After successfully completing my bee class last year, I've been busy researching exactly which hive to get, which accessories are absolutely necessary (and which are nice to have) and where to put my hive. I decided on two Deutsch Normal eleven-frame hives that I painted white. And I put them right smack on my terrace, albeit a terrace we do not use regularly. With all this preparation work finally coming to an end, I need to focus on what my tasks will be once I have somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 bees per hive.
1. Should the hive entrance be large or small?
The smaller the entrance to the hive, the easier it is for the bees to protect it. You can reduce the entrance to the hive by using foam rubber in the Winter to keep the cold out of the hive (and any unwanted creatures such as mice). Keep the entrance to the hive open during the honey flow (Spring and Summer). There's just too much action at the hive entrance. No need to annoy the bees!
2. How many brood boxes do I start with?
I will start with one. And as soon as it is 70 - 80% full, its a good idea to add another brood box. I don't want my bees swarming. I'm not quite ready for that adventure yet.
3. When should I add a honey super?
When the second brood box is 70 - 80% full, it's time to add the honey super. Often, this occurs at about the same time as the cherry blossoms. When the honey super is added, you then have three boxes on top of each other with the honey super on top. Don't make the mistake of adding the queen excluder at this time if you are adding new frames where the honeycomb has not yet been built out (as I will be doing in my first year). Give the bees a chance to do that first. Check after about a week. When you see that they have started building comb on two to three frames, you can add the queen excluder. But be sure that the queen isn't up there in the honey super. Place the queen excluder with the cross ribs facing down. When adding new frames, spray the frames with 1:1 sugar water. The honey made in the honey super is surplus honey and can be harvested.
4. Shall I place my frames in the "cold" or "warm" position?
My hive allows me to place the frames either "warm" (running parallel to the wall with the hive opening) or "cold" (running perpendicular to the wall with the hive opening). This way is referred to as cold because the air can enter the hive and run through the frames unimpeded. Frames that run parallel are considered warm as the first frame blocks the cold air from entering into the hive. But the bees have to travel a lot further to make their way into the depth of the hive. Basically, the bees don't seem to really care. So I need to decide what's most comfortable for me. If I work the hive from the back, then "warm" is easier as I can lift out the frames without reaching my arm across the entire hive. If I want to work from the side of the hive, the "cold" method would be easier. Right now, I'm planning on cold as shown below (with the hive entrance to the front).
5. Do the bees need a landing board?
No. But it could be fun. If you offer the bees a landing board, they will use it, meaning they will land on the board and walk into the hive, giving you, the beekeeper, more opportunity to observe. So not necessary but fun.
6. How do I provide a water source for my bees?
Bees need water, just like every other living creature. A bird bath nearby with some rocks would do the trick. Remember bees can't swim so they need to be able to sit on something while they drink. Keep the water shallow. And it doesn't need to be clean. Bees seem to like the nutrients provided by the slime.
7. Do I need to use a plastic sheet as an inner cover?
These plastic sheets are widely used in Germany. They offer protection between the upper frames and the inner cover, meaning the bees cannot build burr comb up to the inner cover. When inspecting the hive, it is easy to peal the plastic off of the frames. However, some problems could occur with too much accumulated moisture under the plastic sheet.
8. Should I use a queen excluder?
I ordered one. But I won't be needing it until I put the honey super on top of the hive. And I don't need to do that until the bees start producing surplus honey and need more space. The queen excluder can then go on top of the brood box before adding the honey super. This keeps the queen (and the drones) from entering the honey area but still allows the worker bees to pass through.
9. How often should I inspect my hive?
It's tough not to take a peak. But each time you inspect your hive, you are invading the colony. If everything seems fine on the outside, the bees are bringing pollen and nectar into the hive, the hive purrs (doesn't growl) and it smells good, then everything probably is good. However, if something seems a bit off, then open it up. Have your smoker and hive tool at the ready. Smoke the entrance to the hive first. Wait a couple of minutes to give the smoke a chance to go up through the hive. Now remove the top cover. Add a couple more puffs of smoke and wait a minute before opening complete. A bit more smoke and you're in!
Supers need to be added in Spring and Summer so you obviously open the hive to do that. But in less something seems awry, no need to inspect frame by frame. Each time you pull out a frame, you run the risk of killing the queen. And if any honey spills, you run the risk of attracting robbers. But if you need to inspect frame by frame, remove the first frame from the hive and lay it gently up against the hive. Then inspect each frame one at a time, replacing it in the empty spot after each inspection. If the bees are poking their heads out between the top bars of each frame, time for more smoke. Hold each frame above the hive during inspection. Just in case the queen falls off, she will fall back into the hive. When done inspecting each frame, push frames back to original position and return frame number one to its original position against the wall. Some beekeepers recommend performing hive inspections every two weeks. Only perform these inspections on sunny days between 10am and 2pm. The forager bees aren't in the hive at this time so less bees to disturb. Never inspect the hive on a cloudy day or when a storm is approaching. The bees can get quite defensive then.
During the swarm period in May/June, you may want to check your hive once a week just to make sure they aren't building swarm cells.
And remember not to open the hive if the outside temperature is below 12 degrees celsius. Too cold for the bees!
10. If I do open up the hive, what am I looking for?
Eggs. Finding the brood is much easier than locating the queen. A tight brood pattern is a good sign. Empty cells interspersed with occasional brood cells is a sign that the queen should be replaced. You should see all stages of bee development: eggs, larvae, capped brood. These should be in a ratio of 1:2:4 (eggs for 3 days, larvae for 6 days, capped for 12 days). The capped brood has a brownish color and a velvety texture as shown below.
Food. The bees collect pollen in many colors, water and nectar. The cappings of honeycomb are light in color and smooth as shown below.
Swarm cells. In a double brood box, the bees often build these large cells containing a queen at the bottom edge of the upper frames.
Space. Make sure they have enough room for brood and enough room to store their honey.
Burr comb. Remove this.
11. What do I use in my smoker?
Be sure not to use any paper with ink or glue on it. You do not want to smoke out the bees with any chemicals. Egg cartons work quite well, the half of the carton without the glued on sticker. No need to purchase expensive material offered exclusively for smokers. You can use a bag of mulch that has been dried in the sun, wood pellets or pine needles. Start the fire with some paper. Then slowly add your choice of burn material to the smoker. You want the fire to smolder, not burn. So go ahead and pack the material into the smoker tight. Pump the bellows a few times to get the fire going. You can add rosemary or lavender to make it smell good too! When you're done, add freshly cut green grass to put the fire out while conserving the fuel.
12. When do I need to feed the bees?
Only feed the bees once the honey super is removed. I bought a feeding box as it sounded like the easiest (and cleanest) method to me. This box needs to be sealed before using, either with a sealant or with beeswax. The most important issue when feeding your bees is to not spill any sugar water near the hive. This will cause robbery. Use the entrance reducer when feeding the bees. It's best to feed in the evening so as not to attract other bees. If the bees are short of food in the early spring, feed them a thin sugar syrup (1:1 sugar to water). This should tie them over until nectar begins flowing. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long and letting your bees starve. Check your hive on the first warm day (around 10 degrees celsius). At the end of September / beginning of October, feed the bees a thick sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water). If you use a thin syrup when it's cold out, the water could freeze. A good organic herbal sugar recipe can be found here. The trick is figuring out how much to feed. You don't want to give them too much or they will start storing the syrup in capped cells for future use. This will interfere with future honey production. My feeder can hold 8 liters. It takes the bees about one week to eat 5 liters of sugar water. One hive will probably need about 15 liters to get through the winter.
13. When do I need to handle the bees against the varroa mite?
At the beginning of July, you should start counting the number varroa mites in the hive for five days straight. If fewer than 5 mites per day, no need to treat the hive until after the last honey harvest. If more than 10 mites per day, you need to treat, perhaps even before the honey harvest. If more than 30 mites are found, it's too late. There's nothing left you can do. After the last honey harvest and the honey super is removed, the first treatment is immediately done with formic acid (ameisensäure). The temperature still needs to be between 12 and 25 degrees celsius. By a not so severe case, treatment should be done three times: once before feeding and two treatments after feeding. If the case is severe (more than 10 mites found per day), then two treatments before feeding must be done followed by the two treatments after feeding. Three to five days is allowed between each treatment. Be sure to remove the metal roof during treatment as corrosion could occur.
After the summer treatment, check again for mites come November. If there's more than one mite per day, an additional winter treatment is necessary. At this time, oxalic acid (oxalsäure) or lactic acid (milchsäure) can be used. Check for mites 10 days and 20 days after treatment. Be sure to document everything.
An additional method to handling the varroa beast is cutting the drone brood out. Varroa mites are 8 to 10 times more likely to infest a drone than a female worker. So getting rid of the drones effectively gets away a large portion of varroa mites as well. The drone brood can be cut out when it's already 1/3 capped. When you add the honey super, hang a drone frame (frame with a small wax sheet at the top only) at the outest layer of frames of the top brood box. Two weeks later, a second drone frame may be added to the other outest layer. Remove and replace each frame every four weeks. At this pace, you should be cleaning one drone frame every two weeks. Drone brood remains capped for 15 days so it is imperative to remove the brood before hatching. What to do with all that drone brood? You can freeze it (to kill the mites) and then return it to the hive where the bees will eat the larvae. You can stop this process after the drone eviction in September. The drones are no longer needed (as their soul purpose is to fertilize the queen) and are killed and removed from the hive.
14. When do I insert and remove the varroa mite control board?
The bees should be kept cold in the winter. Leave the bottom of the hive open. You do not want them to think it is warm and to start any activity. Once the queen starts laying eggs, the brood will need to be kept warm. Slide the board in at the end of February to help keep them warm. Come April when the bees start bringing in loads of nectar, they will need to dry all that nectar to create honey. It's a lot easier for them to do that if the bottom of the hive is open; remove the board. If the weather turns cool in April/May, slide the board back in to help keep the hive warm. Come July, insert the board again for the varroa control. Be sure to clean the board after the control. Otherwise, ants could discover the board and use it as a food source. At the end of September, make sure the board is removed for the winter feeding. Lots of liquid is entering the hive and the bees will have less work drying the sugar water if air is circulating throughout the hive. Once the hive is prepared for winter, remove the board. This keeps the bees cold and ensures that they do not produce brood during the winter months. After the winter varroa treatment, wait a few minutes and then replace the board. Otherwise, the acid collects on the board. After the second 20-day varroa mite count, the board may be removed for the rest of the winter.
15. How do I prepare the bees for winter?
Remove the queen excluder.
Remove the varroa control board.
Make sure you leave the bees with about 20 - 45 kg worth of honey.
Add a mouse guard. Mice love the taste of honeycomb and honey bees and they will be looking for a warm place to spend the winter. Don't let them in your beehive! When it gets cold outside, bees huddle together inside the hive to keep warm. They are no longer able to defend the hive. Remove the entrance reducer and add a metal mouse guard across the hive entrance. Keep the entrance clean of dead bees during the winter as these could block the entrance.
Be sure to keep any of the frames containing pollen with the bees over the winter. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting moths. Also keep any frames you store in a cold area. This will help prevent the wax moth as well.
As soon as the temperatures reach 10 degrees celsius, the bees will leave their hive for a cleansing flight, another words a quick bathroom break. Make sure the entrance to the hive is clear of dead bees!