If you are just starting out as a beekeeper, you probably want to know how best to manage your bee colony. The short answer is that you shouldn’t try to, unless you have to! Bees are fairly self-sustaining and too much interference can actually harm the hive.
Nevertheless, there are times when a beekeeper needs to manage the hive, and it’s important to be prepared for when that happens. Here is a brief rundown of instances when you may need to manage your hive:
It’s important to periodically inspect your honey bee hive to identify possible problems within the hive. For example, you can look to see if the hive has mites, is experiencing a food shortage, or is otherwise compromised in some way.
One example of a potential hive problem is clustering.
Occasionally bees will cluster together in a certain area of the hive, especially in the winter to stay warm. Unfortunately, the clusters can sometimes move away from the food stores. If that happens, you will have to manage your hive by moving the honeycombs that are full nearer to the bee cluster.
Adjusting for Hive Size
The time may come when you need to manage your hive by adjusting its size to give the bees additional space. A more likely scenario is that you may need to simply split the bees into two hives.
If you do need to divide your honey bee hive in two, you’ll need to move comb and capped honey, stored pollen, some new egg cells, and capped brood cells from the parent hive to the offspring” hive.
You will also need to transfer some of the worker bees to the new hive. The workers will then raise a new queen, drones and more workers, and your second hive will soon be in good shape.
Just remember that two hives should never be too close together.
It’s important to place your offspring hive a good distance away from your parent hive.
Transporting the Colony
In many areas, it’s quite common to transport an entire bee colony for the purpose of pollination. Someone might actually hire you to bring your bees to their property to pollinate their crops.
The best time to move a hive, for any reason, is at night when bees are generally calmer. Remember to block any entrances and exits before moving the hive and remember to unblock them at your destination. Also, be sure to wear the right protective gear and keep your smoker handy, just in case of any problems.
Harvesting Honey and Wax
One of the most important times to actively manage your honey bee hive is when harvesting the honey and wax. You can easily recognize when it’s harvest time because your bees will become aggressive. Also, you may see large numbers of worker bees outside the hive.
Before you harvest the honey, be sure to put on your protective clothing and smoke the hive. Then wait a couple of minutes for the bees to settle down. After that you can begin the process of honey harvesting – just remember to leave enough honey for the bees.
The timing of when to actively manage your honey bee colony will depend a lot on the type of honey bee and where in the world you live. In general, however, there is a certain calendar of events.
January is usually the time you plan for the new season. That could include building new hives and ordering supplies. February and March are the months where you should really keep a close watch to see that your bees have enough food and are not in any danger.
Later in the year, generally April through June, make sure that your bees have what they need to make ample honey stores. That means giving them food, water, and space. You may also need to install more supers (honey storage containers).
Then, through July, August and possibly into September, is the time to extract honey.
During October and November, focus on getting your bees ready for the long winter. That could include feeding them, treating them for mites, ventilating the hive, securing it for the winter, and other related tasks.
December is usually an off month for a beekeeper, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. A big part of hive management is anticipating what is coming up and learning how to deal with problems before they arrive. So, become active in local bee clubs and read plenty of magazines and articles. Also, take the time to replace any old equipment, and make sure that you’ll have everything that you need ready for the new season.
Things to Remember About Managing Your Hive
Finally, there are two significant things to remember about managing your beehive. First, you act as your hive’s second line of defence. They can manage themselves fairly well, but they might need your help sometimes. So, take an active role. Get to know your hive so that you can easily spot problems, such as mites, and treat them quickly.
Second, remember that you and your bees should learn how to co-exist and “bee” happy together. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, after all. So, you should do your best to only harvest what you need from the hive. See to it that your bees have enough left over to sustain the hive until next season. That will help to preserve and protect the bee population as well as save you from always having to start fresh each season