Maintenance for Bees

With the exception of start-up (which must be done in the spring to ensure an adequate food supply) maintaining a bee colony is a year round endeavor. Generally speaking, beekeepers harvest their honey at the conclusion of a substantial nectar flow and when the beehive is filled with cured and capped honey. First-year beekeepers are lucky if they get a small harvest of honey by late summer. That’s because a new colony needs a full season to build up a large enough population to gather a surplus of honey. Labor Day is considered the best time for harvesting. In cool weather, honey can thicken or even granulate, which makes it impossible to extract from the comb. Remember that honey is easiest to harvest when it still holds the warmth of summer and can flow easily.

Feed your bees as necessary

It may take time in the spring for nectar to start flowing. Add some food to your hive if the local flora blossoms later than usual. Fill a quart jar with a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar. Punch holes in the top of the hive and hang the jars from them.

Monitor the hive

Check the hive as often as you like. This could be once between spring introduction and fall harvesting or every day if you prefer. This can ensure your hive is flourishing and building a strong comb.

Watch for potential problems

During your check-ups of the hive, look for signs of illness, parasite infestation or other animals accessing your hive. This can help you nip potential problems in the bud before they affect your hive. Some signs of issues with your hive include:

  • Misplaced bars
  • Weakened colony
  • Visible hive beetles or wax moths on the comb
  • Lack of larvae
  • Deformed wings

Safety tips for beginners

  • If you are allergic to bees, think seriously before deciding to keep them. If you understand the risks but want to keep bees anyway, be sure to keep an epi-pen handy in case you do get stung.
  • Don't try to work with your bees on a cloudy, windy, or rainy day unless you absolutely have to. They get grumpy when the weather is bad and you are much more likely to get stung.
  • Use entrance reducers over the winter to prevent mice and other critters from getting into the hive while the bees are less active. Entrance reducers have several purposes including controlling traffic, temperature and ventilation within a hive. Most entrance reducers are only used for new or low population colonies, weak colonies, or during times of low temperature. Store bought entrance reducers are nothing more than wooden cleats with two varying sized notches, one on each plane. Entrance reducers are designed so that when sandwiched between the bottom board and the lower hive body, a narrow entrance and exit port is created. Finally a hive can be completely opened by removing the entrance reducer altogether. Traditionally the size of the notch used is dependent on the traffic belonging to the hive. As more bees are coming and going, the size of the entrance should be increased.
  • Always wear protective gear when working near the hive, even if you aren’t engaging the bees directly.
  • Work with a buddy whenever possible. If you follow steps 1-4, you should be fine, but just in case, it’s best to have someone there to help in case something happens.