problem with moisture content.
This is another problem and is characterized by the honey quickly setting in the storage containers such that it becomes difficult to remove and fill into jars. To deal with this you can:
- Spoon it out of the containers as and when you need it, and then warm it gently in small quantities
- You can also place the containers in a warm room (if available) or in an airing cupboard. After a while the honey will soften and become easier to handle
Unfortunately, heating your honey so as to liquefy it also presents a problem: the quantity of a break-down product referred to as hydroxyl-methyl-furfuraldehyde (HMF) will increase in your honey. Only a certain level of HMF is legal; HMF above 40 mg/kg is illegal in many countries.
To roughly test for the HMF level in your honey you’ll need to use special but affordable hydrogen peroxide test strips. The procedure is as follows:
- Mix 10g of honey with 40ml of distilled water at 20°C (room temperature). Don’t warm the liquid
- Leave the mixture for 1hr maintained at the same temperature. The mix’s glucose oxidase will give off hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂)
- Immerse a hydrogen peroxide strip (Merckoquant 110011 or 110081) into the liquid for one second
- Wait for 15 seconds and then read off the color against the color scale (which goes from 0 to 25 mg H₂O₂ / per liter). The color will indicate a number
- Multiply this number by 5. The result will give you the amount of H₂O₂ in micrograms (µg) as determined by the glucose oxidase from 1g honey in 1hr at 20°C. For example, a reading of 3 mg H₂O₂ X 5 will tell you that 15 µg of H₂O₂ /g/hour at 20°C are present
- If the number is ≥ to 10 mg per g per hour, it means that the HMF level will be lower than 40 mg/kg (at 95% test reliability)
- If your result is 0 it means that you have heated the honey too much or for too long
Dealing with what remains after honey extraction and storage
1. The cappings
- You can leave these to drain in a filter, sieve or in a muslin bag. You can still get much honey from doing this
- You can also purchase a cappings cage. You’ll then spin out the cappings in your extractor. This will leave you with lots of valuable, fine, white wax particles. You can store this for sale or use it to make new foundation
2. The wet frames – You can give these back to your bees for cleaning but you’ll need to make sure that you’ve blocked up most of the hive entrances to reduce robbing. Alternatively, you can just place the frames near the apiary and let all the bees have a go at cleaning them up
3. Dealing with wax moths – Storing your comb frames in a well lit place may be all you need to do to keep wax moths at bay seeing as moths don’t like the light. Sprinkling moth balls on top of the frames is unadvisable; these are made from carcinogenic stuff which may contaminate the wax and future honey crops. Also, buying some Bacillus thuringiensis, mixing some in water, and spraying the mix onto the sides of the frames will keep wax moths away excellently
The different grades of honey that you can produce
In addition to liquid honey, you can also produce the following:
1. Comb honey
This is produced via two methods i.e.:
- Using sections
- Using non-wired thin foundation
Your aim should be to produce combs of capped honey which have a nice white capping. You can then cut these up, place them on small trays, and cover them with cling film. Combs can be refrigerated until they are ready for sale.
2. Chunk honey
To produce this you’ll first of all need to harvest whole combs of capped honey from the hives. You’ll then cut up the combs into pieces and put these into jars of liquid honey.
3. Granulated and creamed honey
Creamed honey is liquid honey seeded with a fine-grained starter honey; 5-10% of this product should be the starter/seed honey.
Packaging, labeling and marketing your honey
There is a wide variety of honey plastic bottles and honey glass jars that you can use to pack your honey. Some of the more popular forms include glass hexagonal shapes, antique styles, plastic squeeze cylinders, skeps, and the honey bear.
Tips for packing honey
- The containers must be clean and air-dried
- The honey should be warm (for ease in filling)
- When packing you should hold the container at an angle so that the honey runs down its side; doing this will prevent foam and bubbles from collecting at the top surface and which would look unattractive
- You should fill glass containers to above the bead that runs around the jar; for other containers ensure that there is no gap between the surface of the honey and the bottom of the lid. Avoid overfilling.
- You should then wash off any honey that has spilled onto a container’s side or onto the threads
Labeling your products
- All the honey that you’ve packed should be labeled before you sell it
- Labels should be attractive and must also provide details of your business name and contact details (address required but telephone number is optional)
- Your labels must comply with federal label requirements; there are various exemptions for small or oddly-shaped containers
Your labels must comply with the following requirements:
- The word “honey” must be very visible i.e. written with the largest letters on the label
- The net weight must be in the lower third of the front label in easy-to-read type
- Each section of honey placed in a container (i.e. section comb or comb honey) must be marked with the minimum net weight in ounces and the name of the producer or seller
- You can also use terms like “raw”, “unfiltered”, “unheated” or “natural”; these will designate that your honey has neither been heated above 37°C nor passed through a commercial filter
- If you want to use the term “organic” you must prove this with certification
- If you want to use the term “healthy” you must use the nutritional label already produced for honey and which is available from bee supply dealers
Tips for marketing your honey
- For a small operation you can begin selling your honey locally e.g. to neighbors, relatives, and other members of the community
- As your operation grows bigger you can now widen your scope to include local groceries, fruit stands, health food stores and roadside markets
- With further expansion you can even start packing your honey in large bulk containers and sell it to packers and wholesale dealers; your profits will be lower though
- Selling your honey gradually all through the year rather than just only after harvesting will allow you to enjoy sustained repeat business
- You should set a price that will allow you to earn a fair profit. Don’t consider this to be a hobby; it is a legitimate small business that places demands on your time and effort
- Of course, your marketing efforts will be made easier if your packaging is clean and attractive
- Giving potential customers taste samples and educating them about the benefits of consuming honey should also help your cause
Other bee products that you can produce
In addition to honey, your beekeeping small business can also venture into the production and sale of the following apicultural products:
- Royal jelly
- Honey bee venom
7. Managing your colony of bees over autumn to spring
After you’ve completed harvesting and your colonies have settled down once more there are two things you’ll really want to think about:
- Honeycomb storage
- Preparing the hives for winter
Thinking about honey flows, you might also consider moving your bees to a place where there is heather or a late crop, depending on your location. Prior to doing this though there are some things about the colony that you must inspect for and ascertain i.e.:
- Absence of diseases
- That there are sufficient bees for the purpose
- A laying queen
Moving the hives for the winter
If you are intent on moving the hives for winter you must ensure that the desired location:
- is as sunny as possible
- shouldn’t be prone to flooding
- is protected from the prevailing wind
- is not in frost hollows
To ensure that the colonies will survive winter:
Your preparations will essentially center on ensuring that the colonies will survive winter in two brood boxes. This is because the queen will soon stop laying eggs, and also because the bees will adopt a cluster formation to preserve brood temperature.
The cold weather will restrict foraging to a minimum; there won’t be much sources of nectar either.
Note that bees don’t die of cold, they starve.
For winter survival therefore, you must ensure the following in your colony:
- The presence of a laying queen
- Sufficient reserves for bees. 15 frames of bees for cold winters and at least 6 frames for mild winters will be useful; more will be better
- Absence of diseases
- That treatment for varroa was done in autumn
- That there enough stores (including pollen) to last the winter. If not you must feed the colony
- That the queen excluder has been removed (you can store this in the lid)
- That there are two brood boxes for the bees
The next step will be to examine the hive and its woodwork and then do the following:
- Clean the floors. If required you can scrape them or replace them altogether
- Confirm that the lids are sound. There shouldn’t be rust or holes in the tin. Strap on lids that look likely to be blown off
- Ensure that the woodwork is sound i.e. no holes or splits where rainwater and wasps may enter. Replace damaged boxes with sound ones
- You can install an entrance block or mouse excluder. Installing a tunnel entrance will help to keep wasps away
- Since bees tend to cluster in the empty brood area, ensure that these frames are surrounded by frames of stores (pollen and honey); put these in the bottom brood box. Also, since the bees will likely move upward during winter, ensure that the upper brood box is also sufficiently stocked with frames of stores, especially honey around the brood frames. Up here you can also place brood frames that still have brood.
Organizing the winter stores
The recipes for making feed mixes:
1. Sugar syrup
- Thick sugar syrup for autumn feeding: 1Kg sugar in 500ml water
- Thin sugar syrup for spring stimulation or pollination feeding: 1Kg sugar in 1Lt water
2. Invert sugar syrup – This is much recommended for spring build-up and is produced in large quantities:
Ingredients: 1000Lts sugar syrup at 30-40°C, 250gm dried active baker’s yeast, 1Lt warm water
- Mix the yeast with a cup of sugar syrup and the 1Lt warm water
- As it starts to rise pour the mix into the 1000Lt vat of sugar syrup and stir well
- Increase the temperature of the sugar syrup to 65°C and then retain it at 45-55°C for at least 2 hours
- After the temperature reaches 65°C turn off the heat and allow it to cool
3. Queen candy – This recipe will be enough for approximately 350 queen cages
Ingredients: Sugar syrup (made by mixing 2 cups of white sugar in 1 cup of water), 2Kg icing sugar, ¼ teaspoon tartaric acid, and 2 teaspoons of glycerine
4. Pollen substitute – You’ll feed this to the bees about 4-5 weeks before brood rearing commences, and keep doing so until natural pollen is plentiful
Ingredients: 1 part sodium caseinate (dairy derivative), 2 parts dried non-active yeast, and sugar syrup (non-fermenting) to make a stiff paste.
Combine these in a cake mixer (or baker’s mixer for large quantities). Pack the mix in small paper bags whose open sides you’ll open up when feeding this to your bees.
8. Bee diseases and pests
Bees suffer from disease and pest attacks too; unlike other livestock though, treatment and management options are not as easy as merely summoning the vet.
As a beekeeper your best bet for handling these will be to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) system; the basic tenets of this approach are:
- Prevention and awareness (by regular inspections and thorough knowledge)
- Observation and monitoring, and
- Intervention (where necessary)
More advice about this can be sought from your apicultural extension officer or local association.
When it comes to bee diseases it is worth noting that there are some maladies whose advent you must report to the concerned authorities. This is the case in many countries and states and failure to do this may result in legal action against you.
Also, in as far as obtaining specialist advice about bee diseases is concerned you’ll be well advised to find a copy of The Beekeeper’s Field Guide.
Below is a list of the diseases and pests you may encounter:
1. American Foul Brood (AFB) – This is probably the worst of the brood diseases. It is a highly infectious bacterial disease and is spread by drifting bees, robbing, and by a beekeeper moving from an infected hive to others during inspection
2. European Foul Brood (EFB) – This is also a bacterial disease and it is caused by Melissococcus pluton which infests the guts of bee larvae. It is considered less damaging than AFB and is also typically considered to be a ‘stress disease’ i.e. one that’s dangerous if a colony is already under stress thanks to other diseases or causes like poisoning, frequent movement, etc.
3. Sacbrood – This is a viral disease that doesn’t usually result in severe losses. It mainly occurs early in the brood-rearing season when the ratio of brood to bees is high. You may not notice it because only a small percentage of the larvae will be attacked, and, of course, adult bees detect and remove infected larvae rapidly. This implies that by the time you do notice it the disease will be at an advanced stage that’s even beyond the workers capacity to handle it.
4. Chalkbrood – This disease is caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis and it affects unsealed and sealed brood. It can be triggered by a change in the brood-nest temperature. If there are insufficient numbers of nurse bees to cope to extreme weather conditions, say, by cold clustering and heat fanning, the brood may be left unattended and therefore vulnerable, starting with the larvae around the brood’s edges.
Other brood problems which aren’t too serious:
5. Chilled brood – This is caused by chilling. Brood of all ages die when there is depletion in the numbers of bees looking after them. Prudent hive management is an effective way to ensure that the bee numbers are sufficient, therefore helping to preempt cases of chilled brood.
6. Bald brood – This occurs when the cell cappings are removed while the larvae are still inside, hence the name. It is not a disease but rather the result of greater wax moth larvae chewing through brood cappings in a straight line. It also occurs as a consequence of a genetic trait in some bee strains where small patches of brood are left uncapped
Adult bee diseases
1. Nosema – This is a very widespread disease of honey-bees that’s common in spring and autumn. Nosema apis is a unicellular parasite that’s now considered to be a fungus. It has a resistant spore that’s resilient against temperature extremes and dehydration. Upon these spores being eaten by an adult bee they germinate and invade the host’s gut wall. Here they multiply and produce more spores that are passed out in the waste.
2. Dysentery – This is not a disease but rather a symptom of something being wrong. It’s caused by excessive water accumulation in the rectum and it can spread nosema (it’s not a sign of nosema though). Dysentery is easy to detect; you’ll observe greatly increased fecal spotting on and around a hive’s entrance.
3. Virus paralysis disease – Two different viruses have been isolated from paralytic bees i.e. chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV) and acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV). ABPV has been shown to kill adult bees and bee larvae in colonies infested with the Varroa destructor mite in Europe and North America.
4. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) – This is a phenomenon characterized by the sudden disappearance of a colony’s worker bees for no apparent reason. When it happens a colony is left without adult bees but brood and stores will be present.
1. The wax moth – These infest hives looking for food (wax combs) to feed their larvae. They don’t stand a chance though if your colony is healthy; healthy bees are very effective at controlling wax moths.
2. Acarine (tracheal mite) – This mite, Acarapis woodii, inhabits the prothoracic trachea of the honey-bee, after accessing the opening a few days after the bee emerges when the hairs surrounding the opening are still soft.
3. Varroa destructor – When these crab-shaped mites are on adult bees they suck the bees’ blood by piercing their cuticles. It is after this occurs that bees are thought to be more vulnerable to infections from existing bee pathogens. The Apis mellifera species of bee is helpless against these mites and if you don’t provide treatment your colony will have died out by autumn and replaced by wax-moths in the hives.
4. Parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) – This is the name given to a range of abnormal brood symptoms associated with the presence of varroa in both brood and adult bees.
5. Tropilaelaps clarae – This mite is similar to varroa in its effect on a colony. It’s elongated shape makes it easily recognizable though; varroa is crab-shaped
6. Small hive beetle – Originally from Africa, this beetle is capable of eating brood, destroying the comb, and ending a colony’s life. Any sightings of this pest in beetle-free areas should be immediately reported.
7. Bee eaters and other birds
9. Beekeeping problems that you might encounter and how to deal with them
Typical beekeeping problems include:
a. Laying workers
This situation may arise when you are unable to check your colonies regularly, or when the intervals between your visits are too long.
The emergence of laying workers is a sign that the queen is dead (possibly because of mishandling by you), or unable to lay eggs.
In trying to remedy the situation the workers will have tried to raise a new queen from a young larva but for some reason failed in their quest thus leaving the colony queenless.
The resulting pheromonal imbalance in the colony will cause some of the workers’ ovaries to enlarge thus allowing them to start laying eggs. However, since these workers cannot mate they are only able to lay drone eggs and they place these in worker cells. These drones are small and useless; there’s no hope for such a colony.
Tell-tale signs you should look for:
- Spotty and uneven brood
- Small drone brood only present
- Multiple eggs per cell and in the wrong position
- Drone brood in worker cells
How you can solve the laying workers problem:
First method (and which has most chances of success):
- Start by moving the entire colony 200m away and then remove all the frames
- Shake the frames onto the ground and brush off all the bees
- Place any frames with drone brood or eggs aside; you’ll deal with these later
- Return the empty hive to its original position and place a frame of young brood, a queen cell or a caged queen in it. Feed if necessary.
- Close the hive and leave it alone for a week
- Clean all the eggs and drone cells from the set-aside brood frames and return them to the hive
This method is based on the theory that the non-laying normal workers will be aware about the hive’ location and will return there whereas the laying workers may never have ventured outside the hive and will therefore be unable to find their way home (although some may).
- Add a frame of open brood each week until the bees start queen cells; the open brood may induce the bees to raise a queen of their own
- After they’ve started queen cells you can regard this as a ‘normal’ colony again
- You can allow the queen cell(s) to remain
- You can also opt to destroy these cells and then introduce your own cell or a caged queen
Techniques to avoid in this situation:
- Re-queening with a push-in cage
- Uniting the colony with a queen-right colony
b. How to cope with aggressive colonies
If you have an aggressive colony then beekeeping may suddenly become less enjoyable for you; being constantly stung can’t be much fun.
The table below is a summary of possible causes of bee aggression and what you can do in response:
It’s important to note that there’s no direct correlation between bee aggressiveness and honey collection. Also, colonies will become aggressive you handle them poorly and/or crush them.
c. How you can deal with robber bees
Robbing occurs when bees from one or more colonies attempt to enter and rob the stores of other hives. If the problem gets out of hand some of your hives may lose all their stores and many of their foragers in the fighting thus putting an affected colony’s existence in jeopardy.
Italian bees are notorious for robbing; this behavior is also exhibited in other strains, with some being more inclined than others.
Causes of robbing:
- You can expect robbing as a result of feeding your bees; if a hive’s store of honey or syrup is exposed in the apiary during a time of dearth robbing is likely to occur
- It can also be expected when you feed small nucleus colonies; such colonies cannot withstand attacks from larger colonies
Signs that a robbing outbreak is imminent:
- You’ll observe increased activity at a hive’s entrance
- You’ll see bees fighting at the colony’s entrance
- You’ll observe much debris at a hive’s entrance, especially wax particles as a consequence of bees ripping comb apart to steal honey
- Many bees will be entering and leaving every small crack in a hive
- The entire apiary will be alive with bees flying in all directions, in addition to the previous observations
How you can treat robbing
While putting an end to robbing can be difficult, you can do the following when you become aware that one of your hives is suffering these attacks:
- Start by blocking all the cracks in the hive(s) with grass, mud, or whatever other suitable material
- Reduce the hive’s entrance to one bee space
- If available, lean a glass screen or board across the hive’s entrance so as to confuse the robbers. You can also use straw or grass for the same purpose
- Alternatively, you can swap the positions of the robber hive and the hive being robbed. If several hives are involved this approach may not solve the problem though
- In case the problem is very severe you can consider moving the robber colony to another apiary at least 2Km away (if available)
- If you have a water supply at the apiary spray the bees with a hose – they will go home
How to prevent robbing:
To prevent this problem from arising you should take the following precautions:
- Avoid spilling honey in the apiary during times of dearth
- Ensure that small colonies and nucleus colonies have their entrances reduced to a minimum, especially if you’re feeding them. If the entrances are huge then ensure that during feeding you reduce this by stuffing grass into the entrances until you achieve a one-bee-way
- After you split colonies you should also reduce the entrances to the splits to one-bee-way until the colonies have grown in numbers
- You should ensure that all your hives have crack-free boxes and joints
d. How to unite colonies
There are several reasons why you may find it important to unite colonies as follows:
- One of your colonies may lose its queen and because you don’t have a replacement queen the colony starts to dwindle; uniting this colony with a healthier one is a good way to make use of the remaining bees
- You may have implemented the artificial swarm procedure to prevent swarming and because you don’t need the extra colony you decide to reunite the two – a good way to help with honey flow
Two things to look for before uniting colonies:
- You should ensure that none of the colonies is diseased
- If you want to retain the healthy queen in a strong colony you should ensure that the weaker colony you’re introducing doesn’t have a queen of its own; the better queen may lose the ensuing fight
Uniting colonies is typically problematic because you’ll be bringing together two factions of bee that will immediately start fighting each other. To be successful in this therefore you need to convince both factions that they are not foes.
You can do this in either of two ways:
First way (slow and cumbersome, total success almost always assured):
This will involve giving the bees time to get used to each other. The following steps will help you achieve this:
- Begin by opening the larger queen-right hive
- Next, place a sheet of newspaper over the open box, over the bees, and make some slits on the paper with your hive tool
- Lift the smaller, queenless hive off its floor and place it on the box covered by the newspaper
- Leave this alone for several days before confirming that the colony has united
This technique involves confusing the bees in order to get them used to each other. You will need to change their odor to accomplish this.
- Using a non-toxic room-odor spray, apply a swift squirt to each box
- Just before you place the box with the queenless bees on top, quickly spray the bottom of this box so that all the bees smell the same
- By the time the spray’s effects wear off the bees will be used to each other
e. How to prevent spray damage
If your apiary is situated in the vicinity of farms and orchards where herbicides and insecticides are sprayed on the crops, your bee colonies will typically be facing the risk of dwindling numbers or eventual death.
The onus will be on you therefore to find out beforehand when spraying will be done and thereby be in a position to take preemptive actions.
How to protect your bees:
There are generally two ways to handle this i.e.:
- Moving the bees to another area that’s not exposed to the same risk
- Closing up the hives so that the bees can’t fly
The first option is rather straight-forward.
Successfully implementing the second option can be tricky because the bees, once shut in their hives, may suffer panic, overheat, stress, or undergo meltdown. Your preemptive measure may just as well kill the bees like the spray effects would have.
To make this work you’ll need to ensure that your bees will at all times have sufficient food stores, movement space, ventilation and water. Maintaining your bees like this will make your task of convincing them to keep calm easier when you need to do this.
The steps you’ll need to take:
- Start by placing a frame feeder full of sugar syrup in the hive
- Remove the lids from your hives and place soaked sponges on the hives’ top bars
- Place a shallow, empty box on top of each hive
- Staple a gauze cover onto this box
- Place a tin lid on this new gauze lid and raise the tin lid by using slats of wood. This will keep the rain out
- On the night before the spraying, stuff the hives’ entrance with gauze or place a mesh across the entrances i.e. something that will allow air in and prevent the bees from going out
- Your bees will now be ready. If the material day is hot you’ll need to keep the sponges wet by pouring water on them as required
- As soon as the all-clear is signaled you must remove the entrance meshes thereby allowing the bees to fly
An alternative approach:
- Simply find a black tent made of sacking or hessian
- Use this to cover an entire hive
- Ensure that the tent’s edge around the hive is tightly secured to the ground
- Your bees will generally not leave the hive; those that do won’t be able to get back in
- You must keep this sacking wet so that your bees won’t overheat
f. How to deal with queen bee problems
As a beekeeper you may have to deal with myriad queen bee problems. Nevertheless, some of these problems may be the result of your own actions as follows:
- Damaging or killing the queen during manipulations
- Introducing a queen while the old one is still present
- Introducing a queen when laying workers are still present
- Your inability to find a queen thereby leading you to make wrong assumptions
The following table will act as your guide for troubleshooting queen bee problems that you may face:
Important things to remember when introducing a new queen
- You’ll need to ensure that the bees receiving the new queen have had enough time to adjust to her; during this adjustment period you’ll need to protect the queen from bees that are having a hard time accepting the adjustment
- You’ll need to ensure that there is a balance between the adult bees, brood, and the queen. If, for example, you have aggressive bees and you wish to introduce a queen from a gentle colony, you’ll need to make sure that the new queen is similar to the old queen i.e. well mated and laying well
Two important rules of thumb for success in this:
- The receiving colony must be queenless. You must therefore find the old queen because if you don’t and you go ahead and introduce the new queen, the old queen will defeat her. You’ll need to remove both the old queen as well as any virgins that may be in the colony
- Remember that smaller colonies or nucs accept new queens more readily than larger colonies. It’s therefore prudent to introduce a new queen to a small nuc made up for this purpose
- If a colony loses its queen during late autumn or winter the best thing for you to do will be to unite it with another colony to take it through winter rather than introduce a new queen
Tips for annual re-queening
- Re-queening is mainly done to replace an old queen with a new younger one or queen cell
- Re-queening will give you the best chance of producing more bees, and therefore more honey, as well as being the best way to reduce swarming
- You can purchase a new queen or queen cell from a breeder, or produce one yourself
- While buying a mated queen will be more expensive than buying a queen cell, it’ll be less risky; the queen in the cell will have to emerge, leave the hive, and be exposed to risk during mating, before she can return and start laying eggs
- Annual re-queening will allow you to retain the strain of bees you are contented with, help you to maintain all your colonies on an even footing, and generally make your apiary management effort much easier
- As a new beekeeper you’ll be advised to re-queen in spring as you’ll obtain a new queen that’s younger and better able to take advantage of the honey flow. You’ll also lessen the chances of swarming
Two methods you can use to re-queen
Method 1 – This is an easy method that’s very effective. Implementing it will allow the main hive to continue normally with their queen, until you’re sure the new queen is viable. Bees accustomed to going in and out of the nuc in the opposite direction will soon learn and adapt, and will all carry on as normal with the new young queen.
- Collect the same number of spare boxes, floors and lids as the number of hives you want to re-queen; you’ll need these to make some mini-hives or nucleus hives
- Using a piece of wood make the entrances to these small hives just 1-2 bee spaces wide
- Place the nucleus hives on the lids of the hives you are going to re-queen but facing in the opposite direction
- Block the entrances with grass
- In the hives you want to re-queen first make a split by removing from them two frames of emerging brood, one frame of stores and a frame of empty comb
- The emerging brood should only cover half of the frame
- Don’t brush off any of the bees; as these are brood frames these are likely young nurse bees and you’ll therefore need them
- You’ll need to place these frames in your new nucleus hive
- Place the brood frames together, and put the stores on one side and the comb on the other
- You can now fill the rest of the box with foundation
- You may have a nucleus box with 4-5 frames; use one of these frames. If you don’t have any just use an ordinary box with a floor and lid
- Shake the bees off two or three other frames into the new nucleus you are making; these will be more nurse bees
- Replace the frames in the hive
- When placing each brood frame into the nuc, check that the old queen isn’t on it and that there are no queen cells; failing to confirm this will lead to failure
- Now push the queen cage onto one of the brood frames in the nuc. Ensure that this is in a position ¾ the way up the frame; the cage’s escape hole should be facing slightly upwards so that it won’t be blocked by any dead attendants
- Don’t push the cage onto the brood comb along its flat surface because the bees outside will need to communicate with the queen
- Shove the cage into the brood frame at an angle i.e. the cage should be between the two brood frames at an angle so that the bees can reach most of the sides, and with the escape facing slightly upwards
- Three days later, check for eggs and ensure that the bees have unblocked the entrance; if all is okay and eggs are being laid, leave for some three weeks until the brood is being capped over and everything is alright
- Now go into the main hive and kill the old queen
- Next, unite the two boxes using the aforementioned newspaper method, placing the nuc on top
- If you’re employing a smaller 4-frame nucleus box for the new queen you’ll first have to place all the frames into a normal-sized brood box and then fill the rest with comb before uniting
Method 2 – This method is much quicker and is based on the same theory as the first. However, you’ll be installing the queen straight into the main hive without using a nuc:
- Start by removing and killing the old queen as well as destroying all queen cells
- Leave the colony queenless until the following day
- Remove a frame of capped and emerging brood from the colony
- Press the queen cage into this frame
- Wrap the entire frame in newspaper, stapling the newspaper ends along the top bar
- Make a few slits in the paper with your hive tool
- Lower the entire frame into the colony
- Check for queen release after three days
- Check for eggs a week later