How Beekeeping Works


Hive Management
Successful hive management depends on three main activities: feeding your bees, avoiding a swarm and checking for and treating against mites and other diseases. vgajic/Getty Images

Remember, the entire goal of beekeeping is to get the colony at maximum strength right as the local flowering plants and trees are blooming and the nectar flow begins. This will spur the bees to store lots of excess honey in the honey supers and ensure a hefty harvest for the beekeeper.

Successful hive management hinges on three main activities: feeding the bees, avoiding a swarm and checking for mites and other diseases.

Since beekeepers harvest their bees' excess honey stores ("steal" is such an ugly word), this lost nutrition needs to be supplemented through feeding. In most locations, natural nectar and pollen resources are low in the late summer and fall, and dangerously so in the winter. During those times, the bees will be fed with a sugar water syrup of equal parts sugar and water, or even two parts sugar to one part water when resources are the most scarce [source: University of Georgia].

With the help of your beekeeping mentor, learn how to remove and examine brood frames to check for healthy pollen and honey stores. Learn how to lift the back of a hive box to test its weight and know if honey stores are low and extra feeding is required. Since pollen is the bees' chief protein source, ask your mentor about commercially available pollen supplements.

A healthy and well-fed hive will produce so much brood that the hive box will become overcrowded. The bees' natural response to overcrowding is to swarm. When bees swarm, half of the colony escapes with the original queen and the other half stays in the old hive with a new queen, though sometimes the entire colony will abscond with their queen.

If you have a healthy and productive queen, you don't want to lose her to a swarm. So, your options are to grow your beekeeping operation by splitting the hive, or avoid overcrowding by removing brood frames and giving them to fellow beekeepers. AS you get to know your bees and your hives, you'll get to know which behaviors are normal behaviors, such as bearding, and which might signal an impending swarm.

Bees bearding on the front of their hive on a hot summer day – a perfectly normal behavior that helps bees regulate hive temperature.
Teresa Crowder

Swarming season is early spring, around March or April in most of the U.S., so beekeepers need to prepare by checking their hives for signs of an impending swarm, most importantly the presence of queen cells, which are oversized brood chambers that look somewhat like a peanut, where the colony is raising a new queen.

If your intention is to split a hive yourself – move half of your colony to a new hive box in a new location – then you need to remove all queen cells from any brood frames that you'll be placing in the new hive. Then you'll need to locate the original queen and transfer her with a good supply of brood frames, pollen and honey (your own homemade nuc, essentially) to the new location. The old hive will raise a new queen from the queen cells and continue humming along [source: University of Georgia].

You can also avoid splitting or swarming entirely by keeping your colony small enough to manage in one hive. This requires either having multiple hives between which you can move around brood frames to keep them equally full, or beekeeping friends who will take your excess brood to balance out their own weaker hives.

Which brings us to the third major responsibility of a successful beekeeper: disease management. This part of beekeeping is critical, so keep reading to learn more about managing the most common honeybee problems, especially the nasty varroa mite.

More to Explore